30 April 2008

JGSGW library: New location opens May 4

The Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington (JGSGW) Genealogy Library will open on Sunday, May 4, at its new location in Rockville, Maryland, with some 1,600 items.

Accoding to JGSGW president Marlene Bishow, the collection includes books, newsletters, journals, audio tapes, microfiche, family histories, gazetteers, geographical guides, maps and more. Languages include English, Hebrew, Yiddish, German and Eastern European languages.

For two years, the society's reference-only collection was in boxes and could not be accessed. In September 2007, JGSGW entered into an agreement with B'nai Israel Congregation to co-locate the library in their media center. The society purchased shelving and other library furniture, moved the boxes, and then began shelving and the collection and completing an inventory.

The new location at 6301 Montorse Road in Rockville, Maryland includes the new bookcases, library table and chairs, a microfiche workstation, and 13 PC workstations with internet access. The entire area is WiFi enabled.

The library is open to JGSGW and B'nai Israel Congregation members - with membership or library cards as ID. Hours will be: Sunday (first Sunday of the month, except June-Aug) from 1-3pm, Monday, from 6-8:30pm, and Wednesday from 1-3pm. The library will be closed Monday, May 26 (Memorial Day) and Monday, June 9.

From 11-1pm, Sunday, May 18, the Library Committee will offer an Orientation Workshop for the society and the congregation and the library will also be open on that day following the JGSGW meeting, from 3:30-6pm.

Among the holdings are more than 300 pre-recorded lectures of past programs covering many Jewish genealogy topics. Most are 60 minutes and can be listened to at the 13 library workstations. The audio tapes have been converted to CDs, so users can use the PCs to listen.

The collection includes many genealogy society newsletters, and special arrangements can be made for visiting members of other Jewish genealogical societies.

The JGSGW Library Committee includes librarian Gene Sadick, Vera Finberg and Elaine Apter. Sadick served on the county library board and both Finberg and Apter are trained librarians, each with more than 30 years' experience.

For more information, click the JGSGW website link above.

New York: Auschwitz Torah rededication, May 1

A Torah from Oswiecim (Auschwitz) will be rededicated on Holocaust Remembrance Day - May 1 - at New York City's Central Synagogue.

The back story of how a Torah got from the fetid barracks of Auschwitz to the ark of the Central Synagogue at Lexington Avenue and 55th Street is one the pastor of the Lutheran church down the street sums up as simply “miraculous.”

It is the story of a sexton in the synagogue in the Polish city of Oswiecim who buried most of the sacred scroll before the Germans stormed in and later renamed the city Auschwitz. It is the story of Jewish prisoners who sneaked the rest of it — four carefully chosen panels — into the concentration camp.

It is the story of a Polish Catholic priest to whom they entrusted the four panels before their deaths. It is the story of a Maryland rabbi who went looking for it with a metal detector. And it is the story of how a hunch by the rabbi’s 13-year-old son helped lead him to it.

Central Synagogue's Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein says the Torah “is such an extraordinary symbol of rebirth.” For two decades the congregation has observed the day with its neighbor, St. Peter's Lutheran Church, whose senior pastor is Rev. Amandus J. Derr

Says Derr, the Torah from Auschwitz “is a very concrete, tactile piece of that remembrance — of what people, some of whom did it in the name of Christ, did to people who were Jewish, and the remembrance itself enables us to be prepared to prevent that from happening again.”

Many Torah scrolls have disappeared or were destroyed during the Holocaust and a core of dedicated individuals have worked to repair those scrolls that have been found, to make them fit - kosher - for use at services. This one was hidden for more than 60 years.

The nonprofit Save a Torah foundation began looking for this particular scroll some eight years ago, following stories heard by its head, Rabbi Menachem Youlus of Wheaton, MD. Over 20 years, the group has found and restored more than 1,000 desecrated scrolls.

Youlus had heard a story told by Auschwitz survivors: Three nights before the Germans arrived, the synagogue sexton put the Torah scrolls in a metal box and buried them, but the survivors didn't know where it was buried. After the war, it could not be found.

The rabbi felt it would be in the cemetery and on his trip to Auschwitz in 2000 or 2001, with a metal detector, he searched but found nothing, and went home. One of his sons, then 13, wondered if the cemetery was the same size as in 1939. From online resources, land records indicated that the present cemetery was much smaller. He returned in 2004 with his metal detector, which beeped as he passed a house built since the war.

The metal box was uncovered, but the scroll was missing four panels; he wondered why. He placed an ad in a Polish newspaper asking if anyone had Hebrew-lettered parchment. A priest answered the next day: He said, "I know exactly what you’re looking for, four panels of a Torah."

The priest - who was born Jewish - said the panels were taken into the camp by four people, who gave them to him before they were killed; he kept the four pieces until he saw the ad. The priest, who has since died, knew that the person who placed the ad had found the rest of the scroll.

Read more here.

Yad Vashem: Online Photo Archive opens May 1

Marking Holocaust Remembrance Day tomorrow (May 1), Yad Vashem will upload its photo archives to its website. Some 130,000 images from the collection - the largest of its kind in the world - will be uploaded on Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, May 1.

Images include photographs taken in ghettos, during deportations, slave labor, camps, liberation and others. They represent an invaluable asset to historians, educators, writers, filmmakers and the public.

A significant part of this collection is now being made available to the public.

Users will be able to search the database by topic, name or location. High quality scans of images may be ordered for a fee via a site link.

As an additional feature, the images are also linked to existing information about the content. When a visitor clicks on an image, a Google map will automatically open, showing the location of places mentioned in the caption. Other links enable expanded searches.

“Over the last few years, Yad Vashem has invested significantly in the computerization of its various collections,” said Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem. “This will allow the public at large direct and simple access to the vast collection of resources collected by Yad Vashem over the past half century. We are hoping that it will increase public awareness of the archives’ tremendous importance, and encourage people who have similar photographs and documents to confer them to Yad Vashem for safekeeping.”

Dr. Haim Gertner, Yad Vashem Archives director, “We are hoping that the public will join us in our ongoing efforts to decipher the pictures and identify the people in them.”

Yad Vashem’s photographic collection began with the gathering of individual and group photographs immediately following World War II. When the Archives opened in 1955, these collections were incorporated. In 1983, a separate photographic department was established, to collate, catalogue and research historic photographs relating to the Holocaust. Photographs come from a variety of sources, including official archives, private collections, museums and various historic collections.

Some examples:

- Tova Mendel (with kerchief) and Salomon Findling (tall man behind Tova) and their children Frederika, Helena, Mikulas and Israel, along with other Jews, being deported from Stropkov, Slovakia on May 23, 1942.

- May 27, 1944- - Jews who had just undergone selection at Auschwitz-Birkenau and were classified as “not fit for work” in a grove before being gassed.

- Lighting Hanukkah candles in the Westerbork camp in the Netherlands.

29 April 2008

Los Angeles: 2010 conference set

Intrepid Jewish genealogists around the world keep close track of our international conferences and plan their vacations around these annual events. Thus, I wanted to let readers know as soon as possible about this new development.

Mark your calendars now for the 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which will be hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles from July 11-16, 2010.

Los Angeles, the entertainment capital of the world, offers significant and varied resources for genealogical research. The conference hotel will be the newly constructed JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE, located in downtown Los Angeles's new and vibrant cultural, entertainment and gastronomic center.

It is good to know that the event will once again return to the West Coast, hosted by the very talented JGSLA membership, headed by current president Sandy Malek.

And, as always, Tracing the Tribe looks forward to providing readers with all the details as they are released.

Congratulations, JGSLA.

Before we get to Los Angeles, of course, there is the 28th conference in Chicago (August 15-22) this year, and then the 29th conference hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia in August 2-7, 2009.

Moroccan library, MJH agree on exchange

The National Library of Morocco and New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage have agreed to exchange information and documents under an agreement signed in the Moroccan capital.

The agreement, signed on Tuesday, provides for developing technical co-operation and boosting inter-cultural and inter-religious dialogue, according to the Moroccan national radio.

The agreement is geared towards reinforcing the cultural exchange and sharing of technical know-how between the two institution, said National Library director Driss Khrouz to National Radio.

The Museum of Jewish Heritage will have access to documents available in all universities and libraries across Morocco, he said, adding that the national library will contribute to digitalizing fundamental historical documents, magazines and papers.

The signing took place in the presence of Andre Azoulay, King Mohammed VI's adviser on Jewish affairs, and Rabat's US Ambassador Thomas Riley.

California: Steve Morse speaks, May 10

The California Genealogical Society has scheduled a double treat for its members and friends at 1pm Saturday, May 10, when Steve Morse will speak at its membership meeting. The venue is the CGS Library in Oakland.

Morse's talks will be "What Color Ellis Island Search Form Should I Use?" and “The Jewish Calendar Demystified.”

The first talk describes the evolution of the One-Step Ellis Island Web site to the One-Step Web Pages. In April 2001, Ellis Island's ship manifests and passenger records went online. A few weeks later the One-Step Ellis Island website was created to make this resource easier to use. Since that time the One-Step site has been greatly expanded to include new search capabilities and an array of color-coded search forms.

He will describe the evolution of the website from both a historical and a practical perspective, and provide a beacon for navigating through this color maze.

Those of us who have previously seen Steve's calendar presentation realize how funny it is - he has a great sense of humor. It is highly recommended. His tongue-in-cheek but factual description of the Jewish Calendar is seen through the eyes of Adam and Eve. Because the calendar is both a solar and lunar calendar, rules concerning calculation can be daunting. The piece was recently published in the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly which reflects its general appeal. It's not just for people doing Jewish genealogy (and is a very humorous talk!)

