7: Antecedent from a previous generation: Excerpt, Puah Rakovsky’s “My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman: Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland,” trans. Barbra Harshav with Paula Hyman.
This memoir was written between 1940 and 1942, and first published in Hebrew translation in 1952 and then in the original Yiddish in 1954 in Buenes Aires. It describes Rakovsky’s journey from an Orthodox home in Bialystok to a secular Jewish life as a Zionist Feminist activist. In this excerpt, Rakovsky, who has abandoned her first, arranged marriage and obtained a divorce against her family’s determined opposition, moves to Warsaw to begin her career, and must consider what this means for her children.
Suggested Activities:Have your students discuss the following questions: Why does Rakovsky choose not to leave her son with her father? What are the considerations in this decision? . How is Rakovsky’s experience of leaving Orthodoxy for a secular lifestyle inflected by the obligations and social roles she has as a woman? To what extent is this passage about the emotional challenges of leaving Hasidism for a secular environment, and to what extent is it about practical challenges?
Obviously the presence of children complicates a social transition. Invite your students to make an imaginative diary entry, or perhaps a childlike drawing or painting, portraying the perspective of Rakovsky’s son or daughter as they adjust to moving from one part of Europe to another, one household to another, one lifestyle to another, all because of Rakovsky’s intellectual and spiritual journey which perhaps they cannot fully understand. How would the child make sense of what is happening to their world? What attachments, anticipations and excitements, or disappointments would be present for the child?
Source: Rakovsky, Puah. My Life as a Radical Jewish Woman: Memoirs of a Zionist Feminist in Poland. [Zikhroynes fun a yiddisher revolutsyonerin] ed. and introduced by Paula E. Hyman, Trans. Barbara Harshav with Paula Hyman. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2002.