31 March 2009

Reminder: No premiere date for WDYTYA

All geneabloggers were delighted when the US version of Who Do You Think You Are? was announced by NBC with a purported premiere date in April.

Unfortunately, the show's premiere has been delayed. On February 12, Tracing the Tribe posted the following: WDYTYA: Delay until summer .

Previously published posts concerning the show were the following:

January 29, 2009 - WDYTYA: Impact on genealogy, American-style?

January 22, 2009 - Lisa Kudrow: A friend in the family

April 05, 2008 - Los Angeles: Who do you think you are? - April 13

March 13, 2008 - Coming to America: NBC to produce gen show

November 24, 2006 - Is genealogy coming to prime time TV?

Unfortunately, a number of bloggers and posters to other lists have seen the page at NBC news and taken it as a "new" press release (it has no date and is the original piece posted months and months ago), believing that the premiere date shown on that page was accurate. It is not.

The show has been delayed and will NOT premiere on April 20. A new date has not yet been set, but rumors point to a summer date.

As soon as a firm date has been set, count on Tracing the Tribe to announce it.

Home Again: Whose father was he? Part 2

Don't miss part 2 of Errol Morris's "Whose Father Was He?"

This installment includes an extensive interview with Mark Dunkelman, who wrote the book on Amos Humiston. There are extensive graphics, photographs, maps, letters and more.

How did Dunkelman, who has one of the largest collections of Civil War letters of a single army regiment, become aware of the story?

During my high school years, I became good friends with a neighbor, Christopher L. Ford, who had Confederate ancestors. We both shared this interest in the Civil War. So we would discuss the Civil War often. As a matter of fact, we used to hold sort of trivia contests to see who could stump each other on our Civil War knowledge. And at one point, Chris gave me a book that he had had for a while. It’s called “Gettysburg: What They Did Here,” by L.W. Minnigh.

In the back is a collection of human-interest stories relating to the battle of Gettysburg. The very first one is about John Burns, the elderly Gettysburg resident who took his War of 1812 musket and joined the battle when the armies arrived at his hometown. And the very second story is about the Humiston children. And it included a post-war photo of the three kids, a very brief description of the story and a copy of James Clark’s poem/song, “The Children of the Battlefield.” That was my first exposure to the Humiston story.
Among other resource, Dunkelman used Humiston's pension records, which held more material on his wife and children.

This story became notable because a Philadelphia doctor obtained a photograph from a tavern-keeper. It also illustrates the power of media - a story copied in many newspapers reached the right family.

The story is one of chance - and filled with "ifs." If the wagon had not broken down, if the tavern-keeper had refused to give the photo to the doctor, if the wife had not read the story in the paper ...
Dr. Bourns did not travel directly from Philadelphia to Gettysburg. Instead, he first went to Chambersburg, a designated rendezvous for civilian physicians heading to the battlefield. Had he gone direct from Philadelphia to Gettysburg, he would not have passed through Graeffenburg, as he did by approaching Gettysburg from the west. And he would not have stopped at Schriver’s tavern and would not have seen the ambrotype.
Dunkelman found a Humiston decendant -David Humiston Kelley - from whom he learned about what happened to Philinda and her three children. Says Dunkelman,
Now, David, in addition to his archaeoastronomy work, is a very avid genealogist. He’s traced branches of his family back to King David in the Bible.
Note please that I didn't say that, but Dunkelman says it about Kelley.

He found many letters in the possession of various family families. Several are imaged in the article.
Soldiers’ families saved their letters. They were writing letters all the time back then, but these were letters chronicling the most momentous events in their lives. Often they didn’t save the letters that the wife sent the husband. They saved the letters that were sent from the husband or son describing these great adventures.
Dunkelman also discovered that Humiston sailed on a whaler from New Bedford in 1850, with the help of a neighbor who was a librarian at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

There's more to come in the next three installments. Read the complete post at the link above and view the images.

30 March 2009

Technology: Print your own magazine

What could you, your genealogy society, organization or institution do with your own bound glossy, full-color magazine printed on-demand and inexpensively for about 20 cents a page?

MagCloud is a new way to print magazines on demand for that price. Developed by Hewlett-Packard, it's a way to print a few hundred copies of a bound glossy, full-color magazine.

Tracing the Tribe believes MagCloud has great possibilities for genealogists. Imagine preparing a magazine for your ancestral town or your family. Groups involved in restoration projects of cemeteries or recreating histories of families or geographic areas could use this. How about a glossy full-color magazine documenting your roots trip or your family history for a milestone event?

Use your imagination. What could you use it for?

The company isn't yet sure of the market for small-run niche mags when the Internet is full of free stuff. The service has so far produced nearly 300 magazines. On the other hand, HP may not be aware of how genealogists and family historians might want to use this service!

Read all about it in today's New York Times' Technology section here. Do click on the slide show for more.

Charging 20 cents a page, paid only when a customer orders a copy, H.P. dreams of turning MagCloud into vanity publishing’s equivalent of YouTube. The company, a leading maker of computers and printers, envisions people using their PCs to develop quick magazines commemorating their daughter’s volleyball season or chronicling the intricacies of the Arizona cactus business.

“There are so many of the nichey, maybe weird-at-first communities, that can use this,” said Andrew Bolwell, head of the MagCloud effort at Hewlett-Packard.
Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi who plans to use the technology in his classroom, said, “We’re not talking about replacing the Vanity Fairs of the world. But it’s a nifty idea for a vanity press that reminds me of the underground zines we had in the ’60s and ’70s.”

I'm sure Andrew Bolwell is not thinking that genealogy is in the category of "nichey, maybe weird-at-first communities."

HP could - if this idea takes off - sell more digital printers to companies that would print the publications. Of course, it would also sell tankers full of HP inks. All-in-all, it could be a big money maker for HP.

Of course, the "publishers" must do their own writing and design. The completed PDF is sent over the Internet to MagCloud, and HP sends the job to worldwide partners around the world and handles billing and shipping of orders. The cost to the publisher is 20 cents a page, but they can charge anything they want for the end product.

Doreen Bloch, a student at the University of California, Berkeley, who created and runs a fashion publication, said MagCloud had made it much easier to produce her magazine, Bare, on a tight budget.

Ms. Bloch used to send final versions of Bare to a print shop in Arizona. If the editors noticed a typo or wanted to make a last-minute change, they had to pay $60 a page. “If we needed to change the cover because it had the wrong date, they gave us so much trouble,” Ms. Bloch said. With MagCloud, the editors can fiddle all they want free.
Local print shops could also see their business improve. According to one print shop which bought five of the HP presses at a cost of $300,000-$600,000 each, it needs to run presses eight hours a day to break even and 12 hours to turn a profit; that shop prints about 50,000 pages per month for MagCloud.

HP's research labs have developed software that automatically arranges photos on a text page, and it might be added to MagCloud. HP is using similar technology to make out-of-print books available, to scan old books, clean images and send to a digital press.

“By using electronic processes rather than humans, we were able to get our costs down from $2,500 per title down to about $50 per title,” said Phil Zuckerman, the president of Applewood Books in Carlisle, Mass. He said he can now afford to print single copies of old titles.
Read the complete story here.

Geneally: A new gen search engine

Geneally.com is a genealogy newswire based in the UK which plans a full launch in April with what it claims will be hundreds of thousands of new links for genealogy and family history.

I've contacted them for more details and will report back when they respond. The site says:

Geneally.com is the world's first dedicated genealogy and family search engine, built from the ground up to create a useful resource for anyone researching their ancestry.

Hundreds of new links are added each day. If you run a genealogy-related website, do
contact us and we'll do our best to add the details of your site to our database.
In November 2008, Geneally acquired the former genealogy news site www.rssgenealogy.com.

There are numerous links up now - Tracing the Tribe is included - and more are being added.

I've just emailed them about adding the International Jewish Graveyard Rabbit and the general topic MyHeritage Genealogy Blog.

To contact them at the link above, you will need to go through a security word verification bit to get their email.

Home again: A Civil War photograph

More than a century ago, the lack of technology didn't stop this Civil War photo from finding the family of a soldier who died at Gettysburg.

Forensic photography, newspaper history and the Civil War make for a good story. Filmmaker Errol Morris posted this in the Zoom section of the New York Times today. "Whose Father Was He?" is the first of a five-part series appearing on consecutive days.

Morris is a filmmaker whose "The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara" won the Academy Award for 2004's best documentary feature. He also directed "Gates of Heaven," "The Thin Blue Line," "Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control,""A Brief History of Time" and "Standard Operating Procedure."