Founded February 12, 1898 in San Francisco, the CGS is a non-profit, all-volunteer organization that seeks to aid, educate and encourage research in family history. The society maintains a library, gathers and preserves vital records and disseminates information through publications, meetings, seminars, workshops, its Web site, blog and online catalog.

For more details about the group and the event, click here.

Yad Vashem launches English, Arabic YouTube channels

Yad Vashem has launched YouTube channels in Arabic and English in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 1.

Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance and education center in Jerusalem, has launched two YouTube channels in advance of Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 1. The channels, in English and Arabic, went live today.

The English channel contains testimonies from Holocaust survivors, including archival footage, historians’ lectures on key issues related to the Holocaust, footage from visits to Yad Vashem, including those of President George W. Bush in January 2008, and Pope John Paul II in March 2000, as well as human interest stories, such as family reunions.

The Arabic channel has testimonies and archival footage about the Holocaust, with Arabic subtitles.

The channels are dynamic, and new videos will be added frequently. Channels in additional languages will be added soon.

“We know that YouTube is one of the most popular websites today. This is equally true in the United States and Europe as it is in Arabic speaking countries. Unfortunately, there is a plethora of misinformation and deliberate lies available on the Internet.

"The Yad Vashem channel will counter this material, and make reliable information widely available to anyone who seeks to know more about this terrible chapter in human history,” said Avner Shalev, Chairman of Yad Vashem. “By meeting the survivors through their testimonies, and viewing the foremost experts in the field address difficult questions, viewers will be able to connect on yet another level to this pivotal, and defining event.”

The English channel is here; the Arabic channel here.

Yad Vashem thanked Google and YouTube for their help in launching the new channels.

27 April 2008

Holocaust: Albanian heroes

This week, as the world approaches International Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 1, there will be many stories about what happened during this terrible period of history: stories of people, of tragedy and heartache, but also of heroism. This story focuses on the Jewish experience in Albania and the Muslim people who saved many Jews.

Somebody saved Anna Kohen's family. When Nazis marched into Albania in 1943, a few years before she was born, Kohen's parents fled the coastal city of Vlora for a village in the mountains. Six decades later, Kohen still wonders about the Muslim family that absorbed her own Jewish one.

"I want to go and find the ones that saved my parents," she said recently from her Manhattan dental practice, where a file holds two clues she unearthed last year: the rescuers' first and last names. "I always knew that they saved us. I never forgot."

Obscured in the history of Nazi conquest and European complicity is the story of Albania, a country on the Balkan Peninsula that shielded every Jew within its borders and saved as many as 1,800 others. Many of these rescue stories have been lost to the era's confounding flux of people, to time and to the humility of the samaritans themselves.

This month, the Federation, Jewish Communities of Western Connecticut began a search for those anonymous heroes. Its goal is to find some of these altruistic among Waterbury's large Albanian community, and honor them. Odds are against them.

As of 2007, Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority whose responsibility includes recognition of "Righteous Among the Nations" had honored more than 22,000 of these righteous individuals from 44 countries. Of those, an estimated 1,700 are still alive.

Some have been captured in stirring black-and-white photographs by Norman Gershman, now on exhibit at the Jewish Federation's Southbury facility.

Yad Vashem in Jerusalem continuously searches to honor the Righteous Gentiles, non-Jews who helped Jews during those terrible times. It is still possible as clues still turn up.

In 1998, Yad Vashem found a former school cleaning lady from Lithuania whose family saved hundreds of Jews. Danuta Venclauskas' photo hangs above the desk of the Jewish Federation's executive director. She never shared her story until a year before her death.

"It was a matter of fact," he said. Or, too painful. "Who was Danuta? She used to clean the schools. She lived in this old rundown house. Nobody knew who she was until one of the young boys she hid ... put her in to be recognized."

There were more Jews in Albania at the end of thje war than at the beginning. The reason for this, in a mainly Muslim nation, was termed "besa," a code of honor. It means to keep the promise and combines pride, honor, trust and hospitality.

"Besa means trust. When I trust you, I give you anything because I trust you," Medi Coma explained from a desk at the Albanian Culture Center and mosque in the Overlook section of Waterbury, where the 60-something grandfather serves as president to the 4,000-member organization, one of two in the city.

Many ethnic Albanians live in the Balkans, as borders changed under various occupations. When the Ottoman Empire expanded to Albania, the people converted to Islam, and despite being outlawed for five centuries, their language survived.

In 1943, as Nazis closed in on the heavily Jewish Macedonian town of Manastir, Coma's cousin, Shabedin Aga, led a caravan of 18 donkeys carrying several Jewish families to safety. He brought them to his village near the border-straddling Lake Ohrid, about 50 miles away. It's a story Coma, of Wolcott, grew up hearing, one whose relics sat for years in his cousin's home.

Aga, a supplier, regularly trekked across Albania, from the seaside town of Durres to Manastir, where he delivered salt and other commodities to Jewish shopkeepers. On one trip, the shopkeepers asked Coma's cousin to help them flee their city, which sat precariously on a rail line connecting Germany and Greece. Word was Nazis were pushing south. The desperate Jews offered Aga money for passage to, and shelter in, Albanian villages. He declined the money. Instead, he recruited Coma's father, Vebi Coma, and a cousin to guide about 35 Jews through the mountains on donkeys. Coma's father told him what happened when they returned a second time to pick up more Jews.

They had all been wiped out. Coma relates a story of a Jewish family that left a large stack of money in gratitude. His cousin kept it for the family, and says the money is still somewhere here, even now. His cousin died nearly 50 years ago.

When Norman Gershman began traveling to the Balkans in 2003 to photograph Muslim families who helped Jews, he was continually shown items they left behind and asked if the owners would return to get them. They assured him that the Jewish possessions are still safe.

Gershman's exhibition of black-and-white images came to the town from the United Nations.

For the complete story, click here for the Waterbury (CT) Republican-American.

25 April 2008

Seattle: Jeff Malka speaks, May 12

Seattle's genealogical and Sephardic communities are in for a great treat when Sephardic genealogy pioneer researcher Dr. Jeffrey S. Malka speaks there in a few weeks.

The event begins at 7pm Monday, May 12, at the Ezra Bessaroth congregation and co-sponsored by Sephardic Bikur Holim, presented by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State.

I've known Jeff for years and he's a fascinating speaker with a great grasp of the subject. He will focus on "Sephardic Genealogy Resources and the Historical Importance of Ancient Sephardic Surnames."

The presentation will include an overview of Sephardic genealogy resources, what they have in common with traditional Ashkenazi genealogy resources, and how they differ.

Because Sephardic surnames are often so ancient, they are very important to Sephardic genealogy. Records and other resources in various selected countries include the vast volume of pre-expulsion Spanish documents, with illustrations that demonstrate how useful and relevant these are in documenting the persistence of old surnames.

Also shown will be tools to help decipher the marked differences in Hebrew script found in Sephardic documents that make them undecipherable, even to native Hebrew speakers born in Israel and to most academics.

A retired professor of orthopedic surgery in the Washington DC area, Dr. Jeffrey Malka is the author of the award-winning book "Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World" (Avotaynu, 2002) and the creator of JewishGen's Sephardic SIG website based on his previous Sephardic Genealogy Resources website, now updated and renamed SephardicGen.com.

Descended from a long line of Sephardic rabbis going back to 14th century Kabbalists and authors (as well as Catalan blacksmiths and money lenders), he is one of the pioneers of Sephardic genealogy in the United States and a well-known lecturer on the subject.

Jeff has been an invited lecturer at the Library of Congress, several IAJGS annual conferences, the Washington Jewish Historical Society, and numerous Jewish Genealogy Societies in the U.S., Canada. His appearance in Barcelona, Spain two years ago drew an audience of more than 100, a cross-section of the Jewish community as well as a wide general audience.

For more information, email programs@jgsws.org or click here. I note that kosher refreshments will be served and hope they are the gastronomic handiwork of the Ladies Auxiliary's amazing cooks. There is nothing more delicious than Sephardic delicacies.

For more on the congregation, click here, and if you'd like to hear Ein Kelohenu in Hebrew and Ladino as sung by Hazzan Isaac Azose, click here. I look forward to seeing jovial Ike Azose each time I visit Seattle. I'm hoping to see all our Seattle cousins and friends in late July.

Free admission for JGSWS members; $5 for non-members.

24 April 2008

Montreal: Experts share, April 29

Member experts will share personal family history stories and research tips at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Montreal. The event begins at 7pm, Tuesday, April 29, at the Gelber Conference Center.

Beatrice Freder's research focuses on the Awerbuck and Rabinowitch families of Brusilov, Ukraine and the Kreadenster family of Dobrovka, Ukraine and Toronto, Canada.

Bernice Goldsmith's focus is on Kiev, Ukraine and the Zatolofsky family, while Barry Simon plans to relate research on his mother's family from Rimbach, Germany, her Kindertransport experiences and follow this with more contemporary family history in Canada.

As each recounts their research experiences and presents Powerpoint lectures, they'll also share personal successes and tips for other researchers.

For more information, click here.

The group's website also holds details on various indexes its members have compiled, such as cemetery, census and vital record indexes. Included are 200,000 people in the first phase of Canadian Naturalizations 1914-1932; 75,000 vital records for the Jewish community in Montreal and Quebec, 1911 Canadian Census, the Back River Cemetery, and 45,000 burials in the Baron de Hirsch - De la Savane Cemetery.

