31 December 2008

Proximidade Award - Pass it on!

It's always nice to start off the New Year with an award.

Geneablogger colleague Bill at West in New England has awarded the Proximidade Award to Tracing the Tribe. Thank you, Bill!

The award concept is as follows:

These blogs invest and believe in PROXIMITY - nearness in space, time and relationships! These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers, who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.

The rules suggest honorees pass the award on to eight blogs. As I have mentioned before, it might be a good idea to limit this to four or five blogs to make it easier to pass around to deserving geneablogs. Do visit my friends at the following blogs:

Craig at Geneablogie
Lisa at The Accidental Genealogist
Jane at Canada Genealogy
Blaine at The Genetic Genealogist
Lidian at The Virtual Dime Museum

Happy New Year to all Tracing the Tribe readers. I hope that 2009 will be better than 2008 in all aspects and wish everyone great success in continued ancestor-hunting. Enjoy your journey down Discovery Road!

New Jersey: Climbing Jewish family trees, Jan. 9-11

New Jersey genealogists will have a great opportunity to hear Jewish genealogy pioneer Arthur Kurzweil over the weekend of January 9-11, at the Marlboro Jewish Center.

The Scholar in Residence Weekend is themed "From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History."

Kurzweil, known to many as America's foremost expert in Jewish genealogical research, will speak on "How and Why Jews of All Ages Can Successfully Climb Their Jewish Family Trees," and other special activities will take place during the weekend.

Call the Marlboro Jewish Center at 732-536-2300 for more details.

26 December 2008

California: And all that jazz, Jan. 4

Learn the true story behind the musical "Chicago" ... and all that genealogical jazz at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV).

Speaker Ron Arons tells the story at 1.30pm Sunday, January 4, 2009 at Temple Adat Elohim 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks.

Ron Arons tells the true story of Belva Gaertner, one of the two real-life women who were convicted of murdering their lovers in Chicago in 1924.

He's accomplished this by collecting as many genealogical documents as possible and stitched them together to understand this story.

And what an amazing story it is!

Belva wasn't Jewish but, by understanding what Ron has done, you can replicate the process with your relatives.

This is another way of conducting family history research, above and beyond simply collecting relatives' names, dates, and places.

A nationally known speaker and founding member of JGSCV, Arons has appeared on the PBS television series "The Jewish Americans" in January 2008. His book, The Jews of Sing Sing, was published in June 2008.

The meeting is free. For more information contact Jan Meisels Allen at publicity@jgscv.org.

25 December 2008

Christmas traditions: Chopsticks, the silver screen

As most Jewish New Yorkers know, Christmas means Chinese food and movies. Why is that? Well, about the only restaurants open on Christmas were Chinese and the only other thing to do while other New Yorkers were opening presents, caroling and eating Christmas turkeys and hams, was go to the movies.

We knew that almost everyone in our favorite restaurant and cinema were also MOTs (Members of the Tribe). And we also knew that some of the best places for Chinese cuisine were located in Jewish neighborhoods. The old joke was that when looking for a new home, a family would first check out the local school's reputation and then look for the Chinese restaurants.

It is so ingrained a tradition that when we moved to Teheran in the early 70s, the first thing we did was locate the best Chinese restaurant - it was very good! We also did this in Los Angeles and later when we moved to Southern Nevada. In both locations, we found excellent places as good as our favorite New York destination.

Doesn't quite work like that in Israel, where the day is a normal part of the week. Everything is open. And, if truth be told, the Chinese food in Israel is not what we know Chinese food should be. We are always disappointed.

While our sushi places are great, Thai is excellent, and our pan-Asian places are wonderful, Chinese isn't even on the radar. I believe that if you've never had New York Chinese, you won't miss it and might even think what's served up here is good - but for those in the know, it is a major disappointment.

Panda Express (mass-market Chinese restaurants in the US, often located in malls and supermarkets) would have lines around the block if they opened an outlet here. Their orange chicken is delicious.

I long for perfect kung pao chicken, simply and expertly prepared. I long for garlic chicken with extra water chestnuts (which are barely used here). A real egg roll. New York fried rice which seems, according to hardcore world travelers, to be the best in the world.

I have been told that the problem is that while Israel gives visas to Thai cooks and other Asian cooks, no visas are given for Chinese expert chefs. I haven't been able to track this down, but my sources - in the restaurant industry - are normally reliable.

Just in time to discuss the affinity of Jews and Chinese food is an article by Karen Goldberg Goff in The Washington Post.

On Christmas Day, we'll eat Chinese/Walk empty streets until we freeze/Once a year the city's ours alone/Anyone you see must be a Jew/Why not say "Hi, I'm a Jew too"?
— Rob Tannenbaum, "It's Good to Be a Jew at Christmas"

Tonight and tomorrow, while countless millions of revelers are singing carols, attending midnight Mass, opening presents and kissing under mistletoe, a much smaller group will be celebrating its own way - with fortune cookies and kung pao chicken.

Even though Christmas falls midway through the Jewish holiday Hanukkah this year, chopsticks are, for some, as much a part of the day as a menorah.

Yes, the old snark - usually coming straight from your Jewish friends - goes that Christmas for Jews involves Chinese food and a movie. Why? Because that's all that's open, of course.

Syracuse University science professor (and Chinese cuisine cook) Donald Siegel says, however, that there's a "more complex affinity" at work here. He's the author of "From Lokshen to Lo Mein: The Jewish Love Affair With Chinese Food."

Mr. Siegel, fresh from cooking a kosher Chinese dinner for 150 at his synagogue near Syracuse, says back in the early 1900s, when a huge influx of Jewish and Chinese immigrants came to Lower Manhattan, the Jews felt safe and free from anti-Semitism at Chinese restaurants.

"If they ate at a Chinese restaurant, it meant they were going to try new things," he says.

From here, the relationship was born. Another old joke from my grandparents' time was that some people who ostensibly kept kosher had three sets of dishes (milchig-dairy, fleischig-meat and treif-not kosher - used for Chinese take-out). At least, Chinese food didn't mix meat and milk so on some level it was "safer" than other foreign cuisines.

Today, of course, in many observant US Jewish neighborhoods, there is a plethora of kosher Chinese places. I have been to some that are very good (Los Angeles in particular) and some that are awful (various East Coast suburbs).

The article mentions sociologists Gaye Tuchman and Harry G. Levine's 1992 paper, "Safe Treyf : New York Jews and Chinese Food."

"Over the years, New York Jews have found in Chinese restaurant food a flexible open symbol, a kind of blank screen on which they have projected a series of themes relating to their identity as modern Jews and as New Yorkers," the authors wrote. "These themes were not inherent in the food itself, nor did they arise from Chinese Americans' view of their own cuisine.

"Chinese food is unkosher and therefore non-Jewish," Ms. Tuchman and Mr. Levine wrote. "But because of the specific ways Chinese food is prepared and served, immigrant Jews and their children found Chinese food to be more attractive and less threatening than other non-Jewish or food...Chinese restaurant food used some ingredients that were familiar to Eastern European Jews. Chinese cuisine also does not mix milk and meat; indeed it doesn't use dairy products at all."

Of course, pork and shellfish are used in this cuisine, but Siegel comments that some people curved - if not bent - the rules and felt that if the forbidden ingredients were chopped into teeny tiny pieces, and if they couldn't recognize it, then it was OK to eat.

Tuchman and Levine also point out that Chinese restaurant food was considered cosmopolitan. In New York City, immigrants (and their children and grandchildren) got used to the idea that modern American Jews did this together. Thus, the tradition became part of ordinary life.


22 December 2008

The GeneaBloggers go a-caroling

Our fabulous friend footnoteMaven is at it again!

This time she created


Gather 'Round


Carols Old - Carols New

A Celebration of Christmas & Hanukkah

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Visit the site, see and hear the Geneablogger's Choir!

John Newmark of TransylvanianDutch and I covered some great Chanukah music (no matter how you spell it), from Tom Lehr's Hanuka in Santa Monica to that great Sephardic Ladino tune Ocho Kandelikas.

'Ashkefard' Chanukah: Bimuelos, latkes

What's an Ashkefard, readers might ask? It refers to someone of mixed Sephardic and Ashkenazi heritage. Our daughter with Persian and Sephardic-Belarus heritage is an Ashkefard, as am I. Many of us are entitled to use the term.

The best thing about being an Ashkefard is that holiday food is doubly delicious. So here are my recipes for Sephardic bimuelos (fried delights resembling doughnut holes) and Ashkenazi latkes (potato pancakes).

I meant to post this pre-Chanukah but was busy cooking. The best thing about this holiday is that there are eight days to try new recipes.

Bimuelos are little round balls resembling doughnut holes. They can be drizzled with an orange or lemon syrup, a rosewater-scented syrup, or honey. I like to serve the first batch rolled in cinnamon sugar.

Don't make them too big, this recipe makes about 36 small ones, although some people like larger ones. I prefer the smaller as they cook faster, stay golden on the outside and cook properly inside. Cut open a few to make sure the inside is cooked. Regulate heat to make sure the bimuelos don't brown too fast outside or leave the inside raw.


