28 November 2007

Arolsen: USHMM statement on archive opening

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, released a statement today on the opening of the International Tracing Service archives at Bad Arolsen, Germany.

Two major points: Beginning Monday, December 3, survivors may begin to submit requests for information here, and the collection will become accessible in January 2008. For updates concerning the collection and its availability, click here.

The complete statement:

Museum Aims to Make Massive Collection Accessible in January 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. – All 11 countries overseeing the International Tracing Service (ITS) archive located in Bad Arolsen, Germany, have ratified the agreement that officially opens the massive Holocaust archive. This marks the conclusion of a long diplomatic process led by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to open this archive to help survivors and their families obtain information about their loved ones.

The Museum, the American repository for the archive, is in the process of receiving a complete digital copy of the archive and is working to make the documentation accessible in January 2008, so that it can begin responding to survivor requests for information. The archive is being transferred in installments, and the Museum expects to have a complete copy of the material by 2010.

"This is a significant milestone in the long process of helping Holocaust survivors finally learn the fates of their loved ones," says Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. "The Museum undertook this enormous task on behalf of survivors and their families, and we are committed to quickly getting them this long overdue information."

The ITS archive contains more than 100 million images of material relating to the fates of approximately 17.5 million people - both Jews and non-Jews - who perished in the Holocaust or who otherwise fell victim to the Nazi regime. In August 2007, the Museum received the first installment of material, containing 18 million images of arrest, camp, prison, ghetto and transport records, and the Central Name Index (the primary finding aid for the collection) arrived in November. The remainder of the collection, relating to slave labor and displaced persons camps, will be transferred in installments between 2008 and 2010.

The Museum is investing in the hardware, software and personnel to make this mass of electronic documentation - in more than 25 languages, much of it hand-written—accessible. In addition to building new systems to access the collection, Museum staff members have received weeks of intensive training at the ITS facility in Germany to familiarize themselves with the collection.

The Museum will announce through its Web site and the media when it can begin responding to survivor requests for information. Beginning Monday, December 3, survivors can submit requests to the Museum via the Museum’s Web site, or by calling the Benjamin and Vladka Meed Registry of Holocaust Survivors toll-free at 866-912-4385 .

Together with ITS, the Museum has created an inventory of the more than 21,000 separate collections of material that are contained in the ITS archive. The inventory provides brief descriptions of the collections at ITS that will help users understand the kinds of records that are—and are not—contained in the archive. It does not list the names of individuals found in the archive, nor can it access individual documents in the collection.

For more information, click here.

Arolsen: Yad Vashem statement, updates

Yad Vashem's chairman Avner Shalev just issued the following statement on the opening of the International Tracing Service archives in Bad Arolsen:

The opening of the ITS archive is a significant step forward. This represents a breakthrough to bring information and documents to survivors and others. Our understanding and knowledge of the personal story of the Holocaust will be deepened. All the resources and expertise of Yad Vashem will be dedicated to ensuring that survivors, their families, scholars and students, receive the information in the most comprehensive manner. Our staff is already providing copies of original documents from the ITS to survivors and their families.

A special team at Yad Vashem has begun working with the ITS material, based on 50 years of experience working with ITS documents, some of which have been located at Yad Vashem since the 1950s. In addition, new personnel will soon be added to assist with public and survivor inquiries - some 25,000 of which are handled annually -drawing upon the new ITS material, the ITS documents that have been at Yad Vashem, and the other material among the 75 million pages of documentation housed in the Yad Vashem Archives.

Yad Vashem has a team that is combing through the ITS material that we receive, to recover more names and enrich Yad Vashem's Central Database of Shoah Victims' Names, which currently contains over 3.3 million names of Jews murdered in the Shoah."

Yad Vashem updates will be found here.

The Associated Press updated its earlier story. Some additions:

- The archive plans a summer 2008 scholar's conference to map unexplored contents.

- New staff will be hired by the Tracing Service, the Washington museum and Yad Vashem to help.

- Bad Arolsen opened a computer-equipped visitors room to enable searches of scanned files.

- The archive has never been organized by a historian or a professionally trained archivist, while the main database has 50 million name entries which are often duplicated in variant spellings.

- The Associated Press, during several visits, saw the Netherlands deportee list to Auschwitz (including Anne Frank), the list of Oskar Schindler's employees, medical records counting the number of lice on prisoners' heads, and the list of Neuengamme labor camp inmates - evacuated by the Nazis - who died on prisoner boats bombed mistakenly by the British Air Force.

Nazi archive opens today, ends secrecy

The Arolsen archives opened today (Wednesday, November 28) after 60 years of secrecy, according to AP, which will be updating the story throughout the day.

The last of 11 countries involved in the 2006 agreement, Greece filed papers with the German Foreign Ministry to permit the unsealing.

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ A vast archive of German war records opened to the public Wednesday, giving historians and Holocaust survivors who have waited more than 60 years access to concentration camp papers detailing Nazi horrors.

The 11 countries that oversee the archive of the International Tracing Service have finished ratifying an accord unsealing some 50 million pages kept in the German town of Bad Arolsen, ITS director Reto Meister said Wednesday.

"The ratification process is complete," said Meister, whose organization is part of the International Committee of the Red Cross. "We are there. The doors are open."

Until now, the archive had been used exclusively to trace missing persons, reunite families and provide documentation to victims of Nazi persecution to support compensation claims.

The U.S. government also has referred to the ITS for background checks on immigrants it suspected of lying about their past.

Meister said the ITS received 50 applications this month alone from academics and research organizations seeking to begin examining the archive _ including untapped documents of communications among Nazi officials, camp registrations, transportation lists, slave labor files, death lists and postwar displaced persons files.

"It's a relief. It took a long time - far too long," said Paul Shapiro of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, which has lobbied since 2001 to pry open the archive. "I am pleased that the archive of the International Tracing Service can now be opened for research," said Guenter Gloser, a German deputy foreign minister responsible for Europe. "I would like to invite all researchers to make use of this, and work through this dark chapter of German history."

To read more, click here.

Access to the data is expected to revive academic interest in the Holocaust.

Most importantly, it will help Holocaust survivors and families of victims learn more about their own lives and that of relatives. Some 17.5 million people are mentioned in the index; the files cover 16 miles (25 kilometers) of shelving.

Now, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem must organize the material they've been receiving so that the public can access it.

More information:

International Tracing Service
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
ITS inventory
Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial

UK phonebooks 1880-1984 now online

Ancestry.UK has spent three years transferring 1,780 phone books to the Internet. The updated collection went online this morning, covering 1880-1984.

An extra benefit in addition to the alphabetical listings, are the advertisements on the pages, adding information on the lives of our ancestors.

The collection now includes some 280 million historic names, addresses and numbers from across Britain, and was done in association with BT. Ancestry.uk says there is nearly full coverage for England as well as substantial records for Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

Why are phone books so useful for family history research? While a census was made only once a decade, the phone books were updated every one or two years, providing a record of a family's movements between the official census records. While the most recent UK census accessible today is 1901 (1911 won't be released until 2012), the books go through 1984.

From these listings, researchers can understand their ancestors's lives a bit better. Telephones were initially only available to commercial enterprises or to those who could afford the new-fangled invention. As costs came down and a wider segment of society had them installed, researchers can now track more contemporary family movements.

This is another great resource for researchers. My search turned up historic information on my Talalay cousins who moved from Mogilev, Belarus to Moscow to Berlin to the UK, and then to the US and Canada.

There, in the November 1939 book, was J (Joseph) A (Anselm) Talalay, at 28 Eton Place, Haverstock Hill, NW 3, phone number PRImrose 5353. In this case, while not critical information, the entry does provide data that I wouldn't have been able to easily access. There were 12 listings, 1938-1983, for three family members.

These numbers will also become useful when time machines become another tool in the genealogical arsenal. Researchers will be able to go back in time and phone their ancestors to meet them at the machine!

From Reuters, here's a peek at "Yellowing pages offer a glimpse of phone history."

LONDON (Reuters) - The old home phone numbers of former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, composer Edward Elgar and poet John Betjeman are among millions being made available online for the first time on Wednesday.

Genealogy Web site Ancestry.co.uk has spent three years transferring nearly 2,000 old phone books to the Internet to help people research their family tree.

From the first slimline directory of 1880 that contained just 248 names to the heavyweight volumes of the 1980s, the collection traces the inexorable spread of the phone network.

While callers today would struggle to find Tony Blair's private number, anyone who owned a copy of a 1930s directory could reach former prime minister Ramsay MacDonald in Scotland.

His home address is listed with the old-style word and number combination, "Lossiemouth 3089".

In the 1941 directory for Tunbridge Wells, next to the listing for the Mac chain of fishmongers, there is an entry for "Macmillan, Harold; Pooks Cottage, Birch Grove. Chelwood Gate 81". He went on to serve as prime minister from 1957 to 1963.

Famous figures from the arts were also listed.

Read more here.

Israel: Horowitz family conference, Dec. 5

Is your name Horowitz, Ish Horowitz, Horwitz, Hurowitz, Hurwitz, Gorovets, Gorvich, Gurevich, Gurovich, Gurvich, Gurvits, Gurvitz, Gerwitz, Urevich or Herwitz? Did any of your ancestors bear one of these name?

Did you know that there is a Horowitz Families Association?

