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The Saga of Rifka and Herschel
The Saga of Rifka and Herschel begins in South Africa where Herschel Haverman joins the Frankel family after his parents are murdered in Lithuania. Eventually, Herschel goes to Munich for his rabbinical studies. He rejoins the Frankels in Boston, where Rifka’s father, Abraham, marries Rifka to Herschel in a surprise substitution for her sister, Manya. Herschel, betrayed, bitter, and madly in love with Manya, does not restrain his fury and contempt for Rifka and Abraham. Herschel leaves for New York City with his unwanted bride and his first job as a rabbi. Rifka is resourceful as she attempts to win Herschel’s love.
"New York’s complexity and bustle between 1900 and the First World War captivate Rifka’s emotional and artistic attention. She discovers the politics of unionism and feminism as these inevitably bear on her effort to create a life of integrity as a rebbetzin with the man she loves. Rifka, a talented painter and the favorite daughter of a rich man, sees in New York lives she didn’t know were possible."
New York was like nowhere else in the world. An unquenchable restlessness, a frontal movement of people and horses, a dynamic flow of humanity, and Rifka was gripped with a burning glow inside her as if the future opened its arms. For the first time she felt she belonged. Every face begged her, paint me. Clouds of Yiddish filtered through the air. Peddlers singing their wares. Young boys pushing along wagons of clothing. Clean-shaven men and immigrant women still wearing their babushkas, an aroma of Jewish magnetism.
Dorothy Friedman evokes Jewish characters struggling with love, religious issues, and radical politics. At the core of Rifka is the biblical story of Jacob’s being deceived into marrying the wrong bride.
"The social issues of the early twentieth century and the Jewish role in them provide a worthy background to a story about the love of men and women for one another, and of both for God."Robert Rodman.