Television: Nazi Scrapbooks from Hell, April 27

"Nazi Scrapbooks From Hell" will be shown on the National Geographic Channel at 9pm Sunday, April 27, and repeated at midnight. It will also be screened at 2pm Sunday, May 4.

The channel's website describes the program:

"The death camp at Auschwitz was considered ground zero for the killings during the Holocaust, a place where thousands were starved and 1.1 million died, but there are only a small number of known photos of this infamous place before its liberation in 1945.until now. The photos of this album are far from the gruesome iconic images of living skeletons or ash-choked ovens. These rare images show life from the other side of the wire, where the banality of evil is depicted by cocktail parties, sing-a-longs and food contests attended by the perpetrators. Another album showcases the victims as they arrive at Auschwitz. These albums are nothing short of scrapbooks from hell."

For more information on the scrapbooks, click here.

Thanks to Joy Rich of New York for this tip.

23 April 2008

Miami: A trip to Shereshev, May 4

Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami will focus on roots travel, when Martin Zafman presents "A trip to Shereshev and other ancestral towns."

The meeting begins at 10am, Sunday, May 4 at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation 4200 Biscayne Blvd. See the website for more details.

Zafman will share his adventures with his cousin in Belarus and Poland, an unforgettable trip that brought his mother's stories to life and took them inside the houses of their ancestors.

From Warsaw and Bialystok to Grodno, Pruzhany, Shereshev, Brest, Terespol, Białowieża and Narewka, they found family documents in the archives, toured with a Holocaust survivor, visited with a mayor and residents and were transported back to the 19th century as they walked in the footsteps of their ancestors.

Many beautiful photos are in their Belarus SIG online newsletter article, "A Trip to Shereshev" by David Feldman and Zafman.

His presentation last year - "Life in the Pale of Settlement and Feldbaum-Zafman Family Research" - focused on how 19th century Jewish families lived in the old country, how he traced his family back to the early 1700s and plans for their trip.

A graduate of New York University, Marty has served on boards of several organizations and is currently a docent at the Jewish Museum of Florida.

The CAJE Library will also be open so members can peruse genealogy reference books.

California: Faith and Tolerance film, May 4

In commemoration of Yom Hashoah (International Holocaust Remembrance Day), the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County will screen "Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust," by Oren Rudavsky and Menachem Daum

The meeting begins at 2pm, Sunday, May 4, at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks. There is no charge.

Is it possible to heal wounds and bitterness passed down through generations? An Orthodox Jewish father tries to alert his adult sons to the dangers of creating impenetrable barriers between themselves and those outside their faith.

He takes them on an emotional journey to Poland to track down the family who risked their lives to hide their grandfather for more than two years during World War II.

Like many children of survivors, the sons feel that Poland is a country that is incurably anti-Semitic, but it is precisely here that they meet people who personify the highest levels of compassion. “Hiding and Seeking” explores the Holocaust's effect on faith in God as well as faith in our fellow human beings.

For more information, click here

Florida: David Levy Yulee

We can find evidence of our ancestors in many unusual places, such as the Great Floridians 2000 program which includes the state's first US Senator and the first US Jewish senator on a plaque in Fernandina Beach.

David Levy Yulee was Florida’s first United States Senator and the builder of Florida’s first cross-state railroad. He was born David Levy in 1810 on St. Thomas, British West Indies. He was admitted to the bar in 1836 and served, first as a delegate to the state constitutional convention in 1838 and then as territorial delegate to Congress from 1841 to 1845. David Levy was elected to the United States Senate in 1845, becoming the nation’s first Jewish senator. The next year he added the name of his father’s Sephardic ancestry, Yulee. Yulee operated sugar plantations on the Homosassa River and in Alachua County and organized Florida’s first railroad in the 1850s, linking the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Yulee served in the Confederate Congress, was briefly imprisoned following the war, and rebuilt his railroad, which had been destroyed. Yulee moved to Washington, D.C., in 1880. He died six years later and is buried there. Levy County and the town of Yulee (Nassau County) are among the Florida places named for him. His Great Floridian plaque is found at the Fernandina Chamber of Commerce, 102 Centre Street, Fernandina Beach.

If you would like to add the plaque to your GPS list:
N 30° 40.274 W 081° 27.880
17R E 455488 N 3393259

Jewish studies: International primary sources

Salon Jewish Studies bills itself as the "Gateway to Primary Sources for Research in Jewish History and Culture, and is compiled by Dajena and Frank Schlöffel of Brandenburg, Germany.

Its various sections are continually under construction, such as "Archives in France," more than 30 "Libraries in the US" with major Jewish collections, 60 "Research Institutes in the US," and 40 "US Archives." Readers may wish to subscribe to receive updates.

Categories include finding aids, digitized resources, archives, libraries, research institutes.

Finding Aids offer national and international library catalogs and specialized catalogs. Digitized resource sections will include: Multilingual, Hebrew, English, German, Yiddish, Ladino, Special: Image-, Sound- & Video Collections. Archives will include North America, US, Asia/Middle East, Europe, as well as personal collections and oral histories.

A March 14 entry details a new digitization project:

Porta Hebraicorum - A new Digitalization-Project
The Bavarian State Library plans to digitize its significant Hebraica-Collection in Cooperation with the Chair für Jewish History and Culture at Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich and the Faculty for Information-Science and Technics Cologne. After the pilot-phase 130 titles are going to be available through the WWW as Porta Hebraicorum.

Objects of research are some of the worldwide most significant Hebraica preserved in the Bavarian State Library. They survived the Second World War and National Socialism nearly undamaged. There are some 2,700 titles from 1501-1933. Similar libraries have been transferred to other countries or destroyed.

The Porta Hebraicorum has a wealth of information. Unfortunately, much is still in German with no current translation available; however, this appears to be an upcoming feature. There are also photos of some of the collection's books.

21 April 2008

Forensic Genealogy: Waltham, MA, April 26

Sharon Sergeant of Ancestral Manor will present the impact of the Misha DeFonseca Holocaust international fraud case in Waltham, Massachusetts, on Saturday, April 26.

She will speak about the many forensic genealogy lessons and implications for all genealogists, at the annual meeting and seminar of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council.

The MGC Seminar will also have a day packed with tips and tools of the trade from experts on records access, technology and networking, family rogues (rather than frauds), unusual sources (institutions and state censuses), under documented populations (African American and Portuguese), and disasters (fires and weather) [for more details, click here] .

This case demonstrates that forensic genealogy has wider applications than the more traditional heir searching or property settlements. Modern fraud issues and historical mythologies can be solved with the same methodology.

Image time lines and story boards are on a par with data mining, time line and evidence analysis methodology, as well as DNA cladagram analysis and science.

A photo time line provided the divining rod for the Defonseca case. The document proofs came out of an exhaustive and methodical search based on the historical and geographical context. But - had Defonseca continued to claim that she wasn't the same person in the document trail - and not confessed to her fraud, we were prepared to go after DNA tests with living relatives.

Open records access incentives and the methods needed to work around closed records are also paramount issues.

Additional cases coming up, says Sergeant, include:

-A European publication of a recent Defonseca "copy cat" (Defonseca had a 20-year run) will soon be exposed based on a "this is the same person" time line that destroys the central theme of yet another World War II story fraud.

-A writer exploring his own family's Civil War roles is developing a theme for a book that dismantles many myths that today's public figures maintain - yet is legitimately concerned with defensive defamation suits.

-The descendant of a European World War II orphan is concerned that their own family's story can be told with the proper documentation.

-A middle aged woman with an Asian adopted child has decided to find her father's family - more than 50 years after he deserted his wife and children.

-An elderly person with a patchwork quilt of previous personal and professional inquiry into their own family roots decides that it is time to resolve the "unsolved mysteries."
Sergeant says that other forensic genealogy lessons will be offered in the coming weeks in Illinois, Missouri, Ontario, Canada and California. Click here for Dr. Colleen Fitzpatrick's program schedule.

New York: Young Sephardim, May 15

The Center for Jewish History in New York will sponsor a panel discussion on how young Sephardic Jews are discovering and reconnecting to their history through their own creative processes, at 7pm, Thursday, May 15.

Moderated by The Forward's Arts and Culture editor Alana Newhouse, the "Young Artists Exploring Our Heritage: A Journey Where Art Meets History" panel will feature Michael J. Cohen, co-author, Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews; Michelle Ishay-Cohen, producer and art director, Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews; and Lisa Ades, documentary filmmaker.

Admission is $10; $5 for American Sephardi Federation members and students.
For more details, click here.

Toronto: Founding a Jewish cemetery

If you have roots in Toronto, this story talks about the area's 11 Jewish cemeteries . Today, the community is about 200,000 strong.

There is also a video on Holy Blossom Cemetery.

Nine are active, two are closed to burials:

• Pape Avenue Cemetery (Holy Blossom or Jews' Cemetery), 1849 (closed)

• Jones Avenue Cemetery, 1883 (partially active)

• Dawes Road Cemetery, 1903 (active)

• Roselawn Avenue Cemetery, 1905 (active)

• Lambton Mills Cemetery (Royal York Rd.), 1909 (active)

• Mount Sinai Memorial Park, 1920 (active)

• Bathurst Lawn Memorial Park / Woods Cemetery, 1929 (active)

• Holy Blossom Memorial Park, 1929 (active)

• Beth Tzedek Memorial Park, 1949 (active)

• Shaarei Shomayim Cemetery / Machzika B'nai Israel, 1933 (closed)

• Pardes Shalom / Toronto Hebrew Memorial Park, 1975 (active)

Over the next few weeks, volunteers from the Jewish Genealogical Society of Toronto will visit every grave in the area, armed with digital cameras to photograph the stones to record the inscriptions for posterity.