The group will hold its 23rd annual conference on the first day of Chanukah, at 4.30pm Wednesday, December 5, in Tel Aviv's Beit HaTanach, 16 Rothschild Blvd.

According to association board member Shlomo Gurevich, the meeting will focus on the contribution of family members to the creation of the state of Israel, on the 60th anniversary of the UN decision, as well as connections with the Czech Republic.

The event will feature remarks by association chair Yitzhak Ish-Horowitz on the family roots in Bohemia, by the Czech Ambassador in Israel, and the Israeli-Czech Friendship Society president.

During the conference, books on the family history will be presented as well as the annual association yearbook. Admission is NIS 25; members, NIS 20.

The website publishes information - in Hebrew, English, Russian and Spanish - about the family history, events and members, according to one of the site's webmasters, Daniel Horowitz. Horowitz family members and descendants from around the world can register for free, facilitating contact with other branches and the exchange of information. A mailing list keeps everyone up to date.

Visitors can also read and download past editions of the annual association newsletter, Yedion.

Monthly updates include biographies of notable Horowitz family members and a project titled "The All Horowitz Family Tree" is underway in an attempt to gather as many of the families' branch trees as possible.

The Horowitz Family Tree page is located at MyHeritage.com. The site offers excellent tools for genealogists, such as family websites with smart matching technology, photograph handling capabilities, a search engine which accesses 1,200-plus genealogical websites at one click and much more, including easy-to-use online family tree building tools.

Those members living in or visiting Israel can review the association's library holdings online and make appointments to visit the association library and consult its resources.

While the family's rabbinical roots are in medieval Barcelona, they migrated to the town of Horovice (today's Czech Republic) and adopted the town name for the family.

For more information, click here.

27 November 2007

Miami: World Jewish records, Dec. 2

Jerusalem-based genealogist Michael Goldstein will speak on "A Wealth of World Jewish Records," at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami

The Sunday, December 2 meeting begins at 9.30am with a networking and brick wall session, followed by the main program at 10am, at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

Jewish genealogists around the globe seek information about their ancestors; few realize that one of the greatest sources for research lies in Israel.

Many people don't know that Israeli archives and internet sites have amassed collections of historical and contemporary information about Jews around the world, including Poland, Russia, Spain and China. Even those who know that Israeli archives hold these ancestral information keys may not realize recent vast advances made in facilitating data access for worldwide research and finding Israeli family.

Goldstein will offer general guidelines about contacting and accessing Israeli archives. He will share interesting case studies and data on how family mysteries were solved by accessing lesser-known Israeli archives. Tips will be offered on finding Israeli-based shtetl tax rolls, migration records from Galicia to New York , ketubot from around the world, Polish vital records, Yad Vashem resources, and evidence of ancestral assets of those who never left Russia .

Canadian-born, Goldstein is a professional genealogist who researches, mentors, lectures, and conducts workshops in Israel and North America. He conducts worldwide Jewish research and guides North Americans in locating and connecting with their Israeli family, facilitating the use of local Israeli research sources. He holds a BA (Concordia University), an MSW (Yeshiva University) and is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, The Israel Genealogical Society and Jewish Genealogy Society of Montreal.

The Federation building is at 4200 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Picture ID required; for parking information, directions and more, click here.

Future meetings: Genealogy internet expert Steve Morse will speak to the group on Sunday, February 10.

Sephardic March of the Living, May 2008 - DATE CHANGE

The first Sephardic March of the Living will now take place May 12-19, 2008, and not as previously stated, announced historian and Sephardic researcher Yitzchak Kerem of Jerusalem.

Kerem envisions that Sephardic survivors will guide participants as they trace the path of the largest Sephardic Holocaust community - Salonika - to perish in the Holocaust, while future trips would focus on other destroyed Sephardic and Mizrahi Oriental communities.

This trip, he said, will bring together American, French and Israeli youth and university student groups, Greek Second and Third generation groups, and other interested Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews to Salonika (Thessaloniki, Greece), followed by visits to Warsaw, Auschwitz and Krakow to see the fate of the Salonika Jews. Public ceremonies will be held in Greece and Poland.

Anticipating 200-500 participants, Kerem, a noted historian on Greek and Sephardic Jewry in the Holocaust, is coordinating the trip with Inbar Tours of Ramat Gan, Israel. The subsidized price will be $1,200 per person, with funds and subsidies being sought.

The itinerary includes Salonika, followed by Warsaw, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Krakow, Treblinka and Athens.

Interested readers should first contact Kerem for the complete itinerary and other details (ykerem@actcom.co.il or kerems@actcom.co.il). For flight and deposit details, contact Rami Brickman (rami@inbartours.com).

Hooked on maps: Online resources

Ancestry's new Historic Land Ownership Records database proved very interesting.

As Tracing the Tribe's regular readers know, my grandparents Sidney (Shayeh) and Bertha (Chaye Feiga Bank) Fink owned a large bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake, Bethel Township, Sullivan County, New York, about 10 miles from Monticello.

As I checked through the database, I saw that the only map covering White Lake and Bethel Township was from 1875, long before my grandparents' land purchase. As I tried to figure out the road (it would become 17B) from Monticello to White Lake (where the Lapidus Bungalow Colony and the movie theatre were focal points in my day), I saw the right turn around the lake through Kauneonga, bearing left to West Shore Road.

I immediately recognized one owner's name - Driscoll. The family had still owned the farm behind our property in the 1950s-60s. And I remembered that fateful day when a herd of cows - from Driscoll's farm - escaped through a broken fence, across the baseball field and through the colony, scaring New York mothers as these "wild animals" wandered calmly, grazing.

Another name - W. Steen - was on a house approximately where my grandparents' "big house" was located. I had never heard that name mentioned. But across the road was property belonging to the Van Orden family, an old Sullivan County family.

A visit to the Bethel Township website seemed like a good idea, and I learned that Bethel would celebrate its centennial in 2009. At the Sullivan County Historical Society website, I read the brief Bethel history by town historian Marion Vassmer, whose family I remembered from the old days.

I did remember large empty fields, which would become the White Lake Homes development in the 1960s - and a "haunted house" - on the Van Orden property, and the small Mud Lake (on the early map) had become Amber Lake in my time. We were admonished never to go near that place, allegedly because of the poisonous water moccasin snakes. I never saw one, but I also never went to find out - just the thought of snakes kept me far away.

Following many links I found, I discovered TopoZone, a detailed (complete with houses) map of the area, showing both my grandparents' property (sold long ago) across the road from the subdivision. Comparing early and contemporary maps allowed me to pinpoint locations. Topo Zone offers a variety of resolutions and views that can be very useful.

I don't know the history of my grandfather's land purchase. Perhaps he bought his large piece of land directly from the Driscolls or from the Steen family, or had it already changed hands before his time? It's something to research further.

Max Yasgur's farm - the future site of Woodstock - up the road a bit wasn't there as Max hadn't arrived yet.

Enjoying this game of following the links, even though I had a number of pressing projects to address, I went downstate to Brooklyn, where my grandparents lived before moving permanently to Florida.

The most recent atlas listed at Ancestry was for 1929. I went first to Index 1 to see if I could find their East Flabush home on East 52nd Street, between Avenue D and Clarendon, a few blocks from Utica Avenue. I went first to Index 1, where a quick look showed I needed Index 2.

In the map that came up, I quickly located the names Utica Avenue and Avenue D on the Section 15 Flatbush map, but realized that East 52nd was in Section 24, the Canarsie map.

Unfortunately, section 24 is in Volume 4, and that's not yet online.

I questioned Suzanne Russo Adams of Ancestry's Professional Desk who referred me to Historic Map Works which is a great site for those enamoured of maps, and it is where Ancestry obtains their maps. If volume 4 were listed, I was told, it would eventually be in the database.

Full of hope, I clicked on the map site. Unfortunately, volumes 3 and 4 aren't listed. There were other maps that might have contained useful information for this quest, but the particular pages needed were also missing from the online series.

Oh well.

As I always tell those searching for information online: If it isn't there today, check tomorrow, next week or next month. While this particular map is not essential, it would have been nice to see and piece of the big picture to add to the file.

26 November 2007

Book: Aromas of Aleppo - Syrian Jewish cuisine

There are many aspects to family history research; food is only one, but it is certainly a major focus. The traditions of our ancestors continue today, whether as everyday comfort food or holiday specialties.

I've just received the beautifully photographed volume, "Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews," by Poopa Dweck, a first generation Syrian-American who lives in Deal, New Jersey, home to a large Syrian Jewish community.

She realized that these recipes were not being written down, were in danger of being lost, and set out to document them for future generations. In addition to history and recipes, the book is generously filled with photographs.

The large-format book is written with love by an author who cares deeply about her community's unique customs and cuisine, and invites others to learn the history and partake of these delicacies. The photographs - many from the Sephardic Community Center Archives - include family documents and Quentin Bacon's amazing culinary photography.

Some 180 recipes make up what is billed as "an extraordinary collection of the culinary treasures and intriguing customs" of this ancient community.

I'm devouring every page.

A detailed community history documents its ancient roots from King David, the Byzantine Empire, Mongol invasions, arrival of Sephardim from Spain, the Inquisition, the Ottoman Empire and after, and the contemporary community in the US, Israel and throughout Latin America (Caracas, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Panama City).

