31 August 2009

Food: A yummy trip through deli-land

One of my last stops in New York City before heading to the airport is a visit to Artie's Deli on Broadway. My husband's "care package" includes a few pounds of both extra-lean corn beef and pastrami, a loaf of real Jewish rye, real deli mustard. I freeze the meat and pack everything in my carry-on. Now that's a real welcome back dinner!

In Israel, however, I haven't found one real deli. How is it possible for a Jewish country NOT to have even one real deli? I salivate over fresh-roasted thin-carved turkey breast on good NY rye, slathered with thick Russian dressing, a bowl of sour pickles and another of good coleslaw. My husband dreams about real NY corn beef and pastrami.

But here? No such thing. I roast my own turkey breast, so I'm covered in that department, but I'm not up to what my grandmother and great-grandmother did - making their own corn beef, pastrami and pickles. You can season and broil (to the rare-ish state) a nice piece of sinta, and thin slice it for sandwiches the next day, but it isn't the same thing.

Only back a few weeks, I'm already having deli day dreams, so this JTA book review by Sue Fishkoff, published in the Jerusalem Post here came at exactly the right time. Coming out in August is David Sax's "Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen."

Yum. Oh, to be in a city with one of these major destinations!

This one just went to the top of my book wish list.

When it comes to Jewish delicatessen, 30-year-old David Sax is the go-to guy. A longtime deli aficionado, the annoyingly trim Sax spent three years eating his way through more than 150 Jewish delis to research "Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen," a wistful, riotously funny paean to this quintessential slice of American Jewish history.

The book, which will be published in October by Houghton Miflin Harcourt, is a delicious romp through a fast-disappearing world.

In 1931, Sax reports, there were 2,000 delis in New York City, three-quarters of them kosher. Today, Sax says, his research turns up 25 Jewish delis in the city, two-thirds of which are kosher. A similar pattern has followed across North America, with city after city sounding the death knell for its last traditional deli. Sax guesses there are just a few hundred left worldwide, most of them in the United States.

"The Jewish deli is dying," Sax told JTA. "Each time I hear a deli closes, something inside me dies."
The kosher pastrami sandwich may date from the late 1880s, as Fishkoff mentions writer Patricia Volk who told Sax that her great-grandfather was the first to make one. German immigrants brought this type of business to New York in the 1820s, according to Sax. About half-a-century later, MOTs were making kosher variations to the treif foods, such as schmaltz instead of lard, etc.

There's a discussion of kosher versus kosher-style (which isn't) and that the high cost of kosher meat means few places can afford it.

But most of this book is about food, the gloriously fatty, heart-stopping Ashkenazi cuisine that is the signature of the Jewish deli: braised brisket in wine sauce; pickled tongue; cabbage rolls in sweet-and-sour tomato; matjes herring; and, of course, the litany of "k's," the knishes, kreplach, kugel and kvetching.

He saves his highest praise for the deli meats: corned beef pickled and boiled in vats of brine; pastrami, lovingly rubbed with secret spice mixtures, then smoked and steamed to perfection. The way to suss out a good deli, he says, is to order the matzah ball soup and whatever deli meat the city specializes in, be it corned beef, tongue, pastrami or smoked beef, a softer, gentler Canadian variant.
Delis are nostalgia, as we remember our childhoods, visits with grandparents or great-grandparents. I remember those horrible-by-today's-standards absoutely delicious greasy thick-cut deli fries back on Avenue D in East Flatbush. By the time you got a bag home, you were covered in dripping oil. The indescribable taste was like nothing else anywhere.

I don't want wasabi-shmeared corn beef or turkey breast. For wasabi, I go to any number of excellent Japanese restaurants in Tel Aviv. I don't need fushion deli-Asian. I'm a purist when it comes to this kind of food. I may just decide to put up a barrel (well, maybe a glass jar!) of pickles or a hunk of meat, if I get desparate enough.

And if you are looking for great Jewish pastrami or cornbeef in Northern California's Silicon Valley, there's a fantastic kosher restaurant in Mountain View (the home of Google) called The Kitchen Table where the young brilliant chef makes his own pickled meats and pickles. The highest compliment I can pay to The Kitchen Table is that we went there three times and most people didn't even know it was kosher. The food was creative, fresh and excellent. The chef even makes kosher lamb bacon - now that was a BLT to remember! Since our visits, I've been making yam fries. Visit the Table's website for the menu, and make sure to eat there when you're in Google's neighborhood.

The article ends with a lament about the disappearing delis of San Francisco, and that it's a shanda for only two delis to serve a region with more than 350,000 Jews. What about here in Israel, where there are millions of people without even one deli?

Friends and relatives planning a Tel Aviv trip might want to visit their good neighborhood deli and bring some along for us.

Oh, and the other delicacy lacking is Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (the bags of mini's are best). Hint hint!

Ohio: The Cincinnati-Kennedy connection

As the country mourns the loss of Sen. Edward Kennedy, one family feels the loss even more personally.

Cincinnati.com carried the story of the family of Boris Katz, now a top researcher at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. His daughter Jessica was called "The Littlest Refusenik," and thanks to Kennedy, the family allowed to move from Moscow to Boston for life-saving treatment.

"Who can say why a congressman [Tom Luken] and people from Cincinnati got so involved?" said Katz, whose daughter married this summer. The family had no local ties but their situation touched the city's Jewish community some 30 years ago.

Jessica was born in 1977 in Moscow with malabsorption syndrome, a disease that prevented her from digesting milk or food. Soviet doctors could not cure the condition, and as their infant daughter grew ever weaker, her parents realized her only hope for survival hinged on treatment in the West.

Soviet officials, however, denied the family permission to leave, citing security issues, as they often did in the case of "refuseniks," the name given to dissidents but also to those whose only offense often was simply asking to leave the country. Boris' wife, Natalya, had knowledge, Soviet authorities said, of state secrets through her job at the Soviet Institute of Experimental Meteorology and the Institute of Geophysics, a claim she denied.

"You never knew who would be denied a visa or why - and that was the point," Boris Katz said. "They could say it was about state secrets, but that usually was just nonsense. The more arbitrary and random the process was, the less likely people would be to apply for a visa, knowing they could lose their job and have their life disrupted for the next 15 years."
The story details the people involved in getting the little girl out of the Soviet Union. Among them were Lillian Silver of Roselawn, whose father-in-law Rabbi Eliezer Silver of Avondale, raised "millions of dollars funneled to passport thieves, counterfeiters, smugglers and even top Nazi officers to buy not just the freedom, but the lives, of Jews in death camps and trapped behind enemy lines." As national president of Vaad Hatzala (Rescue Committee), his actions directly saved some 10,000 individuals and spared many more.

Children's Hospital in the city was said to be one of the few centers equipped to treat the child's condition and a volunteer told Silver, who launched a letter-writing campaign, arranged for local Jews visiting the Soviet Union to deliver the non-milk formula required. When Congressman Luken's office was contacted for assistance, the local story brought in a national audience, including Kennedy's staff, and others became involved in the medical and humanitarian aspects of the case.

The story has all the characteristics of a good espionage thriller. Phone calls from public phones, taxi cabs, strangers bringing supplies from the US.

"This was an amazing thing to us," Boris Katz said in an interview last week. "In our small apartment in Moscow, we of course had no idea what a congressman or senator or people in America were trying to do for us. But it gave us hope."
One woman who has stayed in touch with the family all these years was Dabby Blatt of Wyoming. In August 1978, her family visited the Moscow family.

Once Kennedy became involved, things moved faster. He visited Moscow in September 1978 to press Brezhnev to allow them to emigrate. Two months later, they arrived in Boston and she got the treatment she needed.

Thirty years on, Katz recalled, that he's "still surprised how many people were brave enough to pack the baby formula and other things we needed in their luggage and then, despite KGB intimidation, deliver it to us in a dark Moscow street."

"But this is the interesting thing about life - it only needs one person to give the spark and another to help."

Blatt and her daughter attended Jessica's July wedding in New York.

Read the complete story at the link above, and remember that it takes only one person to believe in a cause to accomplish major achievements.

Leaving Prague: Retracing her steps

In 1938, Sudetenland was occupied by Hitler's troops. On the border with Czechoslovakia, thousands were driven from their homes. In other countries, "kindertransports" were organized to save Jewish children by sending them out of central Europe, but no plan had been created in Czechoslovakia.

Two months later, a young British stockbroker - today Sir Nicholas Winton - was planning to go skiing in Switzerland when he received a phone call from a Westminster School teacher Martin Blake, also an ambassador for the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. Blake asked Winton to make an emergency visit to Prague.

After visiting refugee camps outside Prague, Winton realised he had to act quickly.

