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Rahel Bluwstein

(1890 -1931)

Rahel (pseudonym of Rahel Bluwstein) was born in Saratov, on the Volga in northern Russia, and raised in Poltava. She began writing poetry in Russian at the age of 15 and also studied painting.

In 1909, at the age of 19, she emigrated to Ere? Israel, settling in Re?ovot. She abandoned her native Russian idiom and learned Hebrew. Under the influence of the pioneer Zionist Hannah Maisel (Sho?at) she became a pioneer and was one of the first trainees at the young women's training farm at Kinneret. At Kinneret she met Aaron David Gordon, the philosopher of Zionist agrarianism, and dedicated her first Hebrew poem, "Halokh Nefesh" ("Mood"), in Ha-Shilo'a?, 37 (1920) to him.

Having decided on an agricultural life, she moved to France in 1913 to study agronomy at the University of Toulouse. Unable to return to Ere? Israel because of World War I, she went to Russia, where she taught Jewish refugee children.

In 1919, she returned to Eretz-Israel on board the ship "Ruslan" and settled in Deganyah. Having contracted tuberculosis during the war, however, she soon became too ill for farm life and had to spend the rest of her life in hospitals and sanatoria. She is buried in the kibbutz Kinneret cemetery alongside many of the socialist ideologues and pioneers of the second and third waves of immigration to Eretz-Israel.

Ra?el is among the first modern Hebrew poets who wrote in a conversational style. Her knowledge of Hebrew was drawn from both the developing spoken idiom and the Bible. She was also influenced by the conversational school which then prevailed in Russian poetry (Blok, Akhmatova, and Yesenin). Her poems are characterized by a clear, uncomplicated lyrical line and a musicality, then rare in Hebrew poetry. Invariably short, her poems are elegiac and nostalgic in tone, many of them reflecting the pessimism of a young writer on the brink of death. These qualities made her writings very popular with younger Hebrew readers and with the general public. Many of the poems, including the widely sung "Kinneret," have been put to music.

Ra?el also translated Russian, Yiddish, and French poetry and wrote occasional pieces of criticism. Two volumes of her verse appeared in her lifetime: Safi'a? ("After-growth," 1927), Mi-Neged ("From Opposite," 1930), and one posthumously, Nevo (1932). These were collected in Shirat Ra?el ("The Poetry of Ra?el," 1935), the eighth edition (1961) of which also contains her other works as well as a biography by Bracha *?abas and a bibliography of her poems and their translations. Uri Milstein edited a collection of Ra?el's poems, letters, and articles with a biographical essay (1985) and Z. Yafit published all of her poems accompanied by a biographical note (2000). An unknown short play written in Deganyah 1919/1920, in which Rahel depicts with a grain of irony the life of the pioneers and the gap between ideals and daily life, was discovered by Dana Olmert and published in the literary supplement of Haaretz (November 19, 2004). Rahel's poems have been translated into many languages and information is available at the ITHL website at www.ithl.org.il.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Kressel, Leksikon, 1 (1965), 243–4; R. Wallenrod, Literature of Modern Israel (1956), 54–59; Goell, Bibliography, for list of her poetry translated into English. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Krit?, Al Shirat Ra?el (1969; 1987); idem, Shirei Ra?el, Shirat Ra?el (with biographical notes and bibliography, 2003); A. Bar, Ha-Meshoreret mi-Kinneret: Sippurah shel Ra?el (1993); M. Zur, "Rahel," in: Y. Bartal and Z. Zahor (eds.), Ha-Aliyah ha-Sheniyah, 3 (1998) 336–46; E. Zadik, Aliyah la-Regel le-Kever Ra?el ha-Meshoreret: Semalim ve-Dat Ezra?it ba-?evrah ha-Yisraelit (2000); R. Lapidus, "Between 'Reeds' and 'New Growths': On the Influence of Anna Akhmatova on the Poetry of Rahel," in: Trumah, 13 (2003), 227–37; Y. Peles, "Kol Mah she-Ra?ita la-Da'at al Lev Kore'a, Einayim Meshav'ot vi-Ydei Ga'agu'im," in: Haaretz (June 25, 2004).

Additional Sources:

The Jewish Agency for Israel and The World Zionist Organization