Letters From Rifka Summary

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Letters From Rifka Summary

Letters From Rifka Summary

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Karen Hesse’s historical novel for young adults, Letters from Rifka (1992), is about a girl named Rifka who leaves Russia in 1919. The book has received much critical acclaim and won the Sydney Taylor Award for Older Children and the National Jewish Book Award for Children’s Literature. Karen Hesse is an award-winning author of historical novels.

A young girl named Rifka lives in Russia with her parents and siblings. At that time, the Russians were persecuting Jews. The Tsar expects all Jewish men to join his army and fight in his wars, but Rifka’s brothers refuse to return to the army after abandoning him once. Soldiers come looking for them, but they are nowhere to be found.

Nathan and Saul must be kept safe to avoid being captured by Russian soldiers. Rifka’s older brothers live in the United States, so they decide she would be safer for everyone if they all moved there. However, it will be difficult because there are Russian soldiers everywhere. If Nathan or Saul are identified, they will be imprisoned or killed on sight.

The family is sneaking out of the house to go to America. Rifka, one of her cousins, wants to keep in touch with Tovah who stays in Russia. Rifka takes a book of poems and writes letters to us for Tovah as they cross Russia.

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Soon, the family encounters their first problem. They board a train from Russia and head to Poland to escape the Nazis. However, the guards may recognize them on board and must be careful not to get caught. Rifka distracts the guards so that her family can get off the train without being captured by other guards patrolling that car. Once off the train, they try to enter Poland, but right now there are border officials interrogating Jews, so they must be discreet when crossing.

Eventually, they enter Poland and travel to Warsaw. Cheering is spreading through the city as they arrive. Everyone in Rifka’s family gets sick except Saul, so they have to be hospitalized. Once everyone has recovered enough to leave the hospital, tickets are purchased for them on a steamship bound for America.

Rifka is angry that she thinks she is her fault that they are stuck in Poland. She has a skin disease and her family cannot travel with her. They take care of Rifka until the Immigrant Aid Society finds another place to stay for her.

Letters From Rifka Summary

A company will take care of her until she is well enough to travel. They send her to Belgium for ringworm treatment and find her a place to stay in the meantime. Rifka meets a young couple who agree to take care of her until she can travel again. The nurse who cares speaks the same language as Rifka, so this makes things easier for Rifka. She doesn’t expect her to like Belgium, but she finds herself settling well there and appreciating it more than expected. She starts her ringworm cure and spends most of her time reading new books waiting for them to heal completely before continuing her journey to America.

Study Guide: Letters From Rifka By Karen Hesse (supersummary): Supersummary: 9798475320891: Amazon.com: Books

When Rifka’s treatment starts working, her hair falls out. It is not clear if she will grow back. She is embarrassed by her hair loss, but she knows she needs to heal and find her family in the United States. Once she is cured of this disease, she will be able to travel again and return home with all of us who have cared for her for so long.

Rifka managed to get on a steamer and cross the ocean. However, she faced many obstacles on her journey due to strong winds and stormy conditions. But she managed to cross the Atlantic Ocean to Ellis Island in New York City. She had another obstacle: Ellis Island doctors wouldn’t let her into the United States until they were sure she was cured of ringworm (a disease). They also wanted to make sure Rifka’s hair grew back so she could find a husband; otherwise, they would send her back home where unmarried women become a burden on their families or are forced into prostitution if there are no men around to marry them.

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