Holy Blossom was also known as Pape Avenue Cemetery or Jews' Cemetery, and in the area where the community's roots began some 160 years ago.

Jews settling a new area are charged with first organizing a consecrated cemetery before a synagogue is established.

In 1849, there were only about three dozen Jews in the city; two businessmen (jeweller Judah Joseph and piano maker Abraham Nordheimer)paid £20 to purchase land east of town for the cemetery. Joseph's son Samuel was ill this provided impetus to the plot purchase, as the closest Jewish cemeteries were in Montreal and Buffalo. The boy is believed to be the first person buried in the cemetery in 1850.

Ontario Jewish Archives director Ellen Scheinberg says Pape Cemetery was the resting place for all the city's first Jewish families and for others who came later.

Read more about the location, and the cemetery which closed some 70 years ago. Visitors still come to see relatives' graves.

While none of the earliest tombstones survives – all that is known of Samuel Joseph's grave is that it was near the gate – the history in the local Jewish community can nonetheless be read in those that remain.

There are names and dates, of course, but there are also subtle hints about the community's identity. Birthplaces listed on the oldest stones include villages in England while Germany and Eastern Europe are on later ones. Eventually, Toronto is listed.

As well, some of the original stones are inscribed entirely in Hebrew or German, while later ones contain a mix of Hebrew, German and English.

The city's first synagogue was built a decade after the cemetery on Pape. Today there are 118 synagogues and congregations in the Toronto area and some 80 Jewish schools, as well as many Jewish organizations and institutions.

Chicago 2008: Trains, planes and food

The conference committee for the 28th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (Chicago, August 17-22) has announced important updates:

1. Discounts are available for Amtrak, American Airlines and Continental Airlines,

2. Menus are now posted for luncheons and the banquet. Shabbat dinner, Saturday welcome dinner and breakfast menus are expected soon, and

3. Early bird registration ends April 30, so register early and save some money.

For all updates, registration, hotel, program schedule, etc. go to the conference website.

Ohio: Family history in synagogue curtain

The Cincinnati Inquirer's story on linking a family's history to a parokhet (curtain for the Ark - the cabinet that holds Torah scrolls), is here.

Siegmund Gutman always felt he had a relatively small extended family because of the toll the Holocaust took on his Russian, Polish and Austrian ancestors.

Recently, the Cincinnati Hillel Jewish Student Center in Clifton brought Gutman's family history into focus and that led the Los Angeles attorney to dedicate an artifact in the center's collection.

Rabbi Abie Ingber and others at Cincinnati Hillel discovered a connection between Gutman and the original purchase of an ark curtain in 1885 for one of the largest synagogues in Europe. The Viennese curtain, used to cover the area in a synagogue where the Torah scroll is kept, survived World War II.

"When I spoke to my grandparents, there was a richness of history they taught me about my Jewish heritage," said Gutman, 40. "Learning about this ark curtain has added to that richness and given me an opportunity to pass that on to my daughter."

Gutman and his wife, Stephanie Hertzman, visited Cincinnati this week to dedicate the ark curtain in honor of their 1-year-old daughter, Micah. It is displayed in Cincinnati's Hillel chapel. The center has more than 400 other Jewish artifacts and pieces of history.

A local resident bought and donated the velvet cloth cloth to Hillel. The embroidered inscription reads in part: "donated graciously by Mr. Isak Zev Ritter von Gutmann and his wife ... as a remembrance before God of the day that their beloved son Moses became a Bar Mitzvah."

Rabbi Ingber mentioned the cloth to a Hillel supporter whose son-in-law had the same last name. Research revealed Siegmund Gutman was a descendant of the same Gutman family in Vienna who were Stadttempel (City Temple) members where the curtain was from. It was the only Viennese synagogue to survive the 1938 Kristallnacht.

"If this ark curtain could speak, how would it feel to see the descendant of the family that gave it life? And how would it feel to hear Schubert, the music that dedicated its synagogue?" Ingber said.

For Gutman, the passion for dedicating the piece again is rooted in preserving this piece of Jewish and family history.

The curtain and other Hillel artifacts may be viewed at the congregation.

Cape Verde: Jewish roots

Journalist Carol Castiel spoke about the history of the Jews of Cape Verde at the last international Jewish genealogy conference in Washington, DC (2003), and presented an excellent look at their Jewish roots.

The Boston Globe carried a story yesterday on Cape Verdeans joining together for a Passover seder in Roxbury.

This is what Joel Schwartz had in mind when he organized the first Cape Verdean Seder three years ago. After all, Jews have long used the themes of Passover, commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage, to reach out to other communities.

Schwartz, who has worked with Cape Verdeans as program manager with the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization for 16 years, didn't realize then what many Cape Verdeans have quietly known for generations: Many of them have Jewish ancestry. Nor did he know until last week that this year's Seder would draw Jews and Cape Verdeans from as far away as Washington, D.C., seeking to reforge this historic bond.

The Jewish presence on Cape Verde can be traced back to its earliest days, when Portugal discovered and claimed the tiny chain of islands off the west coast of Africa in the mid-1400s. With the start of the Inquisition, many Jews, forced to convert or hide their identity, fled to Cape Verde and other Portuguese colonies in hopes of getting out from under the heel of the religious authorities.

Starting in the mid-1800s, Jews from Morocco began going to the islands. While these newcomers eventually assimilated into the general population, their imprint remains in family names like Cohen, Levy, and Wahnon, a name borne by the country's first elected prime minister. There is also a village called Sinagoga (synagogue) and a few cemeteries with Hebrew inscriptions.

All of this piqued the curiosity of Carol Castiel when she was working in West Africa for a US aid agency in the mid-1990s.

"Over the years, I began noticing these names that were typically Jewish, and these connections somehow came out," said Castiel, a Jewish journalist who traveled from Washington, D.C., to attend last week's Seder.

The discovery sent her on a mission to preserve the islands' Jewish heritage. She recently founded the Cape Verde Jewish Heritage Project, with the aim of raising funds to restore the cemeteries and promote education and tourism centered on the country's Jewish history.

Over the years, the connections have been impacted by time and intermarriage, although, according to the story, some 30% of the Cape Verdeans thought they had Jewish ancestry. Although this was news to Schwartz, Cape Verdeans have long been aware of their Jewish roots.

"My father told us about the Jews in our family," said Jacinto Benros, who is 75 and lives in Providence. (New England is home to the largest population of Cape Verdean immigrants and descendants in the country, estimated by the US State Department at a few hundred thousand.)

Other Cape Verdeans have taken recognition of their Jewish heritage much further. Gershom Barros, whose father was Cape Verdean, underwent the exhaustive process of converting to Orthodox Judaism. Barros didn't know his father had Jewish roots until after he died.

"My mother told me she used to call my grandmother a crazy lady for lighting candles in the closet," he said, suggesting that she practiced secret Jewish customs passed down for generations, as has been noted among other descendants of Portuguese and Spanish Jews who were forced to hide their identities.

Although not mentioned in this story, we heard in Washington DC stories of families first having a Jewish marriage and then going to the Church for a Catholic ceremony.

Boston University Jewish history professor Marilyn Halter wrote a book on this community's immigration and married a Cape Verdean-American.

Click on the link above to learn more.

18 April 2008

Pennsylvania: Jewish history

Did you know that Philadelphia's first Jewish inhabitant, Nathan Levy, arranged for shipping the Liberty Bell across the Atlantic so it could ring in the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence?

Levy - originally living in New York - sought a business opportunity in the Pennsylvania colony and obtained the first Jewish property to bury his young son in 1740. The communal Jewish cemetery still exists today on land received from William Penn's family.

Penn received from the British monarchy the rights to all of the Pennsylvania colony's land and tried to set up a colony based on Quaker principles, including tolerance of difference faiths, including Jewish.

During the American Revolution, some 250 Jews lived in Pennsylvania as many of them fled New York when it was held by the British. The first synagogue - one of the oldest in the US - was built with the help of Benjamin Franklin. The first Ashkenazi synagogue was built 14 years later.

Some 300,000 Jews live in Pennsylvania (of a general population of 12 million); 240,000 Jews live in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and another 40,000 live in Pittsburgh.

Readers are reminded that the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy will be co-hosted by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia from August 2-7, 2009 - so mark your calendars now.

The article is longer, but is not really about about Jewish history - rather it details the politics of the president race. If you are interested, click here.

Shanghai: Ohel Rachel's first wedding in 60 years

In 1920, the Ohel Rachel synagogue in Shanghai was built by Iraqi and Indian Sephardi businessman. Although officially in the hands of the city's education ministry, it was once used as storage, occasionally now as an auditorium, and was named one of the World Monuments Fund 100 most endangered sites in 2002 and 2004.

While the community was a refuge, since the early 1920s, for Russian Jews and others later fleeing the Holocaust from Germany, the Chinese government took possession of the building in 1949 and Jews began to immigrate to other countries. Today, however, the Jewish community is growing again with some 2,000 living in the city.

Almost all Jewish symbolism has disappeared from the building, except for an exterior plaque, a Magen David at the top of a stairway and a Hebrew sign inside. Since being rededicated 10 years ago, it has only opened for major holidays a few days a year.

Recently it was the site of the synagogue's first Jewish wedding in 60 years. Moroccan businessman and head of the Shanghai community Maurice Ohana wanted to hold his daughter's wedding there.

