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The Life of Gluckel of Hameln

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The Life of Gluckel of Hameln

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The Life of Glückel of Hameln
Written by Herself
Translated from the original Yiddish and edited by Beth-Zion Abrahams
Jewish Publication Society, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-8276-0914-3

Reviewed by Simone Bonim - February 25, 2010

Glückel of Hameln was born in the Hamburg ghetto in 1646. She passed away in 1724 after living a remarkable life, one made even more remarkable because, before she died, she wrote her memoirs, giving the world an opportunity to take a glimpse into her life. At the age of fourteen, Glückel married. During the course of her marriage she had twelve children and ran a successful business. After the death of her first husband, Chaim Segal of Hameln, Glückel began to write her memoir, providing prosperity with a record of her life and the events she witnessed. Compelled by a desire for security in her old age, Glückel remarried after her beloved first husband died. Her second husband, Hirsch Levy, a respected banker, went bankrupt and she spent the remainder of her life living in poverty. All of these events and more are chronicled in the seven books that comprise her memoir.

Her compelling account provides not only a glimpse into the life of a remarkable woman, but also what life was like for Jews in Germany during the 17th century. Her memoir was first published in book form in 1892, and it was not until the early 1960's that an English translation of Glückel of Hameln's memoirs was published. This edition has been, for far too long, out of print. Thankfully, in 2010, the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) re-released this historic book. This new edition features a detailed and informative introduction by Beth-Zion Abrahams that provides additional information about Glückel, in addition to that which is provided in her own narrative. This introduction also firmly sets Glückel's story within the context of world events, and the Jewish community as a whole.

Beth-Zion Abrahams' authoritative translation of this book has been enhanced by the inclusion of period illustrations. The Life of Glückel of Hameln is an important historical document, not only in regard to Jewish communal life, but also due to the various world events that she chronicled, including information about Sabbatai Zevi as well as political conflicts and wars that occurred during her life. This is also a fascinating book to read on a number of different levels. Glückel is a very honest writer, and she shares with readers some very intimate moments of her life. Her love for her first husband comes across clearly, as does her ambivalence for her second. When one of her sons dies, her grief is palatable, as are her numerous joys. This is also an important book because it is written at a time when women simply did not write books - Jewish or not. It is one of the earliest manuscripts that was written in Yiddish. Reading this book is like taking a step back into time as Glückel shares her thoughts, feelings, and the general events in her life with an old friend.

This book should be required reading in not only classes on Jewish history and culture, but also in general women's history classes as well as classes on 17th century European history. This is a book that will enhance, and should be added, to all private and public libraries, both Jewish and secular.

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