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Immigrant Lessons

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Immigrant Lessons

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Immigrant Lessons
By Judith Edelman-Green
Gefen Publishing House, 2007, 255 pages
ISBN: 978-965-229-413-5

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - September 21, 2010

There are many books, memoirs, histories, stories, that tell about the experiences of newcomers to Israel, but this is in the top class of these books. It is not instructional. It is closer to a novel of the interesting experiences of two families, at two very different periods, an aliyah from Hungary in 1939 and another from America in 1984, by distant relatives. Both are women. Both come to Israel and leave parents and siblings behind. Both arrive with an intense love of the ancient Jewish homeland. Both are not religious. Both encounter difficulties, for they were not born in their new land. Both are immigrants. Though both learn to speak Hebrew well, both have accents that tell Israelis every day of their future lives that they were not born in Israel.

The story is told in a kaleidoscope manner, one family, then the other, then the two together, in no orderly chronological manner, although the dates are always given. The opening chapters, for example, tell about 1939 and 1983, then 1968 and 1984, then 1978, then 1944, then 1978 and 1930. This kaleidoscope effect adds striking captivating color and drama, and broadens and deepens the readers' reading experiences when they see and understand the connection between events and the participants' reactions.

Thus, this is more a novel than a tale of difficulties faced by immigrants. There is the story of Sarah's strong desire to join the Palestinian youth group in Hungary, when Hitler was threatening the lives of Jews, and how she did so despite the strong refusal by her mother who was concerned that she would be living with boys and would neglect the Jewish practices that were so important to her and her husband. Then, in 1939, when Sarah was chosen to immigrate to Palestine as part of the Youth Aliyah, her mother begged her, "Take me with you." But it was too late; the transport was restricted to the young. As the Nazis marched toward her house to take her, Sarah's mother climbed to the top of her barn and hung herself. Sarah's father was offered the chance to hide with non-Jews, but refused and allowed himself to be taken by the Germans to his death because he felt that living with non-Jews would adulterate his Jewishness. These pathetic tales are riveting when told with details by Edelman-Green.

And so, Sarah comes to Palestine with a boy she met in the youth group. They marry and have children. One is Raphi who is shot and killed during the Yom Kippur War of 1967, when he volunteers to go to the front lines, when he has no obligation to do so. Sarah attends a lecture sometime after her son's death. The rabbi speaks about the difficulties Abraham suffered when God told him to sacrifice his son. The rabbi gives as an example of sacrifice Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Martin Luther King. Thinking of Raphi and her life without him, Sarah rose and left.

Judith Edelman-Green comes to Israel with her husband in 1984 and names her son Raphi after the first Raphi. Her Raphi, like all Israelis, must serve in the military, and Judith worries constantly during all the years of his service that he may die like the first Raphi.

The relationship that develops between Judith and Sarah is remarkable and a pleasure to read about, as is this entire well-written book.


Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of seventeen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on www.ou.org/torah and on www.yutorah@yutorah.org. His website is http://booksnthoughts.com.

The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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