Yemenite-born Israeli Woman Adopted in 1950's Finds Family With DNA Test

'Taking a child from his parents because of their economic status just like that is a crime,' laments Varda Fox, 67, now finally reunited with her family

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
Varda Fox, an Israeli woman of Yemenite origin, was finally reunited with her biological family through DNA tests.
Varda Fox, an Israeli woman of Yemenite origin, was finally reunited with her biological family through DNA tests.Credit: MyHeritage
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

A woman of Yemenite origin who was adopted in the 1950s found her biological family this week with the help of a DNA test.

Varda Fox, 67, who was raised in Holon, was told by her parents that they had adopted her at the age of six months from a WIZO orphanage. A test conducted by MyHeritage found a DNA match between her and Ofra Mazor, a resident of a moshav in the Sharon. The two women have the same mother and father.

“All these years I tried to find my biological family but there were no papers,” Fox said after the emotional meeting with her sister on Tuesday. “I so wanted to meet my mother. It was a lifelong trauma. Tearing an infant from his mother and father causes an internal rupture, even at the age of 70 and even though you don’t see it when you look at me,” she said.

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MyHeritage, a company that identifies family trees by crossing DNA data, maintains a database of Israelis of Yemenite descent, enabling former immigrants from Yemen who are looking for relatives they lost in the state’s early years to conduct genetic tests.

Fox’s story came to light just as the state gave official consent for the first time to the opening of graves which are said to hold the remains of children, belonging to Yemenite families, who disappeared in the ‘50s. The step is meant to enable DNA tests to be conducted to determine whether there is a genetic link between those buried there and the families searching for their offspring, and ascertain whether their children were indeed buried there without their knowledge.

Yemenite immigrants, including children and nurses at an absorption center in Rosh Ha'ayin, 1949.Credit: Teddy Brauner/GPO

The State Prosecutor’s Office stated that it was acceding to the request of the families to open the graves in part because of the public outcry over the saga of missing Yemenite children and the campaign to get to the truth of the matter.

Fox was one of the first to undergo the MyHeritage test, while Mazor was recently tested at a company event. The genetic match between the two is definite, says Roy Mendel, a company investigator. “There was a clear match between full siblings, sharing the same father and mother,” he says. “We contacted them and heard their story. Beyond the genetic match, of which we’re certain, the rest of the details like birthplace also fitted to form a perfect match.”

In an interview with Haaretz, Fox said: “The family that adopted me said they took me from an orphanage,” Fox told Haaretz. “Taking a child from his parents because of their economic status just like that is a crime.”

Her adoptive parents didn’t encourage her to look for her biological family and were offended by her desire to do so, she said.

About a year ago Yehuda Kantor, an Israeli of Yemenite origin, found his half-brother with the help of a DNA test conducted by MyHeritage, Mendel says. Another family that traced its relatives with the company’s help asked to remain anonymous.

Mendel says the company notified Fox and Mazor of the match found between them “and they wanted to see each other so badly that we arranged the meeting in our office the following day. ...The meeting was extremely moving.”

Mendel says DNA tests are the only way to connect family members who are not aware of each other’s existence after being separated for many years and in the absence of documents. So far some 1,200 people of Yemenite origin who had been adopted have been tested, as well as others of Yemenite origin who are looking for relatives whose traces were lost in the ‘50s.

Mazor, 62, of Moshav Nitzanei Oz, told Haaretz: “Ever since we were children, mother and father said that if we saw a girl who resembles us, it’s probably our sister. We took it as a joke. When we grew up, mother told me the story and I went to check, and found a registration in the archives of the day my mother was admitted to give birth.”

Her mother told her that after giving birth, she went to call her father, who was in the army, because there were no telephones. “My father came to see the baby the next day and they told them ‘go away.’ My mother said her daughter was there, and they said her baby had died,” she said.

Mazor said she always believed she’d find her missing sister, otherwise she wouldn’t have taken the DNA test.

The two have another sister, and two brothers who died a few years ago. “My sister is somewhat alarmed, she doesn’t know how to take it and yesterday at the meeting she asked to have a DNA test as well,” she said.

The sister who was found “is a spitting image of my father’s family, even my daughter resembles her more than her own daughters,” she says. “The funny thing is – she lives in Holon and my father’s whole family lives there. She lives close to them.”

“I weep that she never got to meet mother. I grew up knowing I had a sister and that mother was sometimes sad about it and sometimes I found her crying. She didn’t get to see her. At least we got to meet each other.”

Mazor believes her sister’s disappearance was no accident. “I don’t like to speak ill, but I believe it was deliberate. They had a plan. Sometimes I’d speak about my missing sister and people would laugh at my imagination. It’s clear that she was taken deliberately. I hope it opens up the whole story. Things must be opened up,” she says.

Ofer Aderet contributed to this report.

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