Friday, November 17, 2017

Parsha Toldos, three stories

This week on Shabbos Kodesh marks the 11th Yahrzeit of my mother so I dedicate this issue in her memory.

The Question came up: Can an Orthodox Jew celebrate a non-Jewish Holiday such as Thanksgiving and the various customs.
Answer: Rabbi Moshe Feinstein TzZal answered it as a definite yes. For Thanksgiving is only a National Holiday in the United States and a local custom. Just as one can celebrate Veterans Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and Independence Day. Even though the original thanked G-D for religious freedom, it is not a religious holiday. It was not until President Lincoln proclaimed it was it celebrated. It was then celebrated in October. By an act of Congress, it became the fourth Thursday in November much later on. I add the following: One can say Hodu (praise or thanks) to HASHEM if one wants with a Psalm that we Jews are free to worship in the United States. One can also eat a Hodu (Turkey) on Thanksgiving according to the rules of Kashrus.

Parsha Toldos

Adam and Chava brought death into the world. Tradition has it that they were buried in the cave of the Machpelah. With the passing of the Gadolei the last Dor (generation), the next takes over. Avraham was 160 when Yacov and Esav were born. They grew up in their early years in the bosom of Avraham. Now as Avraham was very aged, Yitzchak’s influence was beginning. As his parents passed on, he and Rivka. The importance of Avraham, his genes and merits are mentioned in the first Pasuk.

25:19 And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham begot Isaac.

Besides Rashi, this week Rabbi Y. Frand brings down: The Ibn Ezra suggests that the expression “Avraham holeed es Yitzchak” does not mean he gave birth to him.  Rather, holeed means he raised and trained Yitzchak (geedail v’reebah).  The Ibn Ezra cites other places where the verb holeed does not mean ‘gave birth to,’ but rather ‘raised and brought up,’ as in the pasuk “…even the sons of Machir son of Manasseh were raised (yooldu) on Yosef’s knees” [Bereshis 50:23].
Nevertheless, it remains somewhat strange that this is the only time in Chumash where the Torah finds it necessary to say that a father raised and trained his son. Of course we assume it, but nowhere else does the Torah explicitly mention such a fact. What, then, is going on here?

20 And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean, of Paddan-aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife.

Do not think of applying corrupt western values which were a reaction of Christians to the orgies of the Roman Empire. According to the commentary Rivka’s birth is mentioned at the Akeda Chapter and she was born when Yitzchak was 37 while the more practical Ibn Ezra says that she was 14. An arranged marriage was quite acceptable.

21 And Isaac entreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD let Himself be entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived.

All three of the Avos were forced to pray hard because of barren wives. Avraham because of Sarah. Yitzchak because of Rivka and Yacov prayed on behalf of Rachel. If fact for Rachel it was worse because Yacov sired children with other wives and she was barren.

22 And the children struggled together within her; and she said: 'If it be so, wherefore do I live?' And she went to inquire of the LORD.

The story goes that when she passed by a place of reverence to idols the baby wanted to get out and when she passed by a place of reverence to HASHEM the baby wanted to get out. She then when to the Priest in/of Shalem aka Yerushalayim. That Priest was Shem.

23 And the LORD said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. 24 And when her days to be delivered were fulfilled, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 And the first came forth ruddy, all over like a hairy mantle; and they called his name Esau. 26 And after that came forth his brother, and his hand had hold on Esau's heel; and his name was called Jacob. And Isaac was threescore years old when she bore them.

This is after 20 years of marriage.

27 And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.

It is funny in one way that Esav went to bring meat through hunting and this is temporary wealth that has to be acquired repeatedly and then is gone. Yacov is a Shepard – Farmer and. Yacov is the investor for slow growth and wealth accumulation over time. Esav loved the here and the now while Yacov loved planning for the future.

28 Now Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison; and Rebekah loved Jacob.

Mothers are more observant of the true nature of their children. Yitzchak is both blind and very naïve. Rivka grew up with Lavan and knows the true nature of things.

29 And Jacob sod pottage; and Esau came in from the field, and he was faint. 30 And Esau said to Jacob: 'Let me swallow, I pray thee, some of this red, red pottage; for I am faint.' Therefore was his name called Edom. 31 And Jacob said: 'Sell me first thy birthright.'

