In Letters from Rifka by Karen Hesse, Rifka a young Jewish girl escapes religious persecution in Russia 1920. Throughout the book Rifka and her family make the journey to America and Rifka faces many obstacles along the way like Typhus, Ringworm, and splitting up from her family. These events cause Rifka to persevere and grow throughout the book

While in Antwerp, Belgium to get her ringworm treated, Sister Katrina tells Rifka to experience Antwerp. As she experiences the wonderful city of Antwerp Rifka tries new foods, learns new languages, and experiences new cultural customs. These experiences help her grow as a person and learn to understand other ways of thinking.

Rifka gets on a small "classless" boat in Belgium after her Ringworm has been cured. On the boat she meets a young man named Pieter. She recalls him teasing her, but it doesn't annoy her like it does when her brother Saul does it. He kisses her once too. One day there is a huge storm. Pieter saves her life by keeping her from falling off the boat into the stormy ocean. Pieter sends Rifka below deck and Pieter has to stay up on deck. When the passengers are allowed up on deck, Rifka can't find Pieter. A man tells her Pieter died in the storm. Rifka is heartbroken, but keeps strong by doing work the Pieter would have done, trying to keep busy, until she arrives in America.

When Rifka's ship arrives at Ellis Island, she doesn't pass the inspection. They won't let her go into the country because she is bald and they don't think she'll be able to find a husband to support her if she doesn't have any hair. While on Ellis Island, she meets a young Russian Peasant. At first she doesn't like him because he is the reason she had to leave behind her old life. She then thinks about it and realizes that it isn't Ilya's fault she was persecuted because he didn't personally do it, he probably didn't want that to happen to her either, its just what his people did to the Jewish in Russia to avoid being killed. Rifka overcomes prejudice towards Ilya. She helps him stay alive by making him eat, and he becomes her shadow, following her everywhere. The two begin to bond and she grows to realize they aren't much different from each other truly.

Rifka shows many instances of perseverance and growth throughout this book she grows into a strong, intelligent, brave young woman and gains the necessary life skills to make it in America, even with out a husband to support her.