30 January 2009

Holocaust Remembrance: Human faces of tragedy

This year's stories - published in connection with Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 - touched on survivors in many countries and their stories.

Here are just three: A Connecticut resident who returned to his German hometown and saw how the citizens had restored the synagogue and cemetery, a Texas writer recounting her trip to Terezin with a Holocaust survivor, and two Kindertransport children revealing their stories.

Returning to Wetter

From The Connecticut Post, by managing editor Michael J. Daly

Bridgeport resident Harry Weichsel, 75, recounts his harrowing escape from Nazi Germany as a boy, and his decision to return 16 years ago to Wetter, Germany, where his nightmare had begun. The story focuses on his 5-day November trip to the small town (some 9,000 residents), to a restoration of the old synagogue, a Jewish museum, a restored Jewish cemetery.

This most recent chapter in Harry's odyssey started 16 years ago when he decided to act on his longing to reconcile his own past and present, and a longing, as he put it, "to validate my faith in the intrinsic goodness of man."

In 1992, Harry and daughter Donna flew to Wetter to find people who remembered his mother and grandparents. They met the then-mayor Dieter Rincke, and over the next few years, Harry proposed reclaiming the old synagogue building, making it a place where people could come together, and where they could learn about the town's Jewish heritage.

Ultimately, the town embraced the idea. They secured the building in 2005 and began work. "It's amazing what these people did," Harry said the other day. "You can imagine what the politics might have been. 'Why are we digging all this stuff up from the past?' " he said. "But you know," he said, "the Germans of today are not responsible for the actions of generations before them. These families got together and said we should not deny history, but they made the statement that we are a new generation. We're not going to carry the anger and the guilt forward."
The story caught the eye of an ex-pat American in Barcelona, Micah Brandt, a documentary filmmaker. A portion of his film, "Robbery of the Heart," is online and documents the trip. The group of 10 toured Wetter and a nearby university town, Marburg.

At one point, the current mayor Kai-Uwe Spanka called Harry aside.
"He was crying," Harry said, "and I said 'What's wrong?' and he told me that the Jewish cemetery had been desecrated over night."
Two young men were arrested a few days later. Harry calls it the work of a couple of pathetic losers, and that what stays with him is what the true people of Wetter did.
"It shows what one person, or one little town in this case, can do to set a tone for a larger world in terms of reaching out and celebrating our shared humanity. Harry gave a speech the night before they left. "What did you say?" I asked. He looked at me and said, "I said exactly what I told you I was going to say. I said, 'When people ask me where I'm from, I've told them I'm from Bridgeport. But now, I'm so proud to tell them I'm from Wetter in Hessen in Germany.' "

Visiting Terezin with a survivor

From the Austin (Texas) Statesman, a Terezin travel story, by Becca Hensley, who says that some holidays teach unexpected life lessons.

The door slams shut in the van, encapsulating our small group of strangers in a weighted silence. Outside on the streets, a cold wind blows and the early morning sun casts an orange light on the eerily beautiful buildings of the Jewish Quarter.

The small, baseball cap bedecked man in the front seat turns to us solemnly and looks us each in the eye, as if gaining our unspoken permission — as if to say: "Are you ready for this?" Instead, he introduces himself: "Hello, My name is Pavel Stransky — and I am a survivor."

Nobody says a word. To answer seems somehow inadequate. We wait and slowly the van moves along the ancient streets of the Jewish Quarter, crosses a bridge that spans the Vltava River and continues to the edge of the castle district. We're heading to Terezin, a place of suffering, a former concentration camp 40 miles from the city.

In Prague, Wittman Tours offers intimate tours of the city and its environs. For Terezin tour, Holocaust survivors are the guides. Along the way, Stransky tells stories.

"Some people said that Terezin was not a concentration camp," he says, wistful, shaking his head and looking out the window at the passing landscape. "But for the old, the very young, the sick, it was a place of extermination." Indeed.

They visit a gallery filled with art created by the inhabitants, which says more than words. He tells his story and those of others, as they visit the Ghetto Museum, railway, crematorium, underground factory, a hidden prayer room and other locations.

Most amazing, is Stransky's infectious joy and wit, his sense of humor amid the gloom. "My testimony is my gratitude for my survival," he says. "I am a messenger." He makes a true connection with my children, who are enthralled. My daughter confides in me that she wants to give him a hug and hold his hand. He's vulnerable, but strong — and she knows it. Spritelike, he leans over both of the kids, looking into their eyes soulfully — he transmits history to them. This is one of the best — and most difficult — days of our lives.

The story includes travel and hotel details for readers planning their own visits.

The Ultimate Sacrifice

In the Coventry Telegraph (UK), a story by Cara Simpson about the remembrance ceremony held in that town, focusing on twins Susi and Lotte Bechofer who, at age 3, and Gerda Lewin Kerr, who arrived at age 7, both on Kindertransport.

Their mother was aware she might never see them again, but she also knew it was the only way of saving them from the persecution of the Nazis.

Susi, who now lives in Rugby, was one of 10,000 young war refugees taken out of Germany just before the Second World War on what became known as Kindertransport.

It probably saved them the horror of the Nazi death camps.

Adopted by a childless Welsh Baptist minister and his wife, near Cardiff, their identity was stripped away.

Susi became Grace and Lotte became Eunice. They were told never to ask about their past. The twins were brought up as Christians, never knowing of their Jewish ancestry and that their mother had perished at Auschwitz.

Lotte fell severely ill with a brain tumour and she was to die at the age of 35. Susi suffered years of cruelty at the hands of her foster father.

Susi, now in her 70s, first came across her real identity as she entered an exam room to take her O-levels and was told to sit in the B section – B for Bechhofer.

Only in her 50s, did Susi finally discover the truth: her mother, Rosa Bechhofer, was unmarried; her father, Otto Hald, was a Nazi soldier.

Inspired after hearing a radio program about Kindertransport, Susi (a psychotherapist) found relatives in New York whom she later visited.

“I think my mother stood up to hatred the day she put both me and my sister on to the Kindertransport,” she said. “Knowing what she did makes me respect her even more because it takes a lot of courage to stand up to hatred and there’s a real need for it today.

“It’s thanks to people like my mother who made the ultimate sacrifice of sending their children away that the story is still being told.”

Susi wrote a 1996 book titled Rosa’s Child.

Recalling her early years, Susi said: “Those who grow up with loving families cannot understand what it is like to grow up without a single relative in the world.

“I had become more and more lost as the years went by. I was depressed and it was becoming increasingly difficult to mobilise myself. My life became quite dark and gloomy.

“It really was like a fairy-story to find my family.

“The clouds have lifted and I do feel wonderful after all that pain.”

The Coventry event was the first time Gerda Kerr, 76, had gathered with other survivors. She was 7 when she fled Germany on Kindertransport.

The grandmother-of-three said: “I’m quite apprehensive really as I’ve never been to anything like it before and there are people who have experienced it all first hand, whereas my only experience is that I had to leave my homeland.

“I was lucky, very lucky indeed. I may have been young but I have a good memory. I was old enough to know what was going on and how devastating it was.

“I just hope history doesn’t repeat itself although hatred is happening all around us today.”

Read the complete stories at the links above.

29 January 2009

WDYTYA: Impact on genealogy, American-style?

We had all better be prepared for April 20 as soon as the first episode ends on the US version of the run-away BBC hit genealogy show, Who Do You Think You Are? Will the US genealogy industry be ready for the "Invasion of the Ancestor Seekers"?

Randy Seaver's Genea-Amusing post asked if genealogy societies will be ready for the aftermath and offered a plethora of suggestions and recommendations. Among them: having "how-to" classes ready to go; handling media inquiries; advertising opportunities and much more.

Thomas MacAntee posted on Geneabloggers.com about the possible impact the show may have on geneabloggers and asked bloggers to chime in.

What do I think? I'm betting our computers will melt from overload and - considering the backgrounds of the first three announced celebs - Jewish genealogy resources may well be in the forefront of the onslaught.

An additional impact of the show may be to mitigate some economic downturn factors for the genealogy industry - mentioned previously by Randy, Leland and Tracing the Tribe - by creating a large pool of newly-inspired beginning researchers.