3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup warm milk
1/2 cup butter (very soft)
Oil for frying
Cinnamon sugar: 1/2 cup sugar with 1 teaspoon cinnamon

Put oil in a deep pan or a fryer and heat to 375F.

Measure flour in a bowl, stir in baking powder and salt, sift twice. In another large bowl, mix the eggs with warm milk and sugar. Add flour mix and the softened butter alternately. Mix with a wooden spoon or by hand. The dough will be soft.

On a floured board or tray, use a teaspoon to grab portions of the dough and roll between floured hands. Repeat making small balls until the dough is gone. Fry in batches until golden brown. Drain briefly on paper towel and, while still hot, roll in cinnamon sugar. Try to keep everyone away from the hot bimuelos until they're all cooked - good luck on that one!

Bimuelos can also be served with honey or a syrup. The trick to all Sephardic and Middle Eastern pastries is this: hot foods get a very cold syrup, cold foods get a hot syrup. Thus make the syrup ahead of time and chill in the frig. The bimuelos can be served hot or cold. If you make them ahead of time, heat briefly in oven and drizzle with your favorite syrup.

Here's a basic syrup recipe: Mix and boil together 2 cups sugar and one cup water. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes or so until the syrup has thickened. Cool and add a tablespoon of lemon juice, orange juice or rosewater (use only 2 teaspoons of rosewater unless you are Persian!). Place bimuelos on serving tray and drizzle syrup over them.

I also keep thinking about placing a chocolate chip or two in the middle of each ball before frying. Wouldn't that be a great surprise?

Latke-lovers are of two schools of thought concerning every ingredient, with peel or without, with pepper or without, baking or frying potatoes. I peel and don't use pepper. Since we can't get Yukon golds here in Israel, I use half frying and half baking potatoes - the texture is very nice.


10 potatoes (5 frying, 5 baking)
4 smallish brown onions
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup panko (Japanese crisp breadcrumbs)

Take a large bowl, fill it half-full with water, add several tablespoons of salt and mix well.

Using a box grater on the largest hole, shred peeled potatoes, add to the salted water. Mix and let sit for about 10-15 minutes. Drain potatoes in a strainer, reserve the water in another bowl and let it settle while shredding onions. Why save the water? You want to collect the white potato starch that settles at the bottom and add it to the shredded potatoes for improved texture. To the drained potatoes, add shredded onions, beaten eggs and mix well. Add panko, mix again. Let sit for awhile to make sure there isn't too much excess liquid. If it seems too liquidy, add a few teaspoons of panko.

Notice that I don't add extra salt to the latkes as the salt-water soak seems to add just the right amount. If people want more salt, they can add it, but this seems to be enough for almost everyone.

Heat about 1-inch of oil in each of two frying pans. I have one huge restaurant one and also use a smaller one. Take a plastic 1/3-cup measuring cup and pack in the mixture, dropping it into the pan, then flatten it with a spatula. This saves your hands from the goo and assures that each latke is about the same size. Make sure to mix the batter well each time. Fry until golden brown on the first side, flip and fry until golden brown on the second side. Drain on paper towel. The panko really helps latkes to crisp up. Serve according to your family tradition: sugar, sour cream, apple sauce, or naked from the pan!

Make these ahead of time - or freeze them on a flat tray and then store in zip bags or in a freezer box - and crisp in 375-400F oven for a few minutes until hot. This recipe makes about 3 dozen latkes.


Ohio: A helping hand in 1933

Journalism professor Ted Gup's heartwarming story about a family secret appeared in today's New York Times.

In the weeks just before Christmas of 1933 — 75 years ago — a mysterious offer appeared in The Repository, the daily newspaper here. It was addressed to all who were suffering in that other winter of discontent known as the Great Depression. The bleakest of holiday seasons was upon them, and the offer promised modest relief to those willing to write in and speak of their struggles. In return, the donor, a “Mr. B. Virdot,” pledged to provide a check to the neediest to tide them over the holidays.

Not surprisingly, hundreds of letters for Mr. B. Virdot poured into general delivery in Canton — even though there was no person of that name in the city of 105,000. A week later, checks, most for as little as $5, started to arrive at homes around Canton. They were signed by “B. Virdot.”

The gift made The Repository’s front page on Dec. 18, 1933. The headline read: “Man Who Felt Depression’s Sting to Help 75 Unfortunate Families: Anonymous Giver, Known Only as ‘B. Virdot,’ Posts $750 to Spread Christmas Cheer.” The story said the faceless donor was “a Canton man who was toppled from a large fortune to practically nothing” but who had returned to prosperity and now wanted to give a Christmas present to “75 deserving fellow townsmen.” The gifts were to go to men and women who might otherwise “hesitate to knock at charity’s door for aid.”

Since then, B. Virdot's identity had remained a mystery. Who would have guessed he was a Romanian Jewish immigrant who had arrived in Pittsburgh as a teen in 1902?

That is, until last summer, when Gup's mother gave him an old black suitcase from her attic. Inside were letters from December 1933, 150 canceled checks signed by B. Virdot and a bankbook.

Gup's mother Virginia had always known - but had never told her son - that the donor was her father, Samuel J. Stone, whose nom de plume was formed of the names of daughters Barbara, Virginia and Dorothy. She didn't know what was in the suitcase.

The piece covers Gup's discovery of those letters from all over Canton, Ohio, from across the spectrum, from painters to salesmen to bricklayers to former executives.

One man wrote: “For one like me who for a lifetime has earned a fine living, charity by force of distressed circumstances is an abomination and a headache. However, your offer carries with it a spirit so far removed from those who offer help for their own glorification, you remove so much of the sting and pain of forced charity that I venture to tell you my story.”

The writer, once a prominent businessman, was now 65 and destitute, his life insurance policy cashed in and gone, his furniture “mortgaged,” his clothes threadbare, his hope of paying the electric and gas bills pinned to the intervention of his children.

Women and children also wrote letters. Gup quotes from those and from thank-you letters from written by people who received the checks. He includes many of the letter images in the story.

In 1902, Samuel J. Stone was 15 when he and his family fled Romania, where they had been persecuted and stripped of the right to work because they were Jews. Living in Pittsburgh's immigrant ghetto, his father hid Stone's shoes so he couldn't go to school; he and his siblings were forced to roll cigars.
My grandfather later worked on a barge and in a coal mine, swabbed out dirty soda bottles until the acid ate at his fingers and was even duped into being a strike breaker, an episode that left him bloodied by nightsticks. He had been robbed at night and swindled in daylight. Midlife, he had been driven to the brink of bankruptcy, almost losing his clothing store and his home.

By the time the Depression hit, he had worked his way out of poverty, owning a small chain of clothing stores and living in comfort. But his good fortune carried with it a weight when so many around him had so little.

Evidence of other generosity was also in the old suitcase, such as information on hundreds of wool overcoats he sent to British soldiers the year before the US entered WWII. He put unsigned handwritten notes in the pockets urging them to keep up their spirits.

Stone died at 93, in 1981, in a car he was driving himself to the office. He never went public with his acts of charity.

Read the complete story at the link above.

21 December 2008

Boston: Genealogy course starts Feb. 2

For the second year, Hebrew College and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston (JGSGB) are collaborating to offer Foundations of Jewish Genealogical Research, a course providing serious adult students with a strong Jewish genealogy foundation with the tools to research their family origins.

Among the essentials are methodology and resources, as well as relevant world history and geography, and DNA research.

The eight-evening course (Monday, February 2 through Monday, April 6, 2009) meets from 7-9pm at Hebrew College, 160 Herrick Road, Newton Centre.

Instructors include JGSB's experienced genealogists led by president Heidi Ulrich and former co-president Jay Sage.

Topics covered include:

-Getting started (basic steps, strategy, skills)
-Technical tools and online resources
-Jewish migration, the diaspora and changing borders
-Identifying immigrant ancestors (methods, resources for researching US family)
-Finding families in European records and learning about their lives
-Researching Ancestors (Polish, Lithuanian, German and Austro-Hungarian records)
-DNA Research
-Identifying Holocaust victims and survivors
-Finding family in Israel.
-Using research (make connections, publicize findings)

Also included is one-on-one help and a hand's-on intro to internet research.

Registration is limited to 25 students who must have basic computer skills. the cost is $250. For more information and a registration form, click here or call 617-796-8522.

20 December 2008

The economy and Jewish studies, Dec. 22

The economic downturn and the Madoff scandal will most certainly impact Jewish studies. The Association for Jewish Studies annual conference is featuring a panel discussion on the economic impact on this field.

JTA will offer a livestream of the panel discussion at 2pm EST Monday, December 22. It will be available on the JTA site or on JTA's Mogulus channel here.