"I found out the children of refugees and other groups of people who were enemies of Hitler weren't being looked after. I decided to try to get permits to Britain for them.

"Everybody in Prague said, 'Look, there is no organisation in Prague to deal with refugee children, nobody will let the children go on their own, but if you want to have a go, have a go'.

"And I think there is nothing that can't be done if it is fundamentally reasonable."
Winton recruited a team to organize a series of trains, while he returned to the UK to find homes for the children.

From March-August 1939, eight trains saved 669 children. The last train, with 250 on board, was to leave September 1 - the day the war began. German troops stopped the train, the children and families left behind were deported to concentration camps.

Born Lisa Dasch, Lisa Midwinter was 3 when she traveled to England with her brother. They were born in Teplice, near the German border to a wealthy family who were vacationing when they received word not to go home but to go to Prague. Of the journey to the UK, she says:
"I remember this great big black object as high as you could see. I remember figures in blue, which must have been the train driver, singing and handkerchiefs, and terrific noise.

"I remember handkerchiefs being waved and crying, and seeing grown-ups crying."

At the end of the journey, Ms Midwinter said she felt "totally desolate with a card on the front of me".

"I remember this feeling of being all alone in a totally foreign place."
The story describes how Midwinter, a Londoner, is preparing for a trip back into her past. The four-day journey with her son and granddaughter will retrace her childhood experience and to meet the man who saved her.

Her first home was with a dentist's family in Manchester but they could not cope with the traumatized child, who was taken in by a friend of her mother's. Fortunately, Midwinter's story ended happily as her parents made it out and settled in Stoke-on-Trent, and also served as surrogate parents for many Czech children.

More than 100 people will join with Midwinter on the trip between Prague and London; 20 of them are Winton's "children," with their own children and grandchildren.

Midwinter is determined that her family should understand how much they owe to Sir Nicholas, and gain a glimpse of the agony faced by Czech parents who knew they were seeing their children for the last time.

But above all that they should understand they are part of an extraordinary worldwide family which owes its existence to the man who, at the age of 100, will once again stand on the platform at Liverpool Street to welcome them.
Read the complete story here. And for much more about Winton (Thanks, Judith!), click here. That article reveals that "Winton was born to Jewish parents that converted and baptized him."

30 August 2009

Poland: '70 years later, we're still here,' Aug. 31

The Polish Jewish community will officially commemorate the start of World War II on Monday, August 31, in Gdansk.

The event's slogan is "70 years later - We are still here," co-sponsored by the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland and Shavei Israel, to highlight the current revival of Polish Jewry and to recall fallen Jewish soldiers

As part of the Polish government's official series of events marking seven decades since the start of World War II, Poland's Jewish community and Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel will hold a special ceremony in Gdansk, a northern port city, to commemorate the war's outbreak and set the way for the Holocaust.

The ceremony will begin Monday at 4.30pm at the Gdansk synagogue - Ul. Partyzantow 7 - and is listed on the official government schedule of events. World War II officially began on September 1, 1939, when a Nazi warship bombarded Gdansk and the city was invaded by German soldiers.

Attending the ceremony, in addition to senior Polish and foreign government officials, will be the president of the country's Jewish communities Piotr Kadlcik, Gdansk Jewish community president Michal Samet and Shavei Israel chair Michael Freund.

Freund was the initiative behind the ceremony and has played a key role in strengthening Polish Jewry by dispatching young rabbis to serve in Warsaw, Krakow and Wroclaw, in addition to sponsoring seminars and educational trips to Israel for young Polish Jews.

Rabbi Michael Schudrich, Chief Rabbi of Poland, will recall at the event the 6 million Jews who were killed during the holocaust, and the Jewish soldiers in the Polish Armed Forces who died fighting the Nazi invaders.

The ceremony will also underscore the nascent revival of Polish Jewry that is underway, as a number of young Jews from across Poland, many of whom have only recently discovered their Jewish roots, will also take part. It will therefore be held under the slogan, "70 years later.... We are still here."
The “Hidden Jews” of Poland and revival of Polish Jewry are phenomenons growing in Poland over recent years. Many Jews are slowly returning to Judaism and the Jewish people and many of them had lost all Judaic conact after extreme anti-Semitism following the Holocaust. Others concealed their identity from the authorities and now feel free to resume their true identity.

The new movement includes Jewish children adopted by Catholic families and institutions during the Holocaust, but were never told of their origins. Although today's official Jewish count of those registered is some 4,000, various estimates claim there are tens of thousands of others who have either concealed their identity are are unaware of it.

Freund, a former New Yorker, founded the non-profit Shavei Israel to strengthen ties between Israel and descendants of Jews around the world.

Today, the group is active in nine countries and provides assistance to such communities as the Bnei Menashe (India); Bnai Anousim (Spain, Portugal and South America); Subbotnik Jews (Russia); Kaifeng's Jewish community (China); Poland's "Hidden Jews" of Poland from the Holocaust era; and others.

Visit Shavei Israel at the link above to learn more.

29 August 2009

The violin: Did Jews invent it?

"How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" goes the old joke. "Practice, practice, practice!" is the answer.

As a former fiddler who switched to the viola very early (much more demand for viola players!) before I entered the High School of Music & Art in New York City (hooray for the old powder blue and magenta!). Questioning the color combo? Well, we were also an art school and we didn't have a football team!

I found this story fascinating. Did Jews invent the violin - and Sephardic Jews at that?

Some scholars believe that the Jewish connection to the violin may go back to the very beginning. According to Historical Performance Program director Monica Huggett of the Juilliard School, "It doesn't look like the violin is of Italian origin. It looks like it's of Jewish origin."

The origin of the violin has always been murky. Scholars have suspected that the violin's precursor, the viol, was invented in Spain in the second half of the 15th century - before the Jews were expelled. Then, shortly after the Spanish expulsion, the viol showed up in Italy, where it quickly developed into the violin we know today. But who brought the viol to Italy, and who is responsible for its development into the violin, have largely remained a mystery.

In the last few decades, some scholars have concluded that Jewish musicians were the ones responsible. The violin seems to have originated in Italy in the first half of the 16th century, around the same time that the expelled Spanish Jews would have settled there. And the viol seems to have traveled the same path and at the same time that the Jews fled Spain.

While few scholars have published research backing this theory, the idea is beginning to strike a chord in the music world. At a biannual violin symposium at the Juilliard School in May, which draws the world's top violinists, Huggett presented a keynote lecture outlining the history of the violin. She excitedly announced to the roughly 100 violinists in the audience that she's waiting for more research to be conducted that would definitively add the violin to the list of Jewish achievements.
At a violin symposium in May, Huggett gave a lecture on the instrument's history and announced she was waiting for more research to add the violin to the list of Jewish achievements.

Roger Prior, 73, a retired University of Belfast lecturer, was the first to propose the theory and has two articles and book on Jewish musicians under his belt.

"Did you know that there's no reference to the violin in Spain in the 16th century? When the Jews were pushed out of Spain, one of the obvious places they went to was Italy. That's where the violin seems to have been developed. That's the reason for linking the Jews and the violin. I think that's been quite well-documented," Prior says.

Prior serendipitously came to unravel the mystery of the Jewish musicians while researching a different discipline and a different part of Europe - the court of King Henry VIII. Around 1983, as a lecturer in the University of Belfast's Department of English, Prior was researching the identity of the "Dark Lady," the mysterious woman mentioned in several of Shakespeare's sonnets. Noted British historian A.L. Rowse suggested that the Dark Lady was a woman by the name of Emilia Bassano, and Prior began investigating her biography.
Bassano, of course, was Sephardic, and other court musicians were also Sephardic. According to Prior, the timeline is something like this, at least for the English court:

In the early 16th century, King Henry VIII began a campaign to increase the prestige of the English court. He started by hiring prestigious Italian musicians, and in 1540 a group of six Italian viol players showed up at his doorstep. Prior's research concludes that most of these viol players were probably Spanish or Portuguese Jews who had fled to Italy after the 1492 Spanish expulsion. Since Jews seem to have been leading viol players around the same time that the viol developed into the violin, Prior concludes that Jews may have played a role in the creation of the violin.
In 1541, historians have written, Henry VIII was told that there were "Marranos," Portuguese Jews who formally converted to Christianity but still practiced Judaism in secret, living in London. He had them imprisoned as he was currying favor with Charles V and believed that prosecuting secret Jews would help his cause as a Catholic. Charles's sister, and the Portuguese king and queen became champions for the imprisoned crypto-Jews and they were released.

Their identity has been a mystery until Prior made the connection to Henry VIII's viol ensemble. The records used to support the arrests were from Milan, where the viol players lived before coming to England.

