Tia Donna

by Isaac Maimon
In the late 1910's my father, Rabbi Abraham Maimon, was the Rabbi of the city of Tekirdag, Turkey. One day, a young Turkish girl of about seventeen years of age, wearing a 'sharshaf' and a black veil over her head (typical Moslem female garb when appearing in public) knocked at our door and said that shewanted to see the 'Haham'. My father asked her to come in. She told my father that she believed that she was Jewish. With that statement, she unfolded a very bizarre tale.

"When I was seven or eight years old", she began, "I was kidnapped by a Turkish couple so that I could serve them as a maid and take care of their young children." My father interrupted her with some questions. "Do you remember your Jewish name?" "No!" "Do you remember from which city you were kidnapped?" "No!" "Do you remeber your mother's name?" "No!" "I do remember a little about the Jewish religion. I am pretty sure I'm Jewish", she said. In the meantime, she had completely forgotten her Ladino since she had spoken nothing but Turkish for the previous ten or so years.Knowing the importance of the 'mitzah' of saving a Jewish life, my father asked her to live with us for the time being until he would have a chance to make some inquiries into her situation.

My father wrote to the rabbinate in Istanbul, he wrote to the rabbi of Edirne, and to the rabbis of smaller towns, telling them the girls' story and asking if anyone knew anything at all about the situation. In the meantime, this young lady was eating in our home and sleeping with my two older sisters (Fanny Adatto and Louise Azose). There were ten of us in our household and my mother, 'Ale'a Ashalom', who was used to cooking big 'calderas' of 'comidas' said, "What's one more mouth to feed?"

At about this time, my father's younger brother, David, (who we naturally called 'Tio David'), knocked at our door late one night. He had been in the Turkish army fighting in the Dardanelles for seven years and we had not heard a word from him in all this time. We opened the upstairs window and asked "Who goes there?" He said, "Avre la puerta, Yabanji Deil" (Open the door, I'm not a stranger). As an aside, it should be mentioned that the Turks never had treated their soldiers properly, certainly not the way they are treated in this country. Uncle David came inside with his tattered Turkish uniform. He had no civilian clothes, of course. In fact, he had had to hitchhike from Chanakale to Tekirdag because he had no money. My parents fixed him up with a room downstairs and bought him some civilian clothes. Again my mother said "What's one more mouth to feed?"

My father instructed the young lady not to leave the house at all lest her abductors recognize her. 'Tio David' spent most of each day teaching her Ladino and, as a result, a romance developed between them and they fell in love. Within a few weeks time, a letter arrived from the Chief Rabbi of Edirne telling my father that there was a widow coming to Tekirdag whose daughter had disappeared about ten years ago, and that maybe the young girl he had in his house was the woman's daughter. When the woman finally arrived and took one look at the young lady, she said "Adio, esta es mi ija Dona" (My G-d, this is my daughter Dona). The widow was invited to stay with us awhile and once again my mother said, "What's one more mouth to feed?"

After a couple of weeks, the widow thanked my mom and dad and said that she would like to return to Edirne with her daughter. "Oh no you don't", said 'Tio David'. "I want to marry your daughter!" So, to make a long story short, we had a wedding shortly after that. The newly married couple rented a little house and the widow stayed with them for a while. As luck would have it, the widow fell in love with a widower in Tekirdag, married him and moved to our city.

Most of 'Tia Dona's' family moved to Haifa, Israel in 1968. When my wife Rachel and I visited Israel, we got her address from my sisters who had been to Haifa to see her. When we arrived in Haifa, we misplaced that little slip of paper on which the address was written. One Friday afternoon, I spent more than half a day calling all the Maimons in the Haifa telephone book. There were at least twenty of them listed. No luck, though.

On Saturday, we were walking the streets of Haifa when we saw a jeep full of Israeli policemen. Rachel remembered hearing that one of the sons of 'Tia Dona' was a policeman, so we asked the men in the jeep if they knew a policeman by the name of Maimon, and they said yes. Since it was Shabbath, I couldn't write down the address, but I remembered the number and the name of the street since the street was named after a prophet in the Bible. On Saturday night, we located 'Tia Dona' and her family and what a wonderful reunion we had. "Adio", said 'Tia Dona', "tu sos Izakito?" She had known me when I was ten years old.