08 January 2007

New York City: Browsing Bialystok

New York's Jewish Genealogical Society was the first such society formed, in 1977. It offers excellent monthly programs at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th St.

At 2 p.m. on Sunday, January 21, the topic is "The Bialystoker Stimme and Landsmanshaft Newspapers as Genealogical Research Tools," presented by Rebecca Kobrin, assistant professor of American Jewish history at Columbia University, where she specializes in Jewish immigration history, Jewish urban history and Diaspora studies.

Whether your ancestors hail from Bialystok or not, this program offers a glimpse of what is seen as a neglected body of research materials.

As immigrants arrived, they formed landsmanshaftn or associations of immigrants from a particular place. The societies claimed 1 million members, and many published Yiddish periodicals.

Their contributors were part of the larger Yiddish literary movement sweeping through the Lower East Side which fueled the growth of Yiddish print culture. In contrast to the ideologically charged and meticulously edited pages of such newspapers as the Jewish Daily Forward, the landsmanshaft press welcomed contributions from many ingenue writers, who spoke about their families, Eastern Europe and America.

Using examples from several of these publications, Professor Kobrin will illustrate how the vast corpus of landsmanshaft literature is a rich but rarely utilized genre in modern genealogical studies. The articles, advertisements and lists of relatives available in these journals, magazines, and newspapers left a deep imprint and enable contemporary readers to answer myriad questions concerning the inner world of their Yiddish-speaking immigrant ancestors.

Between Exile and Empire: Jewish Bialystok and Its Diaspora is Kobrin's forthcoming book.
Admission for non-JGS members is $5.

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