31 May 2009

Connecticut: Making bagels the Lender way

I am indebted to Chris Dunham's The Genealogue for this pointer to a New Haven Independent storyon the history of a local family.

Harry Lender's story of bringing the bagel to America - and its iconic status as a mass-produced, frozen essential, is in a new book published by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven. Volume IX, the ninth in the series, is a continuation of the fact- and anecdote-filled books tracing Jews and Jewish institutions which prospered throughout the 20th century, despite their immigrant origins.

The volume offers hundreds of pages and dozens of entries. Some provide facts about synagogues and burial or Torah-study groups, written for the historical record. One chapter in the new edition deals with the White Street shul (now a church) - the last of the early 20th century synagogues to survive urban renewal and the suburban flight of Jews.

The stories tell how they pursued their dreams, how they adapted to a diverse culture while trying to retain their traditions from close-knit European shtetls, and how they kept New Haven’s Jewish community together.

Edited by David S. Fischer with a team of 20 volunteers, the latest book in the series was celebrated with a luncheon at the Jewish Community Center today (Sunday, May 31). If your family roots are in New Haven, order a book. The price is $28+$3 mailing; send to JHS, POB 3251, New Haven CT 06515.

From Lublin, Poland to New Haven's Baldwin Street to America, the story's secret recipe is old-world family values mixed with new-world ingenuity. The Lender family story, by Andy Horowitz, is very detailed.

"Marvin was a light sleeper and his bed was only a few feet away from mine. Half asleep he would peer over at me, and I would jokingly ask the same dumb question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Whether groggy or wide awake, Marvin invariably would answer, ‘A bagel baker.’ Marvin was really saying that he wanted to be just like his father.”
The sons of Harry Lender inherited a work ethic, a devotion to family and community, and a garage-turned bagel factory on Baldwin Street. The family would change culinary history in America, help develop the frozen food industry, and make a simple ethnic specialty into an American staple.

They contributed to the rebirth of New Haven's Jewish community, a new generation of leaders and also made their mark on world Jewry.
“Who could have imagined,” Murray mused, “that bagels, a bagel bakery or a bagel-baking family would make such dramatic strides! If Harry Lender were alive, he would echo words said many times before and still pertinent today… ‘Only in America!’”
The Lender family, originally from Chelm, is described in detail. Read about how Harry (the son of Chaim Ber and Leah, and husband of Rose Braiter) hid his own son Hymie in a vat of bagel dough, the words describing Harry's mother "bubbe" Leah - a true balabusta.
Leah amazed her family with her industriousness: she raised potatoes, onions, beets, and a goat to feed the family. She kept a small apple, pear, and cherry orchard in Chelm, and stayed up nights armed with a pole to guard the fruit from would-be thieves. Her grandson Hymie credits her with being “the original creator of sun-dried fruit,” for her use of any apples that fell from the trees.

She worked as a chicken flicker, removing feathers from chickens as part of the koshering process, and then using the feathers for pillows - nothing, not the fallen apples or the chicken feathers, could go to waste. She worked in the mikvah, helping Jewish women with their traditional baths. She grew her own wheat, which she put to use in the bakery she leased, producing her own farfel and dough, and baking her specialty,
The story describes the long hours of a baker's life, the children's schooling and anti-Semitism. He arrived in New York in 1927, made his way to New Haven after a series of other jobs, and sent for his family:
Taking a train from Lublin to Warsaw, and another from Warsaw to Danzig, then a small ship through the North Sea from Danzig to Liverpool, and the larger ship Franconia from Liverpool, wracked by horrible seasickness, Rose, Hymie, Sam, and Anna Lender arrived at Pier 42 in New York on December 30, 1929.
There's quite a bit about the immigrant years in New Haven, which tripled in size over 50 years, swelled by immigrants from Russia and other Eastern European locales, Italy and the American South. In 1880, there were only 1,000 Jews; in 1887, 3,200; in 1900, 5,500; and in 1930, 25,000 - one in six city residents were Jewish.

Learn about the bagel baking business, and how Harry made friends with a dozen bagels sent judiciously.

The story ends, as it begins, with family values:
They are Jewish values refined by being brought to bear on a polyglot block of Baldwin Street in New Haven. “I guess I go back again to ancestry,” Sam reflected once. “We all learned something and it never left us.”
Read the complete chapter online at the link above.

