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Published Date

January 1, 2004

This resource was developed as part of Linking Family History and World History by Linda Pomerantz.

Sara was born in 1889. She had two younger brothers, Abraham and Jacob (Jack), and one half brother, Sam. Sara’s father had been a miller who had a shop in the market or “bazaar” in Monastir. When Sara was six years old, her father was killed in a fire at his shop. According to one account, the fire was caused by a business rival, who threw a firebomb or grenade into the shop.

Sara’s mother was left a widow with three children and no means of support. She supported her children by selling off items inherited from her husband, but when she ran out of resources, she married a widower who had six children of his own. Under the custom of the Monastir Jews at that time, a widow with no means of support was obligated to accept any marriage offer so as to not pose an undue burden on the community’s charitable resources.  But her husband was not obligated to support her children. The youngest son, Jack, stayed with his mother and new step-father, but Abe was apprenticed out, and Sara was “leased” to a wealthy family to care for their baby. She lived with this family six days of the week, returning home only on the Sabbath. According to Aaron Sarfaty, Sara told him that she was never given a bath at this family’s home, and frequently arrived at her mother’s home on Friday nights filthy and with lice. The first thing done every Friday evening was to bathe and clean her.  During Sara’s oral interview with Linda Pomerantz in 1974, tears coursed down her cheeks as she recalled how as a child she missed her mother so greatly.  Of course, she did not attend school and never learned to read or write.

According to her account, she was late in reaching puberty. When she finally began menstruating at the age of sixteen, her family immediately arranged for her marriage to Jacob Sarfaty. Thus she was a bride at sixteen and a mother at seventeen when her eldest son, Morris, was born in 1906. However, she was forced to give Morris away for adoption to her brother-in-law Mercado. A second son Eli died of diphtheria as an infant, and her third child, Clara, was born in 1911.

In 1913 she emigrated to the United States, living first in Rochester with her brother Abe and his family, and then moving to New York City when her husband found work at the National Biscuit Company. Their early years in the United States were difficult. They were poor, and she did piece work in the garment industry in addition to working hard to feed and clothe her large family. She had nine children, two of whom died of diphtheria. They lived on Allen Street, then Norfolk Street, on the Lower East Side, and around 1929 or 1930 moved to 1129 Fox Street, where she lived until the early 1960’s.

She was an excellent homemaker and a fine Sephardic cook. Her grandchildren loved to visit her and watch her make phyllo dough by hand, stretching the dough until it covered the large table that dominated the dining room (which was the main room in the apartment) at 1129 Fox Street. She made “buyikos,” “pasteles,” “yaprakis,” “baklava,” and delicious matzo balls for Passover.

Jacob died in 1957 after being struck by a car in the Bronx. In the 1960’s, she moved to Brooklyn and lived with her son Morris in a semi-detached house upstairs from her youngest son Aaron and his family. In her later years she became blind and lived her last years at the Sephardic Home for the Elderly in Brooklyn. She passed away in 1978.  Her surviving children and her grandchildren remember her with great affection.


Reflective Questions

  1. How did Sara’s early experiences compare with those of the women in the family you are studying?
  2. In what ways did her gender influence Sara’s life?
  3. How was Sara’s life similar or different to those of other immigrant women you have read about?
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