Tracing the Tribe first informed readers about the upcoming NBC version here in March 2008.

NBC's press release (see below) indicates that the first three announced celebrities will be Lisa Kudrow, Sarah Jessica Parker and Susan Sarandon - all with Jewish ancestry. Kudrow went back to Belarus for her search, but I don't yet know about Parker's and Sarandon's segments. As I've mentioned, Kudrow's family and mine are from the Mogilev area of Belarus.

Another MOT (Member of the Tribe) actor David Schwimmer (also from "Friends") will appear in the BBC version next season.

NBC offered a blurb on their site:

From producer Lisa Kudrow comes a new series that is unlike anything on U.S. television. Based on the popular BBC documentary series, Who Do You Think You Are? takes viewers on an inspiring and personal journey into the past of America's best-known celebrities, sharing their emotion and surprise as they uncover stories of heroism, tragedy, love and betrayal that lie at the heart of their family story. At the same time, the series celebrates the making of our great nation and the people who traveled here in search of freedom and opportunity.One-hour alternative series

The short item ended with a peek at what else is expected, including an archive of celebrity ancestry information, and the ability for users to get started on a personal search into family history.

Here's the NBC press release:

BURBANK - January 27, 2009 - Some of today’s most-beloved and iconic celebrities including Lisa Kudrow, Sarah Jessica Parker and Susan Sarandon are set to star in NBC’s new alternative series “Who Do You Think You Are?” premiering on Monday, April 20 (8-9 p.m. ET).

From executive producer Kudrow (”Friends,” “The Comeback”) in conjunction with her production company Is or Isn’t Entertainment and the U.K.’s Wall to Wall productions, the series - an adaptation of the award-winning hit British television documentary series - will lead celebrities on a journey of self-discovery as they unearth their family trees that reveal surprising, inspiring and even tragic stories that often are linked to crucial events in American history.

Additional celebrity names will be announced shortly.

The announcement was made today by Paul Telegdy, Executive Vice President, Alternative Programming, NBC and Universal Media Studios.

“No other program gives this unique glimpse into the personal lives of celebrities or takes viewers on a quantum leap through history in such an entertaining way,” said Telegdy. “We are thrilled to have Lisa, Susan and Sarah Jessica kick off this groundbreaking series.”

“This show personalizes history and turns it into a gripping narrative,” said Kudrow. “The most striking thing about the show is the realization of how connected we all are.”

Each episode will take viewers on an emotional, personal - and often mysterious - quest following one of America’s best-known celebrities into his or her past, sharing the celebrity’s surprise as they uncover stories of heroism and tragedy, love and betrayal, secrets and intrigue that lie at the heart of their family history.

At the same time, the series celebrates the twists and turns of a developing great nation and the people who made their way here in search of freedom and opportunity. As each one discovers their unknown relatives - most of whom overcame hard times - the show will take the audience back into world history to expose how the lives of everyone’s collective ancestors’ have shaped today’s world.

“Who Do You Think You Are?” is produced by
Wall to Wall productions in association with Is Or Isn’t Entertainment. Alex Graham and Lucy Carter from Wall to Wall and Lisa Kudrow, Dan Bucatinsky and Don Roos from Is or Isn’t Entertainment are the executive producers. Bryn Freedman (”Intervention”) is the co-executive producer. The unique, award-winning series is based on the popular BBC television documentary series created and executive-produced by Alex Graham.

Wall to Wall is an Emmy Award-winning producer of factual and drama programming. Recently voted one of the seven most creative production companies in the world by the Real Screen Global 100 List, Wall to Wall is best known in the U.S. for the break-out reality formats “Frontier House” and “Colonial
House.” Is or Isn’t Entertainment has been developing and producing television for the last five years, producing the critically acclaimed and Emmy nominated series “The Comeback.”

Where will you be at 8pm on April 20? I'm hoping it will be shown here in Israel, but I can't count on seeing it as it happens. FYI, an Israeli version of the show is also being prepared.

28 January 2009

Iran: Jewish genealogists at work?

Ahmadinejad is Jewish? This possibility must be the talk of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Teheran - if there were one!

According to an Iranian blog post, the family's original name was SABORCHIAN and the hometown was Aradan in Semnan province - a carpet weaving center.

The name means a thread painter in the handwoven carpet industry. SABOR is the occupation. CHI is the "occupational" ending as in "one who does something" and IAN means "son of." So for the sake of genealogy and names, the name means more correctly, "the son of one who paints threads." His town of origin is Aradan, in the Semnan region of Iran.

Anyone up for the challenge of gathering Y-DNA and mtDNA samples from Ahmadinejad?

Here are links for more information.

In July 2008, the satire/parody site The Naked Loon carried a piece that began:

In a press conference from Jerusalem on Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the stunning findings of a team of Iran’s best genealogists: Ahmadinejad is a sixteenth Jewish.
A few years prior, in July 2005, a Guardian article revealed a name change for the Iranian president's family "for a mixture of religious and economic reasons" according to the president's relatives, but there was no claim of specific background.

This week, the story on Radio Free Europe centered on a blog post written by Mehdi Khazali, son of a conservative ayatollah, with a similar claim. He wrote that Ahmadinejad had changed his name, that the family was Jewish and that the president's ID card reflects the change. Read Khazali's post here if Farsi is one of your languages; see the fourth paragraph.

IsraelNN.com reported:
Several Iranian media sources are quoting Mahdi Khazali – the son of a leading supporter of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – as having written in a blog that the president has Jewish roots. So reports the Hebrew-language Omedia website and Radio Free Europe.

Khazali, son of Ayatollah Abu Al-Kassam Khazali, says that Ahmadinejad changed his Jewish name on his ID card in order to hide his roots. Khazali the son says that the president hides his Jewish roots by attacking Israel and the Jews, and by expressing strong Muslim religious beliefs. A record of the name change still appears on the president’s ID card, however, says Khazali. His old name was Saburjian, and he hails from the Aradan region of Iran. The accusations appear in an article Khazali wrote entitled, “The Jews in Iran.” He says the time has come to “reveal the truth” about the Jews’ role in Iran.

The alleged ID card (shenasnameh, in Farsi) change image is not (yet) online.

The ID card in Iran contains many personal details such as births, marriages, divorces, father's and mother's names, etc. The ID card, in the bad old days, would often have the word kalimi - indicating Jewish - next to the individual's name, although many people managed to have the word removed.

Readers should also know that name changes were very common in Iran, for Persians of all religions and backgrounds. A family with a name indicating a humble or lower-class profession would change their name as they became more affluent. Surnames were not officially required until Reza Shah came to power in 1925 and declared that his people must have surnames.

When they were instructed to select names, the most commonly chosen were an occupational name, a geographical location (such as town of origin), a father's or grandfather's first name (with an ending of -IAN or -I or -ZADEH, all indicating "of" or "son of") or a physical characteristic, trait or virtue. In other words, name choice was much the same as worldwide.

One rule - to prevent confusion - was that only one family from each town could choose the same surname. Thus, in the Jewish community, there are several BERUKHIM famiiles - the difference is that they are originally from different towns, such as Kashan, Isfahan and elsewhere and later moved to Teheran. In another example, a family that had originally selected a humble occupational name such as ROGHANI (oilpresser or seller) later changed it to SHADGU (speaks well) reflecting the family's upwardly mobile status.

Our family began using DARDASHTI (from Dardasht in Isfahan) as soon as they arrived in Teheran circa1850. This was documented as the family name in Elkanan Adler's 1898 book - Jews of Many Lands - in a list of Jewish community leaders. A closely related branch that moved to Teheran from Isfahan much later, registered as DARDASHTIAN (a variant) even though they were entitled to use the original name as close relatives of the earlier arrivals.

Code of Honor: Muslim Albanians rescued Jews during Holocaust

"BESA: A Code of Honor - Muslim Albanians who rescued Jews during the Holocaust," opened January 27 in Ramle, Israel.