Jewish Studies, Jewish Money, and the Future of an Academic Field: Reflections by Scholars and Donors
Sponsored by Sh’ma: A Journal of Social Responsibility
Chair: Steven J. Zipperstein (Stanford University)
Discussants: Lisa D. Grant (HUC-JIR), Paul Zakrzewski (Foundation for Jewish Culture), Julian A. Levinson (University of Michigan) & Yael H. Zerubavel (Rutgers University)

The evolving relationship between Jewish studies programs and Jewish communal concerns is complicated and warrants careful airing and scrutiny. In the case of the most discerning programs, preoccupations with communal agendas are balanced carefully against scholarly priorities; though not permitted to overwhelm, they are acknowledged.

While early presumptions that Jewish scholarship in the university would come to be seen much like other disciplines in the humanities - funded by the university and populated by both students and faculty from the broadest range of backgrounds - those assumptions now often seem misplaced. Especially given the interest and support that Middle East and Israel Studies have garnered over the past years, communal funding and preoccupation with campus life are making an impact on many university campuses.

This Sh’ma Roundtable will explore the dimensions and health of these relationships and how they impact the academy, centers for Jewish learning, and the community.

Do tune in and see what these experts are saying.

19 December 2008

Finding the puzzle pieces

Thank you, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, for pointing to my recent post on the MyHeritage Genealogy Blog.

I certainly appreciated his kind words.

A highpoint of last summer's US trip was meeting Randy in person at the Southern California Genealogical Society's Jamboree at the first-ever Geneablogger's Summit.

Randy is a master at distilling hundreds of blogs each week, and bringing a notable list to many who don't have the time to read through everything. He's also one of the great geneabloggers who take the time to skillfully analyze and work with new software and show those non-techies (like me!) what to expect.

Our geneablogger bunch includes a great group of people who live in a big world made smaller by technology. Our numbers always seem to be growing, which means Randy has the opportunity to read even more blogs each week!

Randy, thank you for your work!

Happy Holidays to all Tracing the Tribe readers!

18 December 2008

US: Nazi war criminal files to be made public

The US Justice Department will make public 30 years of US court decisions against Nazi war criminals, according to Yad Vashem, as reported in the December 16 Jerusalem Post.

Other stories covering additional aspects can be seen in other publications, such as Cincinnati Enquirer here, which provided additional information on the case of Aleksandras Lileikis.

The paper had yellowed, its edges frayed. But it clearly bore the signature of Lithuanian policeman Aleksandras Lileikis, ordering a Jewish woman and her 6-year-old daughter to be shot in a Nazi death pit in 1941
The paper was enough proof to have him deported from the US.

The official press release from the Attorney General can be seen at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum site here.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – United States Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey announced that the U.S. Department of Justice is donating copies of trial transcripts and decisions created in connection with the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) of the Justice Department to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. These records were created over the past three decades in connection with OSI’s litigation against United States citizens or residents who were alleged to have participated in acts of persecution in collaboration with the Nazis or their allies.

“While justice for a crime as heinous as the Holocaust can never be truly served, we must work to hold perpetrators of genocide accountable,” says Museum Director Sara J. Bloomfield. “They must know that the simple passage of time will not exculpate them of their crimes. This archive stands as a testament to our government’s continued determination not to let genocide go unpunished. We are pleased that the Museum was able to help in several of these cases and that it will be a repository for this important collection.”

This collection is the largest English primary source material on the subject available anywhere, except for records created immediately following WWII.

USHMM assisted OSI with access to documentation microfilmed in archives located in Germany, Eastern Europe, and the FSU. It has provided expert witness testimony and helped in other ways.

The collection includes some 50,000 pages of transcripts covering more than 40 World War II-related cases that OSI litigated to trial as well as the transcripts of hearings in three contested extradition matters in which the OSI participated. The Justice Department is also donating copies of published and unpublished decisions for OSI cases of denaturalization, removal and extradition. The multi-volume set was donated by Thomson Reuters/West Publishing.

Since 1979, the Office of Special Investigations [OSI] has been investigating and prosecuting cases against alleged perpetrators of World War II Nazi crimes of persecution who immigrated to the U.S. It is widely regarded as the most successful law enforcement unit of its kind in the world.

According to the Jerusalem Post, only three copies of the nearly 100 cases will be made and presented to Yad Vashem, USHMM with the third copy retained by the US Department of Justice. The OSI has previously received assistance from both Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

Yad Vashem Archives director Dr. Haim Gertner said some low-profile cases have never been published officially.

Read the three sources at the links above to learn why scholars, historians and the public should be interested in this release.

13 December 2008

Music: More toe-tapping holiday music

While rooting around the web for the previous posting, I discovered a new album just released (November 18) : "Songs in the Key of Hanukkah," produced by Erran Baron Cohen - brother of Sacha AKA Borat et al.

This is a fun collection of updated old songs, as well as two great Sephardic holiday classics. Some may become your family favorites. Read about the album and listen to the playlist clips here, illustrating klezmer, reggae, electronica, hip hop, tango, pop and other beats.

I really enjoyed the can't-sit-still beats - even Y-Love's Yiddish rap - with Idan Raichel, Avivit Caspi, Jules Brookes, Dana Kerstein and the great Sephardic Israeli singer Yasmin Levy's two tracks: "Ocho Kandelikas" (Eight Candles) and "A la Luz de la Vela" (In the Light of the Candle).

Comic/actor Adam Sandler has also composed two holiday songs. The original song's lyrics (and guitar chords) are here, while the New Hanukkah Song video and lyrics can be found here. Here's a bit of the original song:

[A] Put on your [E] yalmulka, [D] here comes [E] Hanukkah
Its [A] so much [E] fun-akkah to [D] celebrate [E]Hanukkah,

[A]Hanukkah [E]is the [D] Festival of [E] Lights,
[A]Instead of one day of [E] presents, we have [Bm] eight [D] crazy [E]nights. ...

For the old holiday standards, in English (along with the original Hebrew or Yiddish verses), click http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday7.htm and listen to the melodies there as well. The list includes Rock of Ages/Maoz Tzur (English/Hebrew), Chanukah O Chanukah (English/Yiddish), and others.

For a view on Baron Cohen's holiday release as well as another new one - “Lights: Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert” - by the talented Craig Taubman (we knew him in Los Angeles when he directed the Yad b'Yad performing group) read Steven Friedman's story in the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California.

"Lights" features some of Jewish music’s best, including the Klezmatics, saxophonist Dave Koz, gospel singer Joshua Nelson and Cantor Alberto Mizrahi (known in some circles as the “Jewish Pavarotti”), to name some. If you listen to only one clip, make it Mizrahi's tango version of "Ocho Kandelikas" - hear clips here.

Writes Friedman:

Roll over Judah Maccabee, tell Mattathias the news.

Hanukkah music is getting a much-needed infusion of funk, soul and modern Jewish artistry with the arrival of two new CDs, “Songs in the Key of Hanukkah” and “Lights: Celebrate Hanukkah Live in Concert.”

But don’t take my word that these albums will add some be-bop to your dreidels and sizzle to your latkes. ...

"Lights" is Taubman's second holiday album. His first one is also a good collection and features Flory Jagoda ("Ocho Kandelikas") and the great Debby Friedman ("Not by Might, Not by Power)." Listen to clips here.


Music: Chanukah songs for the toe-tappers

footnoteMaven has challenged genbloggers to a Blog Carol.

Tracing the Tribe, representing the MOTs (Members of the Tribe) decided that Chanukah needed a place in the line-up.

One of my favorite Chanukah songs is the Sephardic "Ocho Kandelikas" (Eight Candles) Here's the great Flory Jagoda's version. Sing along with the Ladino lyrics:

Hanukah linda sta aki,
ocho kandelas para mi,
Hanukah linda sta aki,
ocho kandelas para mi. O...

Una kandelika, dos kandelikas, tres kandelikas, kuatro kandelikas,
sintyu kandelikas, sej kandelikas, siete kandelikas, ocho kandelas para mi.

Muchas fiestas vo fazer,
con alegrias i plazer.
Muchas fiestas vo fazer,
con alegrias i plazer. O...

Los pastelikos vo kumer,
con almendrikas i la myel
Los pastelikos vo kumer,
con almendrikas i la myel. O...

Una kandelika, dos kandelikas, tres kandelikas, kuatro kandelikas,
sintyu kandelikas, sej kandelikas, siete kandelikas, ocho kandelas para mi.

Chanukah is known as the Feast of Lights. It celebrates right over might, miracles of freedom and focuses on oil (fried everything!), candles, spinning tops (dreidels) and eight days of presents (at least in the US tradition).

While the food and the company is great, the traditional holiday songs are not exactly exciting compared to the large number of popular songs written for Christmas. Of course, many popular Christmas songs were written by MOTs , so I guess we can also claim the following (either the composer, lyricist or both were Jewish):

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) (1945)
Rudoph the Red Nosed Reindeer (1939)
Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree (1958)
Holly Jolly Christmas (1962)
Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow! (1945)
Santa Claus is Coming to Town (1934)
Silver Bells (1951)
I'll Be Home for Christmas (1943)
It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year (1963)
Sleigh Ride (1950)
There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays (1954)
White Christmas (1940)

Imagine if all these Jewish composers and lyricists had put their hand to writing White Chanukah, I'll Be Home for Chanukah, Silver Dreidels, Holly Jolly Chanukah, Rockin' Around the Chanukiah, Juda Maccabee is Coming to Town, and the Chanukah Song. We'd definitely be singing different music today! I'd like think that as they were writing those songs, they were thinking about celebrating the age-old Festival of Lights with their families.

