“Who Am I and Where Is Home?: An American Woman in 1931 Palestine” by Andrea Jackson— Letters Home

Jackson, Andrea. “Who Am I and Where Is Home?: An American Woman in 1931 Palestine”, Andrea Jackson, 2017.

Letters Home

Amos Lassen

Many of you know that I spent almost half of my life living in Israel and that I am always ready to read about the experience of others who lived there. Andrea Jackson was there some thirty years before I got to Israel and her story is fascinating. This is a biography/memoir that is written through letters to and from Jackson’s mother, Celia, during the year that she was in what was known then as Palestine during the American Depression. These letters were to and from her family and two of her “boyfriends”, one of whom was an ardent Zionist and the other who was a young attorney trying to support his parents and sisters. Celia was in Jerusalem where she was friendly with other Americans and where she taught English and later worked as secretary to a British engineer who was working on overhauling the Jerusalem sewer system (‘which had been constructed by the Romans some 2000 years before”).

While this is a biography, it is also the story of two women; Celia Antopolsky, the author’s mother, and her best friend Lillian Shapiro who went to Palestine in 1930-1931. They were both highly independent and loved new experiences, one of which was their desire to see Palestine and so they did, sailing on a cargo ship for a month crossing the ocean and even buying weapons for Jewish settlers who need self-protection and then smuggling them into Palestine.

The letters that the women wrote are filled with wonderful descriptions. donkeys, camels, and vibrant bazaars. Celia was a true romantic and her descriptions of Jerusalem make you feel like you are actually there. There is also a political side to the letters and we read about the relationship between America and Palestine, the White Paper that gave the rules and laws of British policy in Palestine that limited Jewish immigration and development. And the letters are personal in that we read about what happens when women choose to trade their independent beings to become wives and mothers.

When the two women went to Palestine, it was almost unheard of for them to do so. They knew very little about the country or the people and young women did not just pick up and travel to destinations so far from home.

Through the letters, we see Celia as a woman who was in love with life and who was totally charming to those she met. I found it very interesting that there was nothing about Nazi Germany and the future of European Jewry but then no one really could have thought about what the future would bring.

I could not stop reading once I began and I was constantly comparing my experiences in Israel (some thirty-five years later) and was amazed that we shared the same elements of surprise at seeing Jerusalem with all of its beauty, charms and wonders.