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Rachel Bella Kahn Calof


CALOF, RACHEL BELLA KAHN (1876–1952), Jewish American homesteader between 1894 and 1917 at Devils Lake, North Dakota, who wrote her autobiography in Yiddish in 1936. Born in Ukraine and orphaned early, Rachel lived with her rigidly observant grandfather until an inappropriate romance resulted in her family's arranging her engagement to Abraham Calof, who was already living in the United States. Rachel's memoir describes her journey, her meeting with Abraham in New York City, and her decision to move with him to North Dakota to join a larger community of Jewish homesteaders. Her accounts of her wedding, the harsh winters and demands of agricultural life, and some of her nine children's births reveal an environment of poverty, crowding, and deprivation. While observing Jewish traditions such as circumcision and dietary laws imposed difficulties on the desperately poor and isolated families, Calof also conveys religious observance as satisfying and makes clear that she took pride in her role as a Jewish homemaker. After 23 difficult years on the farm and eventual economic success, the Calof family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1917, where Calof wrote her memoir. Archival evidence indicates that she unsuccessfully submitted her manuscript to the Yiddish newspaper The Forward, indicating that she had literary aspirations beyond a family audience. Rachel Calof 's manuscript was translated into English about 20 years after her death by her cousin, Molly Shaw, and edited and compiled into a typed manuscript by her son, Jacob Calof. J. Sanford Rikoon found a copy at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati and edited and published it as Rachel Calof 's Story: Jewish Homesteader on the Northern Plains (Indiana University Press, 1995). Recent studies indicate significant divergences between the original Yiddish manuscript and its English versions, raising questions about its translation, editing, and likely additions of material from other sources. While a copy of the original Yiddish manuscript is at the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest, access to it is restricted by the Calof family, which also limits publication of this document. It seems likely that Rachel Calof 's Story is a hybrid text, integrating both oral histories and an original written memoir to portray a more complete, if idealized, picture of life on the homestead.


K. Peleg. "In Search of Rachel Calof 's Original Manuscript," in: Jewish American History (2005).

[Kristine Peleg (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.