[filled with] oil” really mean? How big is said kiddush cup supposed to be? Or does it refer to the traditional requirement for a kiddush cup–a revi’it
(about 4 1/2 ounces, half of which would be about 2 1/4 ounces)? Or perhaps it was the specific kiddush cup used in the Shemarya household? Or something else? And what are we to make of the inclusion of marcherin
(margarine), which is a nineteenth-century French invention that clearly was not part of a traditional boreka
recipe for centuries?
Most illusory is the seemingly simple phrase: elas azis (“make them”). But, once the little balls of dough have been flattened and filled with potato, how to actually “make” them into borekas? How to fold the dough, pinch the edges, and actually create the borekas? What is the technique to be employed? Those details remain shrouded in mystery and accomplished, one presumes, only by recalling from memory or observation the precise way to form and shape the borekas .
The absence of specifics shows us that the recipe was not intended for the general public or for those completely unfamiliar with the dish. The recipe was indeed addressed to someone specific, to mi alma, “my dear.” The family recalls that “my dear” was one of Rachel’s sons, Jerry. The significance is therefore even more noteworthy for the recipe not only represents the recording of the culinary tradition into the written record, but also its transfer from the traditionally female domain to one in which men could also participate. Our publication of the recipe further signifies its entrance into the digital public sphere.
In the background of Rachel’s warm recollections of her native island and the recipe for a staple cuisine that she sought to transmit to future generations lie painful memories of a family murdered in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz together with the other 1,600 Jews of Rhodes. The Sephardic Studies Program has digitized numerous letters sent to Rachel from family members who remained on the Island of Rhodes.
Dating from 1921 to 1933, the letters were handwritten in Ladino using the Sephardic cursive Hebrew script known as soletreo. Rachel’s mother dictated letters to Rachel’s sisters, a likely indication that her mother was illiterate. They begin with joy and congratulations to Rachel and Jack on the birth of their daughter Salva (Sylvia). But the last letters end with Rachel’s sister Leonora worrying that she will never get married (1933) and that she and their father are ill. In the depths of the Great Depression, her older brother Bohor could not find a job. She wrote: “El Dyo ke le avra puertas de piadad i ke no se menie de su repozo.” (May God open the doors of mercy for him and may he not lose his calm.)
While Rachel was busy attending to her family in the Pacific Northwest, her mother Estraya (nee Menashe) Capelouto, her younger sister Leonara, and her older sister Miriam were deported along with Rachel’s brother-in-law and her two nieces and four nephews. Their only remaining sister Mathilda (nee Capelouto) Rouso made her way to British Mandate Palestine and raised her family in the land of Israel. Their only brother Victor Capelouto survived the war by immigrating to the Belgian Congo. During the mid 1960’s he returned to Rhodes, now empty of this once thriving Jewish community. Victor never married and did not leave any children; he passed away on the island of his birth in 1973.
Photograph from Rachel Shemarya’s Petition for Naturalization, November 1941, courtesy of Ancestry.com
While Jewish Rhodes was irrevocably lost due to the destruction of the Holocaust, a taste of that world has been preserved in Rachel’s handwritten recipe. Rachel’s decision to write down her recipe symbolizes that the traditional way of transmitting the knowledge of how to cook and bake—by watching and learning—was becoming attenuated. By writing down her recipe, Rachel could instruct those who could not learn from her firsthand how to prepare her borekas—including you and me. Through taste, we may begin to understand the lives of Sephardic Jewish women like Rachel Shemarya and the traditions they saved for us to savor here and now.
We are grateful to her son Albert “Abraham iju de Rashel i Yaakov” Shemarya not only for his contribution of Ladino documents but also for his active support to the Sephardic Studies Program where he has presented and sang at all three International Ladino Day Events at the University of Washington.
The translation of this boreka recipe was provided by Rachel’s son Al Shemarya and edited by PhD Student Molly FitzMorris at the University of Washington’s Linguistic Department. Ms. FitzMorris is undertaking an in-depth study of the Rhodes dialect of Ladino and the phenomenon of vowel raising.
Many of the quotes and details about Rachel Shemarya were based on interviews by Felice Moskowitz with grandmother Rachel Shemarya, and her parents Sylvia Moskowitz and Edward Moskowitz, which she included in her college paper “Jewish Traditions, Beliefs & Interpretations Of Law,” May 12, 1971.
Additional thanks to Dr. Izo Abram, a researcher for our Sephardic Studies program based in Paris, who has kindly translated and transliterated all the soletreo letters in the Rachel Shemarya collection.
Please contact Ty Alhadeff if you have other recipes handwritten in Ladino that you’d be willing to share!