Ohana finally succeeded in obtaining permission with help from Pan Guang, the dean of the Center of Jewish Studies Shanghai, who assisted in the long negotiation.

"We tried to explain the importance to the Jewish community," Pan said after the wedding, as the crowd of about 400 in evening dress swirled by. Some in the new Jewish community have family connections to the past, he added.

Some were at the wedding. "My father was a Russian Jew in Shanghai," said Jim Kaptzan, a U.S. businessman who said his father came after fleeing the 1917 communist revolution in Russia. "He used to always tell me Shanghai was the place to be. It's heartwarming to be in the place where my father prayed freely."

In the old days, the cosmopolitan city had a thriving Jewish community, with schools, newspapers and seven synagogues. However, from the 1950s-mid-1990s, there was little or no Jewish presence. Ohel Moishe - the only other remaining synagogue -is a Jewish history museum.

Among the 400 guests were diplomats representing Israel, the US, France, Argentina and Morocco. Rabbi Shalom Greenberg officiated, assisted by rabbis from Singapore and Beijing.

For more, click here.

17 April 2008

Happy Passover to readers!

A very happy holiday to all Tracing the Tribe's readers.

Whether you celebrate it as Passover, Pesach, Pessah, Pesaj or Santo Moises (as converso/anousim families do), it all begins this Saturday night.

As you gather to read the story of the Exodus, remember to discuss your own family history stories of immigration.

Enjoy your family's traditional favorites - Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi - and try to pick up some new ones.

Our tradition is to have Ashkenazi chicken soup with matzo balls, followed by chopped liver, but the main courses are always Persian rice dishes with various khoreshts (stews). This year, I'm making green dill rice, as well as white rice, and the stews will be beef with eggplant and tomato and chicken with peach halves. I've already made my traditional Persian Pesach treats of badam-sukhte (literally "burned almonds," but actually toasted almonds covered in caramelized sugar).

Yesterday, I prepared the first step of my Persian halek (what we call charoset) by grinding all the nuts (equal amounts of walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, brazil nuts, pistachio nuts and cashews) with golden raisins and lots of medjool dates, and flavored it with sweet wine, wine vinegar, pomegranate paste (rob-e-anar), pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, sugar. The container is sealed in the frig and the flavors are mellowing and marinating. On Friday, I'll mix in all the fruits (apples, banana, orange and various dried fruits) and let it continue to improve until the seder. We make a big bowl as we eat it all week long on matzo, rolled in romaine lettuce leaves, or as a filling for matzo bakhlava.

Continue with the old traditions, and add in a new custom from time to time, such as the wonderfully joyful Persian "Dayenu," where seder attendees whip each other (in fun) with spring onions (scallions) - the long green part, please, not the white bulbs, and definitely not with leeks (unless you like bruises!).

The blog will be slow for the next few days as there's just too much to prepare.

Turning bytes into books

Relatives always ask when I'm going to write a book about the family. As do many other genealogists, I reply that it isn't a possibility yet; things keep changing, new information is always being discovered.

However, there may be a way to handle this. You may be in the same boat, wanting to produce a comprehensive volume of research and photographs, but wondering what to do about updates. There's some good news as there are ways to produce periodic updates to the big book as new family facts are uncovered. You could even prepare a book focusing simply on a roots trip to an ancestral shtetl. The possibilities are endless.

Although this New York Times story focuses on scrapbooking, the hints, tips and resources offered can easily be adapted by genealogists and family historians wishing to preserve their unique discoveries.

Resources include Blurb.com, Picaboo.com and Picturia Press.

Today, Ms. Leendertse still turns a pile of pictures and paragraphs into bound books, but instead of working just for a roster of major publishers like MIT Press, she helps individuals create books. She is participating in an offshoot of the scrapbooking phenomena, the hobby of collecting and preserving photos and mementos.

What was once a pastime for mothers recording family memories for their children has blossomed into a new, fertile marketplace of collaboration. People with stories to tell are creating personalized books filled with pictures, blog entries and even business proposals. While some of these glorified scrapbooks are aimed at the world at large, many new titles were never intended to be sold in stores or marketed in any way. For instance, architects submitting bound proposals for their projects have used some of the scrapbooking tools.

The digital tools — the camera, scanner and word processor — have opened the field of book creation to the amateur as the hobby moves away from pasting buttons and rickrack onto pages. But sometimes the bookmakers need a little help.....

Downloadable digital designs, templates and illustrations can be found at theshabbyshoppe.com, scrappydoodlekits.com, rakscraps.com, peppermintcreative.com and escrappers.com. Some have free samples, charge for more complex types, and some distribute free files for an annual subscription to archives.

Katie Pertiet, the creative director for DesignerDigitals.com, sells new downloadable artwork for scrapbookers from a Web site she runs with her husband from her home. Last year, she herself created five different books with more than 400 illustrated pages filled with photos and stories about her children and grandchildren.

Every Sunday morning she shares some of these designs with her customers. Some are produced by Ms. Pertiet and others by artists who license their art to the site. She estimates that she sells about 700 packages each Sunday.

The story also talks about software:

Book creators use Adobe Photoshop (about $650), but others find the simpler and less expensive Photoshop Elements (about $100) adequate. Some amateur bookmakers prefer focused scrapbooking software like Nova Development’s Art Explosion Scrapbook Factory (novadevelopment.com) selling for about $40. As the name might imply, the package comes with thousands of fonts, illustrations, templates and “photorealistic embellishments” like pictures of buttons, ribbons or charms.

What can a book cost? According to the story:

A 7- by-7-inch soft-cover book from Blurb.com starts at $13 for 20 to 40 pages, with extra pages additional. Bigger, fatter books like a 150-page 13-by-11-inch hardcover cost $85. There are volume discounts. Picaboo.com sells some 20-page soft-cover books for $10 and offers a variety of bound books including ones covered with linen or padded leather.

Read more here

JOWBR online burials exceed 1 million

The JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry now includes more than one million records in 1,929 cemeteries worldwide.

Data, including gravestone photographs, has been donated by hundreds of individuals and groups. Translators have assisted by translating inscriptions providing that information.

In the past few months the following records were added, said JewishGen vice president Joyce Field: Belarus, 392; Canada, 15,993; Germany, 1,214; Hungary, 28; India, 104; Moldova, 3,410; Romania, 246; Ukraine, 968; and USA, 10,074. She noted that JOWBR's movers and shakers are Nolan Altman, Max Heffler, Michael Tobias and Warren Blatt.

Field adds,

As you travel this year and visit ancestral towns or towns in your
current country of residence, please consider recording data from the Jewish cemeteries and/or photographing all the tombstones in the cemetery or landsmanschaft plot for JOWBR.

The JOWBR links for information include

Search the database
Cemetery inventory
JOWBR instructions
Photograph guidelines
How to submit data
Donor agreement

16 April 2008

Antwerp and the Red Star Line

Many of our immigrant ancestors traveled to America on the vessels of the Red Star Line, out of Antwerp, Belgium.

Artist Eugeen Van Mieghem (1875-1930) recorded many scenes at the port, and in fact Antwerp has a Van Mieghem Museum.

Joy Rich of New York informed me about two events in Philadelphia and New York where the program, "Eugeen Van Mieghem and the Emigrants of the Red Star Line," will be presented. Both are free and open to the public.

The Philadelphia program is set for noon, Wednesday, April 30, at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, while the New York program is at 6.30pm, Wednesday, May 7, at the Museum of the City of New York. For more information, contact van.mieghem.museum#skynet.be

An exhibit, "Antwerp=America=Red Star Line," is at the National Maritime Museum in Antwerp through December 28. Click here or here for more details.

For more information about the Red Star Line, click here.

From 1873-1935, the line brought nearly 3 million people from Antwerp to America and Canada. The Red Star Line buildings till exist in Antwerp on the Scheldt, from where their ships set off across the Atlantic. The old buildings will soon accommodate a historic heritage center museum being developed by the Antwerp Tourist Department and the Museum on the River.

Other website sections include history, why emigration, heritage center, ships, buildings and the museum.

Among the ships listed were several which brought my ancestors. Sara Talalai arrived from Mogilev in 1902 on the Vaderland; there were others on different ships.

A man of notes

"The day the music died," by David Brinn, in the Jerusalem Post, focuses on Feher Jewish Music Center's former director Dr. Yuval Shaked, whose 12 years at the center ended March 31.

He had single-handedly overseen, since 1999, the FHC's collection of thousands of recordings of Jewish music, from classical, religious and pop genres, to the computerized database. It was the music source for scholars, cantors, academics and musicians from around the world.

I've known him for years and understand his passionate dedication to the collection.

Each time I wrote an article for the Jerusalem Post on FHC resources and achievements, he was deluged with phone calls and emails from people wanting to volunteer, by new immigrants wanting to perform the music, and by people (in Israel and abroad) wishing to donate valuable collections to the archives. He spoke at several JFRA Israel genealogy society meetings and located music composed or recorded by several members' ancestors.

Over the years, we had discussed arranging a CD of Iranian Jewish music, and I'm sorry I didn't pursue it with more diligence. It would have been welcomed by the Diaspora Iranian Jewish community and funding could well have been located.

While visitors can still come and access the music data bank through listening stations, he says, in the story, that he made a calculation before he left - only about eight percent of the collection is accessible today in the data bank. "The rest is in my memory," he said.

On one memorable visit - I always went with a one-hour visit scheduled and stayed for several hours, discovering new materials - I sat on one side of his desk piled high with newly received materials waiting to be catalogued into the database. Flipping through the stacked high cases, a series of Ukrainian National Archives CDs caught my eye. Based on a famous ethnographic music expedition in the early 1900s which recorded on wax cylinders, the Archives had produced digitized CDs to preserve and transmit the rare collection.