It appears according to the commentary that he drank the mixture of red beans hot like some of the students with hoses drink beer at binges. He was not about to die but just famished and exhausted from doing the things he did that day. I recall commentary of him killing Nimrod, raping an engaged woman, doing idol worship, stealing things and even eating a limb from a living animal.

32 And Esau said: 'Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?'

This was the day that Avraham passed away so Yacov made Lentils for Yitzchak. What I do not understand is why he could not ask Rivka or Eliezer for food only that he wanted from Yacov immediately and not to wait.

33 And Jacob said: 'Swear to me first'; and he swore unto him; and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. 34 And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esau despised his birthright.

What good is it? It is only in the far future that turned out to be 105 years forward. What good is my future birthright in this world. He did not even think of the next.

26:1 And there was a famine in the land, beside the first famine that was in the days of Abraham. And Isaac went unto Abimelech king of the Philistines unto Gerar. … 7 And the men of the place asked him of his wife; and he said: 'She is my sister'; for he feared to say: 'My wife'; 'lest the men of the place should kill me for Rebekah, because she is fair to look upon.'

In the US we were taught the wild west was bad but this behavior of peoples to kill husband who had pretty wives.

8 And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.

He must have been teasing and kissing her and the king passed by on horseback.

9 And Abimelech called Isaac, and said: 'Behold, of a surety she is thy wife; and how saidst thou: She is my sister?' And Isaac said unto him: 'Because I said: Lest I die because of her.' 10 And Abimelech said: 'What is this thou hast done unto us? one of the people might easily have lain with thy wife, and thou would have brought guiltiness upon us.' 11 And Abimelech charged all the people, saying: 'He that touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.'

He had established himself as a holy man and Avimelech had fear and respect of him.

12 And Isaac sowed in that land, and found in the same year a hundredfold; and the LORD blessed him. 13 And the man waxed great, and grew more and more until he became very great. 14 And he had possessions of flocks, and possessions of herds, and a great household; and the Philistines envied him.

How many times have we seen this in history? Jews kicked out a country come to a place of refuge and build up from scrap. They invest their earnings and accumulate wealth. Then the natives of the land become jealous and try to seal the possessions and send the Jews away.

15 Now all the wells which his father's servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them, and filled them with earth.

Not surprising as this is the way of jealous non-Jews. The Bnei Avraham are stealing the land of the Plishtim. Where are the rights of the poor Plishtim People so they want to make sure that Avraham and his seed have no place in the land. However, when Yitzchak digs the wells, then the bullies come to steal the wells and the water claiming it was stolen from the Plishtim People. As my contemporaries see today even land that was purchased by Rothschild in “Lebanon” and the “West Bank” becomes part of the land of others that immigrated there. I have seen with my own eyes Eucalyptus trees planted many decades ago in “Lebanon” up to where my command car drove up to Lake Haroun, which were obviously planted by Jews to prevent malaria there.  

16 And Abimelech said unto Isaac: 'Go from us; for thou art much mightier than we.'

For whatever you do, G-D blesses and envy takes over us. [Maria Theresa kicked the Jews out of Prague and then a sore depression took over the city and she allow them back making them pay heavy fines. This is our history. We shall see again the like with Avraham making an oath of alliance.]

17 And Isaac departed thence, and encamped in the valley of Gerar, and dwelt there. … 22 And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not. And he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said: 'For now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.' 23 And he went up from thence to Beer-sheba. 24 And the LORD appeared unto him the same night, and said: 'I am the God of Abraham thy father. Fear not, for I am with thee, and will bless thee, and multiply thy seed for My servant Abraham's sake.' 25 And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the LORD, and pitched his tent there; and there Isaac's servants digged a well. 26 Then Abimelech went to him from Gerar, and Ahuzzath his friend, and Phicol the captain of his host. 27 And Isaac said unto them: 'Wherefore are ye come unto me, seeing ye hate me, and have sent me away from you?' 28 And they said: 'We saw plainly that the LORD was with thee; and we said: Let there now be an oath betwixt us, even betwixt us and thee, and let us make a covenant with thee; 29 that thou wilt do us no hurt, as we have not touched thee, and as we have done unto thee nothing but good, and have sent thee away in peace; thou art now the blessed of the LORD.'

Like with Maria Theresa, the days of Cromwell in England the Jews were kicked out and a while late called back because of trade.

… 34 And when Esau was forty years old, he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite. 35 And they were a bitterness of spirit unto Isaac and to Rebekah.

