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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                    LYDIA SARDA AMIEL (1909-2007)

INTERVIEWER:                 PATTY MAZIAR

DATE:                                MARCH 4, 1922

LOCATION:                        ATLANTA, GEORGIA

ID #:                                 OHC10025

NUMBER OF PAGES:         24

Transcript (PDF)

HIGHLIGHTS/EXCERPTS

“In those days . . . [Rebecca Amiel] told me once when she first came in and lived . . . took a room with her two little boys in one Jewish family. She didn't know Yiddish and all she was speaking was Greek and a little broken English. The lady wouldn't believe that she was Jewish. So, she opened her trunk and took out the mezuzah that her mother had put in there with some Jewish religious books or something. When she showed it to them . . . they asked her where she was from, so, she told them “Ben Mizraim.” Then she called the lady . . . Mrs. Cohen . . . who’s house she lived in . . . called all the neighbors around [Yiddish: unintelligible] in Yiddish that she's Jewish. Ever since then they took care of her and patted her and took care of the kids. Before they wouldn't believe that she was Jewish because she didn't know Yiddish.”   8

“One time, [Rebecca Amiel] had nine people for minyan for Rosh Ha-Shanah. She went out in the street to walk around and see if she could find one of the Yiddish boys in the neighborhood to call him for minyan. All of the sudden she saw two strangers walking on Gilmer Street. She asked them who they were. They find out that they were some boys who had come in from Montgomery [Alabama] looking for some others bachelors that they knew were in Atlanta that they wanted . . . to gather. She called them, “Come on in and you'll be a minyan.” That's what held them to have minyan in the house. But for two or three years before. . . after that, when those boys got married . . . they were renting a room at the [Jewish Educational] Alliance on Capitol Avenue and they were borrowing a Sefer Torah from the AA [Ahavath Achim] next door to have services.”  9

“I didn't know what it meant to put my fingers in the water unless it was to wash my face.  We had a sleep-in maid when we were young.  We had the servant who would come in morning, noon, and night . . . all day long from eight o'clock in the morning until eight o'clock at night to serve, clean, shop or cook . . . We were sitting at the table eating dinner . . . I was a young girl, maybe 14 or 15 years old, a child. I was eating at the table. G-d forbid if we eat with the same fork fish and meat. Not for kosher, because we didn't keep kosher at home in Cairo. Just because it's not done, the smell or something. I'd ring the bell. Below the chandelier there was a bell to call the servant in the kitchen. I'd ring the bell for the servant to come in and say, ‘What do you need, lady?’ “’Please, give me a fork.’ The forks were in the drawer of the buffet. All I had to do was get up from the table, go down there, and pick it up. I wouldn't get out of the table . . . for the servant to hand me a fork to eat something else after I had tasted fish or what. Now, when I first came in here I had to wash diapers.”  16

“[In Cairo] my grandfather and grandmother used to walk at least one hour . . . an hour or an hour and a half at least . . . Yom Kippur . . . to go to the synagogue, the Sephardic synagogue where there was in the Jewish quarter.  When they come back they come back by horse and buggy. But they walked until . . . my grandfather even was blind . . . he was 85 years old . . . he would walk every [Yom] Kippur to go to the synagogue.”  16, 17

“Although my mother's friends were old ladies that I know, they were all Jewish . . . she had a few Greek friends. We had Greek friends and Orthodox and so on. But mostly, once a month . . . every second Thursday of the month . . . was my mother's visiting day.  Each one of them had one day of the month. That's how they went visiting. All her friends would come in and you had the servant . . . they were serving coffee and you had cakes and this and that. Maybe the first Wednesday was someone else.”   21

 

BIOGRAPHY

This interview is, in large part, about Lydia’s father-in-law and mother-in-law, Rebecca and Ralph [Raphael] Amiel. The Amiels came to Atlanta from Crete and Cairo, Egypt in 1905.  They were the first Sephardic couple to settle permanently in Atlanta, where they joined a handful of Sephardic men already here.  Rebecca hosted young Sephardic women who arrived from Rhodes, Istanbul or Turkey to marry, lodging them in her home.  She also organized services in temporary locations by gathering young men from the street to make a minyan.  The Amiels came from Crete and established a restaurant called the Arcade Restaurant in Five Points.  The Sardas, Lydia’s parents, lived in Cairo, Egypt until they left after World War II.  The Sardas were well-to-do, with servants

Rebecca and Ralph had two sons, Bando and Leo. Bando died in 1923 of an unfortunate illness.  Lydia married Leo in 1934 and came to live in Atlanta with him. After Ralph died in 1923 Rebecca lived with her son, Leo, and Lydia for the next 40 years.  Ralph and Rebecca belonged to Congregation Ahavath Achim because the Sephardic synagogue, Or VeShalom, was too far away from their home on Gilmer Street.  Leo and Lydia were married by Rabbi Harry Epstein at Ahavath Achim, although they had a Sephardic wedding and their son Ralph became bar mitzvah there as well.

 

SCOPE OF INTERVIEW

Lydia discusses the seminal roles of Ralph and Rebecca Amiel in the growth of the Sephardic community in Atlanta.  She recalls the origins of the Amiel family in Crete and the Sarda family’s life in Cairo, Egypt before their immigration to the United States.  In Atlanta she recalls her mother-in-law’s connection to the Leo Frank case.  She recalls the family businesses which included the ownership of restaurants and liquor stores.

Lydia discusses her immigration and marriage to Leo, their involvement in Ahavath Achim and Or VeShalom, her work as president of the Sisterhood at Or VeShalom.  She discusses her children and grandchildren.

Lydia recalls in detail what the cultural, social and religious life was like for a well-to-do assimilated Jewish family in Cairo, Egypt before her immigration.  She went to a Catholic religious school where French was spoken and thus never learned to speak or read Hebrew.  Ladino was not spoken in her family. 

KEYWORDS

Amiel, Bando

Amiel, Lydia Sarda

Amiel, Ralph

Amiel, Rebecca

Arcade Restaurant—Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta, Georgia

Attia family

Bon Pasteur

Crete (Island)

Cairo, Egypt

Congregation Ahavath Achim—Atlanta, Georgia

Congregation Or VeShalom—Atlanta, Georgia

Epstein, Harry (Rabbi)

Frank, Leo

French language

Greece

Hemmo, Anita

High Holy Days

Intermarriage

Israel

Judaism—Fasts and feasts

Kosher

Kashrut

Ladino language

Mezuzah

Minyan

Raffles

Rosh Ha-Shanah

Schools, religious (Catholic)

Sephardim

Sephardic Jews

Sisterhoods

Six Day War, 1967

St. Louis Exposition

Weddings

Yom Kippur

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