World War II, only 200 Jews lived in Albania, but after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, hundreds of Jews crossed into Albania from Yugoslavia, Germany, Greece, Austria and Serbia. When the Nazis occupied the country in 1943, the local population refused to comply with orders to turn over lists of Jews living there. There were more Jews in Albania after the war than before.

This assistance was grounded in Besa, a code of honor, meaning literally “to keep the promise.” One who acts according to Besa is someone who keeps his word, someone to whom one can trust one’s life and the lives of one’s family. There were more Jews in Albania after the war than before.

“Why did my father save a stranger at the risk of his life and the entire village? My father was a devout Muslim. He believed that to save one life is to enter paradise.” - Enver Alia Sheqer, son of Righteous Among the Nations Ali Sheqer Pashkaj, featured in the BESA exhibition.

According to Lime Balla, whose photograph appears in the exhibit (see the BESA link below):

All of us villagers were Muslims. We were sheltering God’s children under our Besa.

I was born in 1910. In 1943, at the time of Ramadan, seventeen people from Tirana came to our village of Shengjergji. They were all escaping from the Germans. At first I didn’t know they were Jews. We divided them amongst the villagers. We took in three brothers by the name of Lazar.

We were poor - we didn’t even have a dining table - but we never allowed them to pay for the food or shelter. I went into the forest to chop wood and haul water. We grew vegetables in our garden so we all had plenty to eat. The Jews were sheltered in our village for fifteen months. We dressed them all as farmers, like us. Even the local police knew that the villagers were sheltering Jews. I remember they spoke many different languages.

In December of 1944 the Jews left for Priština, where a nephew of ours, who was a partisan, helped them. After that we lost all contact with the Lazar brothers. It was not until 1990, forty-five years later, that Sollomon and Mordehaj Lazar made contact with us from Israel.
American photographer Norman Gershman spent four years photographing Muslim Righteous Among the Nations and their families in Albania. The exhibit features 17 of the portraits with explanatory texts. Of the 22,000 people so far recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, 63 are from Albania.

The Hebrew/Arabic exhibit opened at the Ramle (Israel) Museum with the participation of Yad Vashem chair Avner Shalev, Ramle Mayor Yoel Lavie with city Arab-Israeli high school students.

For the next three months, groups of the city's Arab and Jewish students will visit in special programs run by Vad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies, in cooperation with Ramle, with the support of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport.

Said Shalev:

“It is our hope that this important exhibition will further understanding of the Holocaust, offering a glimpse into the difficult choices that people faced. We are committed to providing accurate and comprehensive information about the Holocaust to as wide an audience as possible. Over the past year, we have launched a website and YouTube channel in Arabic, providing those who wish to know, with the tools and information they need to combat ignorance and denial.”

In 2008, an English/Hebrew version of the exhibit was presented at Yad Vashem and at UN Headquarters in New York.

For more information on BESA, to read some of the stories and see some of the photographs, click here.

For more information about the Righteous Among the Nation program, click here.

Obermayer awards: Six Germans honored

The Obermayer German Jewish History Awards, funded by Boston philanthropist, are in their ninth year.
The awards recognize non-Jewish Germans' efforts to keep alive their nation's Jewish cultural past, and the recipients are nominated by Jews living outside of Germany.
The awards were presented January 27, at Abgeordnetenhaus, home of the Berlin Parliament.
To read the complete text for each honoree, click on the link next to each name.
Hans-Dieter Arntz (English)

Washington, DC: Foods our ancestors ate, Feb. 8

Now, this is a great program for all of us foodie genealogists. I wish I had a transporter so I could beam to DC for this one.

"The Foods Our Ancestors Ate" will be presented by food expert and cookbook author Joan Nathan at 1pm, Sunday, February 8, hosted by the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington, at Adas Israel, 2850 Quebec St., NW, Washington DC.

A regular contributor to the New York Times, Nathan has authored 10 cookbooks. Her holiday cookbook has been on my shelf since it was published a l-o-n-g time ago. Its pages are lovingly speckled with the drips and splashes created during preparations of many happy meals - not the fast-food kind.

JGSGW is planning to produce a heritage cookbook and attendees at this program are asked to bring along (preferably typed) a family recipe - one that has come down two or three generations to the present. The gsociety would like to have something on the recipe's history or its creator/cook, maybe even a photo of an ancestor preparing the family favorite? Send the recipes here.

Recipes will be accepted from non-members, so if you live elsewhere in the world, feel free to send in your family favorites and participate in a great project.

Admission: JGSGW members, free; others, $5.

Since Jewish genealogy covers every topic imaginable, and food is so essential to preserving family traditions, wouldn't it be great to have a Jewish gastronomy track at an upcoming conference with specialists speaking (and perhaps demonstrating?) both Ashkenazi and Sephardi delights?

27 January 2009

DNA: New study predicts Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry

A genetic signature of Jewish ancestry perfectly separates individuals with and without full Jewish ancestry in a large random sample of European Americans, according to a new study in Genome Biology (January 2009).

Authors are Anna C Need, Dalia Kasperaviciute, Elizabeth T Cirulli and David B Goldstein. Goldstein authored Jacob's Legacy (click here).

The researchers conclude:
within Americans of European ancestry there is a perfect genetic corollary of Jewish ancestry which, in principle, would permit near perfect genetic inference of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry. In fact, even subjects with a single Jewish grandparent can be statistically distinguished from those without Jewish ancestry.
The team further concludes that in the context of the sample studied:
... it is possible to predict full Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry with 100% sensitivity and 100% specificity, although it should be noted that the exact dividing line between a Jewish and non-Jewish cluster will vary across sample sets which in practice would reduce the accuracy of the prediction.
Download the study here, with charts available as separate files. This is a slow download - be patient.

Why this study? The paper indicates that although it was recently shown that genetic distinction between self-identified Ashkenazi Jewish and non-Jewish individuals can be seen in European American genetic patterns, no study had shown how accurate was that self-identified Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, or the degree of Jewish ancestry among individuals with fewer than four Jewish grandparents.

The random sample included 611 unrelated self-described Caucasian subjects - most in America - who specifically reported whether they had Jewish ancestry, and if so, how many grandparents were Jewish. Each participant was genotyped for some 550,000 polymorphic markers. See the study for the breakdown of the group which included a very tiny minority of Sephardim. Most Jews were Ashkenazi.

The study indicated that every participant with self-reported full Jewish ancestry had a higher score than an individual with no Jewish ancestry. Sephardic participants were only only a few, so results cannot provide information on Sephardic or Mizrachi Jews.

In one paragraph, it appears researchers are not aware of Jewish history or migration - I was surprised that Goldstein did not further explain this quote in the study.
The majority of informative subjects with no Jewish ancestry that scored most highly on PC1 were either of Italian or Eastern Mediterranean descent.
To me, it is obvious why these particular participants with "no Jewish ancestry" scored so high. Following the expulsions from Spain (1492), Sicily (1493) and later Portugal, the Jewish population of Sicily was the largest in the world. Following that expulsion, Jews crossed the Straits of Messina into Calabria where the population was estimated as 50% Jewish. I also believe that the term Eastern Mediterranean actually refers to Greece (more specifically Rhodes and Salonika) and Turkey (Istanbul and other cities), which were major destinations for Sephardic Jews following these expulsions.

According to the article, the analysis makes clear that those with full Jewish ancestry are genetically distinct from those having no self-reported Jewish ancestry. Those who self-identified as Jewish and knew their origins were nearly all Ashkenazim. Of the Jewish participants who didn't know whether they were Ashkenazim or Sephardim, but could say where a grandparent had come from, most had Eastern or Central European roots. None had Mediterranean or Middle Eastern ancestry.

Read the complete study at the link above.

Sephardim: Etymology of marrano

Tracing the Tribe has received what can be best described as a reader's comment with some not-very-nice political comments. This is a genealogy blog and not a political blog, and therefore I rejected the offensive political comments.

However, the reader did pose a legitimate question and comment based on my request to readers not to use the term marrano to refer to anousim/Conversos.

The writer asked:
Why is marrano pejorative? Marrano, contrary to what one has been led to believe doesn't come from castilian "pig" but from Catalan marda: sheep, lamb.
Although I know why the word is pejorative and why my Converso friends consider it insulting and extremely rude, I asked my good friend researcher Maria Jose Surribas in Barcelona to research the etymology.