A dead soldier was found at Gettysburg with no identification except an early photograph (called an ambrotype) showing three small children. Tavern keeper Benjamin Schriver in Graeffenburg, 13 miles west of Gettysburg, somehow acquired it. Philadelphia physician Dr. J. Francis Bourns, on his way to treat the wounded, stopped in when his wagon broke down. He convinced the tavern-keeper to give him the photograph to try to locate the soldier's family.

Back home, the doctor had several photographers copy it and ordered hundreds of copies printed in carte de visite format (similar to an index card) . Back then, newspapers could not print photographs and there was no way of easily and widely transmitting this photo.

Three months after the photo was found, the important Philadelphia Inquirer printed the story on October 19, 1863, under the headline, "Whose Father Was He?"
After the battle of Gettysburg, a Union soldier was found in a secluded spot on the field, where, wounded, he had laid himself down to die. In his hands, tightly clasped, was an ambrotype containing the portraits of three small children, and upon this picture his eyes, set in death, rested. The last object upon which the dying father looked was the image of his children, and as he silently gazed upon them his soul passed away. How touching! how solemn! What pen can describe the emotions of this patriot-father as he gazed upon these children, so soon to be made orphans! Wounded and alone, the din of battle still sounding in his ears, he lies down to die. His last thoughts and prayers are for his family. He has finished his work on earth; his last battle has been fought; he has freely given his life to his country; and now, while his life’s blood is ebbing, he clasps in his hands the image of his children, and, commending them to the God of the fatherless, rests his last lingering look upon them.

When, after the battle, the dead were being buried, this soldier was thus found. The ambrotype was taken from his embrace, and since been sent to this city for recognition. Nothing else was found upon his person by which he might be identified. His grave has been marked, however, so that if by any means this ambrotype will lead to his recognition he can be disinterred. This picture is now in the possession of Dr. Bourns, No. 1104 Spring Garden [Street], of this city, who can be called upon or addressed in reference to it. The children, two boys and a girl, are, apparently, nine, seven and five years of age, the boys being respectively the oldest and youngest of the three. The youngest boy is sitting in a high chair, and on each side of him are his brother and sister. The eldest boy’s jacket is made from the same material as his sister’s dress. These are the most prominent features of the group. It is earnestly desired that all the papers in the country will draw attention to the discovery of this picture and its attendant circumstances, so that, if possible, the family of the dead hero may come into possession of it. Of what inestimable value it will be to these children, proving, as it does, that the last thoughts of their dying father was for them, and them only.
The best the newspaper could do was the word picture in bold above.

The article includes close-ups of the cloth in the two garments showing they are the same.

Writes Morris:
In the traditional detective story, someone asks around: Do you know the identity (or the name) of the people in this photograph? Here, the identification is not made on the basis of recognizing the people from a photograph. But by first “translating” the photograph into words and sentences. The ages of the children were estimated — as it turns out not far from the truth — but the telling details were their respective positions in the photograph, the fact that there were three of them, and the shirt and dress worn by the brother and sister flanking the brother in the middle were similar.
At that time, writes Morris, family photos were not common. It involved a trip to a studio or waited for a traveling photographer to come by.

Today, we are able to seamlessly integrate words and pictures — captions and photographs — but the Humiston story allows us to see how this was done beforethere were means to easily put the two together in a newspaper or broadsheet.

In Portville, NY, a woman saw the American Presbyterian story about the photo. She wrote to Bourns and requested a copy.
When she opened the letter from Philadelphia in late November of 1863, Philinda Humiston knew her husband, Amos Humiston, the father of her three children — Franklin, Alice and Frederick — was dead.
Mark H. Dunkelman wrote “Gettysburg’s Unknown Soldier,” to try to recover the man's identity.

Read the complete story at the link above. I'm looking forward to reading the next installment.

29 March 2009

The NYT, Facebook and Jewish genealogy

Are you on Facebook? It expects to register its 200 millionth user this week.

In today's New York Times, Brad Stone's Facebook story - in the Technology section - mentions Jewish genealogy. Hooray for us!

It starts out with stats and about the controversial changes to home pages, how it's struggling to keep up with sites like Twitter, other language versions and more. But then it gets into why many use it.

In my own first weeks on Facebook, I discovered two cousins from Russia now living in Germany, a third who had been moving around and was now in Moscow, and an old friend from our Teheran days. More recently, I viewed photos of a Los Angeles family event as a tech-savvy cousin posted them from the event. Our Geneabloggers group is also strong on Facebook.

The NYT story mentions Jewish genealogist Karen Haber of Tel Aviv:
Facebook can also help rebuild families. Karen Haber, a mother of two living outside Tel Aviv, logs onto Facebook each night after she puts the children to bed. She searches for her family’s various surnames, looking for relatives from the once-vast Bachenheimer clan of northern Germany, which fractured during the Holocaust and then dispersed around the globe.

Among the three dozen or so connections she has made on Facebook over the last year are a fifth cousin who is a clinical social worker in Woodstock, N.Y.; a fourth cousin running an eyeglasses store in Zurich; and another fifth cousin, living in Hong Kong selling diamonds. Now she shares memories, photographs and updates with them.

“I was never into genealogy and now suddenly I have this tool that helps me find the descendants of people that my grandparents knew, people who share the same truth I do,” Ms. Haber says. “I’m using Facebook and trying to unite this family.”
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg says connecting people in various ways represents "a generational shift in technology."

The site is dealing with disgruntled users who are not happy about recent changes, and the story addresses the challenge of keeping 200 million people happy.

The company says users must learn how to better use privacy settings, to avoid embarrassing moments, such as conflicts between kids vs parents, employees vs bosses. The story reports that only 20% of members use privacy settings.

A social scientist who studies social networks says people spend a lot of time trying to be separate, such as parents and children.

Learn about possible future interactive advertiser tie-ins and probable user rebellion against ads.

Read the complete - and very interesting - story at the link above.

Tracing the Tribe: New features, email alerts

Tracing the Tribe has made some changes to email alerts.

Feedblitz seems to have now gotten its act together and offers some neat features. If you are receiving Feedblitz alerts, you will see this in your mailbox. The color scheme is more like the blog and there's more.

Among the neat features, follow the red arrow to the "sound" icon. Click on the icon to hear a spoken version of that post's email alert.

There is now a way to rate favorite posts - see the outlined stars on the bottom line above. Tracing the Tribe encourages you to participate.

I'm also investigating making each complete post into a downloadable MP3 audio file. Readers would be able to download and listen at their convenience. Podcasts may be next.

Are these features of interest to you? Let me know.

Food: Mexican flavors Passover

Four years ago, New York City chef Julian Medina of the contemporary Mexican bistro, Toloache, began adding Mexican-flavored Passover fare to his menu, drawing on Sephardic and Ashkenazi traditions and spicing them up.

In the early years, 10 people came to eat. Now 100 people order food for Passover. He also prepares his own creative take on fare for Rosh Hashanah and Chanukah.

This JTA story focuses on Medina and his delicious food. It might even turn into a DNA genetic genealogy story if Medina tests with FamilyTreeDNA.com, as his wife suspects Medina's family has Converso roots. The name is among documented Jewish Sephardic names.

Why would a chef from Mexico City who had dazzled clients at Maya and Pampano, two of Manhattan’s best Mexican restaurants, turn to Jewish cuisine for inspiration?

Although Medina was born a Catholic, he converted to Judaism. Six years ago, when he was dating the Jewish woman who would become his wife, he started spending holidays with her family. It sparked a curiosity about her religion that continued to grow the more he learned about Jewish rituals.

From the beginning he was intrigued by each holiday’s traditional fare as he tasted the foods his future mother-in-law prepared. It wasn’t long before he started seasoning Jewish recipes with the flavors of his youth.

Medina explored Jewish cooking, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi.

“This is what chefs do when exposed to cuisines that excite them -- they conduct research to develop new recipes,” he says. “Food is never static. It changes every day.”

Many of Medina's recipes benefit from these cuisines.
See the link for the recipes for some delicious new ideas: matzah ball soup with cilantro, jalapeno and lime juice, brisket con chipotle pepper, matzah tortillas, matzah tostada Yucatan-style (with achiote smoked sea bass salad and horseradish-jalapeno salsa), roast halibut with cauliflower "latke" and hibiscus chipotle glaze. One recipe not provided is matzah pudding with roasted bananas. I guess you'll have to drop into Toloache to learn about that one. If you do, please send me the recipe!

Medina's wife says she suspects the family has Jewish roots. Many Conversos (those forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition) were among early settlers in Mexico.