Time for a personal memory here: as kids in the Bronx, we sang several verses of "Deck the halls," substituting "boughs of holly" with " loaves of challa-y" (a definite Chicago accent here to the challah!).

And for Tracing the Tribe readers and my genblogger colleagues: If you're confused by the different spellings of the holiday, so is everyone else. There is no single correct way to transliterate the word Chanukah from Hebrew. It is transliterated from the Hebrew which means there's a lot of leeway in how to spell it in English. Chanukkah, Chanukah, Chanuka, Chanukah, Hanuka, Hanukah, Hanukkah, Hanukkah, Channuka, Channukka, Chanike etc. You'll see an infinite variety of CHs, Hs, Ns, Ks. And that's only in English. Look for it in French, Spanish, Italian, German, etc. and you'll see more variations.


11 December 2008

DNA: Genetic cousins meet

A journalist and genealogist for some 30 years, Howard Wolinsky of Chicago was one of the first testees at FamilyTreeDNA. His Ancestry Magazine article on meeting genetic cousins this summer is here.

Although neither of my main families of interest share Howard's haplogroup, it was my pleasure to participate in several activities of Howard's group during the 28th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy back in August. I have the button to prove it!

I'm taking this opportunity to remind Tracing the Tribe readers that FamilyTreeDNA has some major pricing breaks if you order tests before December 31. Maybe your genetic cousins group may be able to hold a reunion at Philadelphia's 29th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in August 2009.

Writes Howard,
We came to Chicago from as far away as London, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay area, and as near as Iowa City and the south suburbs of Chicago.

We came for a unique gathering—a new twist on the family reunion.

We are a new kind of cousin. Until a few days ago, we were strangers who just happened to have had our DNA analyzed. Then we discovered we matched one another to varying degrees. Most of us have common Jewish connections. And we learned that we come from relatively rare branches of the human DNA tree. Our mothers’ mothers came from the HV branch. Our fathers’ fathers came from the G group.

We still can’t say exactly how we’re related. Although many of us are traditional gumshoe genealogists who’ve traced our family trees back generations, the historical records don’t go back far enough for us to find each other on the paper trail.

Not a problem. Instead, we are connecting the DNA information with whatever ancestral information we know, tossing in some world history research, and voila! We don’t come up with a common ancestor’s name, but we can find out where our families lived and where they migrated to over the last few centuries.

Read the complete article at the link above.

Italy: Economic woes threaten Jewish heritage

Ruth Ellen Gruber, in her Jewish Heritage Travel blog, points to an Italian article by Lucilla Efrati in the Italian Jewish Communities online newsletter on how Italy's current economic crisis and budget cuts may impact Jewish heritage in Italy.

In 2009, planned state funding for conservation and restoration work on Jewish cultural, architectural and archival heritage is expected to be cut by some 25%.

Centuries-old synagogues, cemeteries, and other sites, according to the Italian article, "form part of the country's artistic patrimony [and] need care, maintenance and restoration work." Even limited cuts in the funds budgeted for the care of these sites, she writes, risks rolling back the force of recent legal decisions that have enabled a number of important projects to proceed.

Netherlands: New chief rabbi's priorities

The European Jewish Press reported on the newly appointed Netherlands Chief Rabbi, Binyamin Jacobs. He's the first to hold the position since 1986.

One of his major tasks will be to seek out Jews who were adopted by Christians during WWII.

As chief rabbi of Holland, Rabbi Jacobs is determined to locate thousands of individuals residing in Holland whose parents perished in the Holocaust and whowere adopted and raised as non-Jews.

Some 100,000 on a total of 140,000 Dutch Jews were killed by the Nazis between 1940 and 1945.

"It's quite shocking for me as a rabbi, to realize that people were born, raised and even passed away, without knowing that they were Jews", he said.

During WWII many Dutch citizens came to the assistance of Jews persecuted by the Nazis.

One of the means of assistance was to adopt the children of Holocaust victims.

However, since the war, there have been a series of court cases between adoptive families and relatives of the adopted children. Relatives returned to the Netherlands after the war to reclaim and return children to surviving family. In most cases, judges ruled in favor of the adopting families.

Jacobs himself reported that he had information about his own relatives who remained under their adoptive families until they were quite advanced in years. There are archives and documents, he said, that may lead to the whereabouts of those children who are now elderly.

He plans to access the sensitive data and, as a rabbi, he said he will demand the material be made available to him.

His other priority is the restoration and maintenance of Jewish cemeteries throughout Holland. Read more on this at the International Jewish Graveyard Rabbit.

Cemeteries were created as early as the 17th century by Sephardic Jews escaping from the Iberian peninsula. Jacobs believes the Dutch government should participate in the preservation and maintence of these sites because of their historical value.

10 December 2008

Book: Google Your Family Tree

"Google Your Family Tree: Unlock the Hidden Power of Google," by Dan Lynch, made it to my desk two days ago. I wasn't disappointed in either the 14 chapters filled with screen shots and tables, or its five appendices. Its 352-pages are well-organized and easy to read.

My initial impression in one word, "Wow!" - in two words, "Wow! Wow!" This expertly-written manual can be considered the new bible of online research using Google features. Although written from the genealogy point of view, it isn't only for genealogists. I believe it will become the major resource for anyone researching anything on the Internet!

Everything you've ever wanted to know about how to use well-known and lesser-known Google tools is in this volume, explained completely and succinctly, step-by-step, with additional tips for genealogists. Google features - some I use regularly, some new new to me - are spotlighted completely and clearly.

Dan's experienced eye transforms possibly-confusing topics into searches easily understood by family history fans of all skill levels. At first glance, it's hard to tell what each only slightly different search will reveal. However, the more one utilizes his suggestions, the more logical it all seems.

The book's layout is made for researchers - we love to make notes on pages. Dan understands that, so he's provided generous page margins as well as worksheets at critical points. He intended it to become an active workbook and I believe it will, at least on my desk!

Every search uses the example of Dan's great-grandfather Eugene Lynch and related facts. Using one person's facts enables easy, logical understanding of what different searches will produce. By the end of the book, we know a lot about Eugene, the town of Waterbury (Connecticut) and other Lynch history. With each search, I found myself mentally substituting TALALAY or DARDASHTI for LYNCH and wondering what would pop up.

In the introduction, Dan reminds readers to become familiar with the various kinds of searches by trying a new command or technique each day. He also encourages readers to submit new tips and techniques not covered in the book. I'm sure we're looking at a future second edition down the road. How will Dan keep up with the fast-changing Internet and Google itself? He's also planning an informative blog.

Researchers will appreciate the two "Quick Reference Cards for Genealogists," which detail basic and advanced searching, keywords and commands. Each lists various searches, descriptions and examples of what the search should actually look like (the syntax, in technical terms). I've already made copies of each for my computer bag and for the wall adjacent to my home computer.

One feature I use to great advantage is Google Alerts - these enable me to keep on top of what's happening in the international genealogy world, almost as it happens. I've always been curious as to why one alert set for "genealogy, geneology" provides different results than two separate alerts titled "genealogy" and "geneology." I still don't have the answer - I'll ask Dan - but I did learn more efficient ways of setting up these handy alerts.

I have numerous searches to do using Dan's suggestions. A just conducted Google Book search turned up a Talalai reference in a book of stories by Eduard Roditi, where he includes a character named Rabbi Theophilos ben Avakum Talalai. Now I need to do more research on Roditi and determine why he used this name. Do any Tracing the Tribe readers have any information on why he might have done this? Yes, I know - I can always Google for the answer!

I wonder what other surprises lurk for me.

For more information on the book, or to order your own copy, click here. Also try out his site's Genealogy PowerSearch which offers a quick search for general names, images, GEDCOM, databases, maps and blogs.

Read what others are saying at these links:

Family Tree Magazine: Six searching tips, written by Dan Lynch

Dick Eastman: Google your family

Randy Seaver: Book review

Geneanet: Google your family tree

RootsTelevision: Google your family tree video

Happy - and easier - hunting! Thanks, Dan.

NARA: Weinstein resigns

JTA reported that US National Archivist Dr. Allen Weinstein, who has held the post since February 2005, has resigned for health reasons.

During his term, Weinstein increased declassification, incorporated the Nixon Library into the archives system and, with the archives' Canadian counterpart, established a joint Israeli-Palestinian archives preservation initiative.

Venezuela: The Yecutieli family saga

A new book details the Yecutieli family saga from Iran to Venezuela to Israel.

I first met author Samy Yecutieli several years ago in Israel and learned about his ancestors' journey. After five years of research, the book, written with Raquel Markus, has been published:

Una historia, dos países: la saga de la familia Yecutieli
(One history, two countries: The story of the Yecutieli family)

The story of Samuel and Simja Yecutieli is an intimate retelling of the memory, development and traditions of the Jewish community.