Writes Maria Jose:
About the meaning of the word marrano, as it has been discussed, I've looked at the best etymological dictionary in Spain, by Coromines.

He speaks about the discussion on this word origin, and says that Farinelli, in his book
"Marrano, Storia di un vituperio" (Ginebra 1925), provided a rich number of documents to state that this word was used to call the newly converted Jews and Moors, as they hate pork and marrano is a figurative meaning for pig.

According to Coromines, the word
marrano as pig or swine was already used in a document from the year 965, and was applied to the converted Moors as they were also forbidden to eat pork. In Portugal, the word was marrao, and both of them probably come from the Arabic máhran (forbidden thing).

The word used in Catalan is
marrá. Coromines also says that the use of sheep to describe the conversos was used by the Moors to call the converted Jews, as marrano described both Jews and Moors.
The rest of the reader's comments will not be addressed as they were political in nature and have no place on Tracing the Tribe.

26 January 2009

DC2011: Logo contest announced

Calling all creative people!

The 31st IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is looking for a unique logo for the summer 2011 conference to be held in Washington, DC. The deadline for proposals is March 1.

This post contains recent conference logos.

The winning entry will be used on the website, letterhead, publications and publicity.

The winning design will be announced at the JGSGW Luncheon on June 7, and the designer of the logo will receive a free ticket to the DC2011 Conference Banquet.

Not to second-guess the conference committee, but I think that the designer of such a prominent logo to be used on all conference materials should receive full conference registration, considering what a graphic designer would charge to do this work.

In any case, the logo requirements are:
- Be in the PNG (Portable Network Graphics) format
- Be 6” by 6”
- Contain a minimum of two and a maximum of three colors
- Must contain this text: “31st IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy” and “DC 2011”
- Have a Jewish element
- Have a genealogy/family history element
- Have a Washington, DC element
- May have a theme line.
The Conference Advisory Committee will select the winner based on attractiveness and originality. If no entry submitted by the deadline is suitable, the committee may request additional submissions or request that a submission that meets all of the minimum requirements be modified to create a more suitable choice.

For all contest questions and logo submissions: send them to DC2011_Conference@comcast.net, along with submitter's name and contact details (email, phone). Non-member entries will be considered.

Sharpen your colored pencils! Get set! Go!

24 January 2009

Seattle: Polish heroes exhibit, through Feb. 13

"Polish Heroes: Those Who Rescued Jews" is an exhibit at the Suzzallo Library, University of Washington, Seattle It is open through February 13. For more information, click here

This moving exhibition by photographer Chris Schwartz tells the story of 21 Poles who rescued Jews during the World War II German occupation of Poland. Each of these heroic individuals still resides in the Krakow region today. This exhibition is a tribute to the "Polish Righteous Among Nations" created by the Auschwitz Jewish Center in Oswiecim, Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, and the Polish American Jewish Alliance for Youth Action.
Five companion lectures (free admission) are also scheduled Thursdays at Kane Hall, Room 220 at UW. The first two have taken place.

7.30pm, January 29
"Irena Sendler's Children"
Prof. Przemyslaw Chojnowski
Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań

7.30pm, February 5
"Henry Friedman, Holocaust Survivor: One of the Rescued"
Henry Friedman

7.30pm, February 12
"Rescue in the Polish Countryside- Politics, Differentiation in the Occupied Village"
Prof. Keely Stauter-Halsted
Michigan State University
The exhibit and lectures are sponsored by the University of Washington Polish Studies Endowment Committee, Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles, and Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center, in cooperation with the University of Washington Slavic Department, Jewish Studies Program, Ellison Center, and History Department.

Los Angeles: Secret Jews, search for identity, Feb. 8

"Secret Jews: History and Culture of Crypto-Jews and Their Search for Jewish Roots and Identity," will be presented by Arthur Benveniste, at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County.

As Tracing the Tribe readers know, this subject is one in which I am very personally interested. I am fortunate to know many Converso families and am particularly interested in their preservation of Judaism, observance, customs and traditions within their families since their New World arrival in the early 1600s. Many Conversos have always known their history, while other Hispanics are just learning about their Jewish roots. Many are conflicted about how to handle this new information as to their heritage.

The meeting begins at 1.30pm, Sunday, February 8, at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, which of course is not technically Los Angeles, but is well within driving distance of the city for this excellent program.
In the 14th and 15th centuries, Jews of Spain and Portugal were forced to convert to Catholicism. Many families kept the knowledge of their Jewish past for 500 years, transmitting it in secret to their children and often continuing to practice Jewish rites covertly.

Many of the descendants of these Crypto-Jews are now seeking their Jewish heritage. Mr. Benveniste's presentation will follow the history of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, their forced conversion, the emergence of crypto-Judaism, how it came to the Americas, and the discovery of their Jewish background by many Hispanics in the Americas today.
Benveniste has been active in the Society for Crypto Judaic Studies (SCJS) since 1993, was president (2001-2003), and co-editor of the group's newsletter, Halapid. He has traveled to Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Peru, Italy, Morocco, Turkey and Greece. In 1992, King Juan Carlos of Spain invited him to return to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Expulsion.

There is no charge to attend the program. For more details, address, and more click here.

SCJS also holds an annual conference - this year in Denver, August 2-4. I missed the conference last year due to scheduling details, and was really looking forward to attending the SCJS event this summer. Unfortunately, the timing conflicts with the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (August 2-7, Philadelphia). I encourage the leadership of all conferences focusing on Jewish heritage, genealogy, history and research to check the calendar to try to avoid head-on conflicts with other major events.

The SCJS is also publishing an annual journal with academic, peer-reviewed papers - Journal of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian Crypto Jews - which will soon be available. Florida International University will publish it with editor-in-chief FIU Professor of History Abraham Lavender, editor Dolores Sloan (HaLapid's former editor) and business manager Arthur Benveniste.

For many HaLapid articles, click here to read them online.

Philly 2009: Registration to open February 1

Most of the website for the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (Philly 2009) is now online.

The event takes place August 2-7, in Philadelphia.

Event and hotel registration will go live about February 1, according to conference chairs David Mink and Anne Feder Lee.

Bookmark the site to learn exciting announcements as they are made and, of course, stay tuned to Tracing the Tribe for announcements as they are provided.

23 January 2009

Another gen journal now online

Printed genealogical journals are a good thing to have, but not everyone has access to the print version. Thus, the joint venture of the Connecticut Society of Genealogists (CSG) and the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) to make the CSG journal available online as a searchable database was good news.

CSG has published its journal, "The Connecticut Nutmegger," since 1968.
During this time it has captured a wealth of information for genealogists such as vital records, probate records, bible records, headstone records, memorials and other useful records. The Nutmegger also presents well-documented family histories and genealogical articles, covering hundreds of families – mainly with Connecticut ties. Published articles include commentary on and corrections to previously published family lines, vital records and town histories. Book reviews, research tips, queries and other valuable tools for genealogists are also available.

As of January 22, it is now available as a searchable database on both the CSG site and that of the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS).

The joint venture has, according to CSG publication committee chair Dick Tomlinson, brought "forty years of accumulated genealogical treasures off the bookshelves and into digital databases,” while NEHGS president/CEO D. Brenton Simons said, "countless people will benefit from having it available online."

It will be released in stages over 2009. This week, Volumes 1-6 (1968-1973) were released indexing 12,347 names and 477 subject records. Additional groups of five volumes will be added periodically.

Search by last and/or first name, or subject keywords. Original page images can be seen from the search results page. Visitors can also search the journal by entering a year or volume number and page number.

For more, click on both sites below.

NEHGS, located in Boston, is the oldest non-profit genealogical organization in the US, with more than 23,000 members. Its research library has more than 12 million books, journals, photos, documents, records and microfilms, in addition to one of the largest genealogy manuscript collections covering more than 400 years of local and family history.

CSG, located in East Hartford, has more than 3,300 members. Its research library has more than 18,000 member charts.

