Tag Archives: Zionism

Jew of the Week: Sarah Aaronsohn

Israel’s Joan of Arc

Sarah Aaronsohn

Sarah Aaronsohn (1890-1917) was born in Zikhron Yaakov to a Romanian-Jewish family which had settled in the Land of Israel during the First Aliyah to co-found a moshav. The moshav was later financed and supported by Edmond James de Rothschild (who renamed it Zikhron Yaakov after his father). Aaronsohn studied languages, and could speak Hebrew, Yiddish, Turkish, French, Arabic, and English. She married a wealthy Jewish-Bulgarian businessman and lived with him briefly in Istanbul. When the marriage unraveled, Aaronsohn returned to Israel. During her journey, she personally witnessed the horrors of the Armenian Genocide, and was deeply affected by what she saw. This inspired her to work against the Ottoman Turks, both to stop what was happening to the Armenians, and to prevent the same happening to Jews, as was rumoured at the time. Aaronsohn and her siblings started the NILI spy ring to supply important information to the British. (NILI stood for the Biblical words Netzach Israel Lo Ishaker, “the God of Israel does not lie”, from I Samuel 15:29.) Their spy ring grew to include 40 operatives, making it the largest British spy network in the Middle East during World War I. The information they provided was so vital that General Allenby later admitted he would not have been able to liberate the Holy Land without it. And without Allenby’s conquest, there would probably not have been a State of Israel (at least not so soon). Aaronsohn was also in charge of taking care of the Jews expelled from Haifa and Tel-Aviv by the Ottomans. At one point she worked with Lawrence of Arabia, and many believe the “S.A” to whom he dedicated his book The Seven Pillars of Wisdom is Sarah Aaronsohn. Unfortunately, the Ottomans caught one of Aaronsohn’s carrier pigeons to the British and arrested her shortly after. She was gruesomely tortured for days, refusing to give any information and insisting that she was the sole spy, thus saving the lives of many others. While being transferred to a different torture chamber, she asked to stop at home to change her tattered and blood-soaked clothes. Aaronsohn managed to get a gun and shoot herself in the head. She survived the blast, and suffered for another four days before succumbing to her injuries. In her suicide note, she wrote that she hoped the blood of martyrs like her would one day be avenged, and that her work would speed up the establishment of a Jewish state. History has shown that it certainly did. Aaronsohn was hailed as a new “Joan of Arc”, and is one of Israel’s great heroines.

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Words of the Week

Before the Endlessness of God, the highest saint and the lowliest commoner are equal.
– Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk (c. 1730-1788)

Jew of the Week: Yitzhak Sadeh

Israel’s First Commando

Yitzhak Sadeh

Izaak Landoberg (1890-1952) was born to a religious Jewish-Polish family in Lublin, then part of the Russian Empire. He was a student of Rabbi Hillel Zeitlin in his youth, but drifted towards secularism as a young adult. An avid athlete, Landoberg particularly enjoyed wrestling, and was once crowned St. Petersburg’s wrestling champion. When World War I broke out he joined the Russian Army and fought valiantly, receiving a medal. During this time, he met Joseph Trumpeldor and became a Zionist. He helped Trumpeldor establish the HeHalutz movement, which trained young Jews in agricultural work to settle the Holy Land. In 1920, he made aliyah and changed his last name to Sadeh, “field”. He joined the Haganah, and co-founded Gdud HaAvoda, the Labor and Defense Battalion, along with 80 others who worked tirelessly to drain swamps, pave roads, plant farms, defend Jewish settlements, and build kibbutzim. Sadeh defended the Jewish residents of Haifa and surrounding towns during an Arab uprising in 1929, and again during the Arab riots between 1936-1939 as the commander of the Jewish Settlement Police. It was during this time that he created two new fighting units. The first was Nodedet, a troop unit that started going on the offensive instead of always being on the defence from Arab violence. The second was Plugot Sadeh, “Field Companies”, the Haganah’s commandos, the first Jewish elite strike force. This evolved into the Palmach in 1941, which Sadeh commanded until 1945. At that point, he was made Chief of Staff of the Haganah, and set the foundations for the future IDF, crafting its first protocols, structures, and training procedures. Sadeh played an instrumental role during the War of Independence, commanding several brigades and creating Israel’s first armoured (tank) brigade, too. Sadeh retired at the war’s end with the rank of major general, and went on to have a successful literary career, publishing a variety of books, essays, and plays. Today there is a Yitzhak Sadeh Prize for Military Literature given in his honour, as well as several kibbutzim and many streets named after him in Israel. There is also a “Yitzhak Sadeh Wandering Song Club” with hundreds of members (mostly soldiers) that gather over bonfires, food, Israeli folk songs, and Sadeh’s wise words, seeing in Sadeh their spiritual mentor. Sadeh is recognized as one of the “fathers of the IDF”. This friday is his yahrzeit.

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Words of the Week

If I am to understand that you are inquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.
– J.R.R. Tolkien