The origin of their name is Hebrew and Arabic. Several Jewish families in Spain have carried the surname Medina. In the Spanish province of Cadiz, in the city Medina-Sidonia, it was customary among Sephardim to be named for the city of origin.
Of course, Sephardic genealogists know that many Sephardic surnames reflect geographic locations, not just that of Medina-Sidonia. Pere Bonnin's book, Sangre Judia, lists CADIS (Mallorca, 1391), CADIZ (Jerez, 1266), and MEDINA (Avila, 1409). There is also a MEDINA with a J1 haplogroup (carried by some 28% of Sephardic Jews) in the New Mexico Project at FamilyTreeDNA.com.

Medina might want to consider taking a Y-DNA test.

In any case, the recipes seem delicious.

Switzerland: Major WWI casualty archive discovered

British historian Peter Barton has unearthed information that could help thousands of people with their family histories, according to this BBC News story.

Barton was commissioned to carry out research into the identities of World War I casualties discovered in a mass grave at Fromelles in France, and received access to the Geneva-based Red Cross headquarters basement, the first researcher to see these records.

Details deal with capture, injuries, death, or field burials of servicemen from more than 30 countries, and sometimes include personal effects, home addresses and grave sites. The Red Cross received these details from the combatants; volunteers recorded details before sending them to the home countries.
Some of the records refer to other mass graves, with exact directions as to where they were dug, and the identities of the soldiers who were buried. Where possible, the registers include home addresses and next of kin.
He examined records untouched since 1918 and estimate there could be as many as 20 million records in the old cardboard boxes filled with thousands of index cards and hundreds of registers, compiled between 1914-1918.

According to Peter Barton, the UK's copies no longer exist, but the originals are still here and are immensely important.

"To a military historian, this was like finding Tutankhamen's tomb and the terracotta warriors on the same day," he told me.

"I still can't understand why no-one has ever realised the significance of this archive - but the Red Cross tell me I'm the first researcher who has asked to see it."

The records could potentially reveal the whereabouts of individuals whose remains were never found, or never identified. Grave after grave in the World War I cemeteries mark the last resting place of an unknown soldier.

The Red Cross must now address preservation and digitization of the paper records. Two million pounds has been earmarked for the project which will start in the fall, and will involve experts from all over Europe. The organization says it will almost certainly ask for volunteers to join their own archivists.
The organisation's head of press, Florian Westphal, admitted they had never faced a challenge quite like this: "First we have to make sure that we preserve the original records," he told me. "Then, this autumn, we will begin the process of digitising the World War I section of the archive - we expect that phase of the project to cost around four million Swiss Francs."
According to the Red Cross, it hopes to have the archive online by 2014, a century after the start of WWI. Those records and today's technology will unlock a piece of history.

There may be more to come, as this careful record-keeping extended through World War II, and to more recent conflicts. There are many more index cards in more boxes on more shelves.

Read the complete story at the link above, and see the video on the same page which covers Barton working with the records.

Philly 2009: Film Festival

The annual Jewish Genealogy Film Festival, screening some 40 films, will be a highlight of this summer's 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy. Films will be shown from Sunday-Friday, August 2-7.

"I'm excited that so many filmmakers are coming through to talk about their films at the conference," writes festival coordinator Pamela Weisberger in an email . "A lot of these films are very new and Philadelphia premieres to boot!"

Although film selection and scheduling is still underway, Pam wants to let Tracing the Tribe's readers know about already confirmed films and filmmakers. This year's edition will span the globe, covering a diverse range of topics, locales and Jewish historical periods.

Here's a preview:

"The Tree of Life" - A personal family saga that illuminates the fascinating history of the Jewish people of Italy, following Israeli-born director, Hava Volterra, as she travels from the U.S. to Italy to trace the roots of her family tree. She digs up rare historical manuscripts linking her to the da Volterra filmy of banks in Florence of the Medici, Ramhal, a Venetian rabbi and mystic involved in the Kabbalah, Luigi Luzzatti, Italy's first Jewish prime minister, and back to New York's own mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Volterra will be present to discuss her film.

"The Longing: The Forgotten Jews of South America" - A small group of South Americans long to affirm their faith. Their ancestors, European Jews, were forced to convert during the Spanish Inquisition. Isolated in Catholic countries, rejected by local Jewish communities, they battle to become Jews regardless of the consequences. Argentinian-born, producer/director Gabriela Bohm will discuss her film.

"In Search of Bene Israel" - Follows a group of 3,500 Jews in and around Bombay which believes that it was shipwrecked in India 2000 years ago and is in the process of a community-wide migration to Israel. We meet a Jewish Indian filmmaker working in Bollywood, a family who takes care of a rural synagogue, and a young couple on the eve of their marriage and departure for Israel. Director Sadia Shepard will discuss her film and sign DVDs.

"No. 4 Street of Our Lady" - The remarkable, yet little-known, story of Francisca Halamajowa, a Polish-Catholic woman who rescued 16 of her Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust by cleverly passing herself off as a Nazi sympathizer. On the eve of World War II, more than 6,000 Jews lived in Sokal, a small town in Eastern Poland, formerly Galicia and now part of Ukraine. By the end of the war, only about 30 had survived, half of them rescued by Halamajowa. The film draws on excerpts from a diary kept by one of the survivors, Moshe Maltz, whose granddaughter produced the film. The film's Lviv-based researcher Alex Denishenko will be present to discuss it.

"Philly Hoops: The SPHAS & Warriors" - A look back at the first two professional basketball in the city of Philadelphia that were both owned and operated by Eddie Gotlieb "the mogul of basketball." Producer Jim Rosin will be present to discuss the film and sign DVD copies.

"House of Life" - The story of the old Jewish cemetery in Prague, the site of layer upon layer of buried members of the once-vibrant Jewish community. Almost a million people from all over the world now visit the cemetery each year, and the film chronicles its history, which is rich in lore, mysticism, tradition and philosophy. Tales of great rabbis and philanthropists and the story of the giant golem, created from clay to protect the Jewish people, are narrated by Claire Bloom. Producer Mark Podwal will discuss the film. He is best known for his drawings on The New York Times OP-ED page and as an author and book illustrator, exhibited in museums throughout the world.

"Horodok - A Shtetl's Story 1920-1945" - This is the story of vibrant life in an Eastern European Jewish village, before WWII, told by partisan-survivors, who moved to Israel after the war. Horodok was in Poland prior to 1939; then in Russia; invaded by the Nazi's in 1941 and included into Belarus after the war. The film covers the shtetl's community and religious life; the shtetl economy; Jewish and secular education; the flourishing Zionist youth movements and political parties; the background story of an early 1930's film of the shtetl; Russian and Nazi occupation; the creation of the Ghetto and Nazi slaughter; Horodok partisans and the end-of-the-war revenge.

"The Rise and Fall of the Borsht Belt" - At is peak, 1 million New York Jews spent their summers in the Borscht Belt, the birthplace of Jewish-American iconoclastic humor. Many of us spent time there during the 1950s and 60s. This film shows how the Catskills communities were run by women and how class divisions were reflected in the resort hotels: a happy, humane, ironic and bittersweet tale of the past.

"Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh" - Narrated by Joan Allen, "Blessed Is the Match" is the first documentary feature about Hannah Senesh, the World War II-era poet and diarist who became a paratrooper, resistance fighter, and modern-day Joan of Arc. Safe in Palestine in 1944, Senesh joined a mission to rescue Jews in her native Hungary. Shockingly, it was the only military rescue mission for Jews during the Holocaust. Through Senesh’s diary entries and poetry, her correspondence with her mother, and unprecedented access to the Senesh family archive, this film looks back on the life of a uniquely talented and complex young woman who came of age in a world descending into madness.

"My Mexican Shiva"- Set in Polanco, a Jewish quarter of Mexico City, and spoken in Spanish, Yiddish and Hebrew, this is a dramatic comedy about how the death of a man results in the celebration of his life.

"Toyland" - The 2008 Oscar-winning short subject film : Winter 1942. A small town in Germany. Despite her good neighborly relations with the Silbersteins, Marianne Meissner has certain difficulties to be really behind them in those dangerous times. Marianne’s son Heinrich entertains a close friendship with David, the son of the Silbersteins, whose deportation is imminent. What can Marianne tell her son? For his sake in order to protect him she tries to make him believe that the neighbors are going on a journey to "Toyland." When he hears this, he's envious...and runs off to join them.

"Against the Tide" - Human lives sold for $50. Rabbis marching on Washington. Epic battles between American Jewish communities. These are just three of the realities documented with finesse in this Dustin Hoffman-narrated documentary which addresses the attitudes of President Roosevelt and his senior advisors, who used the pretext of winning the war against the Nazis to block any Jewish immigration to the U.S. and juxtaposes the events in America with heart-wrenching heroic stories of the doomed Jews of Europe and the leaders of Polish Jewry who had faith that their powerful brothers and sisters in the United States would somehow be able to save them.