JewishGen: Server transfer, temporary downtime

If you need something from JewishGen, check it now as the servers are being transferred from Texas to the new Ancestry.com data center beginning Tuesday, January 27. This means temporary downtime of an undetermined period.

Managing director Warren Blatt said:

We hope to make this transition as quickly as possible. But in order to ensure the complete and reliable transfer of data, it will be necessary to completely shut down all JewishGen servers for a period of time.

We will start up the new servers as soon as possible, but we may encounter some "bumps" in our initial operations in the new location, as there are many programs and operations to be ported and configured.

We anticipate that after the transition, JewishGen will be stronger, faster, and more reliable than ever. Thank you for your continued patience and support, and we look forward to providing you with an ever-improving JewishGen experience.

Most of us remember what it is like to get a new desktop computer or a laptop, configure it to our needs and get it working correctly. That's a relatively simple task, compared to this major server transfer.

This is a much bigger event, so all sorts of technical bumps may occur. While everyone hopes the transfer will be completed quickly, please be patient.

And, if you need information from JewishGen, access it before Tuesday morning, Texas time.

22 January 2009

'Defiance' - Family ties survived the forest

I contacted a Moscow cousin - Girsh Talalay - more than a decade ago.

His father, a young medical student, had been killed very early in the war. He and his mother had escaped to the partisans in the forest. Girsh told me that for years all they had to eat in the forest were "twigs and leaves," but they survived.

All Girsh said were "the partisans." I never asked who or where because I didn't know at the time about the Bielski brothers, whose inspired story is presented in the new film, "Defiance."

In New Jersey, Molly Kaplan, with family ties to the focus of the film, shared her story with CentralJersey.com. If it wasn't for the Bielski brothers, she wouldn't have been able to tell that story.

Henia Konopko was a young girl, about 10 or 11 years old, when her brother, Harry, rescued her and his wife, Luba, from a Jewish ghetto in Poland during World War II. He took them to live deep in the primeval forest near the town of Lida, now part of Belarus. There, they hid from the Nazis for more than two years, with the help of the legendary Bielski partisan group.

East Brunswick resident Molly Kaplan said she always knew her mother, Henia, was a Holocaust survivor. But it wasn't until Kaplan was a teenager that she learned the heroic details of Henia's epic struggle for survival.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and the remarkable story of the Bielski partisan group has now leapt from the dustbin of history into the din of popular discourse with the recent release of the movie "Defiance." The film made its national debut in theaters earlier this month. It chronicles the efforts of three Jewish brothers who created a safe haven in the forest where they eventually saved more than 1,200 Jews from the Nazis.

"Brothers Tuvia, Zus and Asael Bielski took it upon themselves that they were going to save Jewish men, women and children," Kaplan said. "During the Holocaust, there were other partisan groups, resistance fighters — there were Polish, there were Russians. But the thing that was unique about the Bielski group was that those other resistance fighters refused to take women and children.

"It was because of my uncle saving my mother's life, bringing her out to the Bielski partisan group, and because of Tuvia Bielski and his brothers that I'm sitting here today."

The story relates how some 6,000 Jews were marched from the Lida Ghetto on May 8, 1942 and shot, and how Harry was shot in the head only a half-inch from his brain and saved by a Jewish surgeon in the ghetto. He went into the forest, joined the partisans and again went to the ghetto to rescue his sister and wife.

Kaplan's mother Henia - who died in 1993 - had described how they dug out and lived in underground caves in the woods. They were always on the move as the Nazis sent out frequent canine search parties. Harry, nearly 20 then, was part of sabotage activities on Nazi supply lines.

"My Uncle Harry and Tuvia Bielski and his brothers — I taught my kids that those are what true heroes are," said Kaplan.

Henia met Jacob Karp - who died in 1999 - in Israel. He was a Polish survivor. They married and came to America in 1957, raising Molly and her brother Fred in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
From time to time, Kaplan would run into people who knew her mother.

Kaplan said she once met a woman who was is the forest with the partisans, and she remembered Henia not by name, but by her smile.

"I showed her a picture of my mom as a girl, and she told me, "Now I remember her, I remember that smile.' Kaplan said she is most happy when her friends say her three children have their grandmother's smile, and Kaplan finds strength in the fact that Henia was able to laugh and smile throughout her life.

"Despite all the hardships she'd been through, she was always very happy, with a joy for life," said Kaplan. "One of the things she always said to us was that the way they succeeded against the Nazis was not only by fighting, but also by living."

Kaplan once met Tuvia Bielski after a talk at Brooklyn College, her alma mater. She introduced herself saying she was there because of him.

"He was very humble, to him it was no big deal, he wasn't looking for prestige," Kaplan said. "He said "Thank you' and told me he was happy we met. But he didn't perceive himself as having done something so great. My uncle Harry was the same way, and that, to me, is what the essence of a true hero is."

Kaplan hopes that the movie will change the way the Bielski partisans are remembered and said her mother always wanted people to know their story. On her mother's gravestone in Elmont, Long Island, said Kaplan, there are words from the Yiddish "Partisan's Song" that they sang in the forest. The words: "Never say that you are going your last way."

The song says to never give up hope in life, don't ever say that the situation you are in means death," Kaplan said. "The song says that its own lyrics are written in blood. "Yes, you fight back when needed, but you fight back to live, you fight back for life."

Read the complete story and view photographs at the link above.

GenClass.com: A new year, a new format

GenClass.com offers many genealogy classes in diverse topics, and is now using an improved format for these practical and economical online classes. Think of the new format as providing a personal genealogy tutor for each student.

GenClass instructors are excited as it will provide a greater opportunity to work more closely with each student in a more effective and enjoyable learning experience.

Each class is designed in an independent study format where each student works at his or her own pace on eight lessons (two per week) over four weeks, and interacts via e-mail with the instructor, who may also schedule optional class chats.

February's lineup - registration open now - includes the following:

Jewish Internet Genealogy
Adoption Investigative Class
Basic English Research
Brick Wall Research
Canadian Research - Internet Resources - Part 3
Eastern European Genealogy Research: Part 1 (Basic)
Jumpstart your Genealogy!
Salt Lake City: Part 1 - the Largest Genealogical Library in the World!
Scottish Genealogy

Click each class to learn more.

Want to plan ahead? March classes include: Australian and New Zealand Genealogy, Canadian Research - Internet Resources - Part 1, Eastern European Genealogy Research: Part 2 (Intermediate), Family Tree Maker 2009 - The Basics, Finding your Female Ancestors, Jumpstart your Genealogy, Lost Friends and Family Investigative Class, Native American Genealogy, Organizing Your Family History, Salt Lake City: Part 2, the Largest Genealogical Library in the World.

For other details, click GenClass.com.

Lisa Kudrow: A friend in the family

Lisa Kudrow is off to Belarus with a camera crew to investigate her roots, according to The Forward's Nathan Burstein.

Known for a decade's worth of playing Phoebe on "Friends," Kudrow is executive producer of the US version of the BBC hit, "Who Do You Think You Are?" according to a March 2008 Reuters story. NBC will air the American version.

Her physician father is a genealogist whom I met in the '90s while visiting friends in the San Fernando Valley. The Kudrows, like my Talalay clan, are from Mogilev, and their family name appears in Mogilev databases.

Kudrow said the project will be a historical documentar about how history shapes your family tree. She also said that the name means "curly hair" in Belarusian.

The US show will follow Kudrow and five other celebrites as they check into their family trees. She's not allowed to name the other celebs, but said the NBC series “took me back to Belarus to find a cousin who survived the Holocaust but is dead now.”

Tracing the Tribe previously blogged about the Kudrow project here, back in March 2008. For those too tired to click on my original post, here it is:

Finally ... American TV has seen the light!

According to Reuters, NBC is now going to dig up celebrity family trees along the lines of the popular BBC show, Who Do You Think You Are?.

Executive producer for the series is Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe of "Friends"). Kudrow grew up in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. Her father, a famous headache physician (working with migraines), is also a genealogist searching their family's roots; I met him years ago at a mutual friend's home. Their family is from Mogilev, Belarus - same as my TALALAY family. I can only hope that he encouraged Kudrow to become involved in this project!