Dweck writes:

"The Aleppian Jews have remained a close-knit people, emigrating from Syria and forming strong communities in Israel and the Americas. Even more remarkable, the third and fourth generations born in these lands have defied assimilation. Their ties transcend national boundaries: A New York Aleppian could walk into the home of his Panamanian cousin and breathe in the same enchanting aromas that he knows well from his mother's Brooklyn kitchen."

Before she even gets to the recipes, Dweck describes the market aspect of the cuisine. In this, as in Iranian cooking, meals revolve around what is in season and the best quality ingredients. Not surprisingly, the Jewish Aleppo cuisine benefited from the trade and immigration between Persia and Syria.

There's a very interesting section on the reputation of the Aleppian women and their reputation for organization and presentation. In Yiddish, we'd use the term balebusta. In this community, this quality is known as suffa, the highest of compliments.

As in most Mediterranean cuisines, appetizers are maza, small dishes served in variety, and Dweck includes breads, spreads, stuffed bites and pickles. Each recipe throughout the book is accompanied by explanatory and very interesting text, technique illustrations and notes. Recipes are well written and easy to follow.

My favorites are too many to list, but in the unique appetizer category, there are kuaisat, pistachio, egg or garlic-mint filled rolls of ground beef that are cooked, sliced, drizzled with the juices and served up. Beautiful to the eyes and the tastebuds.

As far as grain, vegetable and soup recipes, I learned a new variation on my Italian beans sauteed in tomato with garlic, and will try the Aleppian braised beans with allspice and garlic, called fawleh. Syrian meatballs are really kibbeh, meat-stuffed shells eaten (fried) on their own or added raw to soup where they simmer to perfection.

The rice is similar to Persian (with high marks given to fluffy and separate long grains in both cuisines), except that the Aleppian version requires the rice to be fried lightly before liquid is added, and I also learned that - like the Persian crispy golden rice delicacy tahdig - the same Syrian treat is a'hata.

One rice dish begging to be tried is white rice mixed with brown lentils and lots of frizzled caramelized onions.

The meat section includes stuffed vegetables, meatballs stewed with tamarind or sweet cherry, stews, kabobs and sausages, as well as the Middle Eastern penchant for brains, tongue and sweetbreads.

The cherry-stewed meatballs, made with canned sour or sweet cherries, look delicious: kebab garaz was served over flatbread; today it is served with rice.

I could go on for the book's 388 pages, but wanted to mention the roast chicken stuffed with almond, pistachio and pine nuts, ground beef, allspice and cinnamon. The fragrance seemed to float off the printed page.

The three-page recipe list for sweets and desserts gives readers some hint at how important this is in Syrian Jewish social life: Fila delights in rose syrup, deep-fried cheese-stuffed pancakes, wedding cookies, pastries and puddings abound, along with candied vegetables and fruits, pastes and special drinks.

The last section is an insider's guidebook to holidays and life-cycle events explaining community customs. Dweck has done a great service for her community.

While I didn't need the comments of major cookbook writers (Claudia Roden, Mario Batali, Phyllis Glazer and Ana Sortun) to tell me this is a great book, their words wee most complimentary. Roden says the cuisine of the Jews of Aleppo was considered the "pearl of the Arab kitchen," while the Italian Batali, who had no frame of reference for this cuisine, writes about the "magnificent food in this spectacular tome" and that he loves "every single dish and photo in this book." Glazer comments that "Dweck's book will help this legacy live on," while Sortun remarks that Dweck's "heartfelt stories unveil a layer of Middle Eastern cutlure that is largely unknown."

Kol hakavod to Poopa Dweck!

Put this on your holiday wish list

"Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews," by Poopa Dweck
(New York, Ecco/HarperCollins, 2007; 388pgs); $49.95.

Exploring: Ancestry's passport database

Exploring the new Ancestry databases produced useful information from both the U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925 and the Historic Land Ownership and Reference Atlases, 1507-2000.

Here's my passport application experience, while my excursion into land ownership records will be in a separate posting.

The passport application database confirmed a story about my great-grandmother's brother who went to England to retrieve his wife and son (who had arrived there from Lithuania) in 1924. I couldn't find them in the arrivals database, but here was Riva Bank's baby brother Haskell clear as day. No picture unfortunately, although the guy next to him - Antonio Cardella - had one.

According to Uncle Haskell's application for a first-time passport, he was born January 13, 1887 in Russia (Poland) - although we knew it was near Kaunas/Kovno, Lithuania - and that he was the son of Charles Bank (real name: Tzalel), that he sailed from Libau and arrived in New York on January 13, 1913.

He lived in Brooklyn, NY (where there were other Bank relatives) for 11 years, while his family was in Lithuania, living in, we believe, a town near Kaunas/Kovna called Petriniskey (destroyed during World War II). His wife Trina Leah, son Zalman and a daughter (who died during the first world war years) had expected to join him earlier but the war separated them.

We're not yet sure how Trina Leah (also a Bank, the daughter of Tzalel's brother Gedaliah) and Zalman got to the UK or where they were waiting, but Haskell, a US citizen (Brooklyn, March 22, 1923) was required to go there to bring them home.

Things moved rather quickly as his application was dated October 14, 1924, and he stated he was leaving very soon (October 18) on the Cunard Line for the purpose of "bringing my family to the USA."

His World War II draft registration claimed he was born in 1889 in Breslau; Trina Leah had become Tanya. In the 1930 census, he claims his age as 40 (born in 1890), his wife was Tiny and they had two sons, Selman (known as Zalman), then 18, and Solomon, 3 (more confusion as the names are the same). More searching in the immigration records revealed US citizen Maskill (transcribed in error - it certainly looks like Haskill to me) and his wife Traina Bank (admitted, but in hospital) arrived in New York on the Republic (January 26, 1925) from Southampton, England.

Zalman or Selman is missing. I didn't have enough time to go through all the manifest pages to see if he might have been written up on another page, as sometimes happened.

Determined to find more, I went to Steve Morse's website and used the Gold Form for Passenger Arrivals. I plugged in "sounds-like" Chatzkel (a better "Yiddish" spelling than the modernized Haskell) with only the initial B in surname field, and a 1911-1914 arrival search.

Up popped Chatzkell Blank, 26, born 1887, arriving in New York on the Carmania on January 8, 1913, going to his Ginsburg brother-in-law and sister (my great-grandmother's sister), parents of my cousin Jake) in Montclair, New Jersey. His wife Trina Blank was in Novo Alexandrovski.

As with any new bits of data, there are more questions. He arrived in 1913 and didn't become a citizen until 1923. Why? How did Trina Leah and Zalman get to England? How does the town of Alexandrofski figure into the family? Why is the name listed as Blank (wrong) not Bank (right) on the actual passenger manifest? Where is Zalman - not yet 12 years old - at the time?

Eventually, more information will be uncovered.

I'm sure of that.

25 November 2007

California: Advanced Internet, Dec. 9 - UPDATE

Genealogists and family historians in the Los Angeles and Valley areas who want to learn more about locating internet resources should be interested in this presentation by expert Ron Arons.

He'll speak on "Using the Internet beyond JewishGen and Steve Morse's Website," at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV), at 2pm, Sunday, December 9, at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.

A nationally known speaker, Arons will provide Jewish genealogists with tools to help in their research. He'll discuss other "best bet" websites that can assist researchers in locating other online materials, such as historical documents, newspapers and articles, living people, maps and photos, foreign language translators and more.

President Jan Meisels Allen adds that all attendees will receive a free genealogically-relevant gift. Those who renew their JGSCV memberships or join for 2008 may participate in a genealogical prize drawing. Light refreshments will celebrate Chanukah and the membership drive.

For address, directions and more details, click here.

23 November 2007

New Blogs: Gen-erocity and Techtraveler

Genealogist Howard Wolinsky is a writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. He's had an interest in DNA and genetic genealogy for years and was one of the first people tested at Family Tree DNA.

His interests include technology, travel, photography, genealogy and genetics, and this past summer, he finally took a roots trip with his family.

Howard has now developed two blogs: Gen-erocity.net focuses on DNA and genealogy, while techtraveler.net provides information on tech you can take - gadgets and equipment - to make traveling and connection easier whether we're going only a few miles or to the other side of the planet.

In his first Gen-erocity.net entry, he writes:

Back in 2000, I was among the first to pay to have my DNA tested for genealogical reasons. Some of you may know me as Kit No. 65 at Family Tree DNA.

My only goal was tracking roots, sometimes very deep roots going back to Africa, where this whole modern human enterprise began tens of thousands of years ago.

It's been fascinating. I have learned a little bit about genetics and in recent years have started to match people with whom I shared a grandparent thousands, even hundreds, of years ago.

I wanted a sense of where my family came from, to trace the migratory pattern from Africa, through ancient Palestine, maybe Italy and Germany and then a right turn onto Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine and eventually on to the USA.

I have met and become friends with a number of people who share this interest, some might say an obsession, along with some common genes.

Welcome to the club, Howard!

Latvia: Rumbula website update

Rumbula.org creator Mitch Lieber of Chicago writes that his educational web site about Jewish Latvia with extensive material about the Holocaust has been updated.

Three generations of his family had unsuccessfully searched for relatives, until Lieber finally connected with his grandfather's brother's family in Israel. He had entered his name and town into JewishGen's Family Finder and his Israeli cousins finally found him. The site grew out of this miraculous reunion several years ago and honors family members massacred in the Rumbula Forest.

