Book Review: "Raquela, A Woman of Israel"
By Sue Averett
Of the 39 book reviews of this book on Amazon, 38 give Raquela 5 stars—one is 4 stars.
This is, first of all, a true story. When Ruth Gruber, a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune set out in Israel to find one woman whose life “would define what it means to be a woman of Israel” (Gruber, Raquela, Forward), she found many candidates. When she heard of a ninth-generation Jerusalemite, whose family settled in Jerusalem in 1650 from Spain, who was a nurse and midwife who had delivered babies in the camps at Athlit and Cyprus for the Jewish illegal immigrants who flocked to their promised land after World War II, she knew she had found her subject.
The book begins in Jerusalem in 1929 when Raquela (the Sephardic, [meaning Spanish,] version of Rachel) was five years old. Her family lived in Bet Hakerem three miles from the center of Jerusalem, described as a “neighborhood [that] was founded in 1922 as one of six garden cities developed in Jerusalem during the days of the British Mandate for Palestine” (wikipedia.com). The Arabs from the village of Colonia rose up and murdered the people of Motza, a nearby Jewish village, then looted and burned their houses. The book explains that this was the second riot since the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, which stated, “His Majesty’s Government (the British) views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” And, while the British police did nothing, the Arab terrorists went to Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah were buried, and murdered all the prominent Jewish families. When the British police finally came, they rounded up the rest of the Jews of Hebron (not the Arabs) and locked them up in the police station “for their own protection.” These people were never allowed to return to their homes which were ransacked by the Arabs.
From this time forward, there was no peace in Palestine. The book takes us through the time when Raquela was twelve years old and she and her mother were on a bus traveling downtown to go shopping for her Bat Mitzvah. The bus was attacked by Arabs with guns and a hand grenade that miraculously exploded before it could be thrown in the bus. On January 31, 1943 Raquela enrolled in the Hadassah (Hebrew name for Queen Esther, see Jeremiah 8:22) Henrietta Szold School of Nursing where she studied nursing and midwifery under her mentor, the renowned obstetrician Dr. Aron Brezezinski. Raquela Levy graduated as a nurse/midwife on February 7, 1946 and was selected “the outstanding student” in her class.
Politically, because of The White Paper of 1939 issued by the British government under Neville Chamberlain, Palestine was partitioned into an independent Arab state and a Jewish state “in proportion to their population numbers in 1939”—which meant Palestine was virtually controlled by the greater number of Arabs. Jewish immigration was limited to 75,000 over a five-year period from1940 to 1944—then all immigration would depend on the permission of the Arab majority. During this time the Holy Land “became a police state.” The British brought in “one hundred thousand soldiers …to keep order.” Jerusalem was a mass of barriers and “rusted coils of barbed wire” where tanks and armored cars patrolled the streets.
The stamina, courage, industry, and determination of the Jewish people is obvious in this book. If you are one of those who knows little of the history of Israel, you will be enlightened, but also entertained with the story of the remarkable life Raquela.
The facts of how Israel became an independent nation with all the hardships and wars for independence are the rest of the story. Gruber weaves the heroic deeds of a woman of Israel into the compelling narrative of birth—not only of babies born in horrible conditions in British refugee camps—but also the inevitable and difficult birth of the State of Israel.