According to Kudrow's webpage, she seems suited to this task. With her background in biology, perhaps we will also see DNA genetic genealogy worked into the series.

Kudrow graduated from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., with a B.S. degree in biology. Intending to pursue a career in research, she returned to Los Angeles and began working with her father, a world-renowned headache specialist. In all likelihood, Kudrow would be a researcher today if she had not been inspired to perform by one of her brother's friends, actor/comedian Jon Lovitz (NBC's "Saturday Night Live").

The BBC show's fourth season premiere scored the highest rating ever - some 6.8 million viewers tuned in.Tracing the Tribe's readership might be interested to learn that an Israeli version is also in the works, and I'll post more on this IBA development later.

Here is the original Reuters article:

NBC digging up celebs' family trees

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - If exploring the lives of celebrities seems a little tired, NBC has a solution: Find their relatives.

The network is developing an American version of the hit British series "Who Do You Think You Are," where stars are shown the oft-surprising details of their ancestors' lives.

In the UK version, the series uncovered backstories included tales of bigamy, wartime heroism and, in one case, attempted murder. Celebrity participants often are brought to tears as they learn about their relatives' hardships.

Producers are researching the family trees of several interested celebrity candidates to see whether they have compelling backgrounds (the network declined to name the candidates). Former "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow will serve as an executive producer.

Celebrity-based reality shows have been on the rise, fueled by the success of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars." NBC found success with "The Celebrity Apprentice" this season and has "Celebrity Circus," premiering this summer.

"Who Do You Think You Are," which launched in 2004, will air its fifth season on BBC1 this year. Its fourth-season premiere in the summer scored the show's highest rating ever, with 6.8 million viewers tuning in.

The show is credited with sparking an interest in genealogy among many BBC viewers. Last year, BBC Magazines began publishing Who Do You Think You Are? magazine, a monthly publication about tracing one's family tree. Versions of "Who Do You Think You Are" also are in production in Canada and Australia. Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

I can't wait to see this one!

2009: Year of the Pickle

The Jewish Zodiac has named 2009 "Year of the Pickle." The site is a tongue-in-cheek parody of the Chinese Zodiac that features 12 symbols based on delicious deli foods: chicken soup, egg cream, chopped liver, blintz, latke, bagel, pickle, schmear, pastrami, black&white, knish and lox.

Should we be adding a custom field to our family tree software to record this essential data? Will annual conferences see birds-of-a-feather meetings for Bagel, Lox, Blintz? Will these BOFs research the history of each yummy food?

I couldn't resist finding my sign. I'm a Bagel, my color is chocolate and learned that I'm pliable, always bounce back but feel something's missing in my center. I'm compatible with Schmear and Lox, but not that much with Latke and Knish.

"The Chinese have 'Year of the Pig' and 'Year of the Ox,'" says Jewish Zodiac creator and comedy writer Seth Front. "Being the good rabbi's son that I am, I figured we should have a zodiac of our own." Enter "Year of the Pickle" and "Year of the Lox."

The site is commercial - don't say I didn't tell you - and you can purchase T-shirts, mugs, magnets and more emblazoned with "Year of the _____."

As for The Jewish Zodiac, Front says more than anything it's about fun. "I get great joy seeing people look at the placemat and say, 'What's my sign? Oh, I'm a Blintz!' They always say 'this is fun!' And if I can bring a little humor into people's lives, well then, I'm doing my job."
Front, a screenwriter and USC Film School grad, thought up the idea in a Chinese restaurant. Nu, where else? Maybe it was also Christmas Day?

What sign are you?

Australia: Les Oberman z'l

Lionel Sharpe of the Australian Jewish Genealogy Society (Victoria) just informed me of the passing of Les Oberman, 10-year president of the society. He died early January 21, just a few days before his 82nd birthday, after suffering a heart attack 10 days ago.

We saw Les and Sonya on almost every trip they made to Israel, as well as meeting up with them at IAJGS conferences. I interviewed Les and wrote about his research and roots trips to Eastern Europe.

I had last heard from Les on December 13, concerning next year's Australian Jewish Genealogy Conference.

Les worked without fatigue on so many projects and on his own family history. Those much younger than he became exhausted just listening to him relate his non-stop activities and roots travel.

With roots in Ukraine, Romania and Poland - his father was born in Ottoman Palestine - he kept looking for the town of origin (eventually discovered to be Bogopol, Ukraine), and even sent letters to hundreds of Oberman families around the world. He visited Bogopol on his second visit to Eastern Europe, after learning that his ancestor, Israel Oberman AKA Srul Guberman, was from there.

Rosh Pina, an early settlement in Israel, was founded by some of his ancestors, and he visited often.

Les created two websites detailing his research. For now, Oberman.org and Bucshester.org remain online. Do visit them.

I extend my personal condolences to Sonya and the rest of the family on the loss. Jewish genealogy has lost a very good friend, as have I.

FamilyLink.com: Chief Genealogy Officer sought

What's your dream job?

If you say chief genealogy officer for a major website, you might be in luck.

About 14 hours ago, FamilyLink.com (AKA World Vital Records) CEO Paul Allen used Twitter to tweet that he's "Starting job description for "chief genealogy officer" who will help manage GenSeek--directory of all the world's genealogy sources."

According to ThinkGenealogy.com's Mark Tucker, Allen also confirmed speculation that GenSeek is a partnership between FamilyLink.com and FamilySearch to update the Family History Library catalog with Web 2.0 features, bringing it into the 21st century and beyond. New features will include community provided catalog entries and digitized sources. According to sources, this will be released in the next few months and the job opportunity might be out there before that time - so start work on your resume now.

Know anyone else who is a CGO? Well, there's Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak who became Ancestry.com's Chief Family Historian in January 2007.

Mark is wondering who might take on this new post. Any ideas?

The Vatican: Hebrew manuscript catalog published

The Vatican has published a catalog of some 800 Hebrew manuscripts in more than 11 of its collections, edited by the National Library of Israel's technical staff.

It will be presented January 30 at an event attended by the Israeli ambassador to the Holy See, the Vatican librarian and the former director of the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts of the Jewish National and University Library.

It will be interesting to see what is included in this collection.

20 January 2009

Genetics: Jewish communities & the plague, Jan. 25

Throughout Europe, the arrival of the Black Death - bubonic plague - saw major attacks on many Jewish communities. Before people understood how plague was caused and transmitted, Jews were often charged with poisoning wells presumed to have sparked the terrible incidences.

If the plague deaths were lower among Jews, this would have been enough evidence for many townspeople to believe the Jewish community had caused the plague. However, new research has shown that some Jewish communities have been found to have genetic protection against the illness.

This recently discovered genetic protection will be just one of the topics to be presented by Dr. Edmund C. Tramont at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington DC, at 1.30pm, Sunday, January 25.

The program will also address the influenza pandemic of 1917-18 and its impact on Jewish communities as well as additional historical pandemics throughout the Jewish world. The venue is Bnai Israel in Rockville, Maryland.

Tramont is associate director for special projects at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

He will devote much of his talk to recent research which indicates that an unusually large percentage of Ashkenazi Jewish communities have(and in the past had) genetic protection against the plague. He will also discuss the Influenza Pandemic of 1917-18 and its impact on Jewish communities. A Q&A will allow participants to explore both subjects with the speaker.

In discussing the fact that the plague of the 13th-17th centuries had less impact on Jewish communities than on others, Tramont will discuss new data showing a genetic trait that strongly appears to have protected many European Jews from the plague pandemics of those times.

He will trace how this trait was discovered (from research related to HIV infection), how it works, and how it was recently connected to protection from the plague but found to increase mortality from West Nile virus. He will also share his thoughts on how this greater resistance to the plague might have influenced Jewish history.

A well-known pandemics expert, Tramont was director of the Division of Aids at NIH for many years before taking up his current position.

The meeting is free to members; others, $5. B'nai Israel is located at 6301 Montrose Road, Rockville, MD 20852. For more details, click here.

