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Rebekah Hyneman

(1812 - 1875)


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Born in Philadelphia to a Jewish father and Christian mother, Rebekah Gumpert, raised in her father's faith, remained a devout Jew all her life. Following a business failure, her father had to take the family to Bucks County, where there were no facilities for formal education. Like Penina Moise, Rebekah acquired her literary background by individual study, mastering French and German, and later in life, Hebrew. She married Benjamin Hyneman, took his name and reaffirmed his faith as her faith; but when she was five years wed, mother of a son and expecting another child, her married life came to an end. Benjamin never returned from a business trip to the West. It was believed that he was murdered for the valuable jewelry he carried to sell. Rebekah never remarried and took to writing stories, a novelette entitled Woman's Strength, but most of all poems, many published in The Occident. In 18 5 3 a collection of them, The Leper and Other Poems, was published in Philadelphia.

The love for her faith, its people, its holy days and holy places shines through her words. She writes of her biblical namesake:

When thy dark eyes were heaven-ward raised,
   Did fires prophetic light thy soul,
And point to thee the weary path,
Thy children tread to win their goal?

Deep in each earnest Jewish heart
Are shrined those memories of the past,
Memories that time can ne'er efface,
   Nor sorrow's blighting wing o'ercast.

Of "Israel's Trust," she writes:

Borne down beneath insulting foes,
   Defamed, dishonored, and oppressed,
Our country fallen and desolate,
     Our name a by-word and a jest

Still are we Thine--as wholly Thine
As when Judea's trumpets' tone
Breathed proud defiance to her foes,
And nations knelt before her throne.

We are Thine own; we cling to thee
   As clings the tendril to the vine;
Oh! 'mid the world's bewildering maze,
     Still keep us Thine, forever Thine!

Again and again, her life was scarred by tragedy. Early widowed, she also lost her two sons. Barton suffered long from a fatal disease; Elias Leon, who at twenty-eight volunteered for service in the Civil War, was captured and imprisoned in the dread Andersonville prison. in half a year, cruel treatment and starvation took its toll. These lines she wrote are a fitting epitaph:

   Now let me die!
The bloom of earth has passed away--
Its pleasures pall, its flowers decay--
The hopes that lured with dazzling ray,
   Low, withered lie.

   Oh! placid sleep,
I sink at last in thy embrace;
My task is done--a weary race
Was mine on earth; let my resting-place
     Be lone and deep.


Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).

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