Rumbula and Skede 66th Yahrzeits: 27,800 Jews perished at Riga's Rumbula Forest on two days: 10 Kislev (November 29, 1941) was November 20; 18 Kislev (December 8, 1941) is November 28. For those murdered at Skede, near Liepaja, the yahrzeit is 25-27 Kislev (December 15-17, 1941) which will be December 5-7, 2008.

According to Lieber, the names of the majority killed at Rumbula are unknown. There's a link to the database listing names of those killed at Skede and in Liepaja: Liepaja - The Holocaust at Names of Victims and Survivors, which offers the database of victims and survivors of Liepaja, the Liepaja Jewish cemetery burials (1909-1941), a brief history of the Holocaust in Liepaja and how the name list was created.

Fifth World Reunion of Latvian Jewry
The Fifth World Reunion of Latvian Jewry is next week in Israel. It is hosted by the Association of Latvian and Estonian Jews in Israel in co-operation with The Jewish Survivors of Latvia in the U.S. and other organizations.

See What's New for additions to the site, such as:

*Photo: Rauchvarger School Classmates 1937 and their fates in Riga

*Virtual tour: 2006 Rumbula Commemoration Ceremony, Rumbula Forest Memorial.

*Monument to Latvians who sheltered Jews

*Virtual tour: Jews in a Changing World Conference, Riga, September 2006.

*Virtual tour: Jewish Survivors of Latvia annual meeting, New York, November 2006.

For recent books about Latvia Jewry, click Read More About It.

Gift ideas for genealogists

Holiday time is here and your favorite genealogist must have a wish list. Perhaps you're the researcher working on hints to family and friends about what you'd like for a birthday, anniversary or holiday?

Here are some suggestions:

1. Technology rules: This category offers everything from low-cost flashdrives to digital cameras (and extra storage cards), printer-scanners, hand-held scanners to packs of photo paper, printer cartridges, a box of blank CD/DVDs and thin "jewel" cases (color-coded sets are especially good!) to put them in.

2. Feeling generous: Your researcher will definitely appreciate a new smaller lightweight travel laptop computer. I'm hoping my favorite gift-giver reads this one!

3. Daily essentials: A mundane but bulky, heavy case of printer paper is a great help for folks who might be a bit older or live in snowy climates. Everyone needs archival quality file folders and other storage materials for photographs, documents, artifacts; poly sheet protectors are good to have. Google a search for "archival materials" or go direct to Light Impressions Direct.

4. Read it, write it: Jewish genealogists will appreciate a subscription to Avotaynu: The International Jewish Genealogy Journal, or any of the major reference books published by Avotaynu. There are many genealogy magazines in print or online; subscriptions are welcome. New babies in the family? Give the parents a baby book, and specialized journals for each set of grandparents to record their own lives for their new grandchild.

As our unique family histories also focus on our gastronomic traditions, ethnic cookbooks are always high on my list. Just one example is Poopa Dweck's Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews, which arrived recently. Just published, this is a big, lavishly photographed volume packed with unusual recipes and a holiday and life-cycle guide to Aleppo's unique customs. Watch for a stand-alone posting on this book.

5. New Genes: Start a surname or geographic DNA group at Family Tree DNA, and kick it off by sending selected relatives a test kit. This is definitely the gift that gives back in family information.

6. Join in: There are several database websites that can cost a pretty penny. Subscriptions to such fee-based sites as Ancestry , Footnote, World Vital Records would be very welcome. If your researcher already has a subscription, you could add a year or two to it. What about the membership fee to a local Jewish genealogical society? Or the registration fee for the annual international Jewish genealogy conference?

7. Starting out: If your researcher is just beginning or considering making the switch from paper to computer, consider a software package such as Family Tree Maker, Master Genealogist or Legacy Family Tree.

8. Make it personal: Scan in and record on disk your family photographs to share with relatives. Update your tree and send it out to the relatives so it reflects your latest discoveries.

9. Go for nostalgia: Gather the family and start planning a group roots trip back to the old country.

My favorite buy last year was a small digital recorder (no cassettes to fool around with or lose) and a battery recharger for its AAA batteries. Two years ago, I entered the 21st century with a digital camera. Both are now essential tools.

These are just some possibilities. What are your suggestions?

What's the best gift you've received that helped with your research?

Spain's Jewish magazine

Recently I told researchers about the monthly Jewish culture bulletin, Carta de Sefarard, available here, which is read by more than 8,000 subscribers worldwide.

The bulletin is published by Sefarad Editores, which also publishes the quarterly magazine Raices (Roots). The publication has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, and includes aspects of Jewish history and culture, contemporary arts, literature, history, language and thought.

When, in 1986, Spain and Israel established diplomatic relations, an increased interest in Sephardic and Jewish themes followed, with articles and books emphasizing Jewish history, Sephardic music and more.

In Madrid, Argentinian Horacio Kohan of Madrid had been Israel's press attache with the World Tourism Organization before official diplomatic contacts were established, and founded Raices in 1986.

Authors include researchers and specialists in many areas: history, literature, linguistics, social sciences, visual arts, music, theatre, philosophy, religion, and others.

There are more than 1,200 subscribers for the advertising-free publication (it went online in 2001), living in Spain, Portugal, other European countries and North and South America. It is sold at selected bookstores and can be found in all public libraries.

Carta de Sefarad (“the monthly bulletin of cultural news about Jewish Spain”) contains up-to-date information about cultural events of Jewish interest scheduled to take place throughout Spain as well as in other countries in Europe and North and South America.

For more information, click here.

Belarus: Lyakhovichi website

Does Lyakhovichi, Belarus figure in your ancestral research?

The Lyakhovichi website has been updated and expanded, thanks to the efforts of Deborah Glassman, according to the announcement by Gary Palgon of Atlanta, Georgia.

Started in 1994, the Lyakhovichi Special Interest Group (SIG) has amassed over 20,000 records, hundreds of pages of documents and more than 600 images, all which are now available for viewing and research on the site.

"The website is a resource for collaborative research on the history of the Jewish community in what is today Lyakhovichi, Belarus," says Deborah. She invites anyone who can contribute to the site, to do so.

Lyakhovichi is located about 130 km south-west of Minsk. If you have family originating from anywhere nearby - which means in places like Strolovich, Nesvizh, Klesk, Novo Myzh, Baranovich, Siniavka, to mention but a few - the expanded site is an absolute "must" to visit and check out.

Given the influence of Lyakhovichi on the surrounding area, the chances are that you will find references to your family in the over 200 years worth of documents available.

For more information, click here.

Roots Travel: Poland, Lithuania, Latvia 2008

Want to go home again? Various companies are letting researchers know about summer 2008 roots travel tours.

As with all such trips, prospective participants should carefully investigate companies offering tours, hosts and guides, as well as add-on costs for ancestral shtetl or archive visits with experienced people.

A 14-day heritage tour, "In Search of Jewish Roots in Northern Poland, Lithuania and Latvia," is set for May 19-June 1, 2008, leaving from Toronto.

It starts in Warsaw, through northern Poland, and then into Lithuania (Kaunas, Memel, Vilnius, Trokai, Sauliai) and Latvia (Riga), including visits to Jewish historical and cultural sites, and places associated with the Holocaust and WWII, such as Treblinka, the Wolfs Lair, Paneriai Forest, Ninth Fort and the ghettos of Warsaw, Vilnius and Kaunas.

According to the announcement, participants can also arrange visits to ancestral shtetls or archives in Vilnius and Kaunas.

Tour hosts are research librarian Maureen Price and professor emeritus Dr. Irwin Feuerstein, who has led two previous Jewish roots tours; while guides include Jacques Pauwels and Simon Davidovich (Sugihara Museum director in Kaunas).

For details and the itinerary, look under Cultural Tours at the Pauwels Travel website.

Scanning: Preserve, protect, share

World Vital Records announced its scanning service to preserve photographs, documents, videos and slides

The company decided to offer the family legacy-preservation service after learning that 91 percent of survey respondents expressed concern about digitizing and preserving family photos, videos and documents, while 50 percent said they were interested in uploading items to a secure site to share with selected family members.

All of us have old original photographs in albums or shoeboxes, old 16mm films, boxes of 35mm slides in glass or cardboard frames, deteriorating documents and much more in file cabinets or boxes stored in basements, attics, garages and closets.

If some catastrophe occurred (anything from a broken basement pipe to much worse, including fires, hurricanes and earthquakes), important family history would be lost forever. Perhaps now's the time to think about digitally protecting these materials?

My husband and I keep talking about transferring our 16mm wedding film to DVD, but haven't gotten around to it yet (procrastination is my middle name!). It's the only copy and it would be a shame to lose it forever. Digital copies of this unique item, as well as other important family resources, could be stored securely and also distributed to family, protecting and preserving the information.

A cousin in New Orleans had an old reel-to-reel taped interview in Yiddish with my great-grandmother, who died in 1963. I had asked for a copy for years but there was never a simple way to copy or share it. Guess what happened to that during Hurricane Katrina?

WVR also offers the option of uploading all scanned photos and storing them for free on a FamilyLink.com secure server.

According to World Vital Records release, videotapes, which deteriorate, have an expected life of 7-15 years, while DVDs have an expected life of 100-150 years. And film and photos, no matter how well stored, can fade, discolor, dry out, become brittle. I guess the only problem is whether people a century from now will have the proper equipment to play today's DVDs. After all, who today still has an 8-track player?