One featured recordings made in Mogilev, Belarus (where my family lived from at least the early 1700s). I listened to recordings made by people my ancestors had perhaps heard - a famous cantor and others - it was as good as finding an archival document. It filled in the gaps and and helped me understand what life was like then. I am just one of thousands of people around the world who have used these and other resources.

According to the story:

"We've serviced people from all over," said Shaked. "We've gotten emails with queries of people who want information on their distant relative who was a ba'al tefila in a small village in Eastern Europe, things like that."

"We have numerous recordings that don't appear anywhere else, like 78 rpm recordings that were privately produced and ended up with us. We digitize them and archive them, write bios of forgotten cantors and singers, and find and attach photos if we can find them. Many times visitors have come, and have located a relative of theirs, whom they didn't believe that a recording of still existed," he added, with a clear passion in his voice for the subject matter.

Over the past few months, I've visited his office and we've often communicated by email. Each time, he voiced his worry at what would happen to the FHC after his departure, and how this would impact people worldwide who utilize it.

"By dismissing me, they're effectively closing the center," Shaked told The Jerusalem Post. "Everyone who's familiar with the collection knows it's unique in the world."

What is worse is that almost all recent funding for various initiatives of the Center came from Yuval's own prodigious fundraising efforts. But the museum's management did nothing to find funding for his position.

Museum director Hasia Israeli told The Jerusalem Post that the center is not being closed, but part of a "reorganization process."

"There are budget cuts we needed to face, and this was part of that decision," she said, adding that the center is going to continue digitalizing its data banks of music archives.

According to Shaked, however, unless there's someone in his position, that effort will never materialize.

Although the director said efforts were being made to find funding to bring Yuval back, he says the only efforts are coming from him. When he was terminated, there was no effort made to approach the Feher Foundation to find a solution, and even the museum's fundraiser was not asked to become involved.

"Even now, the efforts to find funds are not being undertaken by the management, but by the chief curator of the museum and by myself at home."

What is most important is that he has always maintained that the FHC could be self-sufficient if the museum would properly promote the CDs and concerts produced by the FHC.

"The center could cover all its expenses if the management would support these projects and transfer the funds. The center sells CDs, not only at the museum and on our site, but through Amazon. However, the money from Amazon, for instance, is transferred to the American Friends of Beth Hatefusoth, and the management in Israel has always refused to ask them to transfer the funds here. It's used to pay the salary of a secretary in their office instead," he said.

The recently released excellent double CD of Kamti LeHallel with the music of the Amsterdam, London and New York Spanish & Portuguese communities, received no museum promotion, according to Cantor Daniel Halfon.

Yuval maintains that the project was damaged by the museum's management, which gave it no recognition or attention. It wasn't even mentioned at a board meeting that took place two weeks after its release.

Shaked said in the story that the management's attitude has been ambivalent for a long time: "In my first meeting with the director in February 2006, she told me that she wasn't sure the museum should even have a music center - she preferred a data bank on Jewish kitchens."

The center was founded by musicologist Dr. Avner Bahat in 1982 and directed until 1999 by him, when Yuval became director after working with Bahat from 1996. The FHC has released 20 CDs and cassettes featuring traditional singing of Jews in Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, Bombay and Spain; music of vanished communities, and other types of music.

Read more here.

15 April 2008

New York: 1832 cholera epidemic

Family historians are always interested in the lives of their ancestors, and for those whose families lived in New York in the early 19th century, today's story in the New York Times will explain what life was like in the face of a cholera epidemic.

"How Epidemics Helped Shape the Modern Metropolis," focused on an 1832 cholera epidemic, in connection with a New York Historical Society exhibit.

Cholera appeared in South Asia in 1817, spread to other seaports and to London in 1831, reaching New York the next year.

On a Sunday in July 1832, a fearful and somber crowd of New Yorkers gathered in City Hall Park for more bad news. The epidemic of cholera, cause unknown and prognosis dire, had reached its peak.

People of means were escaping to the country. The New York Evening Post reported, “The roads, in all directions, were lined with well-filled stagecoaches, livery coaches, private vehicles and equestrians, all panic-struck, fleeing the city, as we may suppose the inhabitants of Pompeii fled when the red lava showered down upon their houses.”

An assistant to the painter Asher B. Durand described the scene near the center of the outbreak. “There is no business doing here if I except that done by Cholera, Doctors, Undertakers, Coffinmakers, &c,” he wrote. “Our bustling city now wears a most gloomy & desolate aspect — one may take a walk up & down Broadway & scarce meet a soul.”

The epidemic left 3,515 dead out of a population of 250,000. (The equivalent death toll in today’s city of eight million would exceed 100,000.) The dreadful time is recalled in art, maps, death tallies and other artifacts in an exhibition, “Plague in Gotham! Cholera in Nineteenth-Century New York,” at the New-York Historical Society. The show will run through June 28.

The story addresses life in crowded cities when sanitation and medical science were not prepared to deal with germs. The disease hit hardest, as these things usually do, in the poorest neighborhoods, such as Five Points. The story details the words of those who lived through the epidemic, through letters written (and included in the exhibition).

It took until 1854 for a British doctor, John Snow, to connect contaminated water with cholera, but not until 1883 was the disease-causing bacterium discovered.

As if predicting future shows like CSI, Snow plotted cholera cases on a Soho map, showing that most victims got their water from one public pump. The story mentions "Ghost Map," a reent book by Steven Johnson, which tells of the discovery that a baby's infected diapers were thrown into a cesspool near the pump.

Snow's research applied mapping in investigations - now computers analyze the data data - and medical historians credit him with the foundations of scientific epidemiology.

The epidemic forced cities to begin cleaning up but it was too late for the victims of the next bout in 1849. The population had doubled to 500,000 and cholera deaths numbered 5,071.

The story describes the growth of the city "as far north as 14th Street," and how residents sought clean air in the village of Greenwich, calling attention to small brick houses - still bearing their dates of construction today - built after 1832 in the Village.

In 1842, the Croton Aqueduct system brought in clean water and the 1866 founding of the Metropolitan Board of Health helped to regulate conditions.

Read more here .

14 April 2008

Belarus: Gomel graves desecrated

If your family has roots in Gomel, Belarus, read this AP story about the desecration of an 18th century Jewish cemetery via the rebuilding of a sports stadium.

Before World War II, Belarus was home to some 1 million Jews; 800,000 died in the Holocaust. Today there are about 27,000 Jews in the country's 10 million citizens.

Jews began to settle in Gomel in the 16th century. By the late 19th century, they were more than half of the population. In 1903, according to the story, the Gomel Jews made history by being the first to resist a pogrom and defended 26 synagogues and prayer houses. Most of the city's 40,000 Jewish residents managed to get out before the Nazis arrived; 4,000 who stayed were murdered in November 1941. Today's population is 500,000 with only a few thousand Jews among them.

"It's impossible to pack an entire cemetery into sacks," said worker Mikhail Gubets, adding that he stopped counting the skulls when the number went over 100.

But critics say it's part of a pattern of callous indifference toward Belarus's Jewish heritage that was prevalent when the country was a Soviet republic and hasn't changed.

The stadium in Gomel, Belarus's second largest city and a center of Jewish life until World War II, is one of four that were built on top of Jewish cemeteries around the country.

The Gomel cemetery was destroyed when the stadium was built in 1961, but the remains lay largely undisturbed until this spring when reconstruction began and a bulldozer turned up the first bones.

A Jewish leader in Gomel, Vladimir Gershanok, says he asked the builders to put the bones into sacks for reburial at a cemetery that has a monument to Holocaust victims.

"We know we can't stop the construction but we're trying to minimize the destruction," Gershanok said.

But city authorities have ruled that the construction can go ahead because the bones are more than 50 years old.

A city official doesn't understand the problem. A history professor views the cemetery as part of the city's heritage and has filled three sacks with bones and saved two of the unearthed marble gravestones, while others are piled near a trash bin or carried away.

It's not only Gomel; Grodno had a similar problem; and Ukrainian Jewish graves have also been desecrated. Vinnitsa was able to stop construction of an apartment building on a cemetery earlier this month and the Ukrainian authorities apologized, but Belarus, according to Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, has been one of the least responsive on Jewish issues.

There's more in the story.

12 April 2008

DNATraits: Jewish genetic panel price break

During April, as Jews around the world gather for the Passover holiday, DNATraits is offering a major price break for the most comprehensive testing panel available for the Ashkenazi-descent Jewish population.

The special April price for the panel of 25 Jewish genetic conditions is $199, complete with genetic counseling review, instead of $299. Both prices contrast with fees at other testing companies (direct-to-consumer and universities) which charge $600-$1,500 for panels of only 6-11 diseases. DNATraits hopes this unprecedented move will change genetic testing industry standards.

“We believe that knowledge is power. The knowledge of being a carrier can ensure that the necessary steps are taken to prevent a disease from being transmitted to the next generation. Since Tay Sachs testing began in the Jewish community, the incidence of Tay Sachs in Jewish babies has dropped 90 percent.

The same can happen for the other diseases in this panel, all it takes is knowing whether you are a carrier for one of these diseases included in the Ashkenazi Panel,” said DNATraits founding partner Bennett Greenspan.

The bottom line is that for a mere $8 per disease, one can learn if s/he is a carrier for a large number of serious Jewish genetic diseases in the Ashkenazi community. If a parent or grandparent tests positive, there is urgency in having younger children test. If the Jewish community tested for these conditions prior to marriage - as is done for Tay Sachs in the Orthodox community - the incidence could be lessened.