Rivka wanted Esav to have a good Shidduch like hers with Yitzchak and he went after the physical pleasure and beauty.

27:1 And it came to pass, that when Isaac was old, and his eyes were dim, so that he could not see, he called Esau his elder son, and said unto him: 'My son'; and he said unto him: 'Here am I.' 2 And he said: 'Behold now, I am old, I know not the day of my death. 3 Now therefore take, I pray thee, thy weapons, thy quiver and thy bow, and go out to the field, and take me venison; 4 and make me savoury food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless thee before I die.' 5 And Rebekah heard when Isaac spoke to Esau his son. And Esau went to the field to hunt for venison, and to bring it. 6 And Rebekah spoke unto Jacob her son, saying: 'Behold, I heard thy father speak unto Esau thy brother, saying: 7 Bring me venison, and make me savory food, that I may eat, and bless thee before the LORD before my death. 8 Now therefore, my son, hearken to my voice according to that which I command thee.

This is where Yacov comes and gets the blessing and when Esav mentions the “second” time, Yitzchak learns of his selling of the first-born so in essence, Yacov deserved the blessing as first born. Yacov’s blessings starts with the dew from heaven and Esav the earth. Therefore, we see that this world is more for Esav and Yacov exists in it for the next world which is his realm.

… 41 And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him. And Esau said in his heart: 'Let the days of mourning for my father be at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.' 42 And the words of Esau her elder son were told to Rebekah; and she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said unto him: 'Behold, thy brother Esau, as touching thee, doth comfort himself, purposing to kill thee.

14 years Yacov learned with Shem and Ever before living 22 years with Lavan. Yet after 36 years, Esav comes with over a battalion of men to fight Yacov.

43 Now therefore, my son, hearken to my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran; 44 and tarry with him a few days, until thy brother's fury turn away; 45 until thy brother's anger turn away from thee, and he forget that which thou hast done to him; then I will send, and fetch thee from thence; why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?' 46 And Rebekah said to Isaac: 'I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these, of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?'

Yitzchak sends Yacov away to Padan Aram to get married to a worthy woman both for Shalom Beis with his wife for 83 years who is very upset and for the proper continuation of the seed of Avraham.

28:1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him: 'Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother. 3 And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a congregation of peoples; 4 and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land of thy sojournings, which God gave unto Abraham.' 5 And Isaac sent away Jacob; and he went to Paddan-aram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother. 6 Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying: 'Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan'; 7 and that Jacob hearkened to his father and his mother, and was gone to Paddan-aram; 8 and Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father; 9 so Esau went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives that he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife.

Seeing that Yacov might really become the favorite of his parents, Esav wakes up and marries two wives from Yishmael. I don’t know how much Yitzchak approved of this but in the end of Yishmael’s life, he returned to monotheism of Avraham and became a big brother to Yitzchak. He was a real Baal Teshuva. No approval is mentioned by Rivka here and we can be sure that she kept her opinion this time to herself.

Avenging Crystal Night Nov. 9, 1938

A Soldier’s Return to Germany to Avenge His Family’s Deaths 
by Ronda Robinson 
Henry Birnbrey, a Kindertransport survivor, helped liberate a death train in the heart of Nazi Germany.

In 1938 14-year-old Henry Birnbrey traveled by himself on a ship from Hamburg to New York as part of a Kindertransport, a special program to rescue Jewish children from Nazi Germany. An only child, he will never forget the trauma of leaving his parents behind. He would not see his family again. However, he would return to Germany years later to avenge their deaths.
He fought hard for that privilege.
Birnbrey was among many American soldiers to witness the devastation of the Nazi concentration camps. He helped liberate a “death train” deep in the heart of Nazi Germany. What he saw would change his life forever.
The images remain with him still at age 93. For many years he couldn’t entertain them. Then he received an invitation to talk to high school students about being a teenager in Germany and finally allowed himself to plumb the depths of the unspeakable.
It all began in 1937, when Henry – then called Heinz – was 13. His father Edmund, a merchant, was arrested after telling a customer he was unable to deliver textile goods. The customer’s son asked, “Is it because of the Nazi regime?” Even though Edmund said no, the customer’s son apparently denounced him as a traitor to the authorities.
Edmund managed to return home after a few days in jail. However, the Germans arrested him along with many others on Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass,” a pogrom against Jews on November 10-11, 1938. At least 91 Jews were murdered, 267 synagogues throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland were destroyed and windows of an estimated 7,500 Jewish-owned commercial establishments were shattered and looted. Edmund Birnbrey was beaten up badly and died from his wounds a few weeks later.
By that time Henry already had escaped to America. A Jewish social worker greeted the young refugee from Dortmund, Germany, on the docks of New York and shepherded him by train to Alabama. The Birmingham Council of Jewish Women, which had sponsored his immigration, placed him in a foster home. After nine months they moved him to a different foster home in Atlanta. “I guess I was too hard to handle,” he jokes.
“I became a cousin to all the cousins. I was invited to all the family events. I’ve been very blessed.”
Birnbrey had corresponded with his parents by mail, which was censored, and only learned about his father’s death two months after the fact. His mother Jenny died soon after, but he doesn’t know the cause. At least she wasn’t in a concentration camp.
She had tried to leave Germany and applied for visas. “What people don’t realize,” he says, “is there was no problem getting out of Germany in those days. The problem was getting admitted to other countries.” 

