Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rahel the Poetess

The poetry of Rahel has been described as both lyrical and sad, reflecting the challenges of her relatively  brief life and her passion for the Land of Israel.

Rahel Bluwstein Sela was born in Saratov, Russia, and raised in the Ukraine. In 1909, Rahel and her sister Shoshana, who had moved together to Odessa two years earlier, traveled to Palestine with a group of like-minded youth. The sisters fell in love with the land and decided to stay.

After moving to Rehovot, Rahel and Shoshana permitted themselves to speak Russian for only one hour a day, forcing themselves to learn Hebrew. Dedicated to the Zionist cause, Rahel headed to Kevutzat Kinneret and joined the first female training farm. In 1913, she was sent to study agronomy in Toulouse, France. Stuck in Europe because of World War I, Rahel went back to the Ukraine, where she worked in a school for refugee children and, tragically, contracted tuberculosis.

In 1919, Rahel took the first boat, the Rusland, back to the Holy Land and moved to Kibbutz Degania. Alas, she was too weak for farm labor and it was unsafe for her to work with children. There was no other job available to her at Degania.

The next few years were years of wandering for Rahel. There were also days of productivity. Her first Hebrew poem, in fact the first Hebrew poem published by a woman, was professionally published in 1920. Between 1920 and 1925, Rahel earned a living by tutoring English, French and agronomy. Her first poetry collection was published in 1927, followed by a second collection in 1930.

On April 16, 1931, at age 40, Rahel succumbed to tuberculosis. A third collection of her poetry was published posthumously shortly thereafter. Rahel has been widely recognized and honored for her contributions to Hebrew poetry. Many of her poems have been set to music. In 2011, her likeness was chosen to be printed on the new 20 Shekel bill, which will be released in the near future.

Today, March 21, is World Poetry Day and March is Women’s History Month.

A sampling of Rahel's poems.

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