Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book Review: Raquela by Ruth Gruber

By Ruth Gruber

I have been wanting to read Raquela ever since I joined Hadassah, a few years ago.  I don't remember how I found the book, but I knew I wanted to read about the pioneer nursing in Palestine. There is not much work written, and when I found it I was excited to read it.  But, I waited it out, hoping to have make a program with this.  Unfortunately, that did not pan out.

The opportunity happened when I picked the book for our book club. Then I also found a few months ago on Showtime, the documentary of Ruth Gruber. If I connect both the book, and the documentary here is our book club topic.

I picked Raquela, in honor of Jewish Women History Month, and because this is Hadassah's anniversary, and because it is close to Purim. Which we honor, Queen Esther, which her name in hebrew is Hadassah, ironic wouldn't you say?

The book, Raquela  was written in the late 70's. I felt after reading it, it was timeless. It still matters now, more than ever in Israel. The pre- and post Palestine immigrants, the culture, the Arab-Jewish relations, the British and Imperialism, etc.   I am not going into the politics, only about the history of the pre-and post Palestine.  Since I am a history buff, I loved the book by Ruth Gruber. Which I found interesting.

Ruth Gruber wrote this, trying to find a exampleary nurse, that represented Palestine. I think she did in Raquela Prywes. Raquela, was born a ninth generation Jerusalemite. Which makes this story much, more interesting. She did not come from a Orthodox family, but a traditional Jewish family like most that live in Palestine in 1940's, before the war.

There were revolts against the Jews and Arabs, and lots of fighting, and killing amongst the Jews.  Britain was limiting the amount of immigrants(holocaust survivors)from Europe after WW2, this was called the White Papers.  There were plenty of battles against Britain, but also with the Arabs.
There is plenty of historical background I am not going to get into.

There is a romance involved, her boyfriend goes off to war.  She graduated Hadassah's Nursing School. Before she graduates she meets Henrietta Szold, and she is mesmorized by her. We learn about the formation of Hadassah Hospital and the organization that Henrietta Szold forms in New York, and why, it was important to her.

Raquela, became a nurse, but her family especially her mother was not happy with her being in the thick of things.  She went to nursing school on Mt. Scopus before the battle of the Arab- Jewish conflict. We learn about the fate of the Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus, and the many doctors, and nurses that were killed.

Raquela, after she graduates she works in the field with the many military hospitals. With poor medical conditions, crowded conditions,  and not enough medical supplies, and poor sanitary conditions.  She then is recommended for a few posts for the DP Camps, of Cypress, and Athlit. Through Raquela's we learn about the culture, and what it was like to live in Palestine back in the 40's. Where Palestine was still a poor country, and a waste land and how it became a fertile country it is today.

She marries her first husband where we get a glimpse of the culture and conditions of the DP Camps, and her husbands travels. They closely worked together in research in Obstetrics, and Gynecology.  We also get a glimpse eye view from the people that were in Cypress, to Batsheva, and the Negev where she delivered babies to the Bedouin. The husbands did not want to take the wives to have their babies in the hospitals. They did not trust the medical care, but with a bit of coaxing their minds were changed.

One of my favorite parts, as a young girl growing up, and going to Sunday School I can remember the famous heroes, in Israel. Hearing the names of Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, etc.  I loved reading about them.  There is also a part where Raquela saves, and doesn't realize at first who it is, Golda Meir's daughter is about to give birth, but she has toxemia.  She saves her life.

She eventually has two children. Living in Palestine, with her children is not easy in the 60's. Through the 1967 war, all the children went to war, and you had to fight. I can remember the discussions we, as children had about that in Hebrew School. All men and women had to go into the military. That, of course is different than it is in the United States.  The book spans from the time Raquela is a little girl in 1911- 1985.

Her first husband passes away, and she marries a doctor. They work side by side for research for medical care in Israel. They come to the United States where they closely work with one of the university to learn about the medical care to bring back medical systems to Israel.

There are daily occurrences of fighting and skirmishes with Arab and Jew, and with the many countries in the middle east, for example Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, etc. 

I can remember the Zionist feeling, and now all those feeling are stirring up again. I can remember the discussions from the parents of the Hebrew and Sunday School children when I was growing up. Why would you want to do Aliya, if your child is going to enlist in military no matter if she is female or male.  Why would you go to a desolate country, where they don't have the same things we have in the U. S.

I can still remember a conversation a couple of years ago. With Mira, the Rabbi's wife. They are both Israelis. I can recall her telling me, a funny story when she was in nursing school.
 You had to pay a lot of money to ship things in special. While she was going to nursing school, I believe it was Hadassah Hospital. Her room mate received a package from home in the United States.  She was waiting for over a month to receive it, it was "Peanut Butter". Can you believe a staple that is easily bought in a store here, had to be shipped to Israel.

While her room mate was out, Mira could not contain herself and broke into the peanut butter. When her room mate came back, there was nothing left.  In some ways that is hilarious, but some ways sad.  How other countries could not get the same things that we easily could buy in a store.  Luckily, I hear that has changed because there are factories in Israel, but when it was first established there were not things that were easily accessibly, that includes wine too.

I recommend Raquela highly, and you may want to read other works by Ruth Gruber.
 My book club enjoyed reading Raquela, and told me they would recommend it to anyone that would listen.  We also watched the documentary about Ruth Gruber. I would highly recommend as well.

You may want to read my post where I honor this fabulous lady.  She was one of the few foreign correspondents in the world. She rescued 1000 holocaust survivors, from Italy to the United States, and she also took pictures of the more than 4500 holocaust survivors on the Exodus.  You can read my post on my other blog, at Bagels, Books, and Schmooze below this post.  Enjoy!!

              Happy Passover Everyone, and Next Year in Jerusalem!!!!


Erika D. said...

Ruth Gruber is indeed a fabulous lady. I haven't yet read Raquela, but I mean to! Thanks for sharing this post with the Jewish Book Carnival

Susan's Literary Cafe said...

Yes, and there are many other books, I would highly recommend Haven, as well.

Imagination Designs
Images from the Glamor Amour by Irene Alexeeva