Los Angeles: UCLA Yiddish studies benefactor dies

The Los Angeles Times published the obituary of TV writer-producer Michael Ross, 89, who endowed a UCLA academic chair in Yiddish language and culture. He died May 26.
Born Isidore Rovinsky in 1919 in New York City, he grew up in a Yiddish-speaking household that he once said was permeated by "the essence of Yiddishkeit," or Jewish way of life.

After his wife died in 2000, he had no heirs and decided to give most of his fortune to Jewish causes.

Last year, Ross donated $4 million to UCLA to endow an academic chair in Yiddish language and culture. He gave an additional $10 million to his alma mater, the City College of New York, to create Jewish studies programs and establish another Yiddish chair.

David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, called the gift "nothing short of transformative," one that "allows us to do a number of really extraordinary things, beginning with the development of a first-rate program in Yiddish studies.
Since 1992, he had also donated to Cal State Northridge's Jewish studies program.

He explained his interest in Jewish culture: "I was born of immigrant parents. I loved their attitude, their ways, their morals. I don't want to see that lost."

He was involved in such shows as "All in the Family," "The Jeffersons" and "Three's Company."

Read more at the link above.

Ohio: Jewish genetic diseases, June 3

Certified genetics counselor Gary S. Frolich will speak on “Our Heritage and Our Health – The Importance of Being Informed” at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland event on Wednesday, June 3.

The meeting at Menorah Park begins with a free dinner at 6.30pm, followed by Frolich's talk at 7.30pm.
Ashkenazi Jews share a history rich in eastern European traditions and a strong sense of community. But they also share an increased incidence of Jewish genetic disorders (JGD) such as Gaucher, Tay-Sachs, familial dysautonomia, cystic fibrosis, Niemann-Pick and Canavan. Early screenings for these disorders and others can identify inherited genes that could lead to genetic disorders in children, says Gary S. Frohlich, M.S., CGS, senior medical affairs liaison for Genzyme Therapeutics.
Many genes have been identified and work continues to find cures.
“During the Crusades, many Ashkenazi Jewish communities were driven from England, France and Germany and migrated to eastern Europe, settling primarily in modern-day Poland, Lithuania and Russia,” explains the affairs liaison for Genzyme Therapeutics. “Ashkenazi Jews tended to select marriage partners from within their own community, which played a role in limiting genetic diversity.”
Frolich asks genealogists to shake their family trees and help identify those with a Jewish genetic disorder so they can educate other family members. Today, there are screening tests for at least 11 disorders; some centers can screen for 15-25.

The most widely-known Jewish genetic disorder is Tay-Sachs, which has benefited from testing since the 1970s. Intensive community-wide testing has lessened the incidence by about 90% for this fatal condition.

Frohlich speaks to synagogues, genealogy societies, Jewish organizations and Hillels to raise awareness. Many rabbis also advise young couples to undergo genetic testing as part of pre-marital counseling.

[NOTE: Although this talk is centered on Ashkenazi disorders, there are Sephardic disorders as well. Additionally, screening is also important as more intermarriage takes place. A couple may feel they are safe as one person may not identify as Jewish today. However, the non-Jewish spouse could have unknown Jewish roots just a few generations back and might be a disorder carrier without knowing about the possibility.]

For more information on any Jewish genetic disorders, visit the Jewish Genetic Disease Consortium or the National Society of Genetic Counselors.

Read the complete story here.

30 May 2009

South Africa: Their WDYTYA started this weekend

South Africa's version of the BBC series "Who Do You Think You Are?" starts Sunday, May 31 at 9pm on SABC2.

The family-orientated documentary series allows some of the country’s top celebrities to go face-to-face with the hidden history of their ancestors and provides a journey of emotional discovery for them and the audience.
“These are highly personal films, yet the wider historical themes they reveal relates each personal story to a wider history that the audience shares in,” says SABC2 publicity manager Zandile Nkonyeni.

This format allows us to get to know the celebrity better, but mostly it allows us to explore our history in a fascinating and neutral way. It allows us to discover areas of our country which today look very different.”
The six episodes connect by combining documentary, revelation of a detective story, biography and big picture history, shared by the audience of a nation.

Well-known personalities include actress Nthati Moshesh, TV presenter Candice Moodley, singer HHP Jabulani Tsambo, SABC2 news anchor Riaan Cruywagen, Isidingo star Meshack Mavuso