A Survivor’s Revenge

Swept up in the surge of patriotism in his new country during World War II and thirsting for revenge, Henry tried to enlist in the U.S. Army. At first he was turned down because the United States considered him an “enemy alien” due to his German passport. While waiting for American citizenship, he filed a presidential appeal and in 1943 was allowed to serve with the American forces that stormed the beaches of Normandy. Then went to Germany as a scout surveying the situation for the infantry division. “We were moving fast. Sometimes we were one to two days ahead of the Army. Our objective was to take Berlin,” he recounts.
“On the way between Brunswick and Magdeburg we encountered ditches along the highway full of concentration camp victims who had been shot.”
Two weeks before the war ended in 1945, the scouts came upon a shocking sight in the middle of nowhere: an abandoned, closed freight train with 20 or 30 cars full of Jews, standing room only. The Americans heard voices inside and were struck by a tremendously unpleasant smell.
“You just can’t find words to describe this kind of situation,” Birnbrey says. “People had been put into such subhuman conditions, it was almost difficult to identify with them as fellow human beings. Their own waste was in the freight cars. They had been so degraded by the process.”
Apparently the Germans had been transferring the Jews from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp to Theresienstadt to avoid their rescue by the allied forces. But fearing their own capture from the advancing Americans, the guards abandoned their prisoners. The American soldiers opened the train doors and freed them.
“We were too stunned to know what to do. There are a million things you wish you had done. It was so horrible, so unsightly, dirty, filthy, ugly. It was totally unexpected. We were totally unprepared. The only food we carried were emergency rations for ourselves. We didn’t have a kitchen. We radioed back to tell people what we had seen. We were told to go on and others would take over.”
Birnbrey recalls the sight often and admits it has remained in his conscience his whole life.

Lost Chapter of Holocaust

More than half a century later Matthew Rozell, a non-Jewish social studies teacher in upstate New York, started researching this lost chapter of the Holocaust. He published A Train Near Magdeburg: A Teacher's Journey, Backwards Into the Holocaust in 2016.
Rozell also organized reunions of survivors and liberators, one of which Birnbrey attended in Bradenton, Fla. Still moved, he says: “It was highly emotional. It was very hard for any of us to speak. It was amazing where these people came from – some lived in Israel, some in America. One was the grandson of a survivor, who was in charge of atomic energy in the Barack Obama era.
One survivor called his liberators “the angels of life.”

Life after Death

With his knowledge of German, Birnbrey later was asked to interrogate prisoners. “We could never find a single German soldier who knew what was going on,” he says ironically. They all feigned ignorance.
Back home in the United States, Birnbrey, an accountant, went to law school on the GI Bill that provided educational assistance for veterans.
He and his wife, Rebecca, raised two sons and two daughters – all committed Jews. Birnbrey’s brood includes 15 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. “To consider I was a sole survivor who has 33 descendants is really something,” he marvels. “I’ve been very blessed.”
As the patriarch, he has carried the Jewish torch and lit the way for family members. Birnbrey has remained active in Jewish communal work since he returned from World War II. He has traveled to Israel 65 times! With his late wife, he always had Shabbat dinner guests, inspiring others to uphold the tradition.
“I feel it as an obligation,” he explains. “Had we been more active and more knowledgeable and cared more for one another, maybe more people could have been saved.”

