Empathy. Resilience. Determination. Israel, which I believe is the most miraculous country in the world, was woven together like a tapestry of the collective Jewish experience. One thread resonates with me in particular. In 1915, young Sarah Aaronsohn returned to Israel from Istanbul having witnessed firsthand the suffering of the Armenian genocide. Recognizing the fragility of minority religious groups under the Ottoman Empire, she became determined to do everything in her power to ensure a secure future for the Jews of Palestine. Back home in Zichron Yaakov, Sarah became a critical link in NILI, a Jewish espionage network that helped forge the nascent Jewish State. The acronym NILI stands for “Netzach Yisrael Lo Yeshaker,” which translates to “The Eternal One of Israel will not lie.”
Born into a prosperous family, Sarah and her three siblings did not rest on their privilege. Rather, they used their tools of divine providence to find and disseminate vital information gathered by their spy network. Her brother, Aaron Aaronsohn, a world-renowned agronomist, used his status to travel across Palestine with ease while simultaneously gathering relevant information. The Aaronsohns secretly sent people around as undercover researchers. From Istanbul to Cairo, their secret network gathered intelligence which they passed on to their British allies.
Faithful NILI carrier pigeons flew around with secret codes tied to their feet. The system seemed foolproof until an errant pigeon landed in the home of a Turkish governor in Caesarea. It didn’t take long for the Turks to put two and two together. Within days, Sarah’s cover was blown, and she was captured. She was forced to watch her father’s torture and withstood grueling torture herself. Our loyal heroine refused to share information. Curiously, the Turks allowed Sarah to go home and clean up before transportation to Damascus where she was scheduled for execution.
At home, Sarah retrieved a hidden pistol and shot herself in the mouth. The bullet severed her spinal cord and she suffered for three grueling days before a sympathetic doctor administered a high dose of morphine. She finally succumbed to her wounds. In her suicide note, she wrote “they will certainly hang me… but all their cruelties to us are in vain. We will not talk.” Sarah kept to her word and has been sealed in the history books for her patriotic bravery.
Sarah Aaronsohn gave her life for her country and her people. She died over 100 years ago, but the struggle for Israel continues. She inspires me to believe that I can stand up for my beliefs, too. Her courage and resilience are traits I hope to emulate. Forces continually assault the nation, and I feel obligated to fight for Israel no matter where I am in the world. As a Jewish high school student in LA, I do not live in a world of espionage, torture, and carrier pigeons and I have not directly faced anti-Semitism. However, I am confident that as I mature, when I confront challenges and even danger, I will draw on Sarah’s faith and courage to inspire me.
Sonya Kest is a senior at YULA Girls High School in Los Angeles. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.