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Rachel Calof's Story
(Rachel Calof)

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Rachel Calof wrote her autobiography not with particular intention of publishing the same but to keep a record of her life struggle and subsequent success. Probably she never knew what historical value the memoir might carry. The community at large is thankful to her son who brought this book into light as recorded history of the immigrant Jewish struggle in northern plains during the end of 19th century.Rachel was born in 1876 in Russia in a traditional Jewish family. At the age on only four years, she lost her father and started to live with her grandfather and her aunt in a neglected manner. Her marriage was arranged by mail with another immigrant Jew called Abraham Calof who settled in U.S. Rachel traveled to U.S. almost like a mail order bride and got married to Abraham and that is how she became Rachel Calof. Her grandfather and aunt were more than happy to get relieved by exporting the girl since there was no dowry in store for her.Abraham and Rachel choose homesteading as their option for livelihood moved to North Dakota prairie, where many of Calof?s relatives settled, and claimed homestead land.Over the next 23 years Rachel and Abraham struggled so hard to give shape to their family that the story itself is enough of a compelling reason for its reading. This part of the story gives a vivid account of her surroundings and conditions of the then typical superstitious Jewish homestead family.This part of her memoir was so distressful that Rachel rarely recalls about better side of life. The book serves as a recorded history in this regard and teaches us even today as to how hard work, perseverance and intelligence can bring success.Her disappointment started when she first met her in-laws and saw their living condition. They were living in a very little dirty room. The flooring was full of dust. As fuel, cow pie was to be used. There were at least seven adults to share one room. The financial condition was so poor that it was almost impossible to get two squares meals a day.There was nothing called privacy. Rachel disliked this aspect to her core owing to her relatively modern outlook. This is one of the issues, which she decided to tackle decisively, and thereby started her protest. The book narrates how she prevailed upon the prejudices of the Calof family and earned justice to her demand.Rachel had to bear eight children in a relatively short span of time, which took heavy toll on her health. Added to that her mother-in-law?s superstitions, quarrelling nature and primitive attitudes made her life miserable. This aspect of her life has been dealt in book in great detail. It was her sister-in-law who helped her to overcome her emotional stress apart from her husband Abraham. The scarcity of food throughout this tenure of struggle was extreme and Rachel described this aspect in a very candid manner to explain the conditions they passed through at that time.Rachel? grandfather in Russia was very strict religious Jew almost like a fanatic and she had to follow their laws and superstitions despite her different outlook. So was the case with her mother-in-law in plains. It was this aspect, which brought great agony to her life that she has mentioned throughout her book. Her mother-in-law?s superstitions made Rachel?s life miserable. In fact in one occasion for a temporary period she almost lost sanity. Fortunately with the help of her sister-in-law she recovered.The ray of hope finally started falling on the family and Rachel when they could a build a small house of their own. From this point the story of struggle started turning towards a story of success. Gradually the Calof family became the bastion of Devil Lake?s Jewish farming community. On holidays it was Calof?s family, which used to host the Jewish community of the entire state to pursue their Jewish culture and traditions.Abraham established schools for the community and did a Herculean task by standards of those days. In fact two of the American Presidents felicitated them for their contribution to the community.Her story of prairie could not glorify the plains. Instead it was full with the details of hardship and consequent struggle for survival. So finally in the search of a better quality of life, the Calof family opted for a city life when they almost ran out of steam with homesteading and moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1917.The story of Rachel family?s days in St. Paul is also full of entrepreneurship which went as usual with further struggle and subsequent success along with active community services. In the search of divergence, which was their mainstay of success, Abe initially ran a grocery store and then distributorship of dry goods from his cycle or car in St Paul. Rachel died in Seattle at the age of seventysix. In summary Rachel Calof?s Story is historical account of the life struggle Jewish homestead immigrants face in the late nineteenth century. But the story is not limited to horror but is more glorified with the success of a determined woman with a modern outlook. This story teaches us, especially women community, to fight odds with intelligence, patience, perseverance and hard work. This also a landmark document to shed religious superstitions in the interest of the family and society at large.



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