13 June 2009

Viewpoint: JewishGen's new board

Although JewishGen has reorganized its Board of Governors, according to managing director Warren Blatt, Tracing the Tribe has some reservations about its composition.

According to the press release, the group's major responsibility is organizational long-term planning, and will also increase volunteer outreach and build capacity to incorporate new talent. Board member (and founder/executive director of Jewish Records Indexing-Poland) Stanley Diamond summarized the Board’s goals:

"In addition to planning, the Board must help management make certain that the structure is in place to enable JewishGen to keep pace with ever-changing technology and encourage management to bring other organizations with content under a mutually beneficial umbrella that ultimately best serves all researchers. It is our hope that the Board can also play a role in both raising the profile of JewishGen internationally and identifying potential sources of new data.”
With all due respect to my good friend Stan Diamond, Tracing the Tribe is concerned that this board, despite the rich experience and qualifications of its members, is an Ashkenazi-Eastern European-centric group limited to those from English-speaking countries (US, UK, Canada):
Honorary Chair: Harvey Krueger; Co-chairs: Karen S. Franklin, Gary Mokotoff; Board Members: Stanley Diamond, Saul Issroff, Phyllis Kramer, Anne Feder Lee, Hadassah Lipsius, Howard Margol, E. Randol Schoenberg, Walter Weiner; Ex-Officio Members: Dr. David G. Marwell, Museum of Jewish Heritage Director; Warren Blatt, JewishGen Managing Director; Michael Tobias, JewishGen Vice-President; Avraham Groll, JewishGen Administrator
Jewish genealogy today is not the exclusive realm of Ashkenazi researchers. The field today includes researchers, family historians and genealogists in many countries investigating diverse communities of origin. That is the true international face of JewishGen, including its many volunteers, but it is not reflected in the board's composition.

Notably absent are representatives for Sephardic genealogy (an increasingly fast-growing segment of Jewish genealogy, encompassing the term's broadest definition), Israel and non-English-speaking countries.

To researchers around the world, the absence of such representation is worrisome as it does not address diverse interests, despite the board's stated goals of both "a mutually beneficial umbrella that ultimately best serves all researchers" and raising JewishGen's profile internationally.

This lack of diversity may impact the board's views and its recommendations concerning present and future Jewish genealogical trends and long-range planning, as well as its credibility in its dealings with diverse international organizations, content and talent as described in the stated goals.

What do you think? Tracing the Tribe is interested in your opinion - please comment.


  1. Brooke Schreier Ganz5:36 PM

    Thumbs up for this post, Schelly! The fact that JewishGen was still officially calling all its hosted town websites "ShtetlLinks" until very recently -- as if all Jews used the term shtetl or spoke Yiddish -- is a great example of this unintentional cultural one-sidedness. I think a Sephardic genealogist or two would be a great addition to the board -- names like Mathilde Tagger, Jeff Malka, Yitzhak Kerem, Alain Farhi, Leon Taranto, etc. come to mind (if they're interested in the job, of course).

  2. Thank you, Brooke. Those of us in the know (and who are aware of past history) do not think it is "unintentional," unfortunately. More people need to comment on this. Some of us are trying very hard to rectify this situation.

  3. Joyce Field12:01 PM

    Right on, Schelly.

  4. I totally agree with you, Schelly.

  5. Rosanne Leeson2:03 PM

    Brava Schelly! This is a great problem and disservice to so many of our fellow Jews! The use of the term Shtetl has irritated many in the FrenchSIG for quite a while. There is a large Sephardic community in France, which has felt ignored and hurt by this one-sided view of "who is a Jew". It is time that we did right and moral thing by including all of our fellows in the administration of both JewishGen and the supposedly "Internationa" AJGS. Ther are a number of vary capable people, such as those mentioned by Brooke, and their time has come!

    Rosanne Leeson
    Co-Coordinator FrenchSIG

  6. Jeff Malka2:13 PM

    I do not know why anyone is surprised. I wasn't. Jewishgen is just being Jewishgen. They've always been this way and they are who they are.

    After many years of trying to work with Jewishgen and donating huge amounts of both hours and material to them, I finally realized they just can't "really" see the other side, or--when they try to be inclusive--it's with the other side as a second class citizen obeying their rules.

    Joyce was the only one among the Jewishgen leadership that understood what inclusive meant and she left.

    We miss you Joyce.

  7. i nominate adras koltai in hungary and yuri dorn in belarus