Israel’s Spies of WWI

Israel’s Unknown Heroic Spies of World War I 
by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller 
The Aaronsohn siblings founded an espionage ring in Zichron Yaakov to help Britain defeat the Turks.

November 11, 2017, marks Armistice day, the anniversary of the end of World War I.That bloody conflict drew to a close as Winston Churchill famously described, at 11am, the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month in 1918.
Amid the ceremonies marking this day around the globe, few, if any, will remember the courageous band of Jewish spies who formed the top-secret organization NILI, based in the Israeli town of Zichron Yaakov, who spied for Britain during the War. British intelligence official Baron William Ormsby-Gore said that NILI was “admittedly the most valuable nucleus of our intelligence in Palestine during the war.” A secret letter thanking the NILI network acknowledged that Britain could not have won the War without the aid of the NILI spies.
The heroes who made up NILI are all but forgotten. As we recall World War I a century later, let’s reclaim the legacy of the Jews of NILI and proclaim their decisive contribution to the Allied victory to the world.

Zichron Yaakov: First Flowering of the Desert

The story of the NILI spy ring begins in Zichron Yaakov, a town settled by Jewish immigrants from Romania in 1882. They were part of a group of idealistic Jews who were beginning to buy land in the Land of Israel, then controlled by the Ottoman Empire, and establish Jewish farms and towns. When Romania gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878, it effectively stripped most of its Jews from citizenship and began a system of anti-Semitic persecution. Many Romanian Jews fled to the United States. Others turned to the Land of Israel as a haven.
Life wasn’t easy for these idealistic, young Zionists. Historian Howard M. Sachar writes, “Eaten flies, periodically robbed of their livestock by Bedouins, the settlers and their families quickly began to wilt under disease, heat, and sheer exhaustion.”
Edmond de Rothschild, the ennobled French Jew who had amassed a fortune in banking, supported the struggling Jewish towns and farms. Zichron Yaakov is named for Edmund de Rothschild’s father, Jacob. (Zichron Yaakov means “memory of Jacob” in Hebrew.)

The Remarkable Aaronsohn Family

A hundred Jewish families moved from Romania to Zichron Yaakov in the 1880s. Among these were Ephraim and Malkah Aaronsohn and their six children.
One of the Aaronsohn’s sons, Aaron, became one of the world’s foremost agronomists. In 1906, he discovered the genetic forebear of wheat and in 1909 he established the Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station, where he experimented with adapting new growth to the arid conditions of the Middle East. A passionate Zionist, he travelled the world, explaining to people how Jewish farmers were transforming the Land of Israel, making the desert bloom.
Aaron was often assisted by his younger sister Sarah, an exceptional woman who spoke Hebrew, Yiddish, Turkish, French, Arabic and English.
In 1914, Sarah married an older man, a Jewish immigrant from Bulgaria, and moved with him to Istanbul. The marriage was an unhappy one, and the following year, as Turkey was in the midst of fighting in World War I alongside Germany, Sarah left her husband and travelled home by train to Zichron Yaakov.
The sights that Sarah saw from her train carriage as it moved through the Ottoman countryside horrified her. Ottoman Turks were in the midst of conducting what would be known as the Armenian Genocide, which saw the murder of one million men, women and children during World War I. Sarah later described seeing hundreds of bodies being loaded onto trains, and witnessing the brutal murder of up to 5,000 Armenians, whose bodies were then piled in a pyramid with kindling, and set on fire.
The Ottoman Turks who administered the Land of Israel made no secret of their hatred of Jews, and Sarah feared that the genocide she’d witnessed against the Armenians of the Ottoman Empire would next be directed against Jews if the Ottomans won the war. When she returned to Zichron Yaakov, she was determined to do all she could to aid Great Britain, which was fighting Ottoman Forces across the Middle East.

A World at War

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Ottoman Empire had joined with the Central Powers – Germany and Austria – to fight the allies, led by Britain and France. The Jews living in the Land of Israel, which was then under Ottoman rule, found themselves the target of anti-Semitism. The Ottoman Empire ruled that Jews and Christians must be drafted to fight – or else pay ruinous taxes to be exempted from military service.
In 1914, Sultan Mehmed V announced that that the Ottoman Empire was joining the Great War – and also declared that this was a jihad, a religious war against non-Muslims as well. As historian Eugene Rogan recounts, “On 14 November ... the call for holy war (was) read out in public to a large crowd gathered outside the Mosque of Mehmed the Conqueror in the sultan’s name. The crowd roared its support.”
Inside the Jewish settlements, panic ensued. Were the Jews, like the Ottoman Empire’s Armenians and other minorities, going to become target of hate and violence?