19 January 2009

Museum of Family History - new in January

Steve Lasky, creator/curator of the Museum of Family History.com, is visiting in South Florida and attended two JGS meetings in the area. He just informed me that he has updated his website search tool to a custom Google search engine. Steve's site grows so fast that a good search engine was essential. Check it out here

He's always busy and those who know him believe he never sleeps. Here's a quick look at what he's added just this month:

- World Jewish Communities: Multimedia honors the history of our Jewish families where they once lived. The first two WJC exhibits are for Czernowitz (Ukraine) and Ozarow (Poland) with Zambrow (Poland) and Mukacheve (Ukraine) on the way.

- Voices of Czernowitz: Read about several Czernowitzers: tenor Josef Schmidt and poets Itzik Manger and Rose Auslander. You can hear some Schmidt arias; you can hear Manger recite two of his poems in Yiddish and hear an Auslander poems and read her words (written in German.) The Yiddish poems are presented in Yiddish (with Hebrew letters), transliterated Yiddish, as well as in English.

- Hear two recordings of Yiddish songs sung c1913 by Liza Fischer, who acted in the Yiddish theatre of Warsaw. Click on the link at the bottom of the page.

- A searchable database is online for alumni or searchers of alumni of Thomas Jefferson High School, in East New York, Brooklyn. This was a predominantly Jewish school, and the database will become part of a future "Jews of Brooklyn" exhibit - Steve also plans to add Jews of the Bronx, Manhattan, etc. Currently, there are eight Jefferson yearbooks (1927-1936) to browse through or search. For those who attended Samuel J. Tilden High School, in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Steve Morse has a similar database.

As Tracing the Tribe previously noted, I found my Uncle Bob in the Tilden database. Readers who graduated either school should contact Morse or Lasky, who are both looking to add to their respective databases. I almost feel inspired to create one for the High School of Music & Art, my own school! There are several Jewishgenners who attended M&A. Hooray for the magenta and powder blue - well, it WAS an "arty" school!

-Living in America, The Jewish Experience: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania includes "The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia," and two related short exhibitions.

- Something is always new at this virtual Museum. For breaking news, visit the Recent Updates page.

Take a cyberwalk around the museum. I know you'll find it informative.

18 January 2009

Lost forever: Family stories not passed down

If you're the creative type, you might win a free registration for the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (Philadelphia, August 2-7).

The winning design in this year's Jewish Genealogy Month Annual Poster/Flyer Competition will be unveiled at Philly 2009. The artist receives free conference registration. The design must reflect this year's theme: "From One Generation to the Next: Passing Down our Family History in the Oral Tradition."

There is one catch, however. Only member organizations of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies may submit, or rather sponsor, each entry for either JGS members or non-members; no age requirement. If you're interested, contact your local JGS (see the list at IAJGS).

Learn more about the competition here, including last year's winner and necessary forms. All work should be sent by the April 1 deadline to poster committee chair Steve Lasky; subject field: Poster/Flyer Competition 2009. Questions? Contact Steve.

Stories not passed down are lost forever

Steve and I have often discussed the importance of passing down a family's oral history. Each story is a precious gem that must be recorded in some way or be lost forever.

According to Steve, this year's poster theme recognizes that understanding family history extends far beyond the acquisition of paper documents providing dry facts about our ancestors' lives. Sharing stories and memories among the generations provides first-hand experiences as well as an opportunity to improve communication and family bonds.

My first word of advice to any beginning researcher has always been: If you have senior relatives, RUN - do not walk - to talk to them, to record their experiences and their knowledge. I always repeat the African proverb: When an elder dies, it is as if a library has burned down. That knowledge, unless recorded in some way, will be lost forever.

Most researchers, myself included, always talk about the Curse of Genealogy - the fact that we didn't ask our parents or grandparents or great-grandparents about our family while they were alive. Most of us caught the bug after no one was left to ask - this happened to me and many others. It is up to us now to plan how to transmit this knowledge to our children and to their children, whether they are interested right now or not.

Many researchers say their kids aren't interested. That's not a problem. Perhaps they will be - someday - and the information will be available to them. Perhaps one of our children or grandchildren will be the next great creator of a genealogical resource, technology or other innovation because a family story inspired them to get involved.

Personally, I find that the younger generations I meet are very interested in the past. They love the stories of individuals and how they lived, traveled to different countries and experienced life. They want the stories of their ancestors to come alive.

Over the centuries, historical events around the world have impacted us as a people as well as our individual families. Our children and grandchildren must understand collective Jewish history to gain a greater identity of who they are as links in the chain of time.

What better way is there to reinforce Jewish identity than by transmitting family history by passing this precious information to the younger generations, as some of us heard those stories from our own grandparents and older relatives. Stories not passed down are lost to the future.

Oral tradition passes down the stories of real people and real experiences. A paper document provides facts and is essential to good research, but the story of the real person behind that record is just as important.

When generations can share these experiences, family bonds are strengthened. Steve suggests that local genealogical societies organize oral history workshops for multiple generations, where grandparents, parents and children interview each other, with help from experts.

On another front, such workshops are a good method of encouraging active participation as they help strengthen and grow local society membership - particularly among the younger generation who currently are in the minority of the active genealogy world.

For years, I have told anyone who would listen - and many who did not want to hear it - that new blood is the lifeblood of Jewish genealogy, and indeed of all genealogy sectors. It is needed to sustain, grow and inspire our societies and our passion.

Getting back to the poster competition, Steve says, "It would be great to have an attractive visual image to stir the viewers' imagination, to inspire them to ask questions."

I agree.

Sephardim: The Calahora-Kalahora family

Our friend Joel W. Davidi writes the Jewish History Channel. He's been offline for awhile working on a very detailed paper on the history and genealogy of Sephardic Jews who settled in Eastern Europe.

To paraphrase, in case there are still some unbelievers out there: Yes, Virginia, there were Sephardim in Ashkenazi Eastern Europe!

Joel is back with a great post on one prominent and very interesting Sephardic family, the Calahora - Kalahora (with such varients and changes documented as Kolhari, Kolchor, Kolchory, Kalvari, Landsberg, Posner, Zweigenbaum, Rabowsky, Olschwitz, and Misky). As I generally do with postings of this type, the names are bolded for easy reference.

What does the name of a Spanish city, two Jewish martyrs and a Socialist activist have in common?

My upcoming paper (now over 30 pages and growing) explores the history and genealogy of Sephardic Jews who settled in Eastern Europe. It is a subject that I find fascinating and I believe is woefully unexplored.

In the course of my research I stumbled across a remarkable family - about whom I will cite here only several tidbits - namely the Kalahora family of Poland.

Joel details the lives of Dr. Solomon Kalahora, personal physician to both Polish King Sygmund August(1520-1572) and King Stephen Bathory (1533-1586). Kalahora settled in Cracow, Poland in the 16th century. Among name varients and changes for this family: Kolhari, Kolchor, Kolchory, Kalvari, Landsberg, Posner, Zweigenbaum, Rabowsky, Olschwitz, and Misk.They came to Poland from Italy; their name reflects the Spanish town of Calahorra, where the family originated.

Solomon had six children: Moses in Cracow, and Israel Samuel, the Rabbi of Lenchista, who founded the Poznan branch.

Israel Samuel’s son Matitayahu Calahora was a well-known physician with an extensive practice. Unfortunately, he got into a religious dispute with one Havlin, a Dominican friar. Russian Jewish historian Simon Dubnow described it:

The priest invited Calahora to a disputation in the cloister, but the Jew declined, promising to expound his views in writing. A few days later the priest found on his chair in the church a statement written in German and containing a violent arraignment of the cult of the Immaculate Virgin. It is not impossible that the statement was composed and placed in the church by an adherent of the "Reformation or the Arian heresy" both of which were then the
object of persecution in Poland. However, the Dominican decided that Calahora was the author, and brought the charge of blasphemy against him. The Court of the Royal Castle cross-examined the defendant under torture, without being able to obtain a confession. Witnesses testified that Calahora was not even able to write German. Being a native of Italy, he used the Italian language in his conversations with the Dominican. In spite of all this evidence, the unfortunate Calahora was sentenced to be burned at the stake. The alarmed Jewish community raised a protest, and the case was accordingly transferred to the highest court in Piotrkov. The accused was sent in chains to Piotrkov, together with the plaintiff and the witnesses. But the arch-Catholic tribunal confirmed the verdict of the lower court, ordering that the sentence be executed in the following barbarous sequence: first the lips of the " blasphemer " to be cut off ; next his hand that had held the fateful statement to be burned; then the tongue, which had spoken against the Christian religion, to be excised ; finally the body to be burned at the stake, and the ashes of the victim to be loaded into a cannon and discharged into the air. This cannibal ceremonial was faithfully carried out on December 13, 1663, on the market-place of Piotrkov.