In prison, however, two of the crypto-Jews died. They were John Anthony, a Jewish sackbut (a very early trombone) player, and viol player Romano of Milan. Anthony had a will and four of the viol players were witnesses. The official record, according to Prior, shows that Anthony's name appears as "Anthonii Moyses," and witness Ambrose of Milan became "Ambrosius deolmaleyex." Prior believes Anthony was Jewish, since "Moyses" was a common Jewish name.

As far as Romano's name of "deolmaleyex", Prior believes that an English clerk "butchered" the name "de Olmaliah" or "de Almaliah" - the Sephardi version of "Elmaleh," he says.

The two likely changed their names to hide their Jewish identities. In prison for being Jews, they no longer had to hide who they were.

Many of Henry VIII's court musicians were Jewish. There's a political angle to this as well as the artistic angle. As Jews, they didn't take sides against Catholics or Protestants, and they were considered very good musicians. There was also no organized Inquisition in England.

Back to the instrument itself and Prior's second major theory - that the famous violinmaker family Amati was Jewish. The are credited for being the modern instrument's first makers and also taught Antonio Stradivari - of Stradivarious fame - how to make them.

If they were Jewish, says Prior, it points to the instrument being of Jewish origin.

Prior looked at the family name and researched it - here come the genealogists! - in Bibliografia Ebraica, a Jewish-Italian name book by Carlo Barduzzi, who suggests that the Hebrew surname Haviv or Habib (lovable, likable - Hebrew) equals the Italian surname Amato (beloved - Italian).
Tracing the Tribe also consulted Pere Bonnin's Sangre Judia (4th expanded edition) and discovered Amat (Balearic Islands, 1391), Amato (1492, Tarazona) and Amatu (1366, Navarre). Another source is the Name Search Engine at Sephardim.com, which lists these recognized Sephardic names in a host of publications: Amat, Amato, Amator and Amatu. According to the search engine at Jeff Malka's SephardicGen.com, there are Amato/Amado (Rhodes, Turkey, Italy, Portuguese Inquisition records, Les Fleurs de Orient).

However, Prior says his research via Barduzzi is not enough to verify that the Amatis were indeed Jewish.

There are skeptics, such as University of London Jewish music ethnomusicologist Prof. Alexander Knapp who says there isn't enough evidence for Prior's theories.

"As far as I understand, the viol existed in Italy and lots of other places throughout Europe. One can't say it existed in Spain and was then brought to Italy. Even if it was, it doesn't mean to say that Jews are the only ones who played the viol. So the violin could have been invented by others, then the Jews traveled. But other people traveled too, like gypsies. So I think it's unrealistic, wishful thinking to say that," Knapp says.
Musicians themselves have chimed in, such as Russian-Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman.
"I hope I'm not perceived as chauvinistic, but it's a fact of life: The greatest violinists who ever lived were Jewish. I do feel that I am the next link. I carry on the tradition, to the best of my ability of course. I feel the
weight of generations on my shoulders."
Famous Jewish musicians include Salamone Rossi (17th century), and 19th century violinists Joseph Joachim (Brahms dedicated his violin concerto to Joachim), Ferdinand David (Mendelssohn dedicated his violin concerto to David), and violinist/composer Henryk Wieniawski.

The 20th century list is even more familiar to Tracing the Tribe's readers: Jascha Heifetz, Isaac Stern, Yehudi Menuhin, David Oistrakh, Nathan Milstein, Mischa Elman, Itzhak Perlman, Shlomo Mintz, Pinchas Zukerman, Gil Shaham, Joshua Bell, Hagai Shaham and Vadim Gluzman.

Why so many Jews? A wandering people would find it difficult to shlep along a huge brass instrument, double bass or set of drums. A flute or a smallish stringed instrument - now that fits in a bag that one person could carry!

Israeli violinist Hagai Shaham says in the story that "The violin is a much more sophisticated instrument than the clarinet - it's much more versatile." There are also more employment possibilities as orchestras have more seats for violinists than the small number of those for clarinet players.

Politics again played a role in Russia, for example, where Jews were restricted to living in certain places. A famous musician had no such obstacles. Many of the 19th-20th century's famous violinists went up and out of the shtetls and their families could legally live in big cities.

There's much more to the complete story, so read it at the link above.

Planning ahead: Gifts for genealogists

JMK offers gifts carrying quirky sayings that only a genealogist could love.

If you're looking for something to hit your genealogy spot and funny bone at the same time, take a look.

The latest T-shirt, mug, tote bag, note cards, mousepad or whatever features "Dating Tips for Genealogists." Socially-challenged family historians might appreciate these hints.

- The cemetery is not a normal rendezvous point for a first date.

- Making the observation that your date’s soundex code is K564 is unlikely to impress them.

- If your date likes you enough to reveal their date of birth, do not ask for an independent source of proof.

- When driving your date home after dinner, do not take a "romantic detour" via the local history center.

- Resist the temptation to wear a t-shirt that says "I love dead folks" or "I feel happiest in graveyards."

- To aid recognition on a blind date, wear a bright flower or carry a copy of a well known newspaper. Do not carry a copy of "Olafson's illustrated guide to the Swedish cemeteries of Illinois."

And, there's always the old favorite: "Genealogists party like 'twas 1799."

Check out JMK's blog and its archives for many other ideas.

27 August 2009

Technology: Hebrew writing found under Arabic

In Israel, the computer science and humanities departments at the Ben-Furion University to read historical Hebrew documents, overwritten by Arabic.

The documents being worked on at BGU are degraded texts from sources such as the Cairo Geniza, the Al-Aksa manuscript library in Jerusalem, and the Al-Azar manuscript library in Cairo. Many of the original Hebrew texts found in the Cairo Geniza have been scratched off, and the parchment re-used to write an Arabic text.

University computer scientists developed a way to search electronically, letter by letter for similarities in handwriting to help determine the texts' date and author.

One example detailed in the story concerned a book from the Geniza, now in Italy, but originally a siddur (Jewish prayer book). It had been rewritten as an Arabic text, and the goal was how to read the first book (in Hebrew), which meant they had to find a way to "disappear" the Arabic text and leave only the original Hebrew characters.

To solve the problem, the text is covered in a dark grey color, which then highlights lighter colored pixels as background space and identifies the darker pixels as outlining the original Hebrew lettering.

Read the complete article here in the Jerusalem Post.

JGSLA 2010: On our way!

Philly is over and here comes Los Angeles in 2010.

Stay tuned for the exciting events planned. There will be many innovations taking place, from website pages in various languages, to new forms of communication for prospective and registered attendees - lots of new stuff!

So now - drum roll, please - JGSLA 2010 is looking for volunteers to translate the information pages for the website into Polish, Lithuanian, Romanian and Farsi.

This will be for descriptive text, about 1,000 words. If you are a native fluent speaker or are at that level and feel this is something you can do well, the committee would like to get this completed over the next three weeks. Contact Pam for more information if you are volunteering to translate Polish, Lithuanian, Romanian or Farsi.

The committee has already lined up enough translators for Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Russian, Ukrainian, French, Italian and German.

It should be obvious to all that JGSLA 2010 is really making an international effort.

See you in Los Angeles, July 11-16, 2010. Mark your calendars now!

South Dakota: Deadwood's Jewish community

South Dakota's Jewish history was featured in the Jerusalem Post, and I've added a few more sources for those fascinated by Jewish pioneer history.

From 1876-1900, the general population was about 5,000, with only a few hundred Jews among them, but they owned more than 30% of downtown businesses. In 1999, the town's Adams Museum & House hosted an exhibit, "An Unbroken Chain: Deadwood's Jewish Legacy."

In 1878, British Jewish immigrant Paul Rewman opened the town's first phone service in the red brick Telephone Co. Building.

The JPost story was titled "Gold(bergs) in them thar hills."
Deadwood was established in 1876 during the Black Hills gold rush. The Jewish population of Deadwood, which numbered in the hundreds at its peak, was drawn to the lawless frontier less for the chance to strike it rich on the gold claims (though Jewish prospectors undoubtedly tried their luck with everyone else) and more for the auxiliary services they could provide the growing town. Such was their success that about one-third of all the early buildings on Main Street were owned or occupied by Jewish merchants. These were mostly traditional Jewish enterprises such as dry goods or those related to clothing.
The Gold Rush-era Main Street burned in an 1879 fire. Today it is more like Disney than Deadwood, with a host of gaming halls, photographers, souvenir and candy shops.

Jewish Deadwood begins with Mount Moriah cemetery - Boot Hill. About 2 million tourists a year vist the cemetery to see the graves of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, but Jewish citizens are also buried there. On the graveyard gate are three metal circles; one bears a Magen David (Jewish star).