The God of Israel Does Not Lie

The Aaronsohns decided to do what they could to support Britain in the war against the Turkish Ottomans. They founded a secret group, aided by their brother-in-law Avshalom Feinberg and close friend Joseph Lishansky. About 40 other young Jews joined the group, which was dubbed NILI, an acronym for the Biblical phrase Netzah Yisrael Lo Yeshaker, The Eternal One of Israel does not lie (Samuel I 15:29).
NILI wanted to help Britain invade the Land of Israel from their bases in Egypt, but at first British forces rebuffed NILI’s top-secret overtures. Finally, in late 1916, Aaron Aaronsohn managed to cross Turkish lines and traversed the Sinai Peninsula to reach Cairo, and convince British forces there to trust the Jewish spy ring.
Sarah took over leadership of NILI. Together, the spies of NILI gathered intelligence on Turkish troop movements, fortifications, railroads, water locations, troop movements, and weather patterns. Sarah encoded messages and communicated with British headquarters by sending secret codes to the British warship Managam anchored off the coast of Palestine every two weeks. At first, the NILI spies used light signals to convey information to the ship.
When British troops stopped sending the frigate to pick up NILI’s messages, the Jewish spies used homing pigeons, sending Britain’s General Edmund Allenby valuable information that would enable him to traverse the Negev Desert and attack Turkish troops in Beersheva.
NILI also received funds from supporters in America and helped distribute money to the Jews in Ottoman-controlled Israel who were near starvation due to Turkish anti-Semitic policies and ruinous taxes on the Jewish community. The Ottoman forces had no idea that Sarah was leading the Middle East’s largest spy ring.

Torture and Death

In September 1918, one of NILI’s homing pigeons landed on a house belonging to the Turkish governor of Caesarea. Ottoman officials found the message the bird carried and decoded it, realizing that a large pro-British spying ring was operating with impunity somewhere in northern Israel. They made finding the spy ring’s members and leaders their priority.
One by one, Ottoman forces rounded up members of the NILI spy ring, using torture to extract information about other members. Finally, on October 1, 2017, Sarah Aaronsohn was arrested and taken to a makeshift Turkish prison in Zichron Yaakov. For several days, she watched her father being tortured. Then she was brutally tortured herself. Drawing on near-superhuman reserves of strength, Sarah refused to divulge information about NILI. Instead, she taunted her captors, assuring them they would lose the war and be punished for their oppression of Jews and their massacre of Armenians.
After nearly a week of agony, Sarah was informed that she would be transferred to prison in Damascus where she would face even greater torture. She asked if she could be allowed to visit her family home one last time to bathe and change her clothes. Early one morning, as most of Zichron Yaakov slept, Sarah was led down the town’s main street to her family home, which stood abandoned, its inhabitants imprisoned. As Sarah walked, she sang a song about a little bird that flies away. This was no innocent tune; it was her final signal to her surviving NILI comrades that the ring was broken and they were to cease any further activity in order to save themselves.
Once in the house, Sarah opened a secret compartment in a wall and retrieved a hidden handgun. Concealing the gun in the folds of her dress, she entered the bathroom and turned on the water. She scribbled a hasty note, tossed it out of the window and then shot herself in the mouth. Instead of dying instantly, she lingered for three excruciating days before passing away on October 10, 1918.

Marching Into Jerusalem

On December 11, 1918, British troops entered Jerusalem. Just weeks earlier, Britain had issued the landmark Balfour Declaration, throwing its support behind the establishment of a Jewish state in the ancient Land of Israel.
Ten months later, after brutal fighting, the Ottoman Turks finally surrendered to Britain near Megiddo, ending 400 years of Ottoman rule over the Land of Israel.
Today, Baron William Ormsby-Gore’s letter acknowledging that Britain could not have won without the aid of the NILI spies and other artifacts are held in a small museum commemorating NILI spies in Zichron Yaakov. Also there is the last letter that Sarah Aaronsohn wrote, moments before she shot herself. In it, she asks us to “describe all our suffering to those who shall come after we have passed away, and tell them about our martyrdom and let them know that Sarah has asked that each drop of blood be avenged….”
As we commemorate the Allies' victory in World War I nearly a century ago, let’s heed her words and restore the name of the valiant NILI spy ring to our memories of the Great War.
For more information, read Spies in Palestine: Love, Betrayal and the Heroic Life of Sarah Aaronsohnby James Strodes.