The WVR service will convert 8mm, 16mm, miniDVs and VHS tapes to DVD; scan photos and documents; digitize slides and negatives; and offers secure storage filing.

Check the WVR site for pricing and more information.

The most important thing - whether one uses a professional service like World Vital Records or scans resources at home - is to make copies of unique images and documents to preserve them and also to distribute to others.

Footnote.com: Personal Projects

Footnote.com is continually bringing new resources online. To receive information as it happens , go to the site and sign up for Footnote's alert service.

Now there's a way for researchers to create their own projects at the site.

I've come across interesting items each time I search Footnote, such as records of Sephardic Jews in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, as well as items on my 20th century Eastern European immigrants. There are some 20 million original documents now online, and the company says they add 2 million more each month.

Being able to access these bits and pieces is great, but now there's more you can do, including uploading your own original images and documents to share with other individuals who share your interest in specific names or locations.

Footnote has tools to make your uploaded items searchable to others, thus it could be considered your own personal web site. There's much to be said about combining their resources and your creativity.

Dick Eastman has provided a detailed posting on this. Read it here.

Chicago: Newberry Library interactive site

Looking for your Chicago ancestors?

The Newberry Library has announced a new resource to make it easier. I haven't had a chance yet to check it out, but here's the release:

The Newberry Library announced today a new interactive, map-based Web site for genealogists and Chicago historians - ChicagoAncestors.org. Developed by staff from the Local and Family History department at the Newberry, this online map makes searching and sharing historical information easier than before.

"There is a huge amount of local historical information about Chicago in books and on the Internet," said Jack Simpson, co-director of the project and curator of local and family history at the Newberry Library. "We're trying to help researchers find that data by allowing them to search by proximity of a particular address or intersection."

Data on the map includes historical church locations, neighborhood bibliographies and historical homicides. The site links to resources on the Internet, including historical photographs of Chicago. The Web site also allows visitors to research the history of a particular address or Chicago neighborhood and identify Newberry Library resources along with relevant educational institutions and places of worship. By creating a saved profile, users can share their research with other family members or fellow researchers. Registered users of the Web site can add comments to map points, or map their own historical and genealogical information.

"We hope that researchers use the site not only to find information, but also to share their expertise," said project co-director and Reference Librarian Ginger Frere. "Researchers have begun contributing their own information about schools, churches, and other institutions.

She added, "There is growing interest in how maps and idea of mapping online can be used in current research."

The Chicago Technology Cooperative created the technical design of the website. Built on open-source software, the project created a template for use by other communities for local historical mapping.

The Illinois State Library (ISL), a division of the Office of the Secretary of State, awarded the initial funding for ChicagoAncestors.org, using funds provided by the Institute for Museum and Library Studies (IMLS), under the federal Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA). Additional funding for bibliographic elements of the project came from a Carnegie-Whitney Award from the American Library Association. The Chicago Genealogical Society also supported the project with a gift. Ongoing support for the project comes from the Newberry Library.

About the Newberry Library

The Newberry Library, a preeminent humanities research and reference institution, is home to a world-class collection of books, manuscripts, maps, music, and other printed materials related to the history and culture of Western Europe and the Americas. The collections span many centuries. The Newberry offers research fellowships for scholars, exhibits based on its collections, and a broad array of programs and activities. Visit us online at www.newberry.org and in person at 60 W. Walton Street, Chicago, IL 60610.

Florida: 17th 'Lunch & Learn,' Dec. 16

Internationally acclaimed genealogist Rafael Guber will speak at the 17th Lunch and Learn of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Palm Beach County.

The event - open to all JGS members and guests - will begin at 11:30am Sunday, December 16, in Boynton Beach.

Styled on the popular television program, “Antiques Road Show”, Guber will present The Jewish Chochkes and Ephemera Road Show. In this Jewish version of the popular TV program, Guber invites attendees to bring documents, photographs and other items for evaluation of significant clues.

Sepia Guild Inc. president, Simon Wiesenthal Center/Museum Of Tolerance (Los Angeles) consulting genealogist, Ancestry magazine contributor and Association of Professional Genealogists member, Guber is senior researcher and contributing narrator for the History Channel’s Ellis Island.

He has traveled worldwide compiling genealogical reconstructions of family stories based on documents, images and social history; has lectured in the US and Canada, and his work was presented in a one-man 1997 Ellis Island show, seen by some 100,000visitors. In 2006, he organized an exhibit and spoke at the 26th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in New York City.

Paid reservations must be received by December 10: $35, members; $39, others. For payment information, location, directions and other details, click here.

Massachusetts: JGS, Hebrew College event, Dec. 9

Partnerships and collaborations between Jewish genealogical societies and Jewish community institutions, such as colleges or historical societies, seem to be the wave of the future. Such events reach larger prospective audiences, while combining knowledge and resources.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston and Hebrew College will collaborate in presenting an inaugural annual Jewish genealogy lecture on December 9 and an eight-session genealogy course, beginning in February 2008.

This first event will feature award-winning author Daniel Mendelsohn (The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million) describing his global quest to discover the fate of Polish family members who perished in the Holocaust.

Mendelsohn will appear at 3pm, Sunday, December 9, at Hebrew College in Newton Centre.

The Bard College humanities professor also contributes to the New York Times Magazine and Book Review. His best-seller (HarperCollins, 2006) received the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, the National Jewish Book Award, the Salon Book Award and the American Library Association Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Jewish Literature.

Says JGSGB president, Heidi Urich, "We hope Mendelsohn’s talk will inspire others to explore their family histories now that previously inaccessible archives and records are available. We are delighted to be co-sponsoring these programs with Hebrew College which was instrumental in the Society’s founding 25 years ago."

The events are made possible by a generous grant from Harvey Krueger of New York.

The lecture is free, open to the public, but space is limited. For reservations (recommended), click here.

The eight-session genealogy course will begin at Hebrew College from February 25, 2008. Course coordinators are Urich and Tom Weiss, with additional experienced JGSGB researchers. It is geared toward both beginners and more advanced students.

For more information, click here.

Congratulations to the JGSGB and Hebrew College!

Massachusetts: Searching Australia, Dec. 2

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston will host Judith Romney Wegner speaking on “Jews Down Under: Tracing My Australian Forebears” at 1.30pm, Sunday, December 2, at Temple Emanuel in Newton Center.

Wegner gave up law to pursue Judaic studies and was professor of Judaic and Comparative Religious Studies at several New England colleges. She holds law degrees from Cambridge and Harvard universities as well as a Judaic Studies PhD from Brown University. In her retirement, she continues to conduct research in Judaism and Islam and to follow her own genealogical research.

Her great-grandparents sailed to New Zealand as British colonists in the mid-19th century. Although some family members returned to England, others moved to Australia. She'll share the process used to conduct research using information from tombstones, newspapers, service records from the Australian Jewish Historical Society, and even coroner's inquest proceedings.

Wegner is an expert source when it comes to Hebrew, other languages and Jewish history; she contributes frequently to JewishGen's discussion groups and has assisted many researchers in their quests.

For address, direction and fees, click here.

22 November 2007

Thanksgiving: Persian-style

Wishing all my readers, wherever they are, a Happy Thanksgiving weekend with family and friends.

In the 1970s, when we lived in Teheran, Iran, we always celebrated Thanksgiving, as we do today in Israel. As we lived within the Iranian Jewish community, Jewish holidays were never a problem. Thanksgiving, however, was an unknown quantity, despite the large number of Iranian Jews who had studied in the US and returned home.

Many of our married friends were American wives and Iranian husbands. British, German and South Americans were also in the mix. As part of our busy social lives, we each staged frequent tea parties during which we attempted to outdo each other in the varieties of cakes, pastries and other desserts offered. Each event resembled a Las Vegas dessert buffet. My well-thumbed and lovingly batter-stained copies of Maida Heatter's cookbooks (highly recommended) are evidence of working through the pages!

Thanksgiving, however, was something else. There were certain shops where - for a price - essentials like cranberry sauce and Libby's Pumpkin Pie Puree could be had, as well as Miracle Whip for the after-holiday sandwiches! It took a bit of running around, but we always found what we needed.

Turkeys were available, although generally sold cut up and used in soups and stews or in the marvelous breakfast and life-cycle event dish, haleem (turkey cooked for hours with wheatberries, eaten with sugar and cinnamon, after synagogue services). But a whole turkey? Although many Iranian families we knew had large American stoves, their ovens were rarely used for anything but storage.

The first year we were there, I ordered one to be properly slaughtered, cleaned, left whole and delivered. "Don't worry," said the man who took the order, as I repeated "cleaned and delivered." We all know that "don't worry" sets off the anxiety twinges.

I busied myself with the pumpkin pies, blueberry crumble, roasting potatoes, sweet potato casseroles, sauteed Italian green beans in tomato sauce, little mini-vegetable kugels in cupcake shells, and corn bread for the stuffing. The next day I would make albalu polo (Persian white steamed rice with sour cherries and saffron) to go with the turkey.

Things were going well in the kitchen, except that Mr. Turkey didn't arrive on Wednesday.

After numerous calls, a promise was made to bring it first thing Thursday morning. Finally the bell rang - the gobbler had arrived in a huge brown paper bundle and brought to the kitchen. I thought the package felt warm as I carried it.

It got worse from there.

As I unwrapped the bird, the turkey's neck fell out (still sort of attached to the body), complete with beak and eyes. I didn't faint, although I certainly thought I would. More paper was unpeeled, and the bird was there in all its glory, complete with feathers, feet and everything but the gobble.

