Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sarah Aaronsohn - the 100 year-old heroine of Zichron Yaakov

Wikipedia Public domain
Well, actually she has been around for more than a 100 years now. Sarah was born on the fifth of January 1890 and in 1917 died from the gunshot wounds of an attempted suicide. Our common home town, Zichron Yaakov, recently held the 100-year old anniversary of her death.

In the suicide note she had left behind she wrote:
“I no longer have the strength to suffer, and it would be better for me to kill myself than to be tortured under their bloodied hands.”

The torturers she was referring to in her note were the Turkish authorities. Israel, or Palestine as it was called in those days, was a backwater province of the dwindling down Ottoman empire but played a crucial role in WWI.

Sarah Aaronsohn was the fifth child of the six children of Efraim and Malka (née Glatzano) Aaronsohn. Her parents, both from Romania, left the increasingly harsh life of Jews there and eventually became one of the leading families of Zichron Yaakov.

She studied languages on her own and was fluent in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Turkish. She also knew how to farm, ride horses and shoot.

Sarah helped her brother Aaron Aaronsohn, a world-renowned agriculturist with his work. Aaron discovered emmer (Triticum dicoccoides) which is believed to be the ancestor of modern-day wheat. His research allowed him to travel extensively throughout the Ottoman empire.

Some historians believe that Sarah was romantically involved with Avshalom Feinberg, Aaron’s assistant. He however started to date Rivka Aaronsohn, Aaron and Sarah’s younger sister. This might be reason why Sarah got engaged to Chaim Abraham in 1914 when she was 24 years old. It is was Jewish custom those days that a younger sister could not get married before the older sister.

Chaim Abraham was a Jewish businessman living in Constantinople in Turkey. The two had never met before their engagement but eventually got married in Zichron Yaakov and then moved to live in Constantinople. The couple was however not very well-suited to each other and they divorced soon afterwards. Sarah made her way back to Palestine overland. During her time in Turkey she heard reports about the Armenian genocide and on her way back home she witnessed some of the atrocities first-hand.

This is what Aaron wrote in his diary about what she had seen:

"In front of her very eyes, she saw the Armenians being tortured by the Turks. She saw hundreds of dead Armenians, lying on the ground, unburied, devoured by wild dogs."
In the background of Sarah’s story, the First  World War had broke out. The two sides were the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, Italy and the US) and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria).

The massacre of the Armenians by the Turks, the way the Turks in Palestine treated the local Jews and their parents’ experiences in Romania convinced Sarah and Aaron do actively do something.

Aaron, Avshalom Feinberg, Levi Schneersohn and others had just established a local spy-ring called N.I.L.I. Levi Schneersohn, who coined this name was asked by a British officer “.. perhaps you know what name is suitable for our affair?"

Schneersohn took out the Bible that he carried everywhere with him, opened a page randomly, pointed at a line without looking and then counted seven more lines down. He stopped at 1 Samuel 15:29. It said, "Netzach Yisrael Lo Yeshaker” (The Eternal One of Israel will not lie). When he told the British officer that they will use the acronym for these words,  NILI, the officer smiled at him and said in English:  "Oh, how nice. She must be a lovely girl, this Nili."
The aim of NILI. was to help with the British invasion of Palestine from Egypt by providing them with crucial information, make the rest of the world aware of the Turkish oppression of the local Jews and advance the hopes of a Jewish homeland.

Aaron, with his constant travels throughout the region not only knew where all the water wells in the Negev were but also met with British forces with vital information gathered by the spy-ring. The British had hardly any knowledge of the geography of Palestine at the time. The British field marshal, Edmund Allenby used the information provided by Aaron Aaronsohn, crossed the desert and eventually took Jerusalem in December in 1917.

He later testified that Nili  “was mainly responsible for my Field Intelligence Organization behind the Turkish lines.” Edmund Allenby by the way, was also the commanding officer of the British Army Intelligence officer T.E. Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia.

Sarah Aaronsohn was now sole the spy-mistress of NILI. Her brother Aaron was constantly traveling and Avshalom Feinberg had disappeared during a secret mission to Cairo. Only after the 1967  Six-Day War was his remains were found in the Sinai desert under a palm tree that had grown from date seeds that was in his pocket.

