A tale of love and destiny- Sarah Aaronsohn's tale

Sarah’s short life, far from perfect, is passionate and purposeful yet vulnerable and flawed.

A Tale of Love and Destiny Barry Shaw  Createspace Independent, 2018 342 pages; $12.99 (photo credit: Courtesy)
A Tale of Love and Destiny Barry Shaw Createspace Independent, 2018 342 pages; $12.99
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Suicide
is always shocking. It raises many questions. Why would someone take that ultimate drastic step? What was going on in their mind? And then there is the insatiable macabre in us all, which desires to know how did they do it. Whatever the reason – and there are many – rare are those who end their lives to save others, as in the case of Sarah Aaronsohn, the protagonist in Barry Shaw’s new book, A Tale of Love and Destiny.
Like all heroes, we also keep Sarah on a pedestal. Courage serves as superhuman inspiration from afar. Heroism is only for the few. Valor, we tell ourselves, cannot possibly be expected of mere mortals like us. In viewing heroes solely as the eternal brave, we form a shallow understanding of what their bravery actually demanded from them by conveniently shifting aside their frailties and disappointments.
Not so with A Tale of Love and Destiny, an intimate portrait of one of the greatest Jewish heroines in history. Sarah’s short life, far from perfect, is passionate and purposeful yet vulnerable and flawed. Her loves are ours, her fears are ours, her injustice is ours and her yearnings are ours. Hers was a life of hardship and hope, daring and determination – without which the preservation of the local Jewish community and the ultimate creation of the State of Israel would have tarried.
Like many European Jews escaping persecution, Sarah’s family also immigrated to the Promised Land at the turn of the 20th century. On the slopes of Mount Carmel, they pioneered the farming community of Zichron Ya’acov. Toiling under Turkish rule alongside her brother Aaron, a successful agronomist, the siblings went onto form a Jewish spy ring, who aided the British against the Turks.
Through all her daring is her love for her brother’s colleague, Avshalom Feinberg, a man with a “burning desire to change the world.” It is her love for him, her angst, her desires, her yearnings, and her grief that take us up to her last fateful four days.
Instead of standing under the huppah with her beloved “Avsha,” Sarah finds herself unhappily married to a businessman in Constantinople, caring only about the fate of her sweetheart – who was already engaged to her sister. Aching for him and desiring to contribute to the preparation of a future Jewish homeland, she leaves her husband for Palestine. On her trip she witnesses the Turkish atrocities against the Armenians, a defining moment, where she vows to “bear witness to this atrocity.”
For Sarah, the genocide is a harbinger of what they will yet do to the Jews under their rule.
Reunited with her flame, she learns that he never actually married her sister. Under the guise of an agricultural research project, the two of them, along with her brother, travel throughout the land spying on Turkish train lines, water sources, new roads being laid and the positions of enemy garrisons. Avshalom is soon deployed on a mission to Egypt with Jospeh Lishansky, another member of the resistance. When Sarah learns he has been killed, her pain is ours, but out of her grief, greatness is born.
For the safety and success of the mission of NILI, Avshalom’s death is to be kept a secret. Grief – that most agonizing emotion that humans endure – must be kept a secret. Sarah suffers in silence. She mourns alone. Comfort and compassion are not to be. She even has to lie to her friends that all is well. Added to her pain of bereavement and isolation is that Sarah is the subject of gossip in her little village of Zichron Ya’acov. Despite these obstacles, her determination and daring successfully alert the world to the cruelty of the Turks to the Jews. When NILI is discovered, due to a wayward carrier pigeon, Sarah is captured and tortured by the Turks. Refusing to betray her countrymen, she shoots herself and dies an agonizing death, four days later.
In this world of youth, love, persecution, and a drive to settle the land – all the ingredients of a Zionist classic – Barry Shaw administers a dose of amnesia. Throughout the book we forget her death, until we are there, with her, in those last moments. Like any suicide, hers also comes as a surprise.
Sarah Aaronsohn could never have foreseen where her life would lead, what it would achieve and how it would end. That is the case with us all. In the pages of this novel is a valuable lesson: Not to know the hardships of what tomorrow may bring is actually a good thing. It is the unknown that enables us not to be consumed with a worry that eats away at the joy of life.
This is a book about a life well-lived, a life brimming with passion and brewing with purpose. It’s about a life that neither she or anyone a century earlier would have predicted to be so significant, yet against all odds, it turned out to leave an undeniable, unforgettable and indelible mark of passion, joy, commitment, and selfless and timeless heroism upon us all.
A Tale of Love and Destiny
Barry Shaw
Createspace Independent, 2018
342 pages; $12.99