Understand that I'm a New York girl and - even in my grandmother's time - chickens and other fowl came de-feathered, de-footed, de-eyed, de-beaked and in nice plastic bags. I had no idea what to do with this still-warm thing in my kitchen and I was becoming a bit hysterical as I realized our guests would be arriving in only a few hours.

My husband thought it was funny, but came up with a solution. He called his mother and tried to explain the situation, although he was laughing so hard she didn't understand him. He went to bring over her housekeeper to come and clean Mr. Turkey, which she did quickly and efficiently.

I didn't watch.

It cooked up very nicely, but there wasn't much left for sandwiches the next day! And each year after, relatives and friends began calling in early November asking when the eid-e-bughelamoon (feast of turkey) was happening.

When we returned to the US in 1978, I added more Persian dishes to the annual feast. I serve all the traditional dishes, but add two exotic rice dishes (the sour cherry dish as well as the shirin polo (steamed rice with candied tangerine shreds, carrot shreds and pistachio nuts), along with stuffed vegetables.

One year, we had 50 people visiting from out of town and had six turkeys! In Israel, the turkeys are smaller to fit in Israel's smaller ovens. When we had a large feast one year, I commandeered my neighbors' kitchens, which of course meant they were also invited (with their chairs!).

Most kitchens here do not have large double wall ovens, and preparing the feast for a crowd is almost impossible with only one small oven. It's a challenge, but we've handled it with creative techniques and guests who bring along their own holiday specialties.

I wish all Tracing the Tribe's American readers a happy Thanksgiving weekend - no matter where they are this year - surrounded by family and friends, with a beautiful golden-brown roasted bird, the traditional trimmings, and each family's special ethnic specialties.

21 November 2007

Jewish soul food - the classic blend

I recently posted on the genealogy of delicatessen delights, and today, from the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia, comes a review by literary editor Robert Leiter of a great new cookbook anthology featuring lots of Jewish food and writers.

Jews and food. Is there any more classic blend of elements? Even people who know nothing about Judaism or Jewish culture know that Jews and eating are intertwined. In fact, one of the things that seems to unite philo-Semites and their anti-Semitic opposites is their envy of the warmth and unity conveyed by the idea of the Jewish table spread with culinary riches. Some have even said that the emphasis on comfort foods after the 9/11 attacks was a longing for Jewish soul foods. And then there's the aroma of the deli, which is a ubiquitous facet of the urban landscape.

It has also long been said that the American holiday Jews feel most comfortable with is Thanksgiving. The day is reflective of no real religious philosophy, per se, except the wish to show gratitude, which unites all belief systems; and so, whatever sentiments are advanced are compatible with Judaism. The fact that food is such a central element of the festivities can't be overlooked, either. We are thanking something greater than ourselves for the abundance and fruitfulness of the land, much of which now appears on our tables - that's something Jews have been doing since time immemorial.

American Food Writing: An Anthology With Classic Recipes, edited by Molly O'Neill, has a large number of Jewish contributors in its 750 pages.

Esther Levy wrote an 1871 Jewish Cookery Book and her Irish Potato Pudding recipe is on page 60:

"Boil six large potatoes in their skins; let them remain till next day, then peel them and grate on a horseradish-grater very light; then beat up six eggs, separately, the whites to a snow; add six ounces of sifted sugar, a pinch of salt, two ounces of ground almonds and the grated rind of a lemon; beat all lightly together, and bake or steam in a mould with four ounces of melted fat."

As O'Neill has noted, "In this recipe from the first known Jewish-American cookbook, the Irish potato pudding is billed as 'One that will do for Passover' and resembles a potato kugel."

The anthology is chronological and, as Leiter points out, additional Jewish writers appear as more Jews arrived in America. The list includes Edna Ferber, Mary Antin, Gertrude Stein, S.J. Perelman, Alfred Kazin, Alice B. Toklas, A.J. Liebling, Nora Ephron, Calvin Trillin, Lillian Hellman, Laurie Colwin, Maxine Kumin, Laura Shapiro and Corby Kummer.

Many have contributed essays about eating, not preparing, food.

Leiter offers this excerpt from Alfred Kazin's memoir of his Brownsville, Brooklyn childhood, "A Walker in the City."

"We never had a chance to know what hunger meant. At home we nibbled all day long as a matter of course. On the block we gorged ourselves continually on 'Nessels,' Hersheys, gumdrops, polly seeds, nuts, chocolate-covered cherries, charlotte russe and ice cream. A warm and sticky ooze of chocolate ran through everything we touched; the street always smelled faintly like the candy wholesaler's windows on the way back from school. The hunger for sweets, jellies and soda water raged in us like a disease ...

"But our greatest delight in all seasons was 'delicatessen' -- hot spiced corned beef, pastrami, rolled beef, hard salami, soft salami, chicken salami, bologna, frankfurter 'specials' and the thinner, wrinkled hot dogs always taken with mustard and relish and sauerkraut, and whenever possible, to make the treat fully real, with potato salad, baked beans and french fries which had been bubbling in the black wire fryer deep in the iron pot. At Saturday twilight, as soon as the delicatessen store reopened after the Sabbath rest, we raced into it panting for the hot dogs sizzling on the gas plate just inside the window. The look of the blackened empty gas plate had driven us wild all through the wearisome Sabbath day. And now, as the electric sign blazed up again, lighting up the words Jewish National Delicatessen, it was as if we had entered into our rightful heritage."

Do read the complete article here, and put this book on your Chanukah wishlist (it's on mine already!).

Humor: The disk is in the mail

Although the victims of this UK blunder are not laughing, a UK satire site has provided its take on the issue.

Are you aware that the UK's tax and customs service recently lost banking data and personal details of some 7.25 British families - nearly half the population - when two computer disks went missing in the mail and the loss wasn't announced for three weeks? The lost data includes names, addresses, dates of birth, national insurance numbers and banking details.

The UK satire site, Social Scrutiny, has some genealogically interesting items in its posting. (For the sake of some readers who might be confused, satire means NOT true.)

In the light of the recent security breach at Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC), The Department of Social Scrutiny (DoSS) has issued the following statement on the subject of Identity Theft (IT) on behalf of The Government.

This statement contains vital advice and the answers to a number of questions you may have about what you can do to protect yourself from it, now that we have released your details into the public domain as part of our obligations under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act; you should read the following information carefully, then completely destroy the computer you are reading it on.

The "announcement" includes a list of steps you should consider to protect your compromised identity. The second suggestion is of genealogical interest.

You should, without delay, change your date of birth. This has the added advantage of enabling you to pick a more suitable star sign than the one you already have.

You should also alter your mother's maiden name by Retrospective Deed Poll. This is rather complicated, but does at least stop family historians in their tracks and will lead to the eventual collapse of the genealogy industry.

Instruct your bank to write to you in invisible ink, Icelandic runes or the secret code of the Puffin Club.

Fill out multiple Identity Card applications under different names and encourage your children to do the same.

Change your online security regime by altering your password from "password" to "newpassword".

And it goes on from there.
Do click on the Identity Card and Children links.

For more real information on the leak, see this New York Times story.

FLASH: US Passport Collection at Ancestry

Ancestry has released a new collection: U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925

The US government has issued passports to American citizens since 1789. For the most part, passports were not required of UScitizens for foreign travel until World War I. A 1915 Executive Order followed by a 1948 Act of Congress established passport requirements for traveling citizens. Although there have been several permutations of laws, passport requirements were set in 1941 for all US citizens.

This database contains passport applications (1795-1925), emergency passport applications (passports issued abroad) (1877-1907), passport application registers (1810-1817, 1830-1831, 1834-1906), although passports issued March 4-5, 1919 (numbers 67500-67749) are missing from the NARA collection from this database.

What can you expect to find in this collection? In addition to data below, some applications also include photographs.

Passport applications can provide:

Name of applicant
Birth date or age
Date of application or issuance of passport
Father’s and/or husband’s name
Father’s and/or husband’s birth date or age
Father’s and/or husband’s birthplace
Father’s and/or husband’s residence
Wife’s name
Date and place of immigration to the U.S.
Years in which have resided in the U.S.
Naturalization date and place
Physical characteristics

Passport application registers may provide:

Date and number of application
Name of applicant
Age of applicant (1834-1849)
Physical characteristics of applicant (1834-1849)

Part of the application registers consists of a volume of the following miscellaneous special passports:

1. A register of special passports issued at New York, 1862-1869
2. A register of special passports granted by John Forsyth, Secretary of State and successor Secretaries of State, 1836-1864
3. A register of Special Courier Passports, 1865-1869
4. Passport Account of J.B. Nones, which is a record of fees received for passports, 1867
5. Passport Account of George F. Baker, 1864-1869

For more information and to search the collection, click here U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925.

20 November 2007

An early American bris

A math professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, Dr. Yitzchok Levine contributes to The (New York) Jewish Press. His glimpses into American Jewish history are interesting, and his latest focuses on Colonial-era circumcision rituals.

Levine discusses the rite of brit milah - circumcision - performed on male infants on the eighth day after birth by a mohel (ritual circumciser), and also discusses Conversos of the 15th-17th centuries in Iberia and elsewhere who could not follow this rite, adding that those men the Inquisition discovered circumcised would likely be burned at the stake. It was common practice for those who managed to escape the Inquisition - to Amsterdam, America and elsewhere - to have themselves and their sons circumcised on arrival.

