"... vital to understanding this period of East European Jewish history. As Hyman promises, the memoir... read[s] like a novel." Russian Review
In this striking autobiography Puah Rakovsky (1865-1955) tells of her experiences as a Jewish woman in late 19th- and early 20th-century Poland who broke with her traditional upbringing to become a professional educator, Zionist activist, and feminist leader. Her passionate account offers unprecedented entrée into the life experience of East European Jewry in a period of massive social change. Published in the original Yiddish in 1954, the work appears here in English for the first time, annotated and with a historical introduction by Paula E. Hyman. Born into a rabbinic family in 1865 in Bialystok, then within the Russian Empire, Rakovsky witnessed the flourishing of a variety of radical political movements, the birth of Zionism, and the devastation of World War I. No mere bystander, she was an activist who assumed leadership roles in the public arenas of education and politics: she founded a pioneering Jewish girls' school in Warsaw and a national Jewish women's organization in 1920s Poland. In her memoir Rakovsky reflects on the position of Jewish women in her time and gives her personal and political perspective on central events of modern Jewish history from her childhood until her emigration to the Land of Israel in 1935.
Originally published in Yiddish in 1954, Rakovsky's straightforward, frequently absorbing memoir recounts one ardent idealist's experiences in Eastern Europe. Noted Jewish feminist historian Hyman (Gender and Assimilation in Modern Jewish History), of Yale, gives another life to this account of an unusual woman. Born into a rabbinical family, Rakovsky (1865-1955) early on cast aside religious practice but never lost a passionate sense of Jewish identity. While most Jewish women were illiterate, Rakovsky received both a Jewish and secular education. As a witness to several bloody pogroms, Rakovsky began to champion Zionism and would not allow her voice to be silenced by the males who dominated the Zionist and progressive movements of her day. In her zeal to give a voice and economic assistance to the poor Jewish women she encountered daily, she founded and devoted herself to the Jewish Women's Association in Poland, an organization with feminist, socialist and Zionist leanings. Having lost a beloved daughter and two grandchildren to illness, along with a sister to suicide, Rakovsky credits her work with getting her through difficult times. "If you are devoted, first to the interest and life of your own people, and at the same time to the problems of mankind in general, you feel different even about your own personal suffering," she writes. As Hyman notes in her introduction, Rakovsky did indeed live a revolutionary life, and she recounts it with the same passion with which she lived it. 2 b&w photos. (Nov.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.