18 September 2007

Maryland: The Jews of Ioannina, Oct. 14

I am a great fan of Jewish genealogical societies. These groups assist newcomers and experienced researchers, provide reference libraries and great programming. Many societies are now celebrating the start of their program years, so check out your local group. For a list of gen societies around the world - members of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies - click here.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington has organized a members-only workshop on Sunday, October 14, at Bnai Israel in Rockville, Maryland. If you live in the area and have been thinking about joining, this might be the impetus you need to take action.

The program includes a film, discussion and demonstration.

At 11 a.m., “The Last Greeks of Broome Street" - about the Jews of Ioannina - will be screened, followed by a talk by Dr. Michael Matsas, born in Ioannina.

In Manhattan, a small shul on the Lower East Side has been named a “National Treasure.” It was built in 1926 by the descendents of Jewish slaves deported to Rome in the early days of the Diaspora. Their stopping point was Ioannina, then Greece during the reign of Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE), a part of the Roman Empire. The earliest reported evidence of Jews in Ioannina is 1319. There they developed a litany written in Greek and Hebrew and developed unique customs; they are neither Sephardim nor Ashkenazim. Filmmaker Ed Ashkenazi, son of a founder of Kehila Kedosha Janina, tells the story of the synagogue's founding and of members' attempts to retain their rich traditions.

Retired dentist Dr. Michael Matsas was born in Ioannina, Greece in 1930. Following the film, he will speak about Ioannnina and its Jewish community - where they came from, their occupations, way of life, and what happened in 1944. He has spoken at the United States Holocaust Museum, Kehila Kedosha Synagogue in NY, the JCC, and other places about the Greek Jews in relation to his book, "The Illusion of Safety, the Story of the Greek Jews during the Second World War."

The movie and discussion will end at 12:15 p.m. for a lunch break before the afternoon session begins at 1 p.m. for networking, followed by Logan J. Kleinwaks program on "Searching Online Historical Documents."

Many pre-World War II Central and Eastern European business and address directories have been scanned and made available online as part of library digitization programs. Unfortunately, they are presented online as images, not as searchable text.

Kleinwaks will describe how to use a search engine he developed based on optical character recognition (OCR) software to search these directories, with an emphasis on how to find what you are looking for despite errors introduced by the OCR process. The OCR-based approach allows data from print sources to be made searchable very quickly, with little manual intervention. Its applications to other Jewish genealogy projects will be discussed also.

As a bonus, there will be a brief presentation of Kleinwak's new tool to reunite families separated by the Shoah, allowing email addresses to be associated with Pages of Testimony found on Yad Vashem's website, and which automatically matches people associated with same Pages.

Logan J. Kleinwaks, coordinator of the JewishGen Danzig/Gdansk SIG, is a hobbyist genealogist living near Washington, D.C. with a research background in physics and mathematics. He is the creator of the online tools ShoahConnect, for Page of Testimony research, for searching historical business directories, and the general genealogy site Family Tree Registry. His broader genealogical interests include the photographic documentation of Jewish cemeteries, improving Internet access to genealogical information, and privacy.

For directions and details, click here.

Kleinwaks is part of the younger generation of major contributors changing the face of Jewish genealogy demographics. I certainly applaud his important, dedicated work. Jewish genealogy needs to do more to recognize the younger generation of up-and-coming researchers.

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