The article focuses on Colonial America and quotes from the works of Rabbi Malcolm H. Stern, Stanley F. Chyet and Jacob Rader Marcus.

Writes Stern:

"Most Jewish functionaries of the colonial era were laymen. While an occasional rabbi [hakham to the Sephardim] found his way to these shores, few remained. The Jewish communities were too small, and often too struggling to support professional clergy. As congregations became established and synagogues were built, the demand for ritual functionaries grew. The reader, or chazzan, who knew the ritual chants, became especially important."

For those who lived far from a major city such as New York (with only some 300 members of the tribe in 1790), finding a mohel wasn't easy, and it wasn't that easy for the mohel to get around to the far-flung Jewish families who required his services. Depending on the weather and his other responsibilities, it could take months to reach the infant. This is what happened for the bris of Joseph, son of the Portuguese refugee merchant Aaron Lopez (1731-1783) in Newport, Rhode Island.

"Sometime during the summer of 1756 Aaron wrote to Abraham Isaac Abrahams (1720-1796) of New York and urged that rarest of eighteenth-century Americans, a Jew of Lithuanian descent, to undertake Joseph’s circumcision. The Newporter may have previously favored others with that request, only to be disappointed; we do not know."

Most lay leaders had two occupations, the Jewish ritual performed and another one or more that paid the bills. The article relates that Abraham was "the best known circumciser in New York during the 1750’s." He was also a tobacconist, distiller, schoolteacher, shopkeeper and synagogal precentor, and he performed his Jewish responsibilities across New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, as well as New York's Long Island and Westchester County.

When Abraham was 36, in June 1756, he began recording the brit milahs he conducted; the first was his own son. Although he was invited by Lopez in the summer, he didn't get to Newport until February 12, 1757, when he performed and recorded two Lopez family rituals.

For more, click here.

DNA: Very personal results?

Amy Harmon's latest DNA story in the New York Times centers on the human genome and new testing available at 23andMe.

Harmon explores her own experience and provides information on an infant industry "capitalizing on the plunging cost of genetic testing technology to offer any individual unprecedented — and unmediated — entree to their own DNA."

Offered the chance to be among the early testers, I agreed, but not without reservations. What if I learned I was likely to die young? Or that I might have passed on a rogue gene to my daughter? And more pragmatically, what if an insurance company or an employer used such information against me in the future?

But three weeks later, I was already somewhat addicted to the daily communion with my genes. (Recurring note to self: was this addiction genetic?)

For example, my hands hurt the other day. So naturally, I checked my DNA.

Three companies have already begun or planning to provide services and assistance to consumers on how to interpret the results 23andMe, deCODE Genetics and Navigenics

Harmon's article details her 23andMe experience and linking the results to studies linking DNA to various diseases and factors (appearance, personality, behavior). The test explains why she had refused to drink milk growing up: her results show lack of the mutation that allows milk digestion after infancy.

The results show she lacks the predisposition for good verbal memory, which could be a problem for a journalist, and she doesn't like brussels sprouts. The veggie bit is genetic as certain vegetables have a compound that tastes bitter to some people.

23andMe generated a list of Harmon's genotypes based on her results and some of it is quite fascinating, including a 6-point I.Q. jump from breast-feeding.

She also explores the possibilities of insurance problems and wonders what will happen five years from now when many people will know the probability of disease risk.

Once I looked at my results, I could never turn back. I had prepared for the worst of what I could learn this day. But what if something even worse came along tomorrow?

Health care providers are not in agreement about making this information available to the public without counseling, and one of the three companies mentioned plans to include a phone consultation with a genetic counselor. The other two will offer referrals.

Compelled to know (genetic?), I breezed through the warning screens on the site. There would be no definitive information, I read, and new discoveries might reverse whatever I was told. Even if I learned that my risk for developing a disease was high, there might well be nothing to do about it, and, besides, I should not regard this as a medical diagnosis. “If, after considering these points, you still wish to view your results,” the screen read, “click here.”

I clicked.

To read more, click here

Tennessee: Jewish history exhibit

From Tricities.com comes a story of Jewish immigration to Tennessee and a free exhibit focusing on the state's Jewish history. It will open December 9 in Nashville and will tour the state through February 3.

The traveling exhibit, "Bagels & Barbecue: The Jewish Experience in Tennessee," is jointly sponsored by the Tennessee State Museum with the Jewish Federation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, Jewish Community Federation of Greater Chattanooga, Knoxville Jewish Alliance, Memphis Jewish Federation, and other state Jewish communities.

It begins with the saga of early Jewish settlers emigrating from Europe, where most faced religious persecution. A few came to upper East Tennessee in the 1770s and to Middle Tennessee by the 1820s. By 1870, groups in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville, and Chattanooga had purchased land for cemeteries — a first concern of new Jewish communities—and founded congregations for worship.

Chronicling the life of Jewish families during the Civil War and Reconstruction, the exhibit focuses on the historic contributions during this period. Stories of interest include the beginnings of one of America’s most respected newspaper empires, which began when 20-year-old Adolph Ochs, son of Julius and Bertha from Knoxville, bought The Chattanooga Times in 1878. In 1896, he added The New York Times to what is still today a family-controlled enterprise.

The story continues with a wave of immigrants 1880-1924, escaping anti-Semitism and pogroms. More than 1,000 Tennessee Jews served in World War II. The then-secret Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge brought Jewish scientists to work on the atom bomb. At the same time, Holocaust refugees and survivors received housing, jobs and English lessons.

Post-war, the state's Jewish population declined to fewer than 17,000 in 1960, and the Civil Rights-era raised challenges: In 1958, the Nashville Jewish Community Center was dynamited and, in 1977, a Chattanooga synagogue was destroyed.

The exhibit also documents the recent influence of the Jewish community following migration of Jewish health and music industry professionals, university professors, executives, artists and their families.

For more, click here.

17 November 2007

What's Inside: Sharsheret Hadorot, Israel

The November 2007 issue of the award-winning bilingual (Hebrew/English) quarterly, Sharsheret Hadorot, is in the mail, reports editor Yocheved Klausner of the Israel Genealogical Society.

For information on how to obtain a copy, go to the IGS website.

Contents include:

*The Montel and Esdra Families of Marseille, by James Montel.

*The Kantorovitch family from Lakhva (Belarus), by Stephen Cohen and Zohar Yereslav, who relate how they found their connection.

*Mazal Linenberg-Navon z"l, sister of former Israeli president Yitzhak Navon, conducted research on the Navon family (Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel) and on the Ben Atar family (Morocco), and was also among the IGS founders. The article is by Shmuel Shamir.

*Algerian Jews Serving in the French Army, by Mathilde Tagger.

*How to Trace Red Army Soldiers Killed during World War II, by Aharon

*The Hagana Historical Archives as a Tool for Genealogical Research, by Ilan

*The Admor's Son Who Converted, by Yehuda Klausner.

*Report on the International Conference on Syrian Jewry at Bar Ilan
University, May 2007.

*Abstracts of the genealogical press in English, Dutch and French.

161 Meme: Tracing the Tribe tagged

Jasia at Creative Gene was tagged by FootnoteMaven for the 161 Meme, and Jasia tagged me. Those tagged are supposed to open up the book we're currently reading to page 161, share the sixth sentence on that page, and then tag five other bloggers!

Jasia, you asked for it! I'm a voracious reader. Lucky for you, I'm reading only two books concurrently - the other eight gathered on my recent Barcelona trip haven't yet arrived!

The two current reads are Jon Entine's Abraham's Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People - a fascinating read - and Stanley M. Hordes' solidly researched (historically and genealogically) To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews in New Mexico.

Entine's sixth sentence down on page 161 is a bit cryptic: "But our noses and skin (color) are different." This has to do with the African Lemba tribe DNA study and specifically about the Buba clan. I wish it were the 11th sentence instead: "The Lemba study, published in February 2000, directly assaulted anthropological orthodoxy."

In Hordes' book, the sixth sentence is really a paragraph of testimony by prominent New Mexicans before the Inquisition in Mexico City on May 3, 1666:

Item - he also says and declares that in August of the previous year [1665], in the pueblo of Sandia, having complied with the order that he had brought from the Holy Tribunal, Don Fernando de Duran y Chaves said to the witness that he had taken back that which the Holy Tribunal had ordered, to which the witness responded to him, I, too, take back what I said so that the people should not be saying what is being said, that perhaps they arrested me for practicing Judaism, which was said before Don Agustin de Chaves, Padre Fray Raphael, and Dona Catalina Vasques, from which I also ask for mercy as a Catholic Christian [emphasis added].

And I'm tagging Hsien at Eye on DNA, Steve at Steve's Genealogy Blog , Janice at Cow Hampshire, Chris at The Genealogue, and DearMYRTLE.

Syrian Jews: Genealogy is serious business

How serious is genealogy? Very serious, if you are a member of the Syrian Jewish community, based these days in Brooklyn, NY and Deal, NJ.

A long article in the New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago details the community's famous 1935 rabbinical proclamation about never accepting converts or children of converts,

It proclaimed, "No male or female member of our community has the right to intermarry with non-Jews; this law covers conversion, which we consider to be fictitious and valueless."

