11 August 2009

Israel: New IAJGS president interviewed

Newly-elected IAJGS president Michael Goldstein - a professional genealogist - was interviewed recently by the Haaretz newspaper in Israel.

The story also mentioned Israel Pickholtz, with whom I share Skalat roots. Both men live in Jerusalem and are members of the Israel Genealogical Society (IGS).

About six years ago, an American Christian woman asked local genealogist Michael Goldstein to find out whether her maternal grandfather was Jewish. Her suspicion was based on a vague gut instinct and contradicted her grandfather's own words - even his marriage certificate clearly stated he was Christian. Goldstein, who heads Israel's Genealogical Society, thought he was dealing with another wannabe Jew. Reluctantly, he started to dig.

Within about a week, the Toronto native located a woman who lived in Haifa who seemed to be related to his client. "I approached her hesitatingly," recalled Goldstein, who this week is expected to be elected president of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. After a short conversation it emerged that Goldstein's client was right: the Haifa woman was not only her cousin; her family tree reaches far into the Middle Ages, containing dozens of rabbis.
According to the Toronto native, Anglos are "overrepresented" among local genealogists.

Although not mentioned in the story, the English-speaking Jewish Family Research Association (JFRA Israel) with several branches and a membership almost wholely Anglo in origin, also has several researchers, such as former Londoner Patricia Wilson of Ra'anana, who has brought together numerous families separated by the Holocaust.

The story noted that IGS's branches have some 200 members in the country.
Lacking a clearly defined career path and a formal licensing system, most genealogists' careers start with a personal interest in their ancestry. Israel Pickholtz, a Pittsburgh native who two years ago quit his job to become a full-time genealogist, said he was fascinated by family trees since his mother took him to visit her relatives in Washington when he was eight. "My mother was explaining to us who everyone is, and I was making little boxes in my head," he told Anglo File last month in his Jerusalem home.

He says he did not start writing everything down until he was about to move to Israel 36 years ago, but only "dabbled" in genealogy until 15 years ago. "At my grandmothers 90th birthday party," he recounts, "the 9-year-old daughter of my cousin from Alaska asked me to share my information with her. I said to myself: I probably should get my stuff in order before I do that." Like many colleagues, he acquired his professional know-how by doing research and attending conferences.
Israel indicates two kinds of tasks, "errands" and "projects." Errands are simple things, locating a grave, looking up a citizenship file - things that can be done within two hours. Projects, on the other hand, can encompass generating an entire family tree or finding ancestors without existing accurate records. Michael says there is no standard fee; charges can range from $10-$200 per hour.

Goldstein noted that about 15 percent of his clientele are non-Jews. "Many fundamentalist Christians who are big supporters of Israel believe they have Jewish roots," he said. "They see it as something good to have a Jewish grandmother." Some would-be Jews react bitterly when they learn that no Jewish blood runs through their veins. "I once had a case where I worked back to the 1700s but could not find one Jew," Goldstein said. "When I told her I thought she might become suicidal."
He tries to avoid potential clients who say they dreamed they were Jewish and other nebulous claims, and looks for some sort of serious indication (like a Jewish name).

The IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is held every year in a different city. This year, Philadelphia was the host for some 1,000 attendees from around the world.

Future conferences (mark your calendars) are 2010 - Los Angeles; 2011 - Washington DC; and 2012 - Paris, France. In 2014, the event will return to Israel, where it is held every 10 years.

Read the complete story at the link above.

1 comment:

  1. I write a lot about British Israelism. Many of these ancestries are intact, but rabbis overlook them.