Readers will acquire historical and geographical knowledge and understand the world of Jewish genealogy across national and historic borders. The authors also hope readers may be encouraged to discover their own family stories.

To see an excellent film clip about the book (so far only available in Spanish), click on Roots Television here.

There will be two book launches in Israel at Jerusalem's Hebrew University (late December) and at Tel Aviv University (early January). I am planning to interview Samy about the book and his family as well. Stay tuned for more information.

Arizona: Family secrets revealed

Life is a puzzle, and when some researchers start rooting around, the pieces may reveal long-hidden secrets.

That's the experience of an Arizona woman whose story is told here. There's also a video here.

Terri Brahm discovered that her father Ralph was really Uri Hanauer, one of 15,000 children who entered a prison camp in Germany between 1941 and 1945. Only 132 children survived.

The secret was kept hidden for years until she decided to do some digging and the puzzle pieces came together.

From the very beginning, Terri had an intriguing story. She grew up in the Hollywood Hills and her parents lived a rather glamorous life.

Terri's dad owned a limousine company and became friends with many famous people. She even has a picture of her dad, Ralph, with singer Tom Jones. But beneath the surface there was a lot more to this story.

Terri admits, “It's very emotional for me.” It wasn't until her father died in a tragic accident that Terri released just how intriguing her life really was. It was a mystery that began to unravel slowly and painfully. “When I found out my family was in a Jewish concentration camp I wanted to know more. I wanted to know everything there was to know about my family.”

He had kept the secret from everyone, including his wife and children. His daughter has spent the past five years discovering the truth.

Her research revealed that her grandfather Hans was sent to Auschwitz and uncovered a postcard he had written on the day he was deported. The translation read, “Always know that there is someone thinking of you. Someone who loves you. I just hope all will be good once again.”

Her grandparents never saw each other again, as Hans Hanauer was murdered at Auschwitz at age 34.

Eventually, she discovered thousands of letters and original documents dating back to early-20th-century Germany.

Psychologist Kim Popkey is quoted in the story. She says uncovering family history is very therapeutic: "Our life is like a puzzle and as we grow the more wisdom we get the more pieces we get. We want to become a complete and whole person. It took years for Terri to put the pieces of her life together. She wanted to do it for herself but also for her father."

Terri shared the resources she used to trace her family history:
- My Heritage
- World Vital Records
- Gene Tree
- Ancient Faces
- Ancestry
- German Genealogy Database

Read the complete story and see the video at the link above.

DNA: The Iberian "Pintele Yid"

Yes, a strange Yiddish phrase to use in describing Sephardim, and a good piece by Michael Freund in today's Jerusalem Post.

I can only hope that the international Jewish community sees this as a force for assisting converso families around the world to return.

I would hazard a guess that many Tracing the Tribe readers are not as aware as I am of the spread of messianic churches in the American southwest, and particularly in New Mexico, where an extremely high percentage of early residents - called the "old families" or "familias viejos" - are converso descendants. Many of these families are recruited by the messianic movement which is spending a huge amount of money on this effort. Many of these families have lost much of their knowledge over the centuries, since their arrival with various expeditions in the early 1600s.

Despite this, there are families wishing to return to Judaism. Historically, some who wished to return previously were rebuffed by the Ashkenazi community who knew nothing about Sephardic history or traditions and did not believe what those families claimed to be.

That situation over the years caused many converso families to retreat and to simply not call attention to themselves. Many families over time left the Catholic Church and joined Protestant movements as their ancestors had told them not to trust the Catholics. Many of them know their ancestors were burned alive and some have found actual documents in Inquisition court records.

And, while there are growing numbers of personal stories appearing about such individuals or families - some have willingly spoken to researchers - many more families will never speak to researchers or reveal family secrets. Some families with whom I am acquainted have preserved - in great detail - their traditions, customs and knowledge, have maintained birth and marriage registers and other essential details since arriving in the New World.

More than five centuries after the expulsion and forced conversion of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry, the results of a new genetic study might just spur a return of historic proportions to Israel and the Jewish people.

In a paper published in the latest issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, a team of biologists dropped a DNA bombshell, declaring that 20% of the population of Iberia has Sephardic Jewish ancestry.

Since the combined populations of Spain and Portugal exceed 50 million, that means more than 10 million Spaniards and Portuguese are descendants of Jews.

These are not the wild-eyed speculations of a newspaper columnist, but rather cold, hard results straight out of a petri dish in a laboratory.

Michael details the study, led by Mark Jobling (University of Leicester, UK) and Francesc Calafell (Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona), analyzed the Y chromosomes of Sephardim in communities where Jews had migrated after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Those Y-DNA signatures were compared with those of more than 1,000 men living in Spain and Portugal. Because Y-DNA is passed from father to son over thousands of years, the scientists could measure the two groups, leading to the finding that 20% or 1/5th of Iberians are of Jewish descent.

While many stories on this study use the target date of 1492 as the date of mass conversions, this is not completely accurate. Michael correctly mentions the 1391 pogroms across Spain which resulted in thousands upon thousands of forced conversions, murders and finally the exodus of many Jews.

THIS RESULT underlines the extent to which our ancestors suffered so long ago in Spain and Portugal .

From the historical record, we know that as early as 1391, a century before the expulsion of the Jews from Spain , widespread anti-Semitic pogroms swept across the country, leaving thousands dead and many communities devastated.

In the decades that followed, there were waves of forced conversions as part of an increasingly hostile and dangerous environment for Jews. This reached a climax in 1492, when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella gave Spain 's remaining Jews a dire choice: convert or leave forever.

Large numbers chose exile. American historian Howard Morley Sachar has estimated the number of Spain 's Jewish exiles at around 100,000, while Hebrew University 's Haim Beinart has put the total at 200,000. Others have spoken of even more.

But untold numbers of forcibly converted Jews, as well as those who voluntarily underwent baptism, remained.

These include, of course, the Anousim (Hebrew for "those who were coerced"), many of whom bravely continued to cling to Jewish practice, covertly passing down their heritage from generation to generation. In recent years, a growing number of Anousim from across Europe, South America and parts of the US have begun to return to Israel and the Jewish people.

He also details the grisly success of the Spanish rulers in persecuting, converting and eventually assimilating the Jews into the Christian majority.

For centuries thereafter, the ruthless arm of the Inquisition hunted down and killed suspected "Judaizers" or "secret Jews," ultimately forcing many to abandon the faith to which they had remained so heroically, and secretly, loyal. According to the late historian Cecil Roth, the Inquisition's henchmen murdered more than 30,000 "secret Jews." Some were burned alive in front of cheering crowds, while countless others were condemned for preserving Jewish practices.

This finding, says Michael, will likely take Iberia by storm. The New York Times story said that these results "provide new and explicit evidence of the mass conversions of Sephardic Jews" which took place more than five centuries ago on Spanish and Portuguese soil. Additionally, in 1493, the Jews of Sicily were then persecuted with the same "convert or else!" decree.

He calls it "the biological equivalent of the pintele Yid, the eternal and unbreakable Jewish spark that can never be extinguished.

And it is not only what this study says about the Jewish past. What does it say about the future? If the Jewish people undertake, he writes, a concerted outreach effort toward our Iberian genetic brethren, it could have a profound impact in a variety of fields, ranging from anti-Semitism in Europe to the future of Jewish demography.

Imagine if just 5% or even 10% of Spanish and Portuguese descendants of Jews were to return to Judaism. It would mean an additional 500,000 to 1 million Jews in the world.

And even if many or most choose not to return, it still behooves us to reach out to them. The very fact that such large numbers of Spaniards and Portuguese have Jewish ancestry could have a significant impact on their attitudes toward Jews and Israel , possibly dampening their anti-Semitism and anti-Israel slant.

For when someone discovers they are of Jewish descent, it is likely to create a greater sense of kinship for Jewish causes. Hence, we should seek to promote and cultivate their affinity for Israel and the Jewish people.

Michael adds - and I believe - that we have a historical responsibility to reach out to these descendants of forced conversions and the Inquisition, and to facilitate their return.

Through no fault of their own, their ancestors were cruelly taken from us. Centuries ago, the Catholic Church devoted enormous resources to tearing them away from the Jewish people, and it nearly succeeded.

Our task now should be to show the same level of determination to welcome them back into our midst.

Michael Freund is the founder and chairman of Shavei Israel which assists Anousim in Spain, Portugal and South America to return to the Jewish people.

I think Shavei Israel needs to add a major outreach component in the American southwest (and other US areas) to its plans.

Canada: Ancestry's Jewish records

Ancestry.com recently posted more than 300 Jewish record collections from 14 countries, from JewishGen. As of December 9, these records are now also available on Ancestry's Canadian site Ancestry.ca.

Canada represents the fourth largest Jewish community in the world, and northern researchers will benefit from the availability of some 10 million freely accessible records that will be available upon completion of the project during 2009.

More than 370,000 Jews reside in Canada, ranking behind only Israel, the US and France, while Toronto (14th) and Montreal (19th) are both listed in the ranking of metropolitan areas with the world's largest Jewish populations. Records in the collection include yizkor books; birth, marriage and death records; and more.

