Updated: Jan 10
Raisa Berovna Abramova (nee Rifkina) was born in Odessa, Ukraine, in 1873. She is Sam's mother. She is less strict than her husband, Lev, but she can be quite demanding at times, although she is much more understanding of Sam than Lev usually is.
Growing up, she was the youngest of her parents' 5 children and as such, was babied through her formative years. Her family was originally from Slutsk in Belarus, thus making her family of Litvak origin, just like Lev's.
Her father was a Yiddish poet and involved in the Yiddishist movement, which sought to promote Yiddish literature and art. She met Lev at the Yiddish theatre and was thoroughly impressed by his convictions and intense personality.
She is a sensitive person who always thinks of the worst possible outcome. As such, she can be quite the worrywart.
She met Lev while they were both at the Yiddish theatre in 1894. Lev was 24 and Raisa was 21. Raisa was working in her watch-maker father’s shop and Lev was working as a newspaper editor at the time.
It so happened that she always managed to bump into him every time she went to the Yiddish theatre. He was there to meet some other people in the Left-wing movements, and many of them tended to congregate at the Yiddish theatre. Eventually, she worked up the courage to talk to Lev, since she thought (and her friends as well) he was rather attractive and that he stuck out from the rest since he had such firm convictions and such an intense personality.
Lev liked how Raisa was open-minded and enjoyed how she asked him about things he didn’t usually care too much about (he was a bit too focused on politics and what’s right and what’s wrong), such as music, food, and poetry. Lev was never really into literature, but due to Raisa’s influence, he started reading more of it. Previously, he had dismissed reading fiction and literature as unimportant since he prefers to focus on the “real world,” as he calls it.
They got along pretty well, despite their differences, and Lev eventually found himself opening up to Raisa. He appreciated her emotional candour and came to appreciate the fact she wasn’t as political as he was - because he did appreciate being able to take a break from politics and being political. She agreed with many of his principles, however, though she was nowhere as vocal as he was.
Lev and Raisa were quite in love with each other, so they decided to get married in 1896.
In 1898, due to socio-economic pressures and the pogroms rocking Ukraine, Raisa and Lev decide to take the big step of immigrating to America, the "Golden Land" of opportunity (or so they were told).
Raisa and Lev settle on the Lower East Side and become newspaper editors and writers for a number of Yiddish newspapers.
In the USA, she is also known as "Raisa Abramov" to avoid confusion, since "Abramova" is the feminine version of "Abramov" and there are no gendered last names in English.
Find out more about her in this episode of our podcast: