In 1961, Sharon Fargo’s grandparents Nachum and Fahimah set out for Israel from Qamishli, a small city on the northern border of Syria, not far from Turkey. It was illegal to emigrate from Syria to Israel at the time, so they fled at night, hiding valuables in their undergarments, carrying flatbread with meat called lahmajoun and lentils or adas, both cooked and dried, to fortify them as they traveled first to Istanbul and finally to Israel.
The couple traveled as part of a group of 22 people: a few adults, several orphans, and their eight children including 10-month-old Perach. The journey was arduous. Some of the kids lost shoes in a river they crossed and Perach, who had jewelry concealed in her diaper, wailed. The group told Fahima, she “would have to leave the baby in the wild or the Syrian border guards might find them and kill them all,” Sharon told his wife Adeena last year when she wrote down the family story. Heartbroken, she left the baby under a tree. A day later, unable to go on, Fahima sent her eldest son to find Perach, knowing she might not be alive. Miraculously, the baby survived and the entire group managed to cross the border and made it to Israel.
“That baby was my mother,” Sharon added. For much of her life, few in the family knew the full story. In many Sephardic and Mizrahi families, Adeena explains, older generations “didn’t retell their stories of trauma, because they didn’t want the next generation to take that trauma.” Passionate about history, she started to ask questions of Sharon’s relatives, helping unearth the story of the journey. When Adeena and Sharon celebrated their wedding, they shared it — along with a story from Adeena’s side of the family — with their guests. Had the family not retrieved Perach, Adeena explains, she wouldn’t have been standing at her wedding.
When Perach would visit Adeena and Sharon in Los Angeles, Adeena would ask her mother-in-law to teach her the family recipes including those for stuffed vegetables, lahmajoun, an overnight dish wheat berries and chicken called harissa, and the lentils, which the family ate on their journey and when Sharon was growing up in Israel. Today, Adeena makes them for their two little children and continues to share the story of Sharon’s family often. “To me, it’s more than just food, it’s history, and it’s a beautiful history that I don't want to get lost,” she says.