A National Jewish Book Award-winning biography: A look at the early years of Israel's statehood, experienced through the life of a pioneering nurse. During her extraordinary career, nurse Raquela Prywes was a witness to history. She delivered babies in a Holocaust refugee camp and on the Israeli frontier. She crossed minefields to aid injured soldiers in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and organized hospitals to save the lives of those fighting the 1967 Six-Day War. Along the way, her own life was a series of triumphs and tragedies mirroring those of the newly formed Jewish state. Raquela is a moving tribute to a remarkable woman, and an unforgettable chronicle of the birth of Israel through the eyes of those who lived it.
It seemed to me that Raquela lived more or less in the shadow of her more successful husbands, supporting their work, even as she did her own, as women did in those early days of the twentieth century, achieving success and advancement largely through their male counterpart’s good graces. From an early age, she consistently remained dedicated to Jews and the Jewish homeland, putting the needs of the country and its people before her own, from the time before the birth of Israel and then continuing afterwards. That is not to say that she ignored her own feminine desires. She grew up with the same hopes and ideas that all young girls dream of and had many romances of her own. She adored her older first husband, a successful, brilliant doctor and when he died was lucky enough to find another man to love. She married an old friend and associate of theirs, another successful doctor who had recently lost his wife. They, too, had a very happy, compatible and successful marriage.
Raquela was an accomplished nurse and midwife, praised and honored by those with whom she came in contact. She became involved in the development of programs to aid women throughout her career and even continued her first husband’s work after his death, enabled in this effort by another scholar and doctor. As a young nurse, she volunteered to work as a midwife in the DP camps set up by the British for Jewish immigrants. These Jews were caught trying to sneak into what later became Israel. They were just looking for a place to feel safe. It was after WWII and the Holocaust. In Europe, they continued to be persecuted when they tried to return to the homes they had lived in before the time of Adolf Hitler. Other people had moved into their former lives and refused to relinquish what they had stolen.
Raquela described the conditions in the camps. When compared to the camps set up for the Arabs by the United Nations which looked like suburban communities, the set up for the Jews by the British were like slums. Keep in mind, these people had already suffered the indecencies, indignities and horrors of the Holocaust and were now basically back in prison with inadequate medical care or equipment, even for the women who were pregnant. Many died as did their offspring. Their mental health was also ignored and when separated from their husbands and families, their fears of being tortured and slaughtered were once again renewed. Raquela brought her skill and personality to their care and also to others who were ill since doctors were in short supply and often unavailable in these camps.
Although the British had been presented with The Balfour Declaration in a letter written in 1917, expressing support for a Jewish State, they did not honor it. Finally, in 1939, The White Paper was written, calling for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland within the Palestinian Territory. However, it curtailed the ability to establish the homeland with its very strict requirements favoring the Arabs, and it, too, was never formally approved. Arab approval was a requirement for its acceptance and to this day that has never truly come to pass. The Arabs still consistently call for the annihilation of all Jews and refuse to recognize the Jewish homeland.
Repeatedly attacked by Arabs who now refused to accept the 1948 United Nations decision to establish the State of Israel, Arabs who even refused to accept the idea of a partition which would have given them both a safe place to live, the Israelis found themselves ill equipped to fight back. Yet they did, and were successful, in spite of the odds that were hugely against them. Great Britain, America and other countries still harbor anti-Semitism, still covet the oil in the Arab countries, still fear Muslim uprisings, and are still largely unwilling to publicly and loudly acknowledge and provide the Jews with the safe haven they need or the weapons required to help them maintain their security until their backs are against the wall and they have suffered unnecessary casualties. They truly have to answer to a higher standard.
Through the decades, as the Jews have been attacked by Arabs bent on their total destruction, the UN has remained silent or has condemned Israel. When it was believed that the Arabs had the upper hand, the UN did not react or intercede. However, the UN never failed to call for a cease fire and/or a truce when it was proven that the Arabs were losing in their fight against Israel. It seems that little has changed today. If anything, it has gotten worse with the spread of the BDS movement (a movement to boycott Israeli products manufactured in the West Bank), and the abundance of misinformation that is consistently dispersed, even by those in power in the United States, by those in the liberal media and in liberal schools, and often, by some misguided Jews, as well. Israel is still the David to the Goliaths of the world. It is my hope that readers of this book will be inspired to discover the real facts about Jewish history and the establishment of the state of Israel so that they will recognize the negative influence of the Arab countries and Muslim societies toward that effort to find a peaceful solution to the problem.
At this moment, the remarkable author of this book is alive and well at 104 years old. Originally published in 1978, it is a biography that crosses age lines because there is nothing in this book that could be characterized as offensive to either young or older adults. There is no indiscriminate sex or foul language, although there are some descriptions of warfare and the Holocaust that are more explicit. The book is written with an easy to read prose, simply, almost in conversational style. Although billed as an award winning biography, it reads more like historic fiction, especially when the once congenial relationship that existed between the Arabs and the Jews was described briefly through the characters of Aisha, a Muslim woman, and Tova, a Jew, mother of Raquela. According to the book, they actually liked each other and shared their time, conversation and tea together. Wouldn’t it be nice if that situation were to be reconstructed today, everywhere in the Middle East.