Established in either 1877 or 1878, Mount Moriah replaced a smaller cemetery situated further down the hill. On August 28, 1892, the Hebrew Cemetery Association purchased a section in the new cemetery for Jewish burials for the sum of $200. Hebrew Hill, as the Jewish area was called locally, is located at the top right-hand side of the cemetery and is accessible via a pathway marked "Jerusalem," which is most likely a Masonic, rather than a Jewish, reference.
More than 80 Deadwood Jews are buried on Hebrew Hill, also known as Mount Zion. They include the town's wealthiest man, Harris Franklin (Finkelstein), who made his fortune in liquor and mining. His son Nathan was the town's second Jewish mayor.

In 1840, Bavarian immigrant Solomon Star, then 10, arrived in town after first living with relatives in Ohio and Montana. In 1876, he was elected to Deadwood's first city council and served 10 terms as mayor. However, he's buried in St. Louis, Missouri.

The Colman family arrived from Germany in spring 1877. The next year, Nathan Colman (Kugelmann) was appointed justice of the peace, until his 1906 death. He also served as the Jewish lay leader and officiated at the first Black Hills Jewish wedding, when Rebecca Reubens and David Holzman married in November 1879.

The Colmans' tobacco and grocery store burned in the 1879 fire. Four children died of diptheria and other diseases and, in 1894, another fire burned their home and store. The story of Blanche Colman shows the determination of these pioneer families. Born in 1884, she finished high school in town and worked in Washington DC for a state congressman, returning home to take a law office job. She never attended college but studied on her own, and in 1911 was admitted to the state bar - the first female lawyer in the state. She died at 94 in Deadwood in 1978.

The story discusses three markers in town placed following a collaboration between the Deadwood Historic Preservation Commission and the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation. Other Jewish sites include the Masonic Temple where they prayed and commercial buildings bearing the names Goldberg, Rosenthal, Bloom and Levinson.

The local Reform congregation in Rapid City (Synagogue of the Hills) uses the Deadwood Torah which arrived in 1886 from Koenigsburg, Germany. Each Yom Kippur, the names of Blanche Colman and her sister Theresa are read.

Read the complete story at the link above. Here are more sources:

- Read The Forward's 2007 story on Deadwood. A reader's comment on the Forward story claims that, in 1892, the community invited Rabbi Yehuda Michele Zeleznick to be their rabbi, that he was ordained by the famous Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor of Kovno/Kaunas, Lithuania, and that Zeleznick spent some years in Deadwood before relocating to Chicago.

- Here's yet another source for more details about Sol Star and Deadwood, written by Lew Holzman. The story appeared in the JGS of Los Angeles Roots-Key journal.

26 August 2009

Washington DC: Virtual Shtetl, Sept. 13

The Virtual Shtetl Project will be presented at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington on Sunday, September 13.

The program begins at 1pm, at B'nai Israel, in Rockville, Maryland.

The speakers will be Museum of the History of Polish Jews deputy coordinator Grzegorz (Greg) Kolacz; the museum's executive director Robert Socolof; and Beata Schulman, on the North American Council of the Museum.

The program will begin with a brief introduction to the Museum which will open in 2012 on the former Warsaw Ghetto site, and will then continue with the Virtual Shtetl Portal, devoted to local Jewish history.

Admission: members, free; others, $5. For more information and directions, click the JGSGW site.

Auschwitz: Yad Vashem receives original plans

Yad Vashem (Jerusalem) will receive the original plans for Auschwitz in Berlin on Thursday.

The German newspaper, Bild, acquired the architectural plans and decided to donate them to Yad Vashem.

The blueprints were discovered in 2008, and Bild editor-in-chief Kai Diekmann decided that Yad Vashem was the most appropriate place to safeguard them. In January 2010, the plans will be displayed, marking 65 years since the camp's liberation.

There are 29 documents in the collection. The plans show details for expanding the camp, including the addition of a crematorium and a gas chamber.
They are dated between 1941 and 1943, and have been authenticated by experts from Germany's Federal Archives. Discovered last year in Berlin, and acquired by the German newspaper Bild, the sketches include plans for a purification building, with a gas chamber, dated 8 November 1941 (the building was never built); Crematorium II + III from November 1941; a plan for a building to contain corpses; a two-dimensional sketch of the now-iconic entry way to the Birkenau death camp; a sketch from 30 April 1942 for plans to expand Auschwitz I (plans which were partially completed); an initial plan for Birkenau from October 1941; and a plan for a huge headquarters building (dated 17 December 1941), that was never carried out. Some of the documents bear notes in the margins, or signatures by senior Nazis, including Himmler. Copies of some of these documents exist in other archives, and were previously known, but as a whole these are significant historical records.
Yad Vashem's archives currently hold more than 125 million pages of Holocaust documentation.

South Jersey's Jewish genealogists spotlighted

I first met Rabbi Gary Gans back at the Boston IAJGS conference a very long time ago.

He's the First Rabbi of Rabbit World, over at the International Jewish Graveyard Rabbit blog (in fact, I've got to get some of his new posts up there!). His congregation, Beth Tikvah in Marlton, is the meeting place of the South Jersey affiliate of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia, and he's also active in DNA genetic genealogy.

So with all these interconnections, Tracing the Tribe was happy to see this story in Jewish Voices, published by the Southern New Jersey Jewish Federation, which covered several South Jersey Jewish genealogists.

For Rabbi Gary Gans of Marlton's Cong. Beth Tikvah, the best week of the year is when the international conference on Jewish genealogy takes place.

"This is one of the most creative weeks, when fellow genealogy addicts end up in the same place. It brings about a great new energy level," said Gans, whose synagogue is the meeting site for the Jewish Genealogical Society's South Jersey affiliate group. The rabbi, a tombstone maven, presided over two well attended workshops on the history of grave markers, focusing on how to decipher Hebrew inscriptions and use them to gain clues valuable in family research.

At the conference, Gans also discovered more contacts and resources to aid his own research. He has already found his great-grandmother's Lithuanian postal bank account in rubles, and noted that with the fall of the Iron Curtain and archives from Eastern Europe resurfacing, there has never been a better time for budding genealogists.
The story noted that conference co-chair David Mink who lived in Cherry Hill (where the paper is published) for more than 30 years before moving to Philly. The area proved important at the conference:

"South Jersey's Jewish agricultural communities are a story that isn't told too often, but this was an opportunity to tell that story," he said. Workshops and panel discussions about the Jewish agricultural colonies were followed by a mid-week bus tour of key sites.
The story covered other researchers from the area, such as David Brill, whose great-great-grandparents settled in the Carmel colony in the early 1880s but later moved to Philadelphia.

"A lot of the Philadelphia Jewish community find they have connections to these Jewish colonies," Brill said. He ran one of the workshops that gave the conference a unique local flavor, and helped lead the bus tour, which stopped at the one-room, circa 1890 Garton Road Shul in Rosenhayn, and visited the Alliance, Carmel and Woodbine colonies.
Ruth Bogutz, also of Cherry Hill, is president of the Tri-County Jewish Historical Society, and the story mentioned Rosenhayn, Jewish community buildings in Camden, Springville and Mount Laurel. Her conference session attracted area residents as well as those who had moved away.

"The dedication of the generations that came before me was quite amazing," said Bogutz, who plans to make a film about the Jewish communities of Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties.
Mount Laurel resident Steve Schecter, who created the excellent 200-page Philadelphia and New Jersey resource guide for the conference (which he's planning to turn into a book or larger CD), was mentioned as well. He became interested when his mother talked about the old days in South Philadelphia.
"She'd refer to folks as 'boat relatives,' meaning they came over (from Europe) on the same boat. After my mother died and I did more research, I learned that they did come over and band together, but frequently they were related through marriage or were distant cousins," Schecter said.
Read the complete article at the link above.

25 August 2009

Miami: A grandson's Polish quest, Sept. 13

Miami Herald/El Nuevo Herald reporter and columnist Daniel Shoer-Roth will speak about his Polish family quest at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical society of Greater Miami, on Sunday, September 13.

It is a little early to announce this mid-September event, but Tracing the Tribe wants to make sure South Florida readers put it on their calendars now. You won't want to miss this.

The meeting begins at 10am, at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, 4200 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami.

Born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, Daniel is the grandson of Holocaust survivors. He was close to and spent much time with his grandfather Elias Roth, but never knew much about the life of his ancestors in Poland before and during World War II.

In his quest to learn more, Daniel traveled to Poland and did extensive genealogical research, starting with records in the Nowy Sacz City Hall, speaking with an 88-year-old one-time resident and visiting the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.

On July 19, his excellent story appeared in English in the Miami Herald and in Spanish in El Nuevo Herald. In the Spanish story link, there is a wedding photo of Elias and Sophia Roth.

