Trail of Miracles
Israeli author Herzfeld’s first English-language release is short but lyrically powerful. Addressing the God she loves, Gittel, a Jewish woman born in a Ukrainian village in the late 18th century, delivers an account which simultaneously serves as an impassioned memoir, her expression of faith, and a lament for the path she didn’t choose. In her old age, Gittel lives in Jerusalem, a land of three faiths, working as a washerwoman and healing the sick. As she reveals, her journey to the Holy City was an unusual one.
When she is just twelve, her devout parents arrange her hasty marriage to Avraham, son of the Maggid (itinerant preacher) of Mezeritch, a match suggested by his spiritual advisors in order to save Avraham’s life. Feeling abandoned by her father, who’s too busy studying Torah to tell her goodbye, and neglected by her silent, wraithlike husband, Gittel lives a frightened, lonely existence in her new home. Her main consolation is her growing friendship with her father-in-law, a prominent disciple of the new Hasidic movement. “A splendid future awaits you, Gittel,” he tells her, “and it is my voice and eyes that will follow you every moment.” His words and support give her hope. Years later, after his death and her husband’s, Gittel refuses to remarry. Instead, she dares to pursue her childhood dream of a life in Jerusalem, leaving her two young sons in another’s care.
Gittel’s account follows the path of her thoughts, from her marriage’s unhappy early days to her present life of poverty and prayer to her earlier journey south, a rare feat for a woman alone. The novel is replete with Eastern European Jewish customs, and its tone is frequently mystical. The details are specific to its time and place, while Trail of Miracles follows in the tradition of presenting little-known historical women’s voices.