From Chaim B. A Most Amazing Story....

When a train filled with a large transport of Jewish prisoners arrived at one of the Nazi killing centers in Poland, many gentiles came out to watch the latest group as they were taken away. As the disoriented Jews were gathering their possessions to take with them into the camp, the Nazi officer in charge called out to the villagers standing nearby, "Anything these Jews leave behind you may take for yourselves, because for sure they will not be coming back to collect them!"

Two Polish women who were standing nearby saw a woman, towards the back of the group, wearing a large, expensive coat. Not wanting someone else to take the coat before them, they ran to the Jewish woman, knocked her to the ground, grabbed her coat and scurried away.

  Moving out of sight of the others, they quickly laid the coat down on the ground to divide the spoils of what was hidden inside. Rummaging through the pockets, they giddily discovered gold jewelry, silver candlesticks and other heirlooms. They were thrilled with their find, but as they lifted the coat again it still seemed heavier than it should. Upon further inspection, they found a secret pocket, and hidden inside the coat was .... a tiny baby girl!

  Shocked at their discovery, one woman took pity and insisted to the other, "I don't have any children, and I'm too old to give birth now. You take the gold and silver and let me have the baby." The other woman agreed, so she took her new "daughter" home to her delighted husband. They raised the Jewish girl as their own, treating her very well but never telling her anything about her history. The girl excelled in her studies and eventually became a doctor, working as a pediatrician in a hospital in Poland.

  When her "mother" passed away many years later, an old woman came to pay her respects. She went to the daughter and said, "I want you to know that the woman who passed away last week was not your real mother," and she proceeded to tell her the whole story. She was not believed at first, but the old woman insisted.

"When we found you, you were wearing a beautiful gold pendant with strange writing on it, which must have been Hebrew. I am sure that your mother kept the necklace. Go and see for yourself." 

Indeed, the woman went into her deceased mother's jewelry box and found the necklace, just as the visitor had described. She was shocked. It was hard to fathom that she was actually of Jewish descent, but the proof was right there in her hand. As this was her only link to a previous life, she cherished the necklace. She had it enlarged to fit her neck and wore it every day, but she thought nothing more of her Jewish roots.

  Some time later, she went on holiday abroad and came across two Jewish boys standing on a main street, trying to interest Jewish passersby to wrap Tefillin on their arms (for males) or accept Shabbos candles to light on Friday afternoon (for females). Seizing the opportunity, she told them her entire story and showed them the necklace. 

The boys confirmed that a Jewish name was inscribed on the necklace, but did not know about her status. They recommended that she write a letter to their mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT"L, explaining everything. If anyone would know what to do, it would be him.

  She took their advice and sent off a letter that same day. She received a speedy reply saying that it is clear from the facts that she was a Jewish girl and perhaps she would consider using her medical skills in Israel, where talented pediatricians were needed. 

Her curiosity was piqued and she traveled to Israel where she consulted a Rabbinical Court (Beis Din) who declared her Jewish. Soon she was accepted by a hospital to work, and eventually met her husband and raised a family.

  In August 2001, a terrorist blew up the Sbarro cafe in the center of Jerusalem. The injured were rushed to the hospital where this woman worked. One patient was brought in, an elderly man in a state of shock. He was searching everywhere for his granddaughter, who had been separated from him.

  Asking how she could recognize her, the frantic grandfather gave a description of a gold necklace the little girl was wearing.

  Eventually, they finally found the girl among the injured patients. But at the sight of her necklace, the pediatrician froze. She turned to the old man and said, "Where did you buy this necklace?"

"You can't buy such a necklace," he responded, "I am a goldsmith and I made this necklace. Actually I made two identical pieces – one for each of my daughters. This is my granddaughter from one of them, but my other daughter did not survive the war."

  And this is the story of how a Jewish girl, brutally torn away from her mother on a Nazi camp platform almost sixty years ago, was reunited with her father. 

Source: Yad Vashem.
Adapted from the book "Heroes of Faith"

Did you ever wonder where I get my stories from it is in my genes. Next week on the secular calendar is the Yahrzeit of my great-great grandfather. It also appears to be the 5th of Kislev.

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Have a blessed, peaceful and healthy Shabbos,

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