Sarah not only passed along the gathered information but also coordinated the spy-rings activities. She managed the core group of forty agents as well as the group’s supporters and the paid informants. She also oversaw the transmission of the Jewish American money that was converted to gold to help the Jewish population in Palestine. Sarah sifted through the encoded information she received, re-coded it and sent it along to the British intelligence headquarters in Cairo via the British warship Managam. At first one of the group’s members would swim to a small yacht of the coast, handing off the information by hand and receiving the money collected by American Jews.

The Turks however started to suspect that the there was a spy in operating from the area and also noticed the use of these golden coins. They warned the local Jews not to get involved in the war and started to watch them even more closely. The coastline was constantly patrolled now, so the NILI spies started to use homing pigeons to pass along their information.

On the first of October 1917, Sarah Aaronsohn was arrested. One of her pigeons had rested at the house of a Turkish officer in Caesarea and her message was noticed and decoded. The Turks surrounded Zichron Yaakov and arrested and tortured a number of the town’s people.

Sarah was tortured for four days but did not reveal any information. The authorities decided to send her to Damascus for further interrogation and she was worried that she was going to eventually break down. She asked if she could stop by her house to wash and change clothes and her request was granted. Sarah locked herself in the bathroom, scribbled her final note, threw it out of the window and then took out the pistol that she had previously concealed under a floorboard and shot herself in the mouth.

She did not die immediately but lingered on another three days before finally dying from her wounds. Suicide was forbidden by Jewish law and at first she was denied a traditional burial. She was however considered a Jewish war hero and eventually a compromise was reached. A small fence around her grave symbolically separates her from the rest of the graveyard. Her grave is still often visited and has become one of the landmarks of the town.

It is thought that T.E.Lawrence dedicated his book “Seven Pillars of Wisdomto her. The dedication merely reads, "To S.A." It is however doubtful that the two has ever met.

In her correspondence with her siblings and with other Nili members, Sarah’s independence and refusal to adopt old-fashioned roles for women is very clear. She is not just the 100 year-old heroine of Zichron Yaakov but also a woman that should be admired even today. Sarah saw horrible things being done but instead of quietly looking the other way and keeping her head down, she stepped forward and made a difference.

I was, and still is, so enamored by Sarah Aaronsohn that I wrote one of my Zichron Yaakov stories with her as one of the main characters. You can read the story here.
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Sunday, October 15, 2017

After the holidays

Me and my fellow English-speaking Israelis belong to this secret Facebook group where we share crazy, awesome and weird stuff about life in Israel.

Some of the posts are really cool and heart-warming but other posts (especially from the newbie immigrants) just make me go from one face-palm to the next.

And no, I am not going to share the group's link with you because:

   a. It is secret ..:)
   b. There are a lot of insider-type-of-stories that will leave non-locals totally baffled.
   Trust me on this, Israel is even baffling to people who were born here.
  c. You can read weird and wonderful stories about life in Israel right here on
      my  blog..:)

However..., I got permission to share this lovely story from Stefan Boroda where he talks about all the trails and triumphs he went through to get his wife's cellphone back after she forgot it on a city bus.

Part of his trails came from the fact that his Hebrew is not very good yet. So this led to one of the Hebrew speakers in the group to make a list of Hebrew words that one should learn as soon as your plane touch the tarmac at Ben-Gurion airport.

And of course the rest of us started all started to give our own opinions and comments just as good Israelis are expected to do. By the way, I will totally share with you my own list of most-know Hebrew words, sayings and expressions in a later blog post.

The heavy importance of today's date 
however requires me to teach you the ONE most important Hebrew expression of them all:

אחרי החגים

It means "after the holidays", with the holidays being Yom Kippur, Rosh haShana the Jewish New Year, Succot and Simchat haTorah. 

Yom Kippur is a fast day
At Rosh haShana Jews wish for a year filled with as many merits as a pomegranate has seeds.
At Succot Jews sit in little huts and pray with the four species

These holidays come along fast and furious one after another and the entire country comes basically to a standstill.

And wherever you go, you will hear the words 'after the holidays'.

Only after the after the holidays, will the plumber be able to come and fix the running toilet.

Only after the holidays will the school, kindergartens and after-school activities resume.

Only after the holidays will we start with the diet, the job search or the fitness regime.

You get the picture. It is like an Israeli-Jewish January the first. And with the fact that the holidays carry on for something like an entire month and a half, 'after the holidays' is sometimes code for "ain't not going to happen ever".