Under the new agreement, millions of JewishGen historical records will now be made available for free on Ancestry.ca, including, among others, the Holocaust Database, Schindler’s List, Yizkor Books (memorial books from Holocaust survivors), The Given Names Database, birth, marriage and burial registries from 14 countries and JewishGen ShtetlSeeker, which helps identify the location and spelling of historic Jewish villages in Europe.

Of course, Ancestry. com and Ancestry.ca also offer major resources of seven billion names in 26,000 historical collections, such as census and immigration records to assist in tracing Jewish ancestors.

According to the press release, the records hold details of the ancestors of famous Canadian Jews:

Historically, some of Canada's leading figures in science, medicine, business and the arts have been of Jewish heritage. Canadian Jews have also won seats in all of the provincial legislatures, served as mayors of Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Edmonton, Kingston, and Winnipeg and have been judges in Canadian courts at all levels.

Famous Jewish-Canadians who may appear or have ancestors within this vast collection include:

- Politicians and civil servants - Bora Laskin, the first Jew appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1970, Dave Barrett, the only Jewish premier in Canadian history 1972-1975(British Columbia), Stephen Lewis – former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa

- Authors and entertainers - Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, William Shatner, Lorne Michaels, Seth Rogen

- Business leaders - Izzy Asper, Moses Znaimer, Isadore Sharp

To learn more about this important agreement with JewishGen, or if you would like a sneak peek of the Jewish collections that will be available on Ancestry.ca, click here.

08 December 2008

Philly 2009: Jews of Philadelphia virtual exhibit

Mark Halpern, program chair of the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, seems to have been the impetus for Steve Lasky's most recent online exhibit at the virtual Museum of Family History.

Steve learned about Harry Boonin's book, "The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia," and decided to create the new exhibit - encouraged by Mark - which is a great adjunct to information on Philly 2009 which, of course, will take place in that city from August 2-7, 2009.

The exhibit provides viewers with a glimpse of this major Jewish community, from late-1800s to early-1900s immigration, through the Depression, WWII and the Holocaust, and provides personal stories.

Visit the exhibit here, and see the intro to Boonin's book here.

As always, if you have material about early Philadelphia Jewish life (or about any of the other many online exhibits at his site), Steve asks you to let him know. Your material may prove to be an excellent addition to one or more virtual exhibits.

Contact Steve here.

07 December 2008

Ancestry: Future growth opportunities?

For those who may have missed this story on Ancestry's parent company, The Generations Network Inc. (TGN), read it here.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the family history company may possibly make acquisitions or go public.

The parent company of online genealogy sites ancestry.com and myfamily.com has hired a CFO from Martha Stewart's empire, signaling that it will explore going public and is looking at acquisitions.

Tim Sullivan, CEO of The Generations Network Inc., lured away Howard Hochhauser from Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., where Hochhauser also held the post of chief financial officer.

At Martha Stewart, Hochhauser helped launch an initial public offering, and Sullivan indicated that may be an option for The Generations Networks, which is privately held.

"I wouldn't say we have plans to take it public," said Sullivan, but he added that making a public offering is part of the expertise Hochhauser brings to Provo-based Generations.

"We're going to do whatever we should do to maximize value for our shareholders and service our members and subscribers," Sullivan said.

Spectrum Equity Investors (Boston MA and Menlo Park CA) bought out TGN's original majority owners in a $300 million deal. Sullivan said TGN is extremely profitable with more than 1 million paid subscribers and $190 million in annual revenue.

Its position, said Sullivan, may allow it to make "strategic acquisitions." Former CFO David Rinn will run a new corporate group focusing on developing partnerships with other companies and potential acquisitions.

Read the complete story at the link above for more.

Washington DC: Arlington National Cemetery

Marlene Bishow of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington (JGSGW) has provided information on new records added to the group's website for the "Ken Poch Index of Jews Buried in Arlington National Cemetery" (ANC).

This project is important enough that I have also posted this announcement (and ANC photographs) to the International Jewish Graveyard Rabbit

Bishow is the group's immediate past president, current ANC project manager, and will co-chair the 31st IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Washington, DC.

Self-proclaimed historian of Jews buried in ANC, Kenneth Poch began the project more than 10 years before his 2003 death. His family donated 12 boxes of his work to the JGSGW.

Based on that research, webmaster Ernie Fine developed the website with a Steve Morse-model search engine. Currently, there are more than 2,600 entries; an additional 600 will go online in January 2009. More than 2,000 grave marker photos (taken by Poch) have been scanned by volunteers and will be added with links to view them online, and new photos will also be added.

Genealogical data is being added to the database using Poch's data and that of the group's volunteers. Visitors to the website are encouraged to submit names and additional information about Jews buried in ANC. For the present, the search is limited to the names of the interred.

For more information, click here. To submit information, follow contact page directions.

06 December 2008

DNA: Sephardic ancestry study update, link

Here's the link to read the abstract for the original article in The American Journal of Human Genetics (4 December 2008) on which the New York Times' Sephardic DNA story was based.

Among the authors of "The Genetic Legacy of Religious Diversity and Intolerance: Paternal Lineages of Christians, Jews, and Muslims in the Iberian Peninsula," are the well-known Kohanim DNA project initiator Karl Skorecki (Molecular Medicine Laboratory, Rambam Health Care Campus, Haifa) and population geneticist and author/co-author of several major Jewish DNA studies Doron M. Behar (Rappaport Faculty of Medicine and Research Institute, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa), in Israel.

The abstract reads (I have added paragraph breaks):

Most studies of European genetic diversity have focused on large-scale variation and interpretations based on events in prehistory, but migrations and invasions in historical times could also have had profound effects on the genetic landscape.

The Iberian Peninsula provides a suitable region for examination of the demographic impact of such recent events, because its complex recent history has involved the long-term residence of two very different populations with distinct geographical origins and their own particular cultural and religious characteristics —North African Muslims and Sephardic Jews.

To address this issue, we analyzed Y chromosome haplotypes, which provide the necessary phylogeographic resolution, in 1140 males from the Iberian Peninsula and Balearic Islands. Admixture analysis based on binary and Y-STR haplotypes indicates a high mean proportion of ancestry from North African (10.6%) and Sephardic Jewish (19.8%) sources.

Despite alternative possible sources for lineages ascribed a Sephardic Jewish origin, these proportions attest to a high level of religious conversion (whether voluntary or enforced), driven by historical episodes of social and religious intolerance, that ultimately led to the integration of descendants.

In agreement with the historical record, analysis of haplotype sharing and diversity within specific haplogroups suggests that the Sephardic Jewish component is the more ancient.

The geographical distribution of North African ancestry in the peninsula does not reflect the initial colonization and subsequent withdrawal and is likely to result from later enforced population movement—more marked in some regions than in others—plus the effects of genetic drift.

Those of a scientific mind may be interested in the study's supplemental material here. Scroll down to page 28 to see the specific Sephardic Jewish information, but also note the inclusion of other familiar haplogroups in the other geographical categories. I'm not a scientist, but wonder why only eight markers were tested for Sephardic Jewish, while the other categories tested 18 markers. I'm sure someone will provide that information soon.

Readers may be interested in this New York Post article on the increasing popularity of DNA testing among Latinos and the findings. Do read the comments to the story by readers and also by FamilyTreeDNA founder/CEO Bennett Greenspan, who is quoted in the story.

Although FamilyTreeDNA offers links to many complete studies on its study page, this new study has not yet been added, but I believe it will soon appear.

Los Angeles: JGSLA program change, Dec. 7

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles has announced a program change for its Sunday, December 7 meeting, due to the original speaker's illness. Hale Porter's talk on the Yiddish Theatre will be rescheduled.

The new program will include the screening of a documentary, "The Tree of Life."

This personal family saga illuminates the fascinating history of the Jews of Italy, including the da Volterra banking family of the Medici in Florence, a Venetian rabbi involved in the Kabbala, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Italy's first Jewish prime minister.

The documentary's Israeli-born director Hava Volterra will discuss the film following the screening.

The program begins at 1.30pm at the Milken JCC, West Hills. For more details, click here.

Lithuania: All Lithuania Database updates

LitvakSIG's coordinator of district research groups Dorothy Leivers informs Lithuanian researchers that nearly 10,000 new records have been added to the JewishGen All Lithuania Database for the following districts:

If your research includes these districts, do check them out and perhaps you will find those elusive ancestors. Find more information and coordinator emails here.

Panevezys: 1887 Joniskelis Family List

Trakai: 1834-42 Revision Lists for the towns of Alytus, Butrimonys, Darsuniskis, Daugai, Jierznas, Merkine, Zasliai and Ziezmariai. Not all years are available for all towns.

Telsiai: Lists with data for Mosedis, Seda, Lieplaukis, Darbenai,
Kartena, Kretinga, Salantai, Gardgzdai,Laukuva and Skuodas.

Siauliai: Zagare Voters lists (1890, 1893, 1895 and 1901).

For more LitvakSIG information and to search the ALD, click here.