"Vienna's Lost Daughters" - Anita, Dorit, Eva, Hennie, Lizzy, Susanne, Susy und Rosalie live in New York, where they have started families and built up lives. “Vienna’s lost daughters” grew up Jewish in Vienna and had to flee suddenly in 1938/39. Director Mirjam Unger encounters them with impressive openness and emotion, providing insight into and a look back at extremely personal areas of their lives as they open the doors to their pasts in Vienna—a Vienna that lives on in New York.

"On Moral Grounds" - The story of former Uzhgorod, Czechoslovakia resident, Adolf Stern, who wouldn't take no for an answer and battled the giant insurance company, Generali, in court for not giving Holocaust survivors what they rightfully deserved under their policies. His daughter, attorney Lisa Stern teamed up with attorney William Shernoff to win a landmark settlement that resulted in a US $5.2 billion fund that German companies established to pay reparations to the Holocaust survivors.

The complete film list and schedule will be available online in a few weeks. Tracing the Tribe will post updates as more films and filmmakers are confirmed.

28 March 2009

Philadelphia: Prison synagogue restored

The infamous Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia closed in 1970 after a 142-year history.

From 1924 until the prison closed, it also housed a synagogue for Jewish inmates, now restored. It is believed to have been the first synagogue in a US prison.

The synagogue, created from an exercise yard, was rediscovered by University of Pennsylvania graduate student Laura Mass, who based her 2004 thesis on it. She discovered artifacts in the abandoned room such as holiday song book pages.

Adjacent to the synagogue, another exercise yard is now a museum on prison Jewish life, demonstrating the renovation and marking contributions of volunteers who helped sustain Judaism in the prison.

The New York Times detailed this bit of history here.

Water damage had rotted the wood of the ark, where Torah scrolls are traditionally kept, and destroyed plasterwork, including the ceiling's Star of David.

Now the synagogue, the Alfred W. Fleisher Memorial Synagogue, has been restored as a vital part of the 142-year history of the prison, which is a National Historic Landmark and is open to the public. The synagogue was named after its founder, a Jewish philanthropist who was president of the prison’s trustees in the 1920s.
Following the renovation, the 31-by-17-foot room features an ark, reading table, benches and a Star of David on the ceiling. The project, funded by private donations, ran about $230,000. It will be dedicated Wednesday and will become part of the prison's public tours, but will not be used for regular services.

Prior to 1913, all prisoners were in solitary confinement. A remnant of those days is seen in the synagogue, where a bench back can be lowered to reveal a wall with three low doors where inmates could enter individual exercise yards for an hour a day.

Left unrestored is the narrow kitchen where Jewish holiday kosher foods were brought in and prepared. It was left in its abandoned state so visitors can see what the space looked like before renovation.

The prison's last Jewish chaplain, Rabbi Martin Rubenstein, said the synagogue helped inmates stay connected to their families and Jewish tradition. It was the only religious space in the prison without a guard because the Jewish inmates were well-behaved during services. He added that the inmates offered to donate their prison wages to Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.

Read the complete story at the link above.

There's also a link to a 1993 story about another Pennsylvania prison synagogue in the State Correctional Institution at Graterford.

Philly 2009: Program now online

Tracing the Tribe readers have been waiting impatiently - So here it is! The Philly 2009 preliminary conference program is now online.

This year's offerings indicate a strong, excellent and diverse program with lots of somethings for everyone, from beginners to advanced researchers. Programming starts at 9am on Sunday and runs through mid-day Friday.

Our hardest job will be choosing which program to attend in each time slot. Multiple opportunities are offered at the same time; many appear to be new topics. The program committee has done a great job!

What are you waiting for? Register now and spend a week learning, networking and sharing information. Click here for all details.

The 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is set for Sunday-Friday, August 2-7, in Philadelphia.

Will this be your first conference? Afraid you might feel lost among all the experts? Don't worry - there are special activities for newcomers to the conference and genealogy beginners. Check out the beginner's track of basics, workshops and the popular Breakfast with the Experts (fee).

Sunday night kicks off with Father Patrick Desbois. Brandeis University Professor Jonathan Sarna will speak twice on Monday, sponsored by Philadelphia's National Museum of American Jewish History. His talks will be "Jewish Settlement Patterns in the US: Why Jews Ended Up Where They Did" and, in the evening, "An Old Faith in the New World: 350 Years of American Judaism."

The annual JewishGen program takes center stage Tuesday evening, as we see previews of future developments and projects, followed by Jewish Genealogy Game Night, produced by the team of Ron Arons and Pamela Weisberger. We're looking forward to Family Feud as such possible teams as Litvaks vs Galitzianers or Ashkenazim vs Sephardim battle it out.

Wednesday evening's program is still being detailed. Watch for announcements.

Among the first-time-ever events is the participation of Dorin Dobrincu, Director General of the National Archives of Romania, while Olga Muzychuk from the State Committee on Archives of Ukraine will speak for the first time since the New York conference in 2006.

A new track offers sessions on the history and food of the Jews of Turkey, and how Jewish traders impacted how we eat. There will also be a two-hour workshop (fee) to explore Turkish, Syrian and Ashkenazi-Italkeni recipes.

The DNA and genetic genealogy track offers new topics, and do look at the numerous Internet and technology sessions, as well as hands-on workshops (fee).

Don't forget the special interest group (SIG) luncheons (fee). This year the line up includes JRI-Poland, Gesher Galicia, Litvak SIG, Belarus, Latvia, Austria-Czech, Rom-SIG, Hungarian SIG, GerSIG and Ukraine. Some sell-out quickly, so sign up as soon as possible.

Other SIGs include French SIG, UK SIG, Southern Africa, Danzig/Gdansk, and Bialygen (Bialystok area), in addition to Birds of a Feather (BOF) and Research Groups. A record number of these will meet this year, including Ostrow Mazowiecka, Boryslaw-Drohobycz-Sambor-Stary-Sambor, Canada, Kobrin Uyezd, Suwalki/Lomza, Kremenets, Rokiskis-Kupiskis, Belchatow (Poland), Southern New Jersey Agricultural Colonies, Suchostaw Region, Jewish Polesie (Belarus), Lublin, Zamosc, Slutsk (Belarus), Lodz Area (Poland), Yiddish Theater & Vaudeville, Krakow, Paterson NJ, Lida, Kolbuszowa Region, JewishGen Yizkor Book Project, JewishGen ShtetLinks and Newsletter Editors.

Remember this is the preliminary program and some changes may occur in the final edition, such as some time changes or additional events added.

Tracing the Tribe will see you in Philadelphia!

The wonderful world of strange book titles

Are we in the silly season yet?

Ever wonder about book titles? Dream about strange ones in your sleep? If you do, then write up a book to go along with the weird title and enter this contest. Start planning for next year!

Bookseller magazine in the UK sponsors the annual Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year, as detailed here in the New York Times.

The winner was “The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais” with runner-ups “Curbside Consultation of the Colon,” “The Large Sieve and Its Applications,” “Strip and Knit With Style” and “Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring.”

I'm sure "Strip and Knit With Style" gave the British judges some giggles, even though this "strip" means cutting fabrics into strips and knitting with the strips.
The Diagram Prize began in 1978 as a way for Bruce Robertson, co-founder of the Diagram Group, an information and graphics company based in London, to combat his ennui at the Frankfurt Book Fair. That was a bumper year for odd titles — nominees included “100 Years of British Retail Catering” and “50 New Poodle Grooming Styles” — but the runaway winner was “Proceedings of the Second International Symposium on Nude Mice.”
Are we seeing a pattern here, with "strip" and "nude"?

In 2005, the winner was “People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It.” Genealogists want to know how we can ask them questions - and get the answers - about our ancestors.

Other past winners:

“Versailles: The View From Sweden” (Is that like seeing Russia from Alaska?)
“Weeds in a Changing World”
“Reusing Old Graves” At last, something for genealogists.

Past titles that didn't make the cut:

“A Pictorial Book of Tongue Coatings”
“Sex After Death”
“Waterproofing Your Child”
“Cheese Problems Solved”

The rules are pretty simple:
Publishers are not allowed to nominate their own books, so as to prevent them from giving books willfully odd names. That is pretty much the only rule. Anyone can nominate a title, and the public is invited to vote online at thebookseller.com.The prize’s administrators try not to read the books, Mr. Stone said, because doing so might “cloud our judgment.”
Bookseller also held last year's Diagram of Diagrams competition, a take-off on the Booker Prize's Booker of Bookers, for the best of all time. The Diagram went to “Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers.” I can't even imagine what that's about. Are they cancelling the postmen? Is this like cancelling a stamp? How do the postmen fit in those machines?