So why am I writing about after the holidays at this exact moment in time?

Because today is THE day!

Today, Sunday the 15th of October, 2017 is the first official day after the holidays! For this year. It will most probably be on another date next year. Remember that here in Israel our weekdays start on a Sunday and ends on a Thursday.

Last Thursday we celebrated 
Simchat haTorah, and then it was the weekend. And seriously who starts a new project over the weekend? So today, about a month after we celebrated the Jewish New Year, can we actually START the new year.

Happy 5778 everyone! 

PS. Do you have any new year's resolutions? Let me know in the comments!

PSS. If you'd like to receive the "Letter from Israel" posts in your email box, subscribe to my mailing list at the top right corner.

I promise that I will never send you spam because I totally loathe it myself. I also won't send you emails every five minutes but one of my new year resolutions is to write a new blog post once a week..:) 


Chocolate pie with pomegranates and a chocolate sauce

Chocolate pie with pomegranates and a chocolate sauce

I often make this chocolate pie for my family for something sweet for the weekend. It is quick to prepare and I usually have the ingredients already at home. So usually no quick dash to the supermarket is needed :)


For the crust:
Two cups of regular flour ( 1 cup = 250 ml)
3/4 cup of icing sugar (powdered sugar)
100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 beaten eggs

For the filling:
4 medium or three large eggs
1/4 cup of sugar
150 grams (5.3 ounces) of chocolate
(milk or bitter chocolate) 
50 grams (1.7 ounces) of butter

For the chocolate sauce
100 grams (3.5 ounces) of chocolate
2-3 tablespoons of milk or soya milk 


  1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit) and rub your pie plate with a thin layer of butter.
  2. Mix all the ingredients for the crust together. Your dough should be a bit soft and crumbly but not sticky.
  3. Roll out your dough on a large floured cookie sheet into a circle shape. It should be large to enough to cover the pie dish.
  4. Place the cookie sheet with the rolled out dough upside down over the dish and then  peel off the paper. Gently push the dough down into the pie dish and cut away any extra dough with a sharp knife.
  5. Make small holes with a fork in the dough to prevent too much rising and then bake for about 15 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit). 
  6. Take out the dish from the oven when the dough just start to turn into a golden brown colour. Place on a counter and allow to cool off. Don't switch off the oven because you will be using it again soon-ish.

    Handy tip: Place the pie dish on a flat oven pan. 
    This will make it so much easier to take it in and out of the oven.
  7. Melt the chocolate and butter for the filling together on a low heat. Don't do ANYTHING else except for slowly stirring the chocolate and butter together. You can also use a microwave but again - don't let the chocolate burn!
  8. Once everything is melted together, remove the chocolate mixture from the heat but keep on stirring for a while to help cool the mixture down. Set aside to cool down even more.
  9.  Mix (with a mixer) the eggs and sugar of the filling together. The mixture will become all fluffy and increase a lot in size but it takes some time.
  10. Place a few spoons full of the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture to cool it down even more. 
  11. Now fold the all of the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture VERY gently and slowly. You want the mixture to stay as light and fluffy as possible.
  12. Pour this mixture into the pie pan with the baked pie crust and bake again for about 20 - 25 minutes.
  13. Remove from the oven and allow to cool off. Don't worry if the chocolate part of the pie feels a bit soft to the touch, it will harden a bit more when it starts to cool off.
  14. Melt the chocolate, milk or soya to make a nice sauce and serve warm with the cooled off chocolate pie (for some reason soya milk melts beautifully with chocolate).
  15. And if you have any pomegranates around, use their seeds as decoration!

    And just one last look to tempt you..

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A new morning, a new day, a new year

The blue hour - early in the morning on my porch

I belong to a photo group called 52Frames. Every week we create an album based on a specific challenge. Lately I have come to realize that my creative journey with this group has slowly become much more than just about improving my photography.

We recently celebrated the Jewish New Year here in Israel and I have been filled with utter dread. Two weeks ago in my Pilates class our teacher and the other students happily wished each other “Shana Tova”  (a good year).One of the students even said out loudly, “I have a feeling that this is going to be a great year!”

And then the thought: “No, it won’t”... popped up into my head. But I just kept to myself

I was positive that it is going to be an awful year. Israel is going to experience another war, or there are going to a lot of terrorists attacks (and sadly there indeed was one) or someone close to me is going to die and just a thousand horrible things are going to happen.