At the meeting, Daniel will speak more about his genealogical quest and expand on the original story.

Free secure parking is available. Bring photo ID. Light refreshments will be served.

For more information, click on the JGS of Greater Miami website.

24 August 2009

New York State: Pre-1881 birth certificate index

A name index to more than one thousand delayed birth certificates (pre-1881) is now in the New York State Archives and eight other state locations.

The 1,048 names represent births that took place from 1823-1880 in the state, outside of New York City's five boroughs.

Prepared by the New York State Department of Health, certificate fields include the county district number, child's full name, birth date, full names of mother (with maiden name) and father, and filing date. Search by the child's name, mother's maiden name or year of birth.

The index is available in state archives and public libraries in Albany,
Buffalo, Elmira, Glens Falls, New York City, Patchogue, Rochester, Syracuse and Watertown.

For more information on this index and others, click here -> Genealogy -> Research -> Vital Records. For information on ordering copies of vital records, click here.

NewspaperARCHIVE: Stay tuned!

It is always good news when the big online companies collaborate with researchers, genealogists and other users of their resource databases. Asking for input from users is valuable to the companies as it helps improve features and the experiences - ultimately - for all users.

NewspaperARCHIVE.com has just gotten into the act with its Facebook community, with a project called OurNewspaperARCHIVE. Because Facebook users have experience with social networking communities, the company felt they would be a great place to start.

For now, the company is limiting the beta test to those who are already members of its Facebook page community, so as not to overwhelm the system. It makes sense to Tracing the Tribe: Fix the possible bugs and improve functionality before making a public general release.

If you are already a member of the Facebook group for NewspaperARCHIVE, you can sign up at the new site, look around and test the site. The company is asking for feedback from beta testers, so I hope people will get involved to make the experience ultimately better for everyone. The company really wants to know what works, what doesn't and what enhancements would be appreciated.

Current features include groups, forums, blogs, comments and images. Features to come will include better integration of NewspaperARCHIVE with OurNewspaperARCHIVE, annotated image galleries, timelines, and more connection opportunities.

Stay tuned for more information.

23 August 2009

DNA: Are you a Halpern or Heilperin?

If you are a Halpern/Heilperin descendant, here's a DNA surname project of interest.

Organized by Dr. Steven D. Bloom, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, preliminary results are available and more men are being sought for the Y-DNA project at FamilyTreeDNA.com.

Steve is hoping that Tracing the Tribe's readership may wish to get involved in this project.
As part of the core project related to this study, we wanted to specifically test males with documented genealogies tracing to male lines of the Rabbinic Heilperin families (see either "Lurie Legacy" by Neil Rosenstein or Meir Wunder's "Meorei Galicia" for details). Should any two or men match, we could be fairly sure we had found the haplotype related to this family (and confirmed the written genealogy).
Results have been mixed so far, thus the pressing need for more men to be tested.

The first two men tested did not match (Steve names them Halpern A and Halpern B). There are numerous reasons why this may have happened, but he feels the top possibilities are:

- females passing down surnames to males (a fairly common historical occurrence)
- informal adoption of orphaned non-direct male line family members
- Marital infidelity or rape.
However, one man (Halpern A) - with a documented 500-year-old genealogy - matched another Halpern male (Halpern C) in the study. Halpern C previously knew nothing about his connection to the Heilperin rabbis.

Steve explains that although this isn't as positive a result as matching with a man with a known connection to the Heilperin rabbis (a Halpern B match), it does likely mean that Halpern A is a true male line Heilperin in the way he claims.

Although this study is just at the preliminary stage with early results, Steve says that he think he can say that the branch from Zebulon Eliezer Heilperin has a haplotype of G2c (associated with Halpern A and C)

Steve's own male Halpern cousin - supposedly a direct descendant of Jehiel Heilperin of Minsk (whom Rabbi Wunder lists as a Zebulon Eliezer descendant) - does not match Halpern A, as the cousin is a J2.

There is always the possibility of the reasons mentioned above as to why two males of the same male line do not match, or perhaps Jehiel Heilperin was not a descendant of Zebulon Eliezer.

The problem is that there are not yet enough participants to analyze these options, so Steve has put out another call for male Halperns to participate.

If you are a Halpern or a descendant of the rabbinic Heilperins, consider testing and joining the project. Do you know of someone (perhaps at work, in your synagogue, school, neighborhood, etc.) who fits that description? If you don't wish to test and join the project, but have genealogical information to share, that's also important. In all these cases, please contact Steve.

The project is most importantly looking for known or suspected descendants of the rabbinic Heilperins discussed above, but any Halpern can join. Remember that the first project match was someone completely unsolicited who was unaware of any rabbinic connections.

As is the case with many similar situations, there are many reasons why someone may not know of a connection - such as the early death (via pogrom, war, epidemic, etc.) of a parent who could not pass on the family story, and perhaps followed by adoption into a non-Halpern family upon remarriage of a mother. There are many scenarios that could be put into play.

In our Talalay tale, there is a persistent story that one of Rabbi Leib ben Mikhail Talalay's numerous sons was an infant found on the rabbi's doorstep and raised as part of the family. However, we have not yet been able to determine who that son might have been. I'm sure readers can also describe scenarios from their own family history.

Contact Steve for more information, to provide information or to test and join the project.

DNA: The 'last days of summer' sale

FamilyTreeDNA.com is offering a deep clade sale for orders placed and paid for by September 4. This test helps make researchers' history and migration patterns clearer. The information appeared in the newest "Facts & Genes" company newsletter.
Recent interest in Deep Clade testing on our featured Haplogroups (E, G, H, I, J ,N, O, Q, R) has been brisk as more and more people take advantage of the newly discovered SNPs, both from SNP chips and Family Tree DNA’s “Walk Through The Y-Chromosome" program.

As we more tightly determine the specific terminal SNP for each person, your history and migration patterns becomes a little clearer. This information can also be used to improve Y-DNA matching.

If you want to learn more about SNPs, click here.

Later this year, the company will begin to use SmartMatching on Y chromosome matches, which will eliminate evolutionary convergence. What? Here's the explanation:

For example, if you are confirmed to belong to haplogroup J1e, and you match another person confirmed to be J2 or J1a, you cannot have been related to them within many thousands of years. SmartMatching eliminates these matches from your list as they are excluded as potential relatives within a genealogical time frame. When we employ SmartMatching on the Y chromosome your number of matches may decrease, but the quality of the matches that remain will increase.
Reseachers who determine their Y-DNA Deep Clade haplogroup assignment will benefit more from the SmartMatching system.

According to the company, this will be the summer's final discounted promotion, so take advantage of 20% off all Deep Clade tests and all extensions/upgrades for Y-DNA SNPs.

The sale price for the Deep R Clade test is $71.20, regularly $89., while the Deep Clade Extension Test (an upgrade for those who previously tested their Deep Clade) is now $31.20, regularly $39.

See the FamilyTreeDNA.com site for more information.

In its database, Family Tree DNA now has more than 257,000 test result records; more than 162,000 Y-DNA records; more than 95,000 mtDNA records; and and more than 5,500 Surname Projects (with more than 87,000 surnames). Since the company was founded in 2000, it has processed more than 500,000 Y-DNA and mtDNA tests, including its own customers as well as those for the National Geographic/IBM Genographic Project.

New York City: 1901-1907 birth index online

Thanks to the German Genealogy Group and the Italian Genealogical Group, there is now an online index to New York City births; 1901-1907 are available now, and the complete index will run from 1881-1909.

I've checked out my families of interest and realize I will have some work to do to sort out the FINKs and BANKs who were in New York that early.

A caveat: researchers should know that about a quarter of all pre-1910 births were not reported as many took place at home and attending doctors or midwives did not report the event to the authorities. If your ancestors are not in this index, go to census records and other supporting documents.

Volunteers, representing many ethnic and religious groups, have spent many hours compiling these indexes and others already completed (other vital and naturalization records). The amazing John Martino of the IGG is the spearhead of this volunteer army.

For more information, visit the German Genealogy Group or the Italian Genealogical Group.

Additionally, Steve Morse has already created a One-Step search tool for these records.

The birth records are on microfilm at the NYC Municipal Archives; copies made be ordered online or by mail. For more details, click here.

The microfilms of these records are always available at the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Researchers elsewhere in the US and many other countries (not in Israel) may order the films from SLC and view them at their local Family History Center branches. Search the FamilySearch.org catalog for each borough of New York City to find the microfilm reel numbers.

Spain: European Day of Jewish Culture, Sept. 6

The 10th European Day of Jewish Culture will be marked in 27 Spanish communities on Sunday, September 6, according to Caminos de Sefarad secretary Assumpcio Hosta. The organization is based in the famed city of Girona, which Tracing the Tribe has often visited.