France: GenAmi 46 journal articles

From Micheline Gutman in Paris comes news of the contents of the new issue of GenAmi's journal.

- The call for papers for GenAmi's one-day seminar on March 12, 2009. The event includes lunch and the organization's annual meeting.

- The Jews of Argentina by Paul Armony z'l of Buenos Aires. Cover art is the city's Caminito neighborhood.

- A list of students, who received prizes in 1940, of the Buenos Aires' French College.

- An article on writer Rene Goscinny (who grew up in Buenos Aires), creator of
Asterix, Lucky Luke, the Dalton, Petit Nicolas, illustrated with original photos and drawings. His ancestors and family are also detailed. Goscinny was born in France to a father from Warsaw and a Ukrainian mother (daughter of Abraham Beresniak who authored a 1941 Hebrew-Yiddish dictionary).

- A study of the Jews at Gray in Haute-Saone, an important 19th century river town. Several lists are included.

- The Lyons family from Alsace to San Francisco in 1853. Born in Dijon, Hugues Joseph David went to California with his second wife and children. He was a Paris jeweller but in Sonora, he became a wine and alchohol dealer. A branch returned to France, others stayed in California, a daughter married into the Joseph family (Montreal).

- An article speaks of children and both new and old problems. It addresses the situation of those who do not know one or both of their parents for various reasons: the Shoah, adoption, new fertility methods.

- Other items address the wife of London's Moses Oppenheim and research about the van Oven family.

- The Jewish cemetery of Koenighoffen, Strasbourg: an article (with photos) discusses three registers. One is computerized (free online access to GenAmi members), as well as various documents, civil records, cemetery records, etc.

For more information, click on the GenAmi website.

05 December 2008

DNA: New study reveals 20% of Iberians have Sephardic ancestry

Today's New York Times reported on a new DNA study in Spain and Portugal revealing that some 20% of the Iberian Peninsula's population has Sephardic ancestry and indicating a high level of conversion among Jews, as reported online in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

The study offers "new and explicit evidence of the mass conversions of Sephardic Jews and Muslims to Catholicism in the 15th and 16th centuries." Nicholas Wade's story is here.

Of course, most Sephardim know this already and know that the events of 1391 and 1492 figure prominently in these mass conversions. Millions of Hispanics in the US and worldwide are descendants of those forcibly converted and many either know it or are learning about it. As one example, on one day in 1391, some 4,000 Jews were forcibly converted in Barcelona; others who resisted were murdered. Figures for other cities are available in the subject literature. Several books list the old Jewish family names of individuals and their "new" Catholic names. I have several of these lists and may devote a posting or two to this subject.

It is nice, however, to have scientific corroboration to what we've always known, and what has been supported by historical evidence over centuries.

However, I've been in communication with some people who have seen the actual text of the journal article. The markers used are not what are tested at FamilyTreeDNA.com and only a few were tested. It will be difficult to correlate with testing done at that company. I am attempting to get a full report so readers can understand what was exactly tested. Stay tuned for more.

Twenty percent of the population of the Iberian Peninsula has Sephardic Jewish ancestry and 11 percent have DNA reflecting Moorish ancestors, the geneticists have found. Historians have debated how many Jews converted and how many chose exile. “One wing grossly underestimates the number of conversions,” said Jane S. Gerber, an expert on Sephardic history at the City University of New York.

The finding bears on two different views of Spanish history, said Jonathan S. Ray, a professor of Jewish studies at Georgetown University. One, proposed by the 20th-century historian Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz, holds that Spanish civilization is Catholic and other influences are foreign; the other sees Spain as having been enriched by drawing from all three of its historical cultures, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim.

The study, based on an analysis of Y chromosomes, was conducted by biologists led by Mark A. Jobling of the University of Leicester in England and Francesc Calafell of the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. They developed a Y chromosome signature for Sephardic men by studying Sephardic Jewish communities in places where Jews migrated after being expelled from Spain in 1492 to 1496. They also characterized the Y chromosomes of the Arab and Berber army that invaded Spain in A.D. 711 from data on people living in Morocco and Western Sahara.

After a period of getting along under the Arab Umayyad rulers, Spain was the center of religious intolerance. Muslim Berbers forced Christians and Jews to convert to Islam, and the victorious Christians then expelled Jews and Muslims or forced them to convert.

Because most of the Y chromosome remains unchanged from father to son, the proportions of Sephardic and Moorish ancestry detected in the present population are probably the same as those just after the 1492 expulsions. A high proportion of people with Sephardic ancestry was to be expected, Dr. Ray said. “Jews formed a very large part of the urban population up until the great conversions,” he said.

Dr. Ray raised the question of what the DNA evidence might mean personally. “If four generations on I have no knowledge of my genetic past, how does that affect my understanding of my own religious association?”

Dr. Calafell, one of the study's authors, has confronted this himself. His Y-DNA may be Sephardic and his surname is that of a Catalunya town. Genealogists know that it is common for Jewish families to take geographic names.

The issue raised by Ray and by Calafell is another reason why more people of Spanish and Portuguese ancestry should be DNA tested. My hope is that they will test at FamilyTreeDNA.com which already has the largest DNA database of all companies in the field, and within that database, already has the largest Jewish DNA database. The more people who test, the more information can be gleaned and the more connection

Some historians believe that more than 24 million Hispanics - I have heard even larger numbers - in the US have Sephardic roots and were forcibly converted during either 1391 or 1492, when mass conversions were forced on the Jewish population. As an example, nearly all original settlers in New Mexico were of Converso ancestry.

The flip side, of course, is finding out that numbers of Sephardim escaped these mass pogroms in 1391 and left Iberia for Europe and Eastern Europe where they were absorbed into the larger Ashkenazi populations - some have only a family myth to sustain their research ("that was our name when we left Spain."). With some judicious research, it is becoming increasingly common to do successful research and locate documents in Spanish archives.

In our IberianAshkenaz DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA.com, we continue to find genetic matches among today's Conversos with ostensible Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe.

Additionally, here's another plea for removing the term marrano to describe those of converso ancestry. Conversos hate this pejorative, insulting term. If you hear someone using it, please explain to them that it is insulting and should not be used. Many conversos - with whom I am in frequent contact - continually tell me how angry and insulted they feel when the word is used, usually by people who do not know its meaning.

Education is key. I find that when I explain that the term is not nice ( in the same way that other epithets are aimed at various ethnic/religious communities), those individuals apologize and think before using it again. The Hebrew term for converso (Spanish) is bnai anousim (children of the forced) or simply anousim.

04 December 2008

New York: Jon Entine, Dec. 9

Jon Entine, author of "Abraham's Children: What DNA Reveals About Jewish History," will speak at 1.30pm, Tuesday, December 9, at the Central Queens YM/YWHA in Forest Hills.
Like a microscope, DNA offers revolutionary ways to answer historical mysteries. To what extent are most of today’s Jews descendants of converts? What does DNA reveal about the genetic bonds between Jews and Arabs? In his recent book, Entine explains what the new field of genetic research reveals about Jewish history, Jewish migrations, and personal family history.

A best-selling author and journalist, Entine is an Emmy-award winning former television news producer. He has produced news magazine programs at ABC News and CBS News, and was Tom Brokaw’s long-time producer at NBC News, where he was also the executive in charge of documentaries.

His talk is in the series of Fall Author Events sponsored by the Rabbi Simon Hevesi Library, 67-09 108 Street, Forest Hills.

All events are open to the general public, $4 donation requested.

For more information, call 718-268-5011 ext. 151, or email.

JewishGen: New databases, 120,000 records added

JewishGen has added 120,000 new records, in various databases. Explore these databases at the links indicated below.

JewishGen Holocaust Database additions - 4,000 Hidden Children in France (Oeuvre de Secours aux Enfants - OSE); Persons transferred from Rhodes to Ferramonti Di Tarsia Internment Camp, 12-Jan-1942; - 1,900 rescued Hungarian Jews (1944) in the Rudolph Kasztner Transports; nearly 9,700 names in the 1942 Arad Hungary/Romania census; Lost Train from Bergen-Belse to Trobitz, April 1945. The JewishGen Holocaust Database comprises 150 datasets, with nearly 2 million records about victims and survivors.

Hungarian Census Records with 1,519 records for Bereg county, 1832, 1842.

Bialystok Area Business Directories (1895 and 1903 Vsia Rossiia business directories) - 1,264 entries from Russian business directories for Bialystok, Bielsk, and Sokolka uyezds (districts), Grodno gubernia (now northeast Poland).

Bessarabia Vital Records - More than 20,000 new birth, marriage and death records for Beltsy, Bendery, and Kishinev (now Moldova).

