Jacob's Story

Jacob Sarfaty was born in Monastir in 1884. His father was a rabbi, perhaps of the second largest synagogue in Monastir, the Kalal Kadosh Aragon. As a rabbi, he had to be married, so when his first wife died, he remarried, and when his second wife passed away, he married yet again. Jacob's older brother Mercado was from the union with the first wife, while Jacob, his brother Joe and a sister Ester, were children of the second marriage. There were several children of the third marriage, but Jacob's relation with his younger brother Isaac (Ike) was the closest.

At about the age of 22 Jacob was married to Sara Elias. Jacob's first son, Morris (or Moshe) was born in 1906, but as Jacob's older brother Mercado was childless, Morris was given to Mercado and his wife to be raised as Mercado's son. A second died in infancy of diphtheria, and in 1911 Jacob and Sarah's next child, Clara Miriam, was born.

During the time Jacob was growing to maturity and raising his family in Monastir, conditions in Macedonia were unsettled. Christians of Macedonian and Serbian ethnicity were restive under Moslem Ottoman Turkish rule. Insurgent movements demanding independence from the weakened Ottoman Turks led to continued instability and ultimately to the partitioning of Macedonia among Serbia, Greece and Bulgaria. The Ottomans under the reformist "Young Turks" sought to recapture their position of influence by reorganizing the Ottoman Army. These tensions were part of the buildup of hostilities in the Balkans leading to the outbreak of World War I.  For more information and primary source documents on this, click here.


In 1913, Jacob was inducted into the Ottoman Turkish army. According to the family story, as Jacob was being marched with other conscripts along the road from Monastir, their group passed a farmer who obligingly hid Jacob under his load of hay and produce. In this way, Jacob escaped serving in the Turkish army. Because he was a fugitive, the family left Monastir immediately for the port of Salonika, where he, Sara and their two children, Morris and Clara, boarded a ship for the United States. As Jacob's brother Joe had already emigrated to America, as well as Sara's brother Abe, Jacob's decision to go to the United States was understandable.

In the United States, the Sarfaty family first went to Rochester, where his brother Joseph, brother-in-law Abe and their families lived. Jacob was unsuccessful in finding work in Rochester, and Joseph's business collecting junk and rags did not bring enough income to support two families. Finally, Jacob went to New York City to find work but was unsuccessful at first. However, when workers at the New York factory of National Biscuit Company (Nabisco) struck, the company hired scab workers, and Jacob finally obtained a job at Nabisco and could send to Rochester for his family.

The family lived in a tenement apartment on Allen Street, later on Norfolk Street, on New York's Lower East Side. Six more children were born, although one child died of diphtheria at the age of seven. Jacob's job at Nabisco brought in $5.00 per week, plus scraps of broken cookies and crackers that the family used to supplement its diet. Additional income came from piece work that Sara did on a foot treadle sewing machine at home, and later, from his eldest daughter Clara's work.

In 1929 or 1930 the family moved to 1129 Fox Street in the Bronx. Jacob began working in partnership with his nephew Eli (his brother-in-law Abe's son), who established a garment factory. During World War II this business prospered. Jacob lived at 1129 Fox Street until his untimely death in 1957, when he was struck and fatally injured by a car while crossing a street in the Bronx.

He was a kindly and generous soul. Once he gave his neighbor Mr. Perez a pair of shoes so Mr. Perez, who had no shoes, could get a job. His older grandchildren remember fondly going to 1129 Fox Street Friday evenings, with Jacob in his fez giving the younger kids a dime apiece for "baksheesh," (Turkish for a tip), and a sense of cheer as Jacob and Uncle Ike organized a game of pinochle for the men.

Reflective Questions

  1. What were the "push" factors that led to Jacob's decision to leave Monastir?
  2. What were the "push" factors that led to the emigration or migration of the family you are studying? 
  3. What were the "pull" factors that drew Jacob to the United States?
  4. What "pull" factors drew the family you are studying to their destination?
  5. What types of networks helped the new immigrant family upon their arrival in the U.S.?
  6. What types of networks were used by the family you are studying in their migrations?
  7. How do the economic circumstances of the Sarfaty family compare with those of other immigrants in the 1910's?
  8. How do their economic circumstances compare with those of the family you are studying?