The non-profit Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters' goal is protecting Sephardic Heritage in Spain, including aspects of culture, art, history, architecture and city life. The group's community members (nearly 2 dozen) promote cultural, touristic and academic projects, collaborate on projects in Spain and abroad and develop sustainable cultural tourism policies in their cities.

Events in each community, which today generally have few or no Jews remaining, range from tours of the medieval, pre-Expulsion Jewish neighborhoods (juderias), films, exhibits, concerts, visits to ancient synagogues and mikvot recently discovered and restored, lectures and other presentations.

Co-hosts and sponsors include universities, historical and archaeological museums, libraries, film festivals, restaurants, and local government and organizations.

See the complete PDF program here. For more information, visit Caminos de Sefarad. In the top left corner, click English for that version.

Also, the group has a recently added blog. I found only one post so far, but there's a nice list of Sephardic links (lower right) for readers who wish more information.

Several years ago, the Girona Archives discovered many old Hebrew documents had been incorporated in the binding process of medieval notarial books. The story of how these precious documents were revealed, how they were preserved, as well as 15 examples of the documents themselves may be read here.

Some 19 books produced more than 250 Hebrew documents, which included registers of pawnbrokers, medical book pages, legal document drafts, an excommunication, Ashkenazi script pages from the Babylonian Talmud, Catalan commentaries on the Talmud, commentary by Rashi, a 1443 accounting notebook demonstrating everyday life, rabbinical court documents, pre-1391 Jewish community leadership documents, house sales, liturgical poems for holidays and others. Many documents contain names of people, places and dates. Read about it here.

22 August 2009

New York: One foot in America, Sept. 10

As you look at immigration manifests for your ancestors, do you see ships of the Red Star Line?

From 1873-1934, more than 2 million European emigrants left for the US via Antwerp. The city was a major junction of European rail connections and transatlantic steamship links.

Since the mid-19th century, a direct rail link to the Central Station existed between Antwerp, Germany and beyond to Eastern Europe. Once in the city, passengers were housed (according to their budgets) close to the station or the piers.

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, in association with the City of Antwerp, The Eugeen Van Mieghem Foundation and the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, is hosting a special program on the Jewish emigrants of the Red Star Line and Eugeen Van Mieghem.

The CJH will also present an exhibit on the Red Star Line's Jewish emigrants in YIVO Constantiner Gallery, with brief tours conducted by Mandy Nauwelaerts, Red Star Line Museum curator. A related panel discussion is also set for the following week (details below).

"One Foot in America: The Jewish Emigrants of the Red Star Line and Eugeen Van Mieghem" is set for 7pm, Thursday, September 10, at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.

Speakers will be Antwerp vice mayor and promoter of the Red Star Line Museum Philip Heylen, and Erwin Joos, co-author of "One Foot in America" and director of the Van Mieghem Museum and Foundation. There will also be a book-signing by Joos.

Many Eastern European Jews who immigrated to the United States around the turn of the 20th century began their journey in Antwerp, Belgium, on the steamships of the Red Star Line.

They made a deep impression on the Flemish artist and Antwerp native Eugeen Van Mieghem (1875-1930), whose timeless, evocative drawings and paintings of the emigrants are beautifully reproduced in "One Foot in America."

This new book, and the Red Star Line Museum scheduled to open in Antwerp in 2012, will do much to illuminate the experience of those who made the brave decision to leave their old lives behind for the New World.
A related panel discussion, "Shtetl on the high seas: the steamship companies and Jewish emigration from Eastern Europe," with the participation of Gur Alroey (University of Haifa), Frank Caestecker (University of Ghent) and moderator Hasia Diner (New York University), is set for 7pm, Tuesday, September 15.

For more information and reservations (by August 31) for both the lecture and panel discussion, email yivorsvp@yivo.cjh.org .

Philadelphia-area readers can attend Erwin Joos' lecture at The Kaiserman JCC, Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, at 10am Monday, September 14. Make reservations (by August 31) to http://us.mc337.mail.yahoo.com/mc/compose?to=goldenslipper@phillyjcc.com .

Philly 2009: Sephardic Internet resources

As promised, here's a report on a Philly 2009 session with Jeff Malka on Sephardic internet resources.

Jeff is the author of the award-winning "Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World" (Avotaynu 2002; and the just-published expanded second edition, 2009).

For Tracing the Tribe readers looking for resources for their Sephardic quest, here's a run-down on the program. Many of which are resources are linked to Jeff's own growing site, SephardicGen.com:


- Consolidated searchable index of Sephardic names - Consolidated Name Index – has some 73,000 names, will have more than 120,000.
- SephardicGen searchable databases
- Gazeteer of Sephardic Countries
- Sephardic Family Pages
- Sephardic Names
- Alain Farhi's LesFleurs de L'Orient contains the genealogy of Sephardic families from the Ottoman Empire and Middle East, with some 96,000 individuals in the current database.

Said Jeff: The user guide is extremely interesting. Alain began with his own family and added in marriage links to others. Some problems are that material is user-donated, some is not well documented. "As with any genealogy site, take it with a grain of salt." He discussed the Iraqi Dangoor family, descended from the exhilarch (King of the Jews) when he was exiled to Babylon, as well as the ancient Malka family.
- Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture (FASSC)

This site focuses on the eastern Mediterranean, rabbis of various communities, some linked to databases, etc.
- Sephardim.com, with an extensive index of family names and heraldry.

Although originally culture and cuisine, it now contains very useful information, a name database indexed from valuable books, Sephardic recipes, coats of arms and heraldry (many Sephardic Jewish families had coats of arms), a general guide of how to research, an active discussion group with more than 2,300 people worldwide, and DNA information.
- Etsi

- Hamburg Portuguese Cemetery

- EIRI-Eretz Israel Records Indexing

- Akevoth - Dutch Jewish Genealogical Database

- Inventory of the Portuguese-Jewish Community of Amsterdam Archives

- Istanbul Rabbinate Jewish Records (Marriage and Burial)

- JewishGen's Sephardic SIG

Jeff paid a nice compliment to Tracing the Tribe, naming it as a major source for keeping up to date on what’s happening in the field. Thanks, Jeff.

As far as Jeff's own SephardicGen.com site is concerned, he calls it "confusing" (in a good sense) because there's so much material. Categories include Sephardic history, Sephardic genealogy, websites by country and topic, Sephardic gazetter and a world atlas.

There are some 50 searchable databases. Jeff’s purpose in organizing his site was to help people, raise awareness and become interested. He considers it to be a one-stop site.

There's also a new phonetic soundex. The older Daitch-Mokotoff was organized to help with Ashkenazi and Eastern Europen names. The newer Beider-Morse system is more useful for Sephardic names.

If you are just starting out to research your Sephardic family, consider beginning at SephardicGen.com

Sharing more than a zipcode

Who are we really? National Geographic Channel's new DNA show attempts to answer this one with "The Human Family Tree," to air in North America on August 30. I'm trying to track down when it might be shown elsewhere.

Kevin Bacon narrates as some 200 random people in Astoria, Queens (New York) provide cheek scrapes and are traced via their DNA.

On a single day on a single street, with the DNA of just a couple of hundred random people, National Geographic Channel sets out to trace the ancestral footsteps of all humanity. Narrated by Kevin Bacon, The Human Family Tree travels to one of the most diverse corners of the world -- Queens, N.Y. -- to demonstrate how we all share common ancestors who embarked on very different journeys. Regardless of race, nationality or religion, all of us can trace our ancient origin back to the cradle of humanity, East Africa.

What did our collective journey look like, and where did it take your specific ancestors?

At what point in our past did we first cross paths with the supposed strangers living in our neighborhood?

Now, in The Human Family Tree, the people of this quintessential American melting pot find out that their connections go much deeper than a common ZIP code.
There are a series of short video clips of people spotlighted in the episode. Unfortunately, each clip starts with an insurance company ad, which you'll have to sit through to see the clip. Usually there's a "skip this ad" on similar sites, but not here. The clips are worth it, however, so enjoy!

FamilyTreeDNA.com does the testing for the National Geographic Project.

For more information on the episode, click here.

1929: Jewish buildings unbuilt

Prior to the Great Depression of 1929, one could say that euphoria was rampant in American Jewish life, so writes Diana Muir Appelbaum in her latest Tablet Magazine article.

In the irrational exuberance of 1928, everything seemed possible. Boards of directors could plan enormous synagogues in glistening white stone to rival the Parthenon. Academic dreamers could design a great Jewish university with towers, courtyards, and gardens to challenge the magnificence of Princeton or Oxford. No ambition was too large, no plan too expensive. One had only to hire an architect, draw an elegant fa├žade, and watch the building fund fill. Then, in October, 1929, the great building boom ended with a crash, leaving magnificent synagogues on architects’ drawing boards, forever unbuilt. It all feels very 2008. What follows is a glimpse at some of the more ambitious plans and what, ultimately, became of them.
The article has some great archival plans, renderings and photos of these mega-magnificents.