This is actually so out of character for me. I am the type of person who thinks that an half-empty glass means that you should drink up already so that it can be refilled again. I think that entire clouds are silver and not just their lining.

I even have this thing where I look at grumpy-looking people in the street, wait until they make eye-contact and then flash them a dazzling smile. It is such a human instinct to smile back, that ALL of these people always smile back at me. Some of them do have a puzzling look on their face though, but that just makes me laugh out loud.

So where was this horrible feeling of dread coming from?

I did not even made time to take my photo for this week’s challenge, the blue hour. The blue hour is that small period of time just before sunrise and after sunset when the sky is a beautiful blue colour. Luckily I slept well last night and woke up early this morning and decided to finally take my blue hour photo.

I just stayed on my porch to take some photos because I have to get two girls, at different times, up for school. The planet Venus was still visible in the sky and I was happily surprised to see it. It slowly disappeared as the dark sky turned more and more blue but then I started to notice other things through my camera’s viewfinder. 

Some really early commuters left for work, their headlights creating beautiful bokeh lights against the blue sky. And then there were some joggers and a cyclist and someone taking the dogs for a walk, and the guy working in the laundry across the street coming to work. I was actually amazed to see so many people up and about their day, so early in the morning. There were a lot of birds flying around, some in group formation, others just flitting about on their own. They seemed so.. well, happy to be flying around and to say hello to the new day. The yellow light of the first sun rays turned the sky purplish and then the first bus of the day rumbled down the street. I noticed how pretty the weed in the container looked against the purple sky. I really should pull it out already but this morning it created a beautiful silhouette. The sky was becoming more and more yellow and I leaned over the railing to try and capture some cute little clouds to my right.

Even weeds look pretty during the blue hour
The sun was just about to rise and I wanted to try and capture those first golden rays. But then I heard my alarm go off and I went back inside to wake up my daughter. Later, as I sipped my first coffee of the morning I finally realized that the day had flashed me a humongous smile and I just couldn’t help but smile back. I have a feeling that this is going to be a great year.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Disembarking at the HaHagana train station

The HaHagana train station in Tel Aviv at night.

I recently started to commute to Tel Aviv with the train and has to get off at the last station called the Hahagana station. It means “the defense” in Hebrew and yes, I totally agree that it is a strange name for a train station.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hiking from Nachsolim beach to HaBonim beach

Although it is already nearly the end of October, the days are still very hot in here in Israel. The rains of autumn and that cool, clean feeling they bring are still just a wishful longing for the most of us.

But one gets tired of sitting in front of the perpetual-turning fan or the headache-inducing hum of the air con. No matter how hot it is going get, I promised myself, I am going on a HIKE already!!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A diary of an administrator

A clerk: Raphael Kohn, and a cop : Joseph Kuperman

Not a yet a city  but not a village anymore..

I live in Zichron Yaakov, a small medium-sized town in the northern part of Israel. We have grown from a dusty village on a hill top in the middle of nowhere to a large vibrant nearly city. 

Though we still do not have any traffic lights, I am pretty sure that the Romanian founding fathers and mothers would not recognize the place anymore. They bought their land in 1882 but had no luck growing anything in the rocky soil. Also the nearby swamps were totally invested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes causing the death of far too many people, especially children.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

30 clues that show you are an Israeli

How long does it take for a new immigrant to become a bona fide Israeli? See if you have mastered any of these activities of the list. I personally cannot crack sunflowers like a pro..yet.

1. You do not allow anybody to wriggle in front of you in a queue.

We take our garlic VERY seriously in Israel!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Sitting around at the Tel Aviv art museum

My photo for the 52Frames Chair photo challenge

I recently had to go into the city for a meeting but just before my train reached my stop, the meeting was unexpectedly cancelled…! Of course I wrote about the entire incident and how miserable I felt that cloudy winter afternoon with ice-cold winds whipping through the tall buildings... (yes, I can be a bit of a drama queen sometimes). But let me rather tell you what I did with my unexpected free afternoon in Tel Aviv.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The yearly pilgrimage to Cyclamen mountain

Every year TONS of Israelis make the trek to this hill top to look at the flowering cyclamens
The news from Israel is often so depressing. Everybody always hears about the kidnappings, and stabbings and bombs exploding. People who live outside of Israel probably think that this place is a constant war zone...