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The Aaronsohn Saga (Book)

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By: Shmuel Katz

A celebrated botanist who won world fame as the discoverer of 'wild wheat,' Aaron Aaronsohn (1876-1919) created the first Jewish Agricultural Experiment Station in Palestine, then under Turkish rule, in 1910. His venture was supported and funded from the United States by a group which included Julius Rosenwald, Justices Louis D. Brandeis and Felix Frankfurter (both later on the U.S. Supreme Court), Judah L. Magnes (later president of the Hebrew University) and Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah.

In World War I, reacting against the oppressive Turkish regime, Aaronsohn founded a Jewish spy organization, NILI, to help the British in the forthcoming battle for Palestine (NILI is an acronym based on the Biblical phrase ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_Ì´åÇÌÎå«Ì´ÌàNetzach Yisrael Lo YeshakerÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_Ì´åÇÌÎå«Ì´Ìàor ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_Ì´åÇÌÎå«Ì´Ìàthe splendor of Israel will not deceiveÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎå«Ì´åÇ - 1 Sam. 15:29). Aaronsohn led this organization in providing crucial intelligence for the British from behind Turkish lines.

Historian Shmuel Katz rectifies the absence of a comprehensive biography of Aaronsohn and the NILI spy ring. Katz has meticulously researched British War Office intelligence documents and field reports to illustrate NILIÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎå«Ì´ÌàÌÎÌ_Ì´åÇÌÎå«ÌÎÌÊs crucial contribution to the British conquest of Palestine.

This book is the story of Aaronsohn, the master of strategy, and his sister Sarah, whose self-sacrificing devotion to the cause shows her to be a great historic personality.

Aaronsohn was born in Romania and in 1882, at the age of 6, was brought by his parents to the barren rural area that would become the small Jewish township of Zichron Yaakov in the backwater that was Turkish Palestine. He was mostly self-taught, completing his formal education by age 11. Aaronsohn became an expert in agronomy, hydrology and geology and gained fame as a botanist for his discovery of wild wheat.

This extraordinary man was highly intelligent and could have pursued a career in science. In 1909, he was even offered the coveted post of professor at the University of California at Berkeley, then the premier seat of learning in the fields of agronomy and botany. He turned it down. Aaronsohn was determined to create an agricultural experiment station meeting international standards in Palestine. With the support of influential Jews in the United States, he was able to achieve this.

With the start of World War I AaronsohnÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎå«Ì´ÌàÌÎÌ_Ì´åÇÌÎå«ÌÎÌÊs entire life changed. Before the war Aaronsohn believed that the best chance for fulfilling the Zionist dream would be if Palestine became a British protectorate. Turkish brutality toward the Jewish community spurred him to revolt. The Jews of Palestine, he feared, were likely to suffer the terrible fate of the Armenians (whom Sarah Aaronsohn, returning home from Constantinople, had seen being murdered from her train window). So Aaronsohn determined to turn his knowledge of PalestineÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎå«Ì´ÌàÌÎÌ_Ì´åÇÌÎå«ÌÎÌÊs geography and his ability to travel through Turkish lines into an intelligence trove for the British.

The majority of KatzÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎÌ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ__ÌÎÌ_ÌÎ_ÌÎå«Ì´ÌàÌÎÌ_Ì´åÇÌÎå«ÌÎÌÊs book tells the dramatic story of the NILI spy ring which Aaronsohn developed. Katz relates their difficulties contacting the British, how they convinced them of their good faith, failures of communication and intense escapes from the Turks. Up to 30 people could be found working in NILI full time with many more contributing information.

Katz writes with a deep sensitivity to the emotional lives of the people portrayed in this powerful work. His attention to facts, details and truth and his moving style of writing make this book both solid history and a marvelous read.

About the Author

Author Shmuel Katz was, in his youth, a member of the high command of the underground Irgun Zvai Leumi. Later in his life he had become noted for his erudite political analysis and his devotion to the Zionist movement.

Product Details
  • Hardcover: 370 pages
  • Publisher: Gefen Publishing House (December 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 9652294160
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 7 x 1.3 inches

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