In 1992, “How to Avoid Huge Ships,” by an old sea captain, garnered the award. It is listed on Amazon, and one tongue-in-cheek reader commented that he wished it had included more tips on differentiating between huge and less huge ships, so readers could be sure “what size of ship they were avoiding.”

Read the complete article at the link above.

27 March 2009

Holocaust memoirs: Mocking the fakers?

With the recent forensic exposure of fake Holocaust memoirs, we knew the following might happen somewhere, sometime.

A magazine's competition announcement for a fake Holocaust memoir is hammered by readers who seem to feel that those now-discredited authors of published - and very fake - memoirs, should be treated with the same sensitivity as the millions who perished. The commenters felt that mocking the fakers mocks those memories.

When I first read about it at JTA, I really wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry, but I checked out Heeb magazine's postings.

Remember that the hoaxers cheated not only the public - who wanted to believe - but publishers who didn't check things out.

The announcement of the magazine's contest starts:

To be sure, false Holocaust memoirs are hardly a recent phenomenon (Next time, Art Spiegelman, do a little research—there was no concentration camp called "Mauschwitz."). But in recent years, they seem to have become both more common and more crappy. It’s no longer enough to simply say you were in a concentration camp, like Fauxlocaust survivor Benjamin Wilkomirski. No, now you need to have been led across Europe by wolves, or have a chance encounter years later that results in your marriage to the hidden Jewish girl who saved you. Bad enough that these assorted frauds and lunatics should spew this nonsense, but do they have to do such a bad job of it? Have they no shame?

The answer, of course, is that they don’t. And so while the rest of the world may turn away or offer the occasional book deal, we cannot remain silent (much less offer a book deal). What we can — no, must — do, is confront this dangerous trend the only way we know how — with a self-aggrandizing and somewhat offensive publicity stunt.

And thus, we unveil the Heeb Magazine Fake Holocaust Memoir Competition. Simply write a fake Holocaust Memoir recounting your tale of Holocaust survival, get it to us by April 1, and let us do the rest ...
After receiving numerous indignant comments as to the insensitivity of the competition, Heeb's humor editor countered with this:

... Now, I can understand why people would be upset if we were holding a competition that mocked Holocaust memoirs. But — and the competition rules make this pretty explicit to anyone with 3rd grade reading skills and a 10th grade sense of humor — we are making fun of fake Holocaust memoirs. So will somebody please explain to me why this would be so offensive? Did your grandfather survive the fake Holocaust? Did your fake family members perish in fake concentration camps? Were you inspired as a child by stories of fake bravery in the fake ghetto uprising? Perhaps the haters aren’t really haters — maybe they’re just faking it?
He asks how the contest jeopardizes the Jewish people and how the memory of millions of murdered Jews will be lessened by ridiculing the frauds who did write fake memoirs. The Holocaust is part of history and we should remember what happened, he writes, adding that remembering is not the same as reverence.

If somebody wrote a memoir saying that on D-Day, he had invaded Normandy on the back of a dolphin, people would think he was a lunatic. But Misha Defonseca writes deranged nonsense about traveling halfway across Europe with a pack of wolves to find her parents in the Warsaw Ghetto, and it’s translated into 18 languages. And she wasn’t able to do this because of Heeb Magazine going too far with its "irreverence"; she was able to do this because of all the people out there who — well intentioned as they may be (and I’m certainly more generous to them than they are to me) — are so monomaniacal that as soon as they hear the word "Holocaust" immediately shut off those parts of their brain that function critically, and begin to emotionally genuflect.
Read the complete pieces at the links above, and peruse the reader comments. The contest rules (scroll down on this page) sound like Chris Dunham of The Genealogue had a hand in writing them. (see rules 4, 7, 8, 9, 13 and 15).

What do you think?

And, if you are planning to enter the contest, the deadline is April 1, which seems a good day for something like this.

26 March 2009

Washington DC: American immigration conference, July 6-31

The National Endowment for the Humanities will sponsor a four-week National History Center summer institute - American Immigration Revisited - based mainly at the Library of Congress, from July 6-31, in Washington DC.

Although I've just learned about this program - and the application deadline was March 2 - I'm informing readers just in case. Occasionally, deadlines are extended, and if you are interested in attending, it will be worthwhile to contact the NEH or keep it in mind for next year if another is scheduled.

Locations will include mainly the Library of Congress, as well as many other museums, sites, archives and centers in the area. Three days will also be spent in New York City, visiting Ellis and Liberty Islands, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Little Italy and other ethnic neighborhoods.

Each week will focus on a major theme through lectures, discussions and workshops: “Migration in the 19th and 20th Centuries: A Global Phenomenon”; “Migrations between Cultures: A Perennial Issue”; “Changes in American Immigration Policy and Law”; and “Doing American Immigration History: Approaches and Resources.”

Directors and faculty of teacher-scholars are experts in immigration history, ethnic studies, women’s studies, and global studies. Attendees will be 25 women and men who teach at two- and four-year colleges, or who work as librarians, archivists or independent researchers and scholars.

The program is looking for representatives of many disciplines, diverse interests, backgrounds and approaches to teaching and learning. Applicants are encouraged from among those who teach survey classes, deal with immigration and also those who teach immigrant and refugee students.
We are looking for collaborative, hard-working people, who are eager to assemble learning resources, create new curricula, produce journal articles, or creative pieces of literature or art during and following our sessions.
Applicants can propose research projects for new interest areas or further research on projects already begun.

We anticipate the projects will cover a wide range, among them: building immigration courses or websites; designing interdisciplinary learning programs focusing on immigration; researching and writing on immigrant workers, artists, entertainers, or storytellers; developing annotated bibliographies on immigration topics; mapping immigrant communities; examining select immigration laws and regulations; studying particular immigrant women’s groups; or investigating the intergenerational differences, tensions, or cultural changes in particular immigrant communities.
The program includes lectures, panels, discussions, informal exchanges, site visits, and a “Tuesday Evening Immigration Film Festival.” Four basic areas will be explored: American immigration as part of a global phenomenon; migrations between cultures; changes in immigration law, policy, and practice; and approaches and resources for teaching immigration history.

Links for immigration resources include the LOC's Immigration: The Changing Face of America, Smithsonian’s museums, and the National Archives.

For more application information, click here.

Austria: Early Jewish settlement evidence

Our people are nothing if not travelers. Interesting objects show up in the strangest of places, inscribed in unusual languages. Once again, we need to look back and see who our ancestors were and where they lived.

A gold amulet inscribed with an essential Jewish prayer was found in a 3rd-century CE grave in Halbturn, Austria. The grave was that of a Roman child.

This amulet shows that people of Jewish faith lived in what is today Austria since the Roman Empire. Up to now, the earliest evidence of a Jewish presence within the borders of Austria has been letters from the 9th century CE. In the areas of the Roman province of Pannonia that are now part of Hungary, Croatia and Serbia, gravestones and small finds attest to Jewish inhabitants even in antiquity.

Jews have been settling in all parts of the ancient world at the latest since the 3rd century BCE. Particularly following the second Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire, the victorious Romans sold large numbers of Jews as slaves to all corners of the empire. This, coupled with voluntary migration, is how Jews also might have come to present-day Austria.
As described in this ScienceDaily.com article, the inscription was at first incomprehensible because it was in Hebrew, transcribed in Greek characters: ΣΥΜΑ ΙΣΤΡΑΗΛ ΑΔΩNΕ ΕΛΩΗ ΑΔΩN Α - Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.

The amulet (there's an image of it at the link above) was discovered in 2006 by Nives Doneus from the Institute for Prehistory and Early History of the University of Vienna.

The one or two year old child, which presumably wore the silver amulet capsule around its neck, was buried in one of around 300 graves in a Roman cemetery which dates back to the 2nd to 5th century CE and is situated next to a Roman estate ("villa rustica"). This estate was an agricultural enterprise that provided food for the surrounding Roman towns (Carnuntum, Györ, Sopron).

The gravesite, discovered in 1986, has yielded more than 10,000 finds, including glass, ceramic and metal.

Other amulets have been found. This one, according to the article, is different because of its Jewish relevance. Tthe others had magical texts and other wording to protect against such demons as Antaura, which causes migraines.

The amulet will be displayed in an exhibit at the Burgenland State Museum (Eisenstadt, Austria) from April 11.

Read the complete article at the link above.

California: Jamboree program now online

The Southern California Genealogical Society has placed the 40th Jamboree program online . This great regional conference takes place Friday-Sunday, June 26-28, in Burbank, California.

There are more than 100 diverse programs, more than 50 speakers.