For two centuries the Jews of Cracow followed the custom of reciting, on the fourteenth of Kislev, in the old synagogue of that city, a memorial prayer for the soul of the martyr Calahora.

Matityahu’s son Michael and two grandsons were also physicians. In Poznan, Israel Samuel's son - Solomon Calahora (d. 1650) - married the daughter of Posen physician, Judah de Lima (another Sephardic family in Poland). Solomon’s grandson, Aryeh Leib, founded the Landsberg and Posner families. He was martyred in a 1735 blood libel by Catholic authorities, and died in prison after refusing to convert to save himself. Aryeh Leib’s great-grandson, Solomon Posner (1780-1863) wrote a family chronicle, Toar Penei Shlomo.

Other Sephardic Jewish physicians who settled in Poland around the same time were Samuel de Lima, Samuel bar Meshulam, Shlomo Ashkenazy, brothers Levi-Lieberman Fortis Ostila, and Moses Montalto.

Read Joel's complete post at the link above, and if you are new to his blog, do see the archived postings. Thank you, Joel. We have missed you!

Philly 2009: Nice mention

Tracing the Tribe will be providing readers with all information about the upcoming 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, set for Philadelphia, from August 2-7.

At the last Chicago 2008 conference, I met several times with the enthusiastic organizing community - David Mink, Fred Blum, Mark Halpern and others including Jeff Vassar, who is CEO of the Atlantic City Convention Authority. Therefore, I was very happy to read the following in the Jewish Times of Southern New Jersey:

Philadelphia will host the next [International] Jewish Genealogy Conference. While it is months away, Aug. 2-7, planning is underway and publicizing it is in the capable hands of AC Convention Authority CEO Jeff Vassar, assisted by his highly competent media manager, Elaine Shapiro Zamansky. Be assured that Vasser and Zamansky will do a good job of getting the word out.

Conference co-chair David Mink said, "Philadelphia has a rich and lengthy Jewish history so it is appropriate to hold the conference here and the conference will include sessions with a Philadelphia flavor." HM notes that many area residents came here from the Quaker City so they can relate to the subjects covered by the conference.

Mink declared, "Due to historical events that have torn Jewish families apart for centuries many American Jews feel they are unable to trace their family history past their grandparents." The conference, he said, will change all that.

Philly 2009's attendance will draw from many surrounding Jewish communities up and down the east coast, and the South Jersey area is important. For all details on the conference, bookmark the Philly 2009 website.

Los Angeles: The Joys of Jewish, Jan. 26

Award-winning producer/director Paul Mazursky will lead a screening and discussion of his film, "Yippee! A Journey to Jewish Joy," at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles.

The program begins at 7.30pm Monday, January 26, at the Skirball Cultural Center.

Yippee! chronicles the director’s whirlwind journey to Uman, a small Ukrainian town that is the site of a unique, annual gathering of Jewish men making pilgrimages to the burial place of Rabbi Nachman (1772-1810).

When Mazursky was told (by his optometrist) that 25,000—mostly Hassidic—Jews from around the world were expected to visit Uman for three days of praying, singing, and dancing, the director felt compelled to make the journey himself.

Arriving in Ukraine with a small film crew, Mazursky meets and interviews a wide variety of Jewish men from many countries, sharing meals, laughs, and a unique experience.

Mazursky visited the gravesite of Hassidic founder Baal Shem Tov - the great-grandfather of Nachman). He interviews the town's non-Jews about their reaction to this annual invasion of Hassidism.

Mazursky - an award-winning filmmaker, actor and scriptwriter - will take Q&A following the screening. His credits include Stop Greenwich Village, An Unmarried Woman, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, and Enemies: A Love Story.

The evening is open to the public. JGSLA members, free; others, $5. For more details, click here.

Genealogy and the economy

Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings wrote a post on how the economy will affect genealogy, and Leland Meitzler of Genealogyblog has also also written this post with the same focus.

Randy offered some interesting comments on a variety of topics. Genealogy businesses (including websites, publications, software) may find fewer customers among both newcomers and a lower renewal rate for subscription site members. He writes:

If the economy has a high inflation rate, then older genealogists living on a fixed income will really suffer due to higher prices and stagnant income. The result will be fewer long trips and vacations, fewer books and magazines purchased, fewer software and database purchases, and perhaps more visits to close repositories along with more use of the Internet (assuming it is not priced much higher). Nobody has a crystal ball about the current and future economy, or the impact on a group of people. My hope is that the recession is short and the country has a short recovery to steady growth. Obviously, the tax, spending and monetary policies of the new administration will affect the economy, and by extension the genealogy industry.
Even Economics 101 students know that fewer customers plus higher subscription and material prices may equal some business closures. Public institutions such as libraries and government archives may reduce hours and services or raise fees.

I certainly agree with Randy that more printed newsletters, journals and magazines may be going over to online status (and, in my opinion, should have done this some time ago) thus saving money for subscribers, as well as printing costs and postage for the sponsoring entity. Nothing beats holding a printed journal in one's hand - and they look so nice on our shelves - but if the choice is between an online version, closing down a publication or print subscriptions not renewed, online (or PDF) seems the better action. As one example, Everton's Genealogical Helper offers a choice (print subscription or lower-cost online access) to subscribers.

A continuing bad economy means that a good number of researchers may well cut back on expendable income outlay. While Randy indicates that national seminars and conferences could well see fewer people flying in or looking for less expensive accommodations, I also believe that local and close-in regional conferences (one example would be the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree) and seminars will benefit from the larger participation of those already "in the neighborhood."

A reduction in financial resources earmarked for hobbies - even passionate ones like genealogy - will definitely impact book sales, magazine subscriptions, for-fee website renewals. I wouldn't be surprised to see professional organization membership renewals also suffering.

My genealogy expenditures have always been impacted by where we live. Books are always expensive, and international postage sometimes make acquiring materials impossible. Conferences in North America are big-ticket items when international flights are figured in. For this reason, I've always looked to online resources as much as possible. Records may be available in various archives, but if those records are available online, it makes more sense for me and for other international researchers to utilize those.

While we geneabloggers are always saying that not everything can be done sitting at home in our collective bunny slippers and pajamas, an extended downturn means researchers will depend much more on accessible-from-home resources.

Everything is a balancing act and will become more so if the situation continues.

As far as conferences and seminars, nothing beats attending a conference in person and staying at the venue hotel for the uplifting experience of meeting interesting people and learning from experts. I am a firm believer in conference attendance - if it is possible.

I suggest that event organizers should begin investigating innovations to allow the participation of researchers, who live at great distances, via today's technology. Organizers might consider a lower fee, based on distance from the venue.

Conference sponsors who figure out a way to help people participate "virtually" - rather than simply not attend at all - will be the winners.

I'll end this post with Leland's words, which sums up the balancing act that each person may face at some point in his or her life:
I’m old enough that I remember the great depression. No, I did not live in the 1930s - but my parents did, and they never seemed to quite get out of it, so I got a dose of it as youngster myself. If you have to choose between eating and doing genealogy research, eating wins every time. If you have to choose between staying warm, and genealogy, staying warm wins. If you have to choose between a roof over your head and genealogy, the roof wins. Get my point?
Interesting views and I hope more bloggers will be chiming in. Of course, I am looking optimistically at a quick economic turn around for everyone.

Which is better in your opinion? A researcher who can't possibly attend an in-person event due to travel and/or hotel fees (multiplied by many such individuals), or a prospective attendee who can and will participate using today's technology at lower access fees?