Letter from Sarah Aaronsohn to her brother Alex and sister Rivka, 14 July, 1917
A letter that Sarah Aaronsohn sent to her siblings on 14 July, 1917. She updates Alex and Rivka, who were living in America at the time, on the situation in Israel and informs them of the death of Avshalom Feinberg, a close friend and co-founder of NILI.
“If only you knew, my dears, how many times I have started writing to you and stopped. I don't know why this is so. I have a strong desire to speak to you and tell you lots of things…I want to tell you what happened to our dear Avshalom in detail…it is so hard to tell because the heart is torn in pieces and the pain is so great and so very terrible.”
Sarah continues to write about Avshalom and describes his attempt to reach the British army in their struggle against the Turks, endangering himself by crossing the Sinai desert on the way to Egypt:
“Our dear one suffered greatly [from not being able to contact the British] and started to find ways to reach [Egypt] by land if not on a ship…and he never rested until he found a way, even a dangerous one. Even if we dared remark, it was useless…”
“The sacrifice is too big, and even if we succeed in our work, and even if the salvation of Israel comes by means of a sacrifice such as this, believe me, I would not have wished for this costly sacrifice. But it seems that this is the destiny of those who aspire for their people and land.”
At the end of the letter, Sarah describes the difficult state of the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Israel) at the time: the Turkish expulsion of the Jews from Jaffa, the ongoing drought, and the plight of the farmers. She concludes by asking her siblings to raise funds for the Yishuv among Jews in the United States:
“And now my children [her younger brother and sister], I must give you a little idea of the situation in Eretz Yisrael…please ask my dear Alexander to pass on this information to your Americans and to transfer some money quickly because we will starve…You must know about the situation with the expulsion of our Jews from Jaffa. One cannot describe their poverty.”
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Jewish History and Jewish Studies teachers could use this letter when teaching about World War I and its effect on the Jews in Israel. The letter could serve as a trigger for teaching about NILI and life in the Yishuv in general. It also conveys some information about the Jews in America and could be used as an example of the cooperation between Jews in the Diaspora and in Israel. Hebrew or English teachers could use this letter to illustrate the convention of letter writing.
Who wrote this letter?
Who did she write it to and when?
What were the two main purposes of the letter?
Read about the death of Avshalom Feinberg.
Compare the accounts of his death from internet sources or books with Sarah Aaronsohn's account.
What is missing from her account? Why?
Why is the date written in French? Do you know of a significant French event that happened on the same date?
What can be learned about the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Israel in the years before the establishment of the State of Israel) from this letter?
What can be learned about Sarah Aaronsohn from this letter?
Why did the NILI members want to overthrow the Turkish regime?
What happened to Sarah Aaronsohn after she wrote this letter?