The story details Boston's Temple Israel, Kehillat Israel and Mishkan Tefillah, as well as the Great Central Synagogue and the city's oldest congregation Ohabai Shalom. Appelbaum details Temple Israel's plans which echo Jefferson's idea for the University of Virginia's main building.

In the architect’s drawing, the four-columned meetinghouse and school building, in use since 1927, are shaded grey. None of the other 22 columns in the plan were ever erected, nor were the buildings that would have risen behind them. In the 1960s, Temple Israel built a spacious, modern sanctuary beside the classical Meeting House of the 1927 plan.
In New York, she writes, the most ambitious plan of the decade was the main campus of Yeshiva College in Washington Heights. Previously, US universities were Gothic in design, while some went with Classical (Virginia's Medical College walked like an Egyptian). Columbia University went Renaissance.

Since Jewish scholarship was older than Gothic, Classic or Renaissance, it needed something else, and the plans of architect Henry Beaumont Herts were designed to cover several centuries BCE.

The campus that emerged from Herts’s drawing-board was an exotic world of courtyards, arches, towers, and domes calculated to put Columbia, Princeton, and Yale to shame and satisfy the most romantic soul ever to dream of life in the Ivory Tower. This particular rendition of the ivied campus dream was the Arabian Nights. The domes were Ottoman, the arches Moorish, and all the towers were minarets.
In the midwest, Temple Mizpah (Chicao) planned a domed, Byzantine synagogue. Only the Hebrew School was built.

Congregation Shaarey Zedek (Detroit) also went Byzantine but on a small scale. They wanted a $750,000 campus, with gym, library, school, offices, chapel, auditorium, banquet hall for 1,200, small sanctuary for 500, main sanctuary for 2,500. What they got was a no-frills (and no gym) $300,000 Byzantine building. When it moved to the suburbs in 1962, it did get a futurist design.

Art Deco and lions were on the grandiose plans for Chicago's Congregation Anshe Emet. All it got was a renovation adding space to pray in the old Hebrew School.

Closer to home - in my case, Brooklyn - was Union Temple's Classic design with an eight-story Hebrew School, the only part finished before the crash. It did, however, get a renovated auditorium for a sanctuary.

Read the complete article and view the historic plans and photographs at the link above.

21 August 2009

Twitter: Teaching genealogy, history

Tracing the Tribe found an interesting blog post today - "100 Twitter Feeds That Teach You History" - at AssociateDegree.org.

It was prefaced:
With all the buzz about Twitter being the latest source for breaking news, it may be easy to overlook the fact that Twitter is also a good place to look for information about the past. Whether you are studying history and want a little additional knowledge to support what you are learning in class or are just a history buff, then you will want to check out these Twitter feeds that offer all sorts of historical facts ranging from American history to European history to history of specific places or building to history of families to history in the making.
Of course, I checked the list to see what gen feeds made it - here they are.


Learn about the rich history hidden among each family’s ancestors with these feeds that provide resources and history for those interested in genealogy.

@FamilyStories. Genealogy, history get equal billing.
@benotforgot. Genealogy resources, historical information.
@rootstelevision. RootsTelevision.com offers great family history information.
@michaelhait. Professional genealogist shares tips, resources for finding family history.
@geneabloggers. Information, stories about family history.
@genealogynews. Find genealogy resources, famous family trees.
@genseek. Resources, news about genealogy.
@MyHeritage. International company shares resources and more to help find your family.
@lagenealogy. If you had or have family in Louisiana.
@dickeastman. Updates from Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter.

The other history feed categories are: General History, History with an American Perspective, History with a European Perspective, Regional History, Museums and Libraries, History and Preservation of Structures, Cultural History, Political History, K-12 History Teachers, and Historical Figures Tweeting. There are many interesting feeds in the complete list.

Another posting offered "100 Essential Tips and Tools for Writers of the Future," with interesting resources. Categories include Marketing and Branding, Organization and Project Management, Business and Career, Collaboration, Brainstorming, Finding Work, Web Tips and Tutorials, Niche Writing, and Staying Cutting Edge.

Enjoy checking out the resources in both of these posts. Let me know what you've discovered for your own interests.

Gold Rush Jews: Good changes

As Tracing the Tribe reported a few days ago, Victoria Fisch of Sacramento writes the new blog, Jews of the Gold Rush. She's now included more information.

An artist, writer and editor, she began researching the mysteries and myths of her own family:

...whether my uncle perished in Spain fighting against Franco, whether my grandfather really did run away from Russia to South Africa, and along the way became entranced by the larger collective Jewish history...
A graphic artist for many years, she's an editor for a Stanford professor and paints in oils.

Her most recent post focuses on the man considered the pioneer researcher of this historical period of Jewish history, Dr. Robert E. Levinson.

Most of his work is at the Western Jewish History Center at the Judah L. Magnes Museum (Berkeley, California), and was part of his PhD thesis in the early 1960s.

He created the Commission for the Preservation of Jewish Pioneer Cemeteries and Landmarks and the six cemeteries he found (and surveyed) are overseen by the group.

He combed local newspapers contemporary to the Gold Rush era, investigated county records, interviewed surviving descendents, and took meticulous notes, and while doing field work discovered six previously undocumented Jewish cemeteries in what is now known as the "Gold Country." His work was cut short in 1980 when he was killed in a car crash.
He wrote a 1978 book (reprinted in 1994), "The Jews in the California Gold Rush."

Another source is Susan Morris' 1996 book, "A Traveler's Guide to Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries of the California Gold Rush," which gives directions to the cemeteries, headstone transcriptions and community histories.

Victoria has photographed the Placerville Jewish Cemetery, and the others are in Mokelumne Hill, Jackson, Sonora, Nevada City and Grass Valley.

It was not uncommon for Jewish settlers to be buried in non-Jewish cemeteries, given the hardships of life and the difficulty of travel in those early days. Burial in a non-Jewish cemetery is also a reflection of the unique experience of the Jews in the mining towns - most miners were immigrants, and the Jews were usually not singled out, indeed, they were accepted as equals and lauded as worthy neighbors and citizens. Embraced by the community, they enthusiastically joined fraternal lodges, and sometimes were buried in lodge cemeteries. There are several Jewish headstones in the I.O.O.F Cemetery in Sonora that were documented by Dr. Levinson.
In Folsom, a Jewish cemetery has been absorbed into the larger Lakeside Cemetery and she has also photographed those headstones.

Her next post will focus on Jewish community members in Folsom.

Thank you, Victoria, for the updates and the photographs.

If you have Jewish pioneers lurking in your tree, bookmark Jews of the Gold Rush or subscribe!

19 August 2009

Europe: Youth discover Jewish roots, culture

Young Europeans are discovering their roots and learning that Jewishness is about culture, according to a JTA article by Ben Harris.

Founded in 2001, the academic institute Paideia grew out of a Swedish government commission to investigate the country's Holocaust role. Based in Stockholm, it works to promote Jewish culture across Europe, according to the story, and believes those committed to Jewish culture can acquire, through education, a Jewish identity. It is also open to non-Jews interested in Jewish life and Jewish culture.

Its year-long fellowship in Jewish texts immerses students and educates them for activist roles in European Jewish life. A summer 10-day project offers training and networking to social entrepreneurs with projects to stimulate Jewish culture.

The program receives six times as many applicants as it accepts. Most are not raised as identified Jews, some aren't Jewish at all. Paideia is a Greek concept indicating that culture may be transmitted via education rather than blood, and has implications for those in secular communities.

Some participants:

A lapsed Polish Catholic cites the “Jewish sparks in my soul” when explaining his affinity for klezmer and his desire to foster intercultural exchange through Jewish music.

A 25-year-old Hungarian born to intermarried parents and working to create an Israeli cultural center in Budapest says he would not be crushed if his children decide not to engage in Jewish life.

An Armenian Christian wants to start a Judaic studies seminar at an Armenian university that would highlight shared elements of Armenian and Jewish history.

A German Jewish journalist who became interested in Judaism through an ex-girlfriend aims to start an Internet show focusing on the weekly Torah portion and Israeli culture.
Jewish consciousness is rising among both Jews and non-Jews in Jewish Europe in some very secular places. In Sweden, for example, only 3% attend regular religious services, but assimilated Jews want to reassert their identities.
The trend has been in evidence in Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of communism 20 years ago paved the way for many to rediscover Jewish roots. But even in Western Europe, the emergence of the European Union coupled with the growing diversity of the region’s population has prompted a reassertion of national identities, including among Jews.