A 1946 clarification added specifics: "The rabbi will not perform Religious Ceremonies" for such unkosher couples. "The Congregation’s premises will be banned to them for use of any religious or social nature. . . . After death of said person, he or she is not to be buried on the Cemetery of our community . . . regardless of financial considerations."

There are also laws on their books for community members who wish to marry non-Syrian spouses:

In addition to the strictures imposed by the Edict in instances of proposed intermarriage, any outsider who wants to marry into a Syrian family - even a fellow Jew - is subject to thorough genealogical investigation. That means producing proof, going back at least three generations and attested to by an Orthodox rabbi, of the candidates’ kosher bona fides. This disqualifies the vast majority of American Jews, who have no such proof. "We won’t take them - not even if we go back three or four generations - if someone in their line was married by a Reform or Conservative rabbi, because they don’t perform marriages according to Orthodox law," Kassin said. Even Orthodox candidates are screened, to make sure there are no gentiles or converts lurking in the family tree. In addition, all prospective brides and grooms must take marital purity classes and pass a test for HIV.

Planning to marry into this community? You might start investigating your own family history now.

The article offers insight into an exceedingly insular community which believes it has protected its future continuity and self-preservation through the famous Edict and heavy-duty community pressure on its young people.

Perhaps it has: Read the comments of those who have had the temerity to marry out.

Read the complete article here.

16 November 2007

New York: Vienna, Ukraine roots, Nov. 18

Tracing the Tribe readers have a plethora of genealogy activities for Sunday, November 18. The Jewish Genealogical Society of Long Island will offer a roots travel adventure to Vienna and Western Ukraine with member Kathy Wallach.

The JGSLI meets at the Mid-Island Y in Plainview.

More than 25 years ago - at a family wedding - Wallach met cousins from England. Family elders were interviewed, and they tried to reconcile different versions of the family history. At a cousin's gathering, they decided it was time to go back in time and see where the Donner and Wallach families came from. With help from English cousins, they set off in May 2007.

Kathy will recount the trip from Israel to Vienna, where they met 40 of Paul’s cousins – many born there. A smaller group then went on to Lviv, Zolkiew, Unov, Rawa Ruska and Belz - the villages connected to Paul's mother's history. The group got smaller and they went on to Ternopil, Skalat, Tarnaruda.

For directions and more information, click here

New York: Web searching, Nov. 18

Have you felt that there are ways to do better web searching but you don't understand how to do it? The Jewish Genealogical Society of New York comes to your rescue with its next meeting on Sunday, November 18.

Starting at 2pm, "Trick or Treat – Family History Web Searches" with David Kleiman will help provide the answers with a program covering all the bases for newcomers to experts.

Kleiman will cover:

· Start with the basics.
· Work with "new" or "ignored" resources on well-known genealogy sites.
· Bring the data into your own system for customized and detailed analysis.
· Start from any general search engine (Google, for example).
· Learn how to dig deep, follow a thread or a clue, and maybe find family treasure in the most unexpected websites.
· Grab targeted lists from "protected" websites (legally) and set up the information to do your own sorting and selections.
· Combine search results from both free and paid databases into your own analysis tool.

A family historian for more than 35 years, Kleiman is chair of the NY Computers and Genealogy SIG. He is the developer of both software and on-line databases for genealogists and served on the JGSNY executive council. He provides genealogical consulting for several current projects and is president of Heritage Muse, Inc., an ePublishing company producing digital texts in the humanities and custom, multi-media books for family historians.

The JGSNY meets at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th Street. The Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute at CJH will also be open from 12:30-1:45pm for networking with researchers and access to research materials and computer resources.

Free to members; $5 for others.

For more information, click here.

15 November 2007

Chicago: Analyzing photographs, Nov. 18

Chicago-area readers with puzzling family photographs might want to attend the next Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois meeting on Sunday, November 18, at Temple Israel in Skokie.

At 12.30pm, the JGSI library opens with computers and helpful assistance. New books and maps have recently been added.

At 2pm, the program begins: "Analyzing Late 19th and Early 20th Century Photographs for Family History Data" with Craig L. Pfannkuche.

Some of us have photographs of our ancestors, although often the images have no identifying names. This presentation will focus on how a family history researcher might be able to identify such individuals.

Pfannkuche will also give suggestions as to how 'unnamed' photographs can be used to add interesting material to one’s family history. JGSI members are invited to bring their own photos to get information.

The JGSI library will be open after the program until 4pm.

For address, directions and more, click here

Canada: Beyond death certificates, Nov. 18

I've had a few opportunities to see episodes of the popular Canadian show, "Ancestors in the Attic." The Jewish Genealogical Society of Hamilton and area (Ontario, Canada) will host staff genealogist Paul McGrath of the History Television program at its next meeting.

McGrath will address resources for information that exist "beyond the death certificate."

The meeting begins at 1.30pm, Sunday, November 18, at the Hamilton Central Library; admission is free.

For address, directions and more information, click here.

14 November 2007

What's Inside: Roots-Key, JGSLA

Family historians often overlook genealogy society journals as a major resource for information on all sorts of topics. Although perhaps the best-known Jewish focused publication is Avotaynu: The International Journal of Jewish Genealogy, researchers should not overlook individual society journals.

Jewish genealogy societies regularly exchange newsletters and journals, and if you're a member of a society, its library will likely contain copies of these publications.

One of the best society journals is that of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Los Angeles.

Roots-Key's Winter 2007 special double issue is themed "Recreating Your Ancestral Shtetl." It offers 68 pages covering many topics that researchers encounter while trying to expand family genealogy into town-wide research: Where do you find records? How do you analyze data? If no records exist, what can you do? When you've collected everything you can, what should you do with all of it?

This issue has four themes: documenting, analyzing, researching and preserving/sharing.

The first details many types of records available to document families and Jewish community life. This issue spotlights towns in Belarus, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Ukraine, with authors Sonia and David Hoffman, Vitaly Charny, Victor Kumok (Ukraine), Henry Neugass and Mike Marvins.

A separate section on data analysis describes integrating databases and given name analysis as well as community genealogies. Authors include Daniel Wagner and Israel Pickholtz (both from Israel).

The section on 20th century research focues on Holocaust memorials and memoirs, highlighting Yizkor books, translation projects, biographical memoirs, town associations, innovative ways to uncover the past and build a bridge to the future, with articles by Joyce Field, Werner Frank, Joel Petlin, Meyer Swirsky (Israel) and Martin Cahn (Poland).

Preserving and sharing research and town histories provides articles by Susana Bloch (Canada), Chaim Freedman (Israel), Eilat Gordin Levitan and Jeffrey Kohn.

To see the index of original articles from issues dating back to Spring 1994, click here. To obtain a copy (this double issue is $10), email editor Nancy Holden for details (her email can be found at that link).

Happy reading!

13 November 2007

Oregon: Genealogy detective, Nov. 20

One of two Jewish genealogical societies in Oregon, the Portland society's next meeting will feature avid researcher Debbi Korman on "How to be a genealogy detective."

Learn how you can find out about your family even if you have only a little information - and that's false!

Since 1988, Korman has been pursuing her ancestors and focuses on the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Congress Poland. Her family trees date to the late 1700s in those places and she has travelled to Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Austria in search of information. Korman plans someday to cross the Slovak/Ukrainian border on the ultimate hunt for her BERGIDA ancestry.

She has contributed to Hungarian SIG and JRI Poland online databases. A former JGS Los Angeles board member and newsletter editor, she is the current editor of the JGS Oregon's newsletter, "Shalshelet."

The program begins at 7.30pm, Tuesday, November 20, at Portland's Ahavath Achim Synagogue.

For address, directions and more details, click here.

Brazil: Recife's ancient synagogue

Did you know that Recife, Brazil has the oldes synagogue in the Americas? Read about it in this story:

Flanked by bustling cafes in downtown Recife on Brazil's northeastern coast is a little-known treasure of Jewish history in the New World - the oldest synagogue in the Americas.

Sephardic Jews built the two-story Kahal Zur Israel Synagogue before 1641 - most likely in 1636 - when they enjoyed religious freedom under the Dutch, who ruled part of the northeast region from 1630 to 1654 to control sugar production.

The Mikve Israel Congregation in Curacao, a Dutch Antilles island in the Carribean, was considered by some to have been the first congregation in the Americas. But it was founded only in 1651, also by Sephardic Jews from Holland.

In the world's largest Catholic nation, whose best known icon is the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, the Recife synagogue became an important symbol of the Jewish heritage in Brazil.

Based on old maps, archeological excavations uncovered the remnants of the synagogue, including the original Mikvah - a bath for religious ceremonies - under six layers of floors. The restored synagogue reopened in December 2001.

The synagogue is a fixture for tourists and its archives are perused by Brazilian and foreign scholars, whose studies are shedding light on the Jewish role in Brazil's early days.

"It challenges the stereotypical view that Brazilian culture is based on a tripod of Portuguese, [native] Indians and Africans," said Tania Kaufman, head of the Jewish Historical Archive in Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state.

"We now know Jews were a fundamental part of Brazil's cultural melting pot."

Records in Amsterdam and Brazil show that the Jews helped to build the sugar industry and infrastructure for the town, which at its largest, had some 1,600 Jews in 1645, the same as Amsterdam according to a Dutch historian. The story also details what happened when Dutch rule ended in 1654, the growth of New York's Shearith Israel congregation.

In November, an annual Jewish festival attracts some 20,000 attendees.

Read more here.