Rachel Bluwstein Sela (1890 – 1931) was a Hebrew-language poet who immigrated to Palestine in 1909. She is known by her first name, Rachel, or as Rachel the Poetess.
Born in Saratov in Imperial Russia, the eleventh daughter of Isser-Leib and Sophia Bluwstein, and granddaughter of the rabbi of the Jewish community in Kiev. During her childhood, her family moved to Poltava, Ukraine, where she attended a Russian-speaking Jewish school and, later, a secular high school. She began writing poetry at the age of 15. When she was 17, she moved to Kiev and began studying painting.
Rachel began writing in Russian as a youth, but the majority of her work was written in Hebrew. Most of her poems were written in the final six years of her life, usually on small notes to her friends. In 1920 her first poem, Mood, was published in the Hebrew newspaper Davar. Eventually the majority of her poems were published there on a weekly basis, and quickly became popular with the Jewish community in the Palestine and later, in the State of Israel.
Her lyrical stylel is known for the briefness of her poems, and the revolutionary simplicity of her conversational tone. The majority of her poetry is set in the pastoral countryside of Eretz Israel. Many of her poems echo her feelings of longing and loss, a result of her inability to realize her aspirations in life. Rachel’s style reflects the movement’s strive for “clarity, accuracy, conciseness, and economy of language” in poetry.
Rachel was the first Jewish woman poet in Palestine to receive recognition in a genre that was practiced solely by men. Anthologies of her poetry remain bestsellers to this day. Many of her poems were set to music, both during her lifetime and afterwards, and are widely sung by Israeli singers. Her poems are included in the mandatory curriculum in Israeli schools.
In 2011, Rachel was chosen as one of four great Israeli poets whose portraits would be on Israeli currency (the other three being Leah Goldberg, Shaul Tchernichovsky, and Nathan Alterman).