July 6, 2010

Immigration story

Letters From Rifka
by Karen Hesse

It is 1919, and Rifka's family is leaving Russia for America. They are Jewish and want to avoid further persecution from the Russian soldiers. But in Poland, Rifka is prevented from emigrating because she's contracted ringworm. Fortunately, she is helped by members of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. They send her to Belgium for treatment while her parents and brothers sail for New York City. Although lonely and scared, she warms to the kindness of the Belgian people, gaining courage to face her adversities - losing her hair, surviving a storm at sea, and being stranded on Ellis Island and threatened with deportation.

Rifka tells her story in a series of letters written to her cousin Tovah, still in Russia. She writes the letters in the margins of a book of poetry by Alexander Pushkin. Excerpts from Pushkin's poems preface each letter, foreshadowing the action that is to come. The verses draw the reader into a heartfelt, memorable story.

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