Author: Efrat Israeli
The fascinating early life of Israel's first woman Prime Minister, Golda Meir and the world's fourth woman to hold such an office has yet to lose its capacity to intrigue readers.
In her debut novel, Her Promised Road Israeli novelist Efrat Israeli blends known facts with fiction and uses the chronicles of the early life of Meir as an effective framing device in creating her protagonist, Devorah Abramson.
As the story unfolds, we learn that Devorah's father travelled from Russia to New York in 1903 hoping to find work as a carpenter. Her mother and two sisters, Sonia and Raisale waited in Russia for three years until her father had enough money for their travel expenses to bring them to Milwaukee where he had found work.
Devorah spends her early years in the USA where she becomes a school teacher in Milwaukee and at the same time becomes involved with the Labor Zionist movement. Eventually, she meets and marries her husband Izik and the couple make aliyah to Palestine.
In Palestine Devorah becomes very active with Mo'ezet haPo'alot. which is the council of working women affiliated with the Histadrut (General Federation of Laborers in the Land of Israel). And in the USA there is an organization known as the Pioneer Women that considers itself to be the sister movement of Mo'ezet haPo'alot.
During the early part of the 1930's a thirty-three year old Devorah is sent as a delegate for two years to the USA. The purpose of the trip is not only to raise money and increase donations to help the creation of the future State of Israel but also to connect and to relate to each and every American Jewish denomination in order that they would feel an essential part of its rebirth.
Devorah travels to the USA with her two young children, Yehuda and Hanna, but without her husband Izik, and as she laments, her emotional detachment from him was slow and steady. Devorah informs us that her marriage was a package and that she was the package-”a woman clear, with every ounce of her being, on the justness of the modern rebirth of the Jewish state..... if Izik hoped that I would change with the passage of time, it was his own heart's desire, an illusion that could never come to pass.”
Much of her time in America is spent in speaking engagements where she spreads the word of the need to support the Pioneer Women and embrace their vision of expanding the boundaries of the Jewish women in Palestine in securing their full and equal participation in the process of Jewish national reconstruction. And as we tag along with her we can appreciate her many conflicts and pain in leaving her children in the care of friends and caretakers and wondering, as she does, how will they manage without her. We can also comprehend the struggles she experiences in becoming romantically involved with a few suitors, and as she states, perhaps I was afraid that I would meet someone who would want me but not enough to return to Palestine with me.
A good part of the novel is taken up with Devorah's candid letters to her sister Sonichka (Sonia) whom she adores and to whom she confesses that her life has become tangled and tortuous while she anxiously runs from place to place, always seeking to accomplish more and never satisfied.
What is praiseworthy about this novel is that Israeli freely interweaves invented characters with the actual events that transpired at the time of Devorah's stay in the USA, which, to a certain extent, mirrors the ventures of Golda Meir when she was sent to America in the early 1930's. On the other hand, where the novel falters is its failure to effectively capture the mood of Devorah's sojourn in America. After all, this was the era of the great depression when most people were wondering where they were going to earn the next dollar to put food on their tables. To read some of the descriptions of the people whom she met and the homes she visited and stayed in, you would get the impression that all was “honky dory.” It should be noted that the world of the novel is composed of more than landscape and rooms. It is capturing not only place, but people living in an environment; not only history but also how people change as the story unfolds. Nonetheless, Israeli does show promise and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.