“With that sort of multiculturalism, and I think with the united Europe, your roots become more important,” said Gabriel Urwitz, a leader of the Stockholm Jewish community and the chairman of Paideia. ...

“So even people that three generations ago were Jewish and knew about it, until quite recently they never said a word about it,” Urwitz said. “Now all of a sudden they feel they can somehow search that root and to some extent promote it and find their own way into it.”
The group's founding director Barbara Spectre says this has a secular quality. Many participants come from small communities with weak to no Jewish communal institutions, few Jewish religious opportunities and the likelihood of high intermarriage.

“They don't have those components and yet they choose to be Jewish,” Spectre said. “The question is, of course, why would one do this? It's a tremendously important question. And I think that they can act as sort of informants to us, the rest of the Jewish world.”
A non-Jewish participant who completed this year's fellowship is klezmer guitarist Piotr Mirski, of Lublin, Poland.

“I realized that I shared somehow the experience of Jewish people in Poland, and it drives me to make something against it, against exclusion,” Mirski told JTA. “My main goal is to build bridges between people.”

The goal of his project (Jazz Midrash-The Hebrew Songbook) is to produce two CDs, including one with original Polish-language songs based on Jewish stories, and to promote the book and CDs with street festivals in Polish towns that once had major Jewish communities.

Read the complete article at the link above.

Genetics: Sephardic testing article

The Other Jewish Genetic Diseases which appeared in The Forward's 2009 annual genetics issue discusses Sephardic conditions.
Randall Belinfante was a bit baffled.

When he and his wife went to take blood tests in preparation for starting a family in 2003, he discovered that the screening included a panel of tests for Ashkenazic Jewish genetic disorders. But Belinfante is Sephardic.

“We told them at the time that we were not Ashkenazi, but they told us they don’t do testing for Sephardic diseases, just for Ashkenazi ones,” recalled Belinfante, who traces his ancestry to the Iberian Peninsula via the Balkans, Holland and England. “So they went ahead and did the Ashkenazi tests anyway.”

With a note of bemusement, Belinfante, who is the librarian and archivist at the New York-based American Sephardi Federation, added, “Surprisingly enough, they found we did not have any of the Ashkenazi Jewish diseases.”
The article touches on Tay-Sachs and Ashkenazi genetic testing, which of course has little bearing on Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish communities and their descendants.
But what about the others in the Jewish community? What about Sephardic Jews? Are they also susceptible to a unique group of genetic disorders rarely shared by other groups? Does a Sephardic couple planning on having children also need to be screened for certain diseases?
The article quotes Rabbi Ellie Abadie, physician and director of Yeshiva University's Safra Institute of Sephardic Studies, who said, “There is no disease that you can call a Sephardic genetic disease."

University of Masschusetts Judaic and Near Eastern Studies Professor Aviva Ben-Ur said “Non-Ashkenazi Jews are collectively much more diverse than Ashkenazi Jews.” She authored the new book “Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History” (NYU Press).

Hebrew University professor of human genetics, Dr. Joel Zlotogora - a Jewish population geneticist - said “You can’t say ‘Sephardic genetic diseases,’ because most of the disorders are specific to the community of birth. Moroccan Jews are different from Tunisian Jews and so on. For non-Ashkenazi Jews you have to look by country of birth.”

The term “Sephardic” itself often tends to obscure this diversity. At its root, the word refers to Jews who can trace their origins back to the Iberian Peninsula, but it is often used as a catchall label for any Jew who is simply not Ashkenazic. Although even many non-Ashkenazic Jews themselves may employ the label, it glosses over a diversity of communities stretching from the Balkans, to North Africa, to the Arab world, to the Caucasus and beyond. The genetic picture is not far behind.
In Israel, non-Ashkenazi Jews are a much higher percentage of the population than in North America. Supposedly the medical community here is more in tune with this. However, when I asked my husband's primary physician about the Persian genetic conditions being tested for in Los Angeles, she seemed completely unaware of those connections to the Persian community.

The Israel Ministry of Health's genetics website lists disorders with separate lists for Ashkenazi Jews, as well as for Algerian, Libyan, Tunisian, Moroccan, Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, Yemenite, Kurdish, Bukharan, Georgian, Indian, Ethiopian, Caucasian and Karaite Jews.

Some reasons for non-Ashkenazi disorders were the relative isolation of those communities and marriage customs, such as preferred first cousin marriages, which contributed to some disorders.

The World Sephardi Federation (WSF), in a 2001 survey, reported that non-Ashkenazim were 26% of world Jewry; in Israel, it is about 50%. The WSF estimates only 4.5% of North American Jews are non-Ashkenazi.

NOTE: An interesting twist that gives a different perspective on this is the IberianAshkenaz Project that Judy Simon and I co-administer at FamilyTreeDNA.com, showing that of the 140 participants, some 75% of Ashkenazim (with some indicators of Sephardic ancestry) have genetic matches with Hispanics and known Converso families. This means that it is possible that many more ostensible Ashkenazim actually have Sephardic roots (but do not have the oral history or other indicators), which could add to the information on Jewish genetic conditions. The sample is still small and larger numbers of participants might shed more information.

The story in The Forward again mentions the Iranian Jewish population-based program to screen Iranian Jews for four genetic disorders that occur with relative frequency in that community. See the separate Tracing the Tribe posting on that program.

As far as other programs, the American Sephardi Federation lists four diseases under “Sephardic Recessive Disorders,” and several Jewish genetic screening centers around the country list the same four disorders on their sites.

The diseases are beta-thalassemia; G6PD; familial Mediterranean fever (FMF), which causes recurrent fevers and rashes; and glycogen storage disease type III (GSD III), a severe metabolic disorder — are shared across several non-Ashkenazic communities in the Mediterranean basin and North Africa.
New York University Medical Center's Human Genetics Program director Dr. Harry Ostrer, says the list is “incomplete.”

“There is a noticeable gap in the availability of testing for Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jews” in the United States, said Ostrer, who in 2007 initiated a mapping of the Jewish genome akin to the Human Genome Project called the Jewish HapMap Project. “We’re going to have to come to grips with it pretty soon.”
According to the story, when a non-Ashkenazi Jew comes to the NYU genetics unit, the staff creates a panel based on the community of origin. For some conditions, said Ostrer, it is not possible to find an American laboratory to do the test.

The Forward, according to the story, conducted an informal poll of Jewish genetic screening centers and found that while they may provide genetic counseling for the disorders, they can't do the testing.

The Victor Center for Jewish Genetic Diseases at Philadelphia's Albert Einstein Medical Center told the Forward writer that they cannot do the testing. Its branches in Philly, Miami and Boston offer Ashkenazi screening at reduced rates but their lab cannot test for non-Ashkenazi disorders, which are sent out to commercial labs at much higher cost.

Ostrer says that "you can’t rely on family history. That’s the whole point of screening.” He and his colleagues find considerable interest in screening as he speaks with Syrian, Iranian, Bukharan and other non-Ashkenazic Jewish groups for the HapMap project. He hopes to begin offering tailored programs soon.

Read the complete article at the link above for more, which touches on cultural and societal issues of the Sephardic communities.

Tracing the Tribe is happy that these issues are being discussed in The Forward and elsewhere. Additional attention needs to be paid to these important genetic issues.

More Jewish genetic testing: More articles

Tracing the Tribe spotlighted the Los Angeles launch of a Persian Jewish genetic testing program here.

For those interested in Persian Jewish genetic testing, here's another article on the Cedars-Sinai program from The Forward, which just published its annual Genetics Issue.

There's also The Other Jewish Genetic Diseases which discusses Sephardic conditions, subtitled "With Ashkenazic Disorders Getting All the Attention, America’s Sephardic Jews Often Lack Specialized Screening Programs." See the separate Tracing the Tribe posting on that article.

The 2009 Genetics issue also includes the following:
For Four Decades, a Doctor’s Legacy of Life
Gaucher Patients Cope With Drug Shortage, as New Treatments Beckon
Israeli Scientist Adapts Antibiotic That May Fight Genetic Disease
New Niemann-Pick Mouse Engineered
In Jewish Genetic History, the Known Unknowns
In Druze Genes, a Look Back at the Distant Past
After Late-Onset Tay-Sachs Trial Is Pulled, Parents Pull Together
Plaintiffs in Breast Cancer Gene Suit Hope To Overturn Patent Policy
Living With LOTS, S.F. Woman Won’t Let Disease Win
New Program Targets Persian Jewish Disorders
Daughter Inspires Dad’s Quest for Cure
Annual Guide to Jewish Genetic Diseases
These articles offer readers information that may be personally valuable.