Lithuania - Additions for Tax and Voters Lists (1,598 records, Telz/Shavl districts, 1880s-1915). Revision Lists (8,148 records, Panevezys district 1887, Troki district 1834-42). Lithuania Vital Records, 24,114 new records: Births: Alytus 1922-1939; Babtai 1875-1891, 1913-14; Cekiske 1865-1906; Grinkiskis 1844, 1873-75, 1881-1914; Jonava 1922-31; Josvainiai 1836-37, 1844, 1873-1914; Kaunas 1880-85; Panevezys 1876, 1883, 1885, 1892-1903, 1905-20; Seredzius 1897-1906; Simnas 1922-26; Vilkija 1838-1897; Vilijampole 1880-1882, 84-85, 90-91. Deaths: Babtai 1875-1884; Birzai 1881-1898; Butrymonis 1922-26; Joniskis 1919-39; Kedainiai 1854-1910; Panemune Frentzela 1826-1837; Panevezys 1875, 1880, 1922-24; Pasvitinys 1922-26; Raseniai 1922-39; Varniai 1852-66; 1868-75, 1881-1913; Vilkija 1854-57, 1861-1914; Vilijampole 1881. Lithuania Internal Passports: 886 records, Siauliai/Shavl); 338, Panevezys/Ponevez).

Yizkor Book Necrology Database - 6,808 records from four Yizkor Books: Lublin, Poland (232 records); Pinsk, Belarus (5,561 records); Suwalki, Poland (685 records); Konotop, Ukraine (330 records).

US Databases - Houston (Texas) Jewish Herald-Voice Database, 1,000 new events, completing 100 years, 1908-2008. Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) 'Jewish Exponent' Obituary Database, 3,000 new events, 1887-2007.

Duma Voter Lists - Minsk Gubernia - 35,000 men eligible to vote in the Russian parliamentary elections (1906, 1907) in nine Minsk Gubernia districts (now Belarus). The districts are Minsk, Pinsk, Mozyr, Novogrudok, Igumen, Borisov, Slutsk, Rechitsa and Bobruisk.

The additions were announced by JewishGen's managing director Warren Blatt, who thanked all the volunteers and donors who made this possible.

03 December 2008

Philly 2009: Website live, call for papers!

The website - Philly2009.org - and the important Call for Papers for the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is now up and running. More information is sure to be added rapidly.

Mark your calendars, check for plane and train tickets, for what will be an excellent conference hosted by the JGS of Greater Philadelphia and the IAJGS at Philly's Sheraton Center City Hotel from August 2-7, 2009.

The proposal submittal deadline is January 15, 2009, with acceptance notification by February 28, 2009. Program co-chairs are the well-known Mark Halpern and Mark Heckman.

Proposals are welcomed on all relevant topics, including workshops and panel discussions, and new presentations (not offered at the past three annual conferences). The committee is particularly interested in the following topics:

Research sources/methodology for beginning genealogists
Research sources/Jewish history: Philadelphia area
Genealogical research: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware
Research resources/methodology: Ukraine, Eastern/Central Europe
South/Central America
Western Europe
Other locales (Australia, China, South Africa, India, etc.)
Jewish immigration/migration
Jewish surname adoption/naming patterns
Holocaust research
Genetics/DNA research
Jewish history/culture
Jewish music/theater
Jewish food
Photographic/document preservation
Technology/Internet resources
Computer training workshops
Other training workshops (e.g. photo identification, document preservation)

Encouraged are presentations and workshops providing practical research methodologies that will help conference participants in their research. Highly original topics will be given special consideration.

Presentations and panel discussions are 75 minutes including 15 minutes Q&A; workshops are 2 hours long.

Speakers may submit any number of proposals. Sole speakers with at least one accepted proposal will receive complimentary conference registration. Speakers sharing accepted proposals will receive partial registration fee waivers.

All proposals must be submitted using the Conference website by clicking on the “Begin Submission” button. Proposals submitted by other means (e-mail or regular mail, etc.) will not be accepted.

Before submitting online, prepare the following items:
Presenter/s full name, mail address, email and phone
Brief biographical sketch
Summary of recent presentation experience
Title of presentation
Program type (presentation, workshop, panel)
Brief description of the presentation
Audience skill level (beginner, intermediate, advanced)
Speakers are required to provide handout material for each presentation to be included in the syllabus distributed to all Conference registrants. All materials must be uploaded using the Conference website. Letters of acceptance will provide more details.

Ok, genners, time to get cracking on readying your programs.

London: Sacred textiles exhibit, through March 2009

Three 17th-18th-century Torah mantles from the exhibit.
The center piece is made from a wedding dress.

London's Jewish Museum presents "Hidden Treasures, Sacred Textiles," through March 15, 2009, at the Bevis Marks Spanish and Portuguese Congregation. The rare textiles are from the collection of the congregation and the Montefiore Endowment.

Although Jews were officially expelled from England in 1290, historians and scholars say some Jews remained in the country, although not outwardly identified as such. The Sephardic community of London's East End settled near Aldgate in the 1640s, founded by descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled Spanish persecution. Spanish Jew Antonio Carvajal founded a synagogue in Creechurch Lane in Aldgate in 1656, which outgrew its premises and served as the impetus for the building of a larger facility at Bevis Marks in 1701.

The elegant fabrics of the Bevis Marks' Torah mantles are being displayed for the first time in this joint venture. The Collection dates to the late 17th century, including silks, brocades and gold-work embroidery donated to the synagogue over time.

Each item tells the stories of members of this community who donated them over the centuries. Some carry the inscriptions of the donors and the occasions. Many are created from recycled English and French dress fabrics, including Lady Montefiore's wedding dress.

According to a news report, restorers found a December 1780 men's magazine cutting in the top of an 18th century silk mantle to help stiffen the fabric and, of course, also helping to date the item.

Many fabrics were made of famed Spitalfields silk, woven by Huguenots who lived and worked around Spitalfields and Whitechapel.

In 1851, a mantle was presented to the congregation by David Lindo, uncle of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, whose father attended the synagogue until he had problems with the administration and baptized his children.

The exhibit also includes guided tours, lunchtime lectures, craft activities and sessions with expert embroiderers.

Admission: £3. Hours: Monday-Friday: 11am-1pm, Sunday: 10.30am-12.30pm. Group visits by appointment.

Michigan: Echoes that remain, Dec. 14

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Michigan will screen the documentary, "Echoes That Remain," followed by a discussion, at 2.30pm, Sunday, December 14.

The venue is the Detroit Holocaust Memorial Center, Zekelman Family Campus, 28213 Orchard Lake Rd., in Farmington Hills.

Narrated by Martin Landau and Miriam Margolyes (a well-known UK Jewish genealogist in addition to her film career) and produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, it is a poignant study of Jewish shtetl life pre-Holocaust.

It combines hundreds of rare archival photographs and previously unseen film footage with live action sequences shot on location at the sites of former Jewish communities in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and Rumania.

The film covers all aspects of Jewish life in the "old world."

JGSMichigan members, free; others, $5. For more information, click here.

Washington, DC: Family mysteries, Dec. 14

Carol G. Freeman will present "Solving and Creating Family Mysteries: Integrating US Census Records with the New York City Archives," for the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington, at 1.30pm, Sunday, December 14.

Freeman is an expert genealogy researcher who has worked extensively with records in the United States and England as well as numerous on-line resources. Her presentation will discuss her sleuthing into New York City Municipal Archives and her reconciliation of these records with U.S. Census data, as she separated fact from myth in reconstructing her family's history in the United States.

This episode in Ms. Freeman's genealogy adventures will be of obvious interest to all of us who have found that family lore is not always accurate -- an experience that almost all of us have had at one time or another. As an added bonus, her talk will also inform us about the types of information that can be extracted from the New York City Municipal Archives and what the genealogist must do to retrieve the information.

In her "other" life, Carol Freeman is a retired criminal defense lawyer (another occupation that has its sleuthing moments). A graduate of Wellesley College, she received her law degree with high honors from Columbia University in New York City. After clerking for a United States District Judge and a stint as a prosecutor with the office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, she began her career as defense counsel. She was Deputy Public Defender in Montgomery County, Maryland and later served as a staff attorney to the judges of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. Although now nominally retired from the law, she continues to serve her profession in many ways, including as author of a regular column on Supreme Court criminal law decisions for the Section on Criminal Law of the American Bar Association.

The meeting will take place at Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Alexandria, VA. For more details, click here.

Los Angeles: Yiddish theatre, music, Dec. 7

The JGS of Los Angeles will present a program on the influence of Yiddish theatre and music on American culture by Cantor Hale Porter, at 1.30pm, Sunday, December 7, at the Milken JCC in West Hills.
The modern Yiddish theatre came into being in Romania in 1876. Its goal was to convey middle-class Western European standards of education and enlightenment to “uneducated” Jews. In this sense, the Yiddish stage was designed as an institution for and by Jews, but when it moved to the Lower East Side of New York City it also became a venue for cultural exchange between Jews and non-Jews. The Yiddish theater district -- centered on Manhattan’s Second Avenue -- was home to dozens of Yiddish theater troupes, theatrical establish-ments and vaudeville houses, and the stage was the main cultural institution of the immigrant Jewish community.
JGSLA board member Hale Porter has spent a lifetime in and around Yiddish theater and radio, working as an entertainer in the Catskills and on Second Avenue. He'll offer music, laughs, film clips and more, explaining how Yiddish theater, radio and music have influenced American culture.

Members, free; others, $5. For more details, click here