Of course, there's the Son of Blogger panel on Saturday morning and a Facebook F2F (face-to-face) get-together on Saturday evening.

Click on the program link for details on presentations, speaker bios, updates and snailmail registration form. Go to the society website for online registration.

There are some special workshops, such as Maureen Taylor's two-hour photo workshop, that will sell out early. If that's one you want to attend, register online ASAP.

Those already registered will soon receive a snailmail printed program. Attendees registering by the early bird deadline (May 14) will receive both the print and CD version of the syllabus.

SCGS is always on the creative edge - that goes for publicity also. Their mailing list includes all SCGS members, past Jamboree attendees and other sources. If you know someone - relative or friend - who might be interested, click on "Be added to our mailing list" and they'll also get a copy.

To learn all the exciting details as they happen, see the Genealogy Jamboree blog.

25 March 2009

The Bagnowka Project: Photos, videos, maps

Here's a look at pre-Holocaust towns in a video created by Tomek Wisniewski from historic footage and photos taken in Eastern European towns and shtetls. His The Bagnowka Project website offers extensive Polish Jewish cemetery information and additional useful links, old pre-war Polish and Eastern European maps.

Thank you to Reeva Kimble of Eugene, Oregon for this pointer to the video and the website.

Among the maps, I found a 1915 view of Suchostaw my maternal grandfather's shtetl, Suchostaw, which has been part of Galicia, Poland, Russia and is now in Ukraine.

The Project has its own YouTube channel with some 25 current videos. I viewed one for the forgotten town of Orla, which Wisniewski says does not appear on any tourist map. Its magnificent synagogue is still standing, unused and ignored, although some preservation work was undertaken in the 1980s. View it here.

The website currently includes 60,000 images and videos from Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine, with galleries on history, culture, cemeteries, synagogues, wooden architecture and more. Users are invited to submit photographs, videos and other information to assist all researchers.

The Bagnowka Project has been set up by a group of historians, linguists, journalists, naturalists and guides, united by a common interest in the history of Poland and the eastern borderlands, and their cultural and ethnic legacy.

Our members include authors, collectors of old photographs and maps, professors of diverse languages, specialists in archival work and genealogy, and people responsible for mounting exhibitions and creating internet sites dealing with these matters.

It is our sincere wish that the passion we share in preserving and disseminating the resources gathered here will inspire our audience to recognize that both the richness and harshness experienced by the varied cultures of Poland must be preserved in order to understand the present and move toward a more peaceful and tolerant future.

This wish again is reflected in the symbol of our project - Bagnówka, three distinct religious cemeteries that today adjoin peacefully in northeastern Poland.
Thank you to Reeva Kimble of Portland, Oregon, for this head's-up.

New York: Viva the Anousim Revolucíon, April 2

A senior rabbinical student at The Jewish Theological Seminary, Juan Mejia, will share his personal journey from his Catholic upbringing in Colombia back to the faith of his Jewish forefathers in Spain, before the Expulsion of the Jews in 1492.

In "Viva La Revolucíon: Furthering the Anusim (Crypto-Jewish)Revolution," Mejia will also discuss the current state of the Crypto-Jewish movement, the widespread phenomenon of Latinos everywhere reconnecting to their Jewish roots, and the challenges they face finding a home in the Jewish mainstream.

The program runs from 7-9pm, Thursday, April 2, at the Manhattan JCC, 334 Amsterdam Avenue. Admission: member, $10; others, $15. For more details or to register, click here.

Film: Vienna's Lost Daughters panel, April 17

"Vienna's Lost Daughters" is a documentary following eight New York women who grew up Jewish in Vienna and who had to flee in 1938-39.

The film deals with the women as they attempt to create normality over time, illustrating how memory is manifested across generations. It is a sensitive study of the "survival guilt" over being torn from Austrian culture, showing the women's reminiscences of a happy childhood, how they managed to keep Vienna living on in New York, and the legacy they've passed on to their children and grandchildren.

On April 17, the eight women and the crew will participate in a post-screening discussion., while on April 19 - Holocaust Memorial Day - there will be a post-screening discussion. For more details, see the film's website.

See the film's website for more information. Click "The Women" to learn more about each of the women: Rosalie Berezow, Anita Nagel Weisbord, Hennie Edelman, Susanne Perl, Alice "Lizzy" Winkler, Susy Orne, Eva Franzi Yachnes and Dorit Bader Whiteman.

Perl is the mother of Jewish Genealogical Society of New York member Marty Perl, who wrote "A Family Journey Back to Vienna," in the society's spring 2007 issue of its excellent journal, Dorot.

Click here to learn more about their lives and the film, and to read the words of director Mirjam Unger. Here's an excerpt of what Unger wrote:

I was extremely grateful to meet Vienna’s lost daughters. They made it possible for me to comprehend the horror of what happened as if I had been there, and then they told and showed me how in spite of their losses and humiliations they found the strength and courage to proudly and with determination get a foothold on another continent, in a foreign country, in the strange city of New York, and grow old there with dignity.

Now that the script, shooting and editing are finished and I’ve returned to everyday life with my family and children and Jewish roots, I’ve noticed how much the women in the film gave me. The greatness of their gift becomes obvious in many little things. The fact that family is the most important thing in life. The fact that, no matter what happens, people will never stop hoping, cooking and laughing. The fact that morning will always come.

The fact that children and grandchildren wipe away history and erase guilt, just because they’re born later. The fact that, on the other hand, history’s passed on invisibly, and the next generation will deal with all the things the previous one didn’t or wasn’t able to. And the fact that everything’s a matter of luck, which doesn’t mean you have to sit back and passively watch it happen, “at least you have to keep trying...”
The Manhattan showing will run from April 17-23, at the Village East Cinema.

A guide to Jewish genetic diseases

Moment magazine launched JewishHealth: Your Guide to Intelligent Living in its April issue:
Use this guide to stay informed about a wide spectrum of issues that may affect you and your family. In this first edition, we focus on rare genetic diseases that occur more often in Jews of Ashkenazi and Sephardic descent than in the general population.
Genetic mutations involving these conditions occur when a child inherits two recessive genes - one from the father, one from the mother. Today, tests can determine if parents carry these genes, and prenatal testing is possible for all the conditions on the list in the article.

Extensive Jewish community testing since the 1970s for just one genetic condition - Tay-Sachs - has nearly eradicated it. Professionals hope that testing for the others can achieve the same results.

The Ashkenazim are generally considered to have lived in Western - Central - Eastern Europe, while Sephardim can be traced to Iberia, North Africa and the Mediterranean (Greece, Italy, etc.). Tracing the Tribe also reminds readers that Sephardic communities existed alongside Ashkenazi communities in many locations; marriages between the two communities inevitably occurred.

While many Jewish families do not know their true origins, as evidenced by various genetic genealogy DNA projects, the facts of Jewish history through the ages also indicates that many non-Jewish families today are not aware of their roots following persecutions, forced conversions and assimilation.

Other professionals have said that genetics counselors may not know enough about Jewish history and migration patterns and should know more.

Most Jewish genealogists know that Jewish Records Indexing-Poland was begun by one man whose family carries an unusual blood condition - possibly fatal if treated in the wrong way - and wanted to let others - whose ancestors come from the same area - know about the possibility. What is amazing is that this same rare mutation has also been found in non-Ashkenazi families. Such cases raise interest in who our ancestors really were and our true origins.

Check out the article link above for more information on these genetic diseases. For even more information, simply Google the name of each and find many websites with extensive information.


Cystic Fibrosis
Crohn’s Disease
Bloom Syndrome
Canavan Disease
Familial Dysautonomia
Fanconi Anemia Type C
Gaucher Disease, Type 1
Mucolipidosis (ML IV)
Neimann-Pick Disease
Tay-Sachs Disease
Torsion Dystonia


Familial Mediterranean Fever
Glucose-6-Phosphate Dehydrogenase Deficiency (G6PD)
Glycogen Storage Disease, Type III (Cori’s Disease, Forbes Disease)
You owe it to yourself and your descendants to check out your own family health histories.

Read the complete article at the link above.

Food: A taste of heritage

In Jerusalem, they lined up for a taste of Grandma's cooking on Sunday at the first Festival of the Jerusalem Pot.

Trying to get a precise recipe from one of Jerusalem's elderly cooks is impossible - they have neither specific quantities nor cooking times.

"It's simple," says Rachel Guate, who was preparing a couscous and a black-eyed pea dish, delicacies from her native Tripoli that are much more complex than this description would imply.

The cooking process will have to remain a mystery. When asked, Guate listed only some of the ingredients: white beans, mangold leaves "ground really well and fried," stuffed intestines, some sort of beef patties that were cooked for hours, made from "beef fat, eggs, semolina, garlic and spices," and couscous.
The festival attracted thousands of hungry residents into the city's Mahane Yehuda market, reported Haaretz.

Some of the most famous home cooks were paired with famous chefs from local restaurants who helped the grandmothers make large quantities of traditional ethnic delights from many communities.

The enormous pots of food sat on improvised tables, while several road shows
offered additional entertainment. Unlike every other food festival that has been
held in recent years, this one offered a rare combination of roots, groove and
even Hassidic robes.
Chefs Keren Kadosh and Tallie Friedman, who organized the festival, visited each of the grandmothers in their own homes, eventually tasting food from 50-60 grandmothers. The event featured dishes from Morocco, Italy, Iran, Poland, Ashkenazi, Jerusalem, Kurdistan and Tripoli (Libya).

Nu? So where's the cookbook? I'd buy one if it were available.

Phoenix: Conversos on stage, through March 29

Along with books and articles detailing the personal experiences and history of Hispanics discovering their Jewish roots, comes a play, "Parted Waters." which will run through March 29 in Phoenix, Arizona.

Commissioned by the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, the play focuses on three generations of New Mexico Latinos. The grandfather observes his secret religion, the son won't acknowledge it, and the grandson has no clue about a hidden heritage until a family conflict erupts.

Sephardic Jews were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal. Many came to the US Southwest, particularly New Mexico, although Crypto-Jews are also found in Spain, Portugal and Latin America. Some families have preserved considerable knowledge and documents, continue to secretly observe Sephardic traditions and teach their children, while others have only a vague idea of their roots.

Playwright Robert Benjamin, of Los Alamos, New Mexico, did extensive research on crypto-Judaism in his state, as detailed in this Arizona Republic story.

"What surprised me was how much of a spectrum there is of experiences," he says. "There are people who embrace it, there are people for whom it is a curiosity, and other people for whom it is a life-changing experience" to discover something so unexpected about their family history.

The central theme is identity, Benjamin says.

"The point I try to make is that people need to think about their cultural identity and make choices," he says. "It's not necessarily a given."
Rabbi Yosef Garcia of Avdey Torah Haya, a Chandler, Arizona synagogue for Spanish-speaking Jews, says the situation is confusing for many hidden Jews because they don't find out until they're adults, when they hear their parents - on their deathbeds - say the family is Jewish.

Of Spanish and Portuguese descent, Garcia was born in the US and raised as a Catholic in Panama. When priests couldn't answer the altar boy's questions, he walked away from the religion at age 13. As an adult, and believing in God, he began studying Hebrew to understand the Bible better. The language came easily to him, almost as if he was Jewish.

At a family wedding, he told his great-uncle, and was stunned by the man's comment: "And he said, Well, we are Jews," Garcia recalls. "I had no idea. You could have knocked me over with a feather."

Garcia's congregation conducts services in Hebrew with instruction in Spanish, and its members are mostly Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Jews from such countries as El Salvador, Cuba, Puerto Rico or Mexico.

He is a member of the Association of Crypto-Jews of America, dedicated to assisting hidden or secret Jews "return" to the the faith of their fathers in a ceremony which is as old as the Inquisition itself. When hidden Jews began arriving in Amsterdam from Spain, well after the 1492 Expulsion, Sephardic rabbinical leaders instituted the ceremony, and also conducted Jewish remarriages, brit milah and education.

Many converso families have very negative feelings about the word "conversion" and feel that Ashkenazi congregations and many rabbis do not understand their history. Those who know their heritage want others to recognize that they have been in hiding. Conversion implies what the Inquisition forced on their ancestors, while a return ceremony is a welcome back after centuries of secrecy.

Shows are at 8pm Thursday-Saturday; 2 and 7pm Sunday, at the Paradise Valley Community College Center for the Performing Arts, 34th Street south of Union Hills Drive, Phoenix. Tickets are $15-40. Call 602-264-0402, or click here.

Jewish Arizona also carried a story on the play with additional insights and pointed to a Nextbook.org review of Yirmiyahu Yovel's book "The Other Within: The Marranos."

Although the book sounds excellent, it is an unfortunate use of the word marrano which is considered pejorative, insulting and worse to Hispanic Jews. Its use in the title perpetuates the idea that it is acceptable to continue to use the word, when most Conversos simply hate it and what it signifies.

An anecdote from the book details the experience of Spanish tourists visiting the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, in New York City. A man murmured a prayer while making the sign of the cross; the tour guide asked him about the prayer.

"Oh, it's an ancient custom in our family," the Spanish tourist replied.

It turns out that the man didn't know what the sounds he was making meant; he only knew that his was a family of "devout Catholics, and on entering a church we say this special benediction as a sign of extra piety."

Research on the part of a Hebrew-speaking friend revealed that what the man was saying was actually
shakets teshaktsenu, which is the phrase Moses uses in Deuteronomy when he commands the Israelites to hate idolatry.

In other words, not a Catholic prayer at all, but rather the vestige of a Jewish past so hidden that the man uttering the words did not know what they signified.

Read the complete stories at the links above for a better understanding of the issues.

24 March 2009

Los Angeles Area: FHC assisted research, April 5

What was your first genealogy research destination?

When I caught the ancestry bug eons ago, my initial research centered on the Los Angeles Regional Family History Center (FHC) in West Los Angeles. Among the resources I successfully accessed that first day were the Hamburg (Germany) direct and indirect passenger microfilms.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV) will meet from 1-5pm, Sunday, April 5, for an assisted research afternoon at the center.

Although the program is is open only to current paid JGSCV members, anyone may join or renew membership at the door ($25 individual, $30 family). The group offers excellent programming at its monthly meetings at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks.

JGSCV member experts and FHC volunteers will help participants get the most out of the Center's resources, including assistance with many popular online genealogical databases including Ancestry.com, Footnote.com, Heritage Quest, World Vital Records, Godfrey Memorial Library, among others.

Also available is FHC's extensive microfilm collection including US and international census records, Eastern European and other international and domestic vital records, maps and gazetteers.

Bring research documents and a flash drive to download electronic images of online images; photocopies are also available. There is more information in this PDF handout on preparing for the assisted research afternoon.

Jewish Genealogy Society of Los Angeles librarian and FHC volunteer Barbara Algaze will provide an introduction to the extensive resources.

The center is located at 10741 Santa Monica Blvd. West Los Angeles (on the grounds of the LDS Temple) . Parking is free.

For more details, click JGSCV, or email.

23 March 2009

Rivlin family traces 450 years, 50,000 descendants

The Rivlin family, which traces more than 450 years of history, just welcomed its 50,000th member in Jerusalem on March 23, according to the Jerusalem Post. Some 35,000 of the baby's ancestors either previously or currently reside in Israel.

The family has its own website and its genealogy documents 22 generations. The first known family ancestor, Rabbi Yosef of Ovan, lived in Vienna around 1550 and was exiled to Prague.

Among prominent members: the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna); Yosef Yoel Rivlin, the author of the first Hebrew-edition Koran; the first female mayor of Israel; several actresses, political figures and TV presenters; and former Knesset speakers Avraham Burg and Reuven Rivlin.

The family also activated its application to the Guinness World Records and hopes to set the record for the world's largest tribe.

In October, the main family event will take place in Jerusalem, when some 5,000 Rivlin relatives will gather to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the family's immigration to Israel in 1809, encouraged by the Vilna Gaon.

The family's first genealogical project was created and maintained by Eliezer Rivlin, who died in 1940.

Family member Reuven Rivlin said:
"Family history is very important to me, and I was brought up knowing the origins of my family. They were the real Zionists at the beginning of the 19th century. I am a Rivlin from my mother and father's side, as they are seventh-generation cousins. My father is a descendent of the Gaon and the mitnagdim [opponents of Hassidism], and my mother is a descendent of the cousin of the Gaon, who was considered to have betrayed the Gaon."
The family continues its genealogical heritage commitment, and the website says.

"It is said that a people who are not acquainted with their past will not have a future. Our family's past history is an impressive one, and it is hoped that its future will be just as great and will not constitute a disappointment to its past."

Read the complete article at the link above.

France: The Pope's Jews in Provence

Author Jules Farber penned a fascinating account, in the Washington Post, of his Provence trip on the trail of the "Pope's Jews." He is the author of Les Juifs du Pape en Provence: Itineraires.

We went through the medieval walls encircling Avignon's ancient heart to experience the cavernous architectural splendor of the 14th-century Palace of the Popes, one of Europe's largest and most important Gothic buildings. This home away from Rome, where seven popes and two antipopes reigned over the Christian world in altera Roma, was, our guide explained, a refuge from feared assassination in tumultuous Rome.

That's when the guide added: "In all that time, the pope's Jews were protected from the belligerent surrounding French kingdom, which expelled them under threat of forced conversion. No Protestants, heretics, agnostics or atheists were permitted in the papal enclave -- only the Jews." Our ears pricked up at this unexpected revelation, and we decided to follow in the footsteps of the papal "chosen people."

Although the Jews were tolerated, they were limited to three trades: secondhand textiles, used furniture (brocante) and money lending. Men wore a yellow rouelle (cloth badge) and women were required to sew yellow fabric to their bonnets.

Farber writes that Jews were restricted to four southern France cities - Avignon, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Cavaillon and Carpentras - and to an early form of ghettos called carrieres, where Christian gatekeepers locked the gates at night.

Carpentras was the capital of the Comtat Venaissin region in papal times. It is home to the oldest functioning synagogue in France, dating from 1367, when 20% of the 2,500 residents were Jewish. The town was called La Petite Jerusalem.

Like all congregation members since the 18th-century restoration, we passed under cruciform windows designed by the Christian architect. The open door revealed a surprising burst of Provencal tints of rose, green, blue and yellow, Louis XV-style decoration, chandeliers, classical Greek-inspired columns, faux-marbre walls and carved rose motifs. Unlike in synagogues elsewhere, the rabbi officiated from a pulpit with a baldachin, a kind of canopy, on a balcony above the worshipers.

Farber describes the Comtat synagogue architecture which provided two prayer rooms: a large, beautifully decorated one for men, while, women sat - not in the balcony - hidden in a cave-like underground area. Closed off by a grill, they could not see the service but only hear it. The grill could be lifted only when the Torahs were taken out.

A medieval mikvah fed by a natural spring is underground, and the lowest level houses the bakery with ovens for daily and Shabbat bread with more ovens for coudolles (matzoh, Provencal), which were exported worldwide until the early 20th century.

The Jewish cemetery is about a half-mile from the city center. The popes did not permit visible markers, so tombstones with inscriptions were buried with the deceased for 400 years. In the late 18th century, upright tombstones were permitted.

St. Siffrein Cathedral has a late-15th century southern door known as the Jewish Gate, topped by the Rats' Ball (stone ball with scrambling rats). The congregation's president told Farber that if Jews sought conversion, they could enter near the baptism font and leave by the front door as new Christians - few did.

No one really knows what the strange sculpture means, but there's a legend that the 'Rats' Ball' represents the Catholic Church being bitten by heretics -- Jews, Moors and Cathars." The Carpentras tourism office, on the other hand, says it represents the passage of time eating away at the world.

In Cavaillon, Rue Hebraique is the only original, intact carriere in the region. The synagogue is now a city-owned museum. It was reconstructed in the late 18th century on 15th-century foundations. Like Carpentras, there are two prayer rooms for men, a basement bakery and women's area. The lower levels house the Jewish Comtadin Museum, with books, manuscripts and Judaica, tombstones, Torah Arks and marriage contracts. Objects include an oil lamp with a double menorah from either 1st century BC or BCE, when Romans ruled Provincia (southern Gaul).

Avignon's Place Jerusalem has very tall houses. In crowded ghettos, Jews built up for more space. The city-owned 1348 synagogue was rebuilt after an 1845 fire. Not decorated on the level of Carpentras and Cavaillon, there is still the underground matzoh oven. The original synagogue had prayer and meeting rooms, marriage hall, slaughterhouse/butcher and mikveh.

In L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue - Venice of the Comtat - there are canals and water wheels. The synagogue was almost destroyed by French artillery in 1793 - only the elaborate grill separating men and women during religious services was saved.

Although the "Pope's Jews" were basically prisoners, they survived, practiced their faith and buried their dead. Farber writes that for more than 500 years, religious services ended with a prayer, "petitioning God to 'exalt our sovereign and Holy Father, the pope.'"

There is a companion article with travel, restaurant, hotel and tourist information.

Read the complete article at the link above for much more.

Romania: Blogger receives project grant

Congratulations to fellow blogger Ruth Ellen Gruber who writes the Jewish Heritage Travel blog.

She recently received the Hadassah Brandeis Institute's Michael Hammer Tribute Research Grant. HBI awards 20-30 grants annually in support of academic and artistic projects about Jews and gender.

Ruth's project - (Candle)sticks on Stone: Representing the Woman in Jewish Tombstone Art - focuses on beautifully carved women's tombstones in the Jewish cemetery in Radauti, Romania, where her great-grandmother - Ettel Gruber - is buried.

The tombstones - with candlestick carvings - will be photographed. The images will be combined with historical research, personal reflection and memoir to create an interdisciplinary online gallery and exhibit to be supplemented by anecdotes, literary references and personal stories.

Sabbath candles are a common symbol on the tombstones of Jewish women. This is because lighting the Sabbath candles is one of the three so-called "women's commandments" carried out by female Jews: these also include observing the laws of Niddah separating men from women during their menstrual periods, and that of Challah, or burning a piece of dough when making bread.

She will likely include several other nearby northern Romania towns - Siret, Botosani, Gura Humorului, Suceava - focusing on the same carvings. Ruth plans to set up an additional blog where she will report on the project's progress.

For more information on the project, see Ruth's post.

Take a look at the rest of the 2008 awards at the HBI page under "Scholars and Grants." I learned that our cousin Galeet Dardashti received an Arts award for "Voices of Our Mothers: A Middle Eastern Musical Midrash for Today."

There are many interesting awards that may spur some of dedicated genealogists to propose their own projects. Categories include biography, history, Judaism, Yishuv & Israel, Film & Video, and Arts. Guidelines for the 2009 series will be posted in June.

Identity in the digital age

The Internet brings people together as it helps genealogists access resources to help themselves and others to learn about their ancestors and their own identities.

Tracing the Tribe finds interesting stories in many sources, such as Rabble.ca, which publishes news, features, interviews, commentaries, columns and other items.

Earlier this month, the site published Jewish Identity in the Digital Age - focusing on Jewish identity and genealogy- written by students of the University of Western Ontario's MA journalism program.

Included in this excellent and richly-detailed story are:
-Lukasz Biedka: Psychologist, author, researcher of history and Jewish genealogy, contributor to David Semmel's Prezemysl Blog. For 15 years, Biedka been part of a psychotherapists' team working with Holocaust survivors and the second generation in Poland. His mother was a hidden child.

The Internet provides access to online databases and Jewish genealogy sites where people all over the world can search for a certain place or a certain name, and associate facts more quickly. He's become an expert - "a human database" - on Przemysl's Jews, collecting databases, memories, testimonies, documents and photos and connecting with people online for their shared history.

Those searching for Jewish ancestors, from a culture of secrecy or a recent discovery, it's more than just curiosity - it is searching for identity. The bigger the mystery, the larger the quest for meaning. We are always learning something new.

- Roma Baran: Her story appeared in the Prezemysl blog. Her Jewish parents completely hid their Jewish identity.

After receiving a genealogist's email hinting at her origins, she spoke to relatives, utilized JewishGen and its Family Finder, JRI-Poland and other internet resources to find information and discover the truth.

She is discovering a shared sense of belonging through the Internet, not only connecting with family but with the larger Jewish community and praises generous people for their time and assistance, making contacts, translating or making documents available.

- David Semmel: Creator of the Przezemysl Blog, which aims to bring together descendents of Jews driven out of the town during World War II. He had visited the town as a child with his grandparents and wanted to learn more.

Tech-savvy, he thought using the Internet to help other people with their genealogical research was an obvious choice to help re-establish a Jewish identity once lost or unknown.

- Donna Halper: Teaches communications at Lesley University (Cambridge, MA). She's been teaching Americans about Judaism for years.

The Internet, she says, has just made things possible that wouldn't have been possible in any other time in history. Her story links a Congo man with the Abayudaya Jewish community in Uganda.

- Gary Mokotoff: Award-winning Jewish genealogist, Holocaust specialist, publisher of Jewish genealogy resource books.

He thought the Holocaust was something that happened elsewhere until he traced his family back five generations, found 1,700 descendants of his great-great-great-grandfather, and learned that 400 were murdered.

The Internet he says, plays a significant role in helping Jews make family history discoveries, and cuts down the amount of time necessary to find information by 90%.
These individuals cover the search for identity, Holocaust research, hidden children, secrecy, Jewish outreach, technology, and mention major websites and resources.

Read the complete story here.

It is part of Who R U? An Exploration of Identity at the Edge of Tech, a collaborative feature of the 2008 Online Journalism class, exploring how technology "is changing our identities and our idea of identity." Each of nine episodes will include a feature article, podcast and video segment.