Some individuals have asked why the breast cancer gene is not included in this panel. Greenspan explained that BRCA1 and BRCA2 are patented by Myriad Genomics, and no one can test for them unless a patent royalty system is first worked out. He said that Myriad charges $450 for three variants of BRAC2 while DNATraits now charges $199 for 25 other Jewish inherited diseases (and many variants). "If they weren't patented in the US, we would offer them," he said. "We will probably offer them in Europe where the US patent isn't applicable (the European Union tossed out the patent a few years ago."

Tracing the Tribe readers will remember that I wrote about Dr. Doron Behar's announcement of the founding of DNATraits at a meeting of the JFRA Israel genealogy society in this blog posting (the Jerusalem Post articles links were still live today). Since that posting, the Ashkenazi panel price has been reduced to encourage testing within the Jewish community.

For more information, click here.

Here's the press release from DNATraits:

DNATraits Launches Most Comprehensive Ashkenazi Inherited Diseases Panel at Unprecedented Low Price

HOUSTON – In an unprecedented move that will change standards in the genetic testing industry, DNATraits launched today the most comprehensive panel of tests for the Jewish population of Ashkenazi descent.

The panel includes tests for 25 diseases and will be offered at an introductory price of $199 during the month of April. After April, the regular price for this panel from DNATraits will be $299, still substantially below other offerings: other direct-to-consumer companies and university hospitals offer to test six to eleven diseases at prices ranging from $600 to $1500,

DNATraits utilizes a simple at-home saliva kit to collect personal DNA samples and provides results, complete with genetic counseling review, in four to six weeks.

“We believe that knowledge is power. The knowledge of being a carrier can ensure that the necessary steps are taken to prevent a disease from being transmitted to the next generation.

Since Tay Sachs testing began in the Jewish community, the incidence of Tay Sachs in Jewish babies has dropped 90 percent. The same can happen for the other diseases in this panel, all it takes is knowing whether you are a carrier for one of these diseases included in the Ashkenazi Panel,” said DNATraits founding partner Bennett Greenspan.

With years of experience in genotyping for large corporations and delivery of DNA-related information to hundreds of thousands of customers, other partners in the venture include Phil Robinson, co-founder of Kbiosciences in the UK, Doron Behar, MD, PhD at the Rambam Medical Center, Haifa, Israel, and Max Blankfeld, managing partner of Family Tree DNA.

DNATraits offers the least expensive medically validated tests in the world accompanied by free genetic counseling to ensure clients receive accurate and understandable results. DNATraits’ approach meets the guidelines set forth by the HIPPA and the policy statement issued by the American College of Medical Genetics.

Information about the Ashkenazi Panel can be found at site www.dnatraits.com/ashkenazi. The Web site also provides tutorials, service descriptions, and listings of medically validated tests available to consumers. Cystic Fibrosis and Tay-Sachs are among the well-known inherited disorders available for testing, but Greenspan said his team of physicians and scientists are constantly culling the latest medical research to identify new verifiable markers for inherited genetic disorders.

For additional information, please contact Max Blankfeld –max@dnatraits.com or call (713)868-1438

Yiddish: 2008 Summer programs

Did your parents and grandparents converse in a secret language when discussing things they didn't want the children to understand? If your family roots are in Eastern Europe, it was likely Yiddish.

My parents and grandparents did the same to us. However, after I learned Farsi, my husband and I spoke it together when we didn't want relatives to know what we were saying. They really didn't like that at all!

I'm sorry that the younger generations "lost" Yiddish. I took a class ages ago at NYU, didn't keep up with it and have regretted it since I became involved in genealogy. If you feel that now's the time to make the language connection to your ancestors, there are year-round Yiddish classes in many places, as well as international summer programs offering intensive training.

Here are a few of the summer programs. They vary in length and price; click on them to learn more.

Uriel Weinreich Program in Yiddish Language, Literature & Culture
June 30-August 8, 2008 - NYU Manhattan Campus, New York City

Daily intensive language course, four levels, develop proficiency in speaking, reading, writing an cultural literacy. Required afternoon conversation classes and lecture series. Resources: NYU's Skirball Department of Hebrew & Judaic Studies, the largest North American university program in Jewish studies. YIVO is at the nearby Center for Jewish History, with an extensive library and archives - one of the world's major collections.

Heritage Tour with the Vilnius Yiddish Institute
June 22-July 2, 2008 - Tour of Eastern Europe

A unique travel experience, to see Litvak Jewish life - its profoundly rich past, its vibrant present and its challenging future. Meet with historians, linguists and folklorists at the Institute. Travel to Riga and Kaunas, shtetls and more. The 10-day tour includes expert speakers and intimate, in-depth meetings and discussion with members of the Lithuanian and Latvian Jewish communities and prominent governmental leaders.

Vilnius Yiddish Institute: Yiddish Language & Literature
July 27-August 22, 2008 - Vilnius, Lithuania

Four levels (total beginners to advanced) plus a rich cultural program of lectures, tours and music. Includes local/international cultural experts; performances, film, musical events; performances, film and musical events; international specialists, survivors and scholars; local and Jewish history seminars; tours. The Vilnius Yiddish Institute is the preeminent Eastern European center for Yiddish scholarship, conducting continuing original research on language and culture, and year-round/summer university level instruction.

2nd Birobidzhan International Summer Yiddish Program
August 19-September 7, 2008 - Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Region, Russia and Harbin Jewish Heritage Seminar

International summer program of Yiddish language and culture in Birobidzhan, the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region in the Russian Far East, with participation of Yiddish-studies lecturers from international universities. Since 1934, it has been the only place in the world where Yiddish was the official state language. Academic scholars from the nearby Chinese city of Harbin will join the program this year. In the early 20th century, Harbin was home to a large Russian, Yiddish and English-speaking Jewish community. Visit Khabarovsk, and the final days of the program are focused on Jewish Harbin, and interested participants will have a chance to travel there.

The successful summer Yiddish program at Tel Aviv University has been cancelled for 2008 as academic classes will continue into July following a prolonged nationwide faculty strike; it will return in 2009.

Yiddish at LA Times book festival

Looking for something to do in Southern California? If you love books, you'll love the LA Times Festival of Books, set for April 26-27 on the UCLA campus.

The event, billed as the country's largest celebration of the written word, anticipates 140,000 attendees, 450+ authors, 300+ exhibitors, 900+ volunteers, 100+ author panels, six outdoor stages and two children’s areas. Hours are 10am-6pm Saturday, 10am-5pm Sunday; admission is free, parking is $8.

Yiddishkayt LA has announced that it will return for its second year.

Yiddishkayt's Booth 603 will have "an amazing assortment of books covering the rich world of Yiddish. We're bringing books in Yiddish, books about Yiddish, and books for kinderlekh, for kids. Fill your shelves at home with plays, novels, history and humor from the best Yiddish book store in L.A. (well, at least in April)!"

They are also looking for volunteers for the event. Interested readers may email events@yiddishkaytla.org.

Identifying genealogy scams

Ancestry.com's blog recently warned against potentially fraudulent sites posing as genealogy websites.

It was posted by Ancestry.com's public relations director Mike Ward.

We have recently become aware of three websites purporting to allow family history research: SearchYourGenealogy.com, Ancestry-search.com and Australian-Ancestry.com. The sites claim to have “the largest online genealogical search tool” and promote themselves as the foremost resources for genealogy, but from what we can tell, these sites are nothing more than a series of web pages with links to other services. These sites, in our opinion, are clearly fraudulent.

On each site, potential customers are lured to purchase under what we feel to be false, misleading and deceitful promotional material, and get little or no value out of money spent at the websites. Blog and message board posts from the community confirm this opinion.

The people/companies behind the websites are buying very high level paid search results on Google and other sites. In addition, they are using trademarks of well-known websites, including Ancestry.com and Genealogy.com, to get higher-than-normal natural search results. It appears the site colors, fonts, and pictures on at least one site are designed to mislead people into believing the site is related to Ancestry.com.

As the leading online family history company, The Generations Network, Inc. and its website properties including Ancestry.com and its global network of Ancestry sites, Genealogy.com, and Rootsweb, we want to encourage consumers to validate and verify the legitimacy of a website before providing credit card information or paying for services. TGN will take appropriate administrative and legal action to do its part to protect the community from these sites.

About.com: Genealogy's Kimberly Powell's blog posting commented and added information:

....On a related note, there are also other Web sites on the net which make money in similar ways. Another series of genealogy sites that I've run into appear to be run by a company that calls itself Software Doctor, Inc. These include a host of sites such as birthrecords.ws, pennsylvania-records.com, freerecordsregistry.com, family-genealogy-search.com, etc. You can see an example of their affiliate program in this 2007 newsletter posted at softwaredoctor.com, but what I find intriguing is that the primary softwaredoctor.com URL now redirects to Google...

So how do you protect yourself from scams such as these. Unfortunately, many of these sites pay for high placement in search results on Google and other sites. Many also appear as "sponsored links" on reputable Web sites that support Google advertising, including Ancestry.com and even this site. This makes it appear the fraudulent site is being endorsed by the Web site on which it appears, although that is generally not the case. Therefore, before you provide anyone with credit card details or payment, check out the site and its claims to see what you can learn. There are a number of things you can do to identify and protect yourself from genealogy scams.

She offers an additional posting listing steps to identify such sites and protect yourself. Click the link for information on the following: What are you getting for your money? Look for contact information. Challenge search results. Look for repeated terms on the main page. Free isn't always free. Check out consumer complaint sites. Send them a question. Consult with others.

Masschusetts: Jewish history of Lawrence

A flurry of recent articles have focused on the Jewish history of various US towns, in connection with local historical societies and museum exhibits. Family historians, who may now live far from their family' roots, find such stories helpful as they look for additional information.

This one is about Lawrence, Massachusetts, with the local Hadassah chapter taking the lead.

The organization says that although the community is declining, it is important to remember the Jewish history. A Hadassah leader said "This is for those who will come after us, so they know what their roots are. There will always be young people who are wondering what the city was like and they should know what our forefathers did."

LAWRENCE — Jewish roots run deep in Lawrence.

Beginning in the 1870s, many Jewish families arrived in the city from Russia and Poland, soon becoming successful business owners and establishing synagogues and organizations.

Members of the Merrimack Valley chapter of Hadassah want to keep that history alive. The theme of the group's meeting tomorrow is "Rediscovering Our Roots in Lawrence."

"There's a whole rich history in Lawrence that people don't know about," said Sherry Comerchero, coordinator of the Merrimack Valley Jewish Coalition for Literacy. ...

At a brunch, Louise Sandberg, director of the Lawrence Public Library special collections department, highlighted the history of Jews who settled in Greater Lawrence, Haverhill and Lowell.

Jews first settled in the Common, Valley, Concord and Lowell street area and, in the 1920s, began moving to the Tower Hill section.

Congregation Ansha Sholum is the only synagogue in the city and one of New England's oldest. Originally on Lowell Street, both Temple Emanuel and Congregation Tifereth Israel have moved to Andover. The community also built a Jewish Community Center.

Jewish merchants owned dry goods and retail shops including fine men's clothing stores. Two were Kaps (opened in 1902) and Sandlers, both owned by Lithuanian Jews.

The Hadassah chapter, formed in Lawrence in 1925, has 600 members and recently merged with the Haverhill chapter.

Read the complete story for more information.

Ethiopia: Jewish history

Haaretz's story about the Ethiopian Jews, "Digging deeper in Ethiopia," by Anshel Pfeffer, is generally refuted and debated in The Ethiopian Review blog posting, "The Ethiopian Jewish history is not a 'Romeo and Juliet'."

The Haaretz story begins:

Digging deeper in Ethiopian

ADDIS ABABA - In the old Falasha village of Ambober, 15 kilometers outside Gondar, there are only Christians living today. All the village's original inhabitants left for Israel at least 17 years ago. The old ORT school which used to serve the Jewish community is now a government school. Opposite is the compound of the local synagogue.

In the Beita Israel custom, there are two separate buildings, and while the women's synagogue is still the original tuckul, made from lathe walls of mud and wood, someone has made a donation and redone the men's synagogue as a sturdy, stone-walled building. No one prays there but it is one of the main stops on the routes of Jewish and Israeli groups who tour the Gonder region.

Inside, there is a wooden bookcase that contains the siddurim (prayer books) and Hebrew books that served the community decades ago. They all bear the stamp of the religious services department of the World Zionist Organization. Among the dusty and time-eaten prayer books, bibles and Hebrew primers, I found one slim tome that seemed a bit out of place. It was a treatise on the laws of shehita printed by the famous "Brothers and Widow Rohm" Printers of Vilnius, in 1896.

The incongruity of finding such a title in a Falasha village, a community with its own distinct laws of ritual slaughter, so different from those practiced by Orthodox Jews in late 19th Century, is incredible. The owners' scrawl inside the cover leaves little doubt this book used to reside in the private library of a religious Jew somewhere in Eastern Europe before the Second World War. How did it find its way to the Horn of Africa? ...........

The Ethiopian Review posting begins:

The Ethiopian Jewish history is not a 'Romeo and Juliet'

The Ethiopian Jewish history is not a romantic history like the history of Romeo and Juliet; it is a religious history – a divine message, a revelation from the Almighty God, who purposely brought these children of God from his earthly city – Jerusalem – to Ethiopia almost thousands years ago.

The Ethiopian Jewish history is a well known fact that one does not have to dig deeper to find out the validity of this glorious Ethiopian Jewish history. The history of Ethiopia is the history of the Ethiopian Jewish people. If someone wants to know more about the reality of the Ethiopian Jewish history, one must read the Ethiopian prayer books among many others; one cannot read these prayer books without coming across, many times, these sweet words: “Amlake-Israel” (the God of Israel); also, one should read especially “saatat” the hourly or nightly prayer of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and one can see how many times “the God of Israel” has been mentioned there.

The writer of the article — Digging deeper in Ethiopia for the Jewish story — was dumbfounded when he descried among the “dirty and time-eaten prayer books” a collection of shehita whom he thought that someone had unknowingly “checked in the shehita book” and shipped it to Ethiopia. Could the same thing also be said about the Ark of the Covenant that when King Solomon ordered thousands of Jews to accompany his first Son, Menelik I, to Ethiopia, some of these Jews who were in a hurry because the King’s order was urgent, unknowingly chucked in the Ark of the Covenant and brought it with them to Ethiopia? It is possible it could have happened this way instead of saying that they had stolen the Ark. ........

Read the complete articles (links above).

11 April 2008

Chicago: Sephardic Model Seder, Sephardic concert

The fifth annual Sephardic Model Seder, led by the famous Greek-born tenor Cantor Alberto Mizrahi of Anshe Emet Synagogue, took place recently. The event is held every year by the Alliance for Jews and Latinos,

Today Ladino is a dying language spoken by less than 200,000 mostly Sephardic Jews. But in Chicago, Ladino is helping Latinos and Jews find common ground. The Sephardic Model Seder, a special Passover celebration, is held every year by the Alliance for Jews and Latinos, a group that aims to return to the common denominator of their distant pasts, says Bonnie Rubinow, member of the Alliance Board.

The story offers quotes from the cantor and participants.

MIZRAHI: one of the things I like to do, is when we recount, there’s a word in Hebrew it´s called dayenu, in Sephardic or Ladino, it's called Abastaba a nos, it would have been enough for us, it would have sufficed us. Look at all the great things at the end it says had He taken us out of Egypt, it would have sufficed us…but if we had received the Torah…it would still have sufficed us, it gets greater and greater, all the things Gods did for us to take us out of Egypt….
Latinos who attend the Seder appreciate the telling of the freedom story of the Jewish people in a language that appears to be a distant cousin of the Spanish language, and it also reminds them of other freedom stories, says Olga Rojas.

Read about the sold-out event and listen to the interview and sound clips of Mizrahi here.

The Alliance is also co-sponsoring a Sephardic Legacy concert at the Instituto Cervantes in Chicago, at 12.30pm, Friday, April 18, with Barcelona-born composer/pianist Manuel García Morante and soprano Yrene Martínez-Roca.

For more details, click here or here.

10 April 2008

San Francisco: StoryCorps at Jewish Museum

Door-to-Door is the mobile division of StoryCorps, and it will visit the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco through a program of the Bay Area JCC's Cultural Collaboration, from 9am-5pm, Tuesday, April 22.

StoryCorps records conversations between two people who are important to each other, archiving them for posterity at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Take part in this revolutionary project by nominating an older relative or loved one.

Additionally, StoryCorps will be at the Contemporary Jewish Museum for a year from October 12, so visitors can record personal stories in a recording and listening "outpost" in the first floor gallery. Participants take home a copy, while another is given to the LOC.

To nominate a loved one to participate or for more information, click here.

Bnai Menashe: Jewish roots

The Bnei Menashe of India are discussed in this Haaretz article

In the 1940s, Dr. Hofalam Miluy Lantang was a young Indian doctor treating the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribe that lives in north-eastern India. In his travels among the tribe's villages, he heard songs and saw traditions that sparked his curiosity and he decided to document them, without realizing their significance.

Only in 1999, more than 50 years later, in a meeting with Hillel Halkin, a writer and Israeli journalist researching the connection between the tribe's members and the Jewish people, did he discover that the traditions he recorded do indeed link the tribe to the Jews. These are the same traditions that prompted some tribe members to define themselves as Bnei Menashe, some 800 of whom have already immigrated to Israel, while thousands more are waiting to follow their example.

Lantang, now 88, was interviewed during his visit to Israel last week. He was afraid the customs would disappear so he began recording them. He says the customs have all disappeared and that his documentation is the only proof.

Customs include:

Repetition of words Manamasi (Menashe) in many of the tribe's songs, especially describing their travel across Asia. The group's "Song of the Sea" is a description reminiscent of the Exodus:

"When there was a king, the Red Sea dried up/in the afternoon we were guided by a cloud and at night by fire/during the day we fought many enemies/but those enemies were swallowed up by the Red Sea/and for those same people there is water that came forth from the rock."

Their Festival of Rice Bread resembles Passover. All year the tribe ate bread from rice with yeast. Once a year (May-June) during a three-day holiday, they ate rice bread without yeast.

In relation to circumcision, the Kuki tribe do not follow this tradition. However, an infant born without a foreskin is referred to as having "a sex organ of the old style," a reference to the fact that this tradition was followed in the past.

Hillel Halkin, author of "Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel," describes the Bnei Menashe's journeys, and Lantang's role. Although some researchers say the tribe learned similar Jewish customs from Christian missionaries or from the New Testament, Halkin says Lantang's work showed the traditions existed long before as he recorded songs transmitted through the generations long before the missionaries arrived.

Some 800 of the Bnei Menashe have already immigrated to Israel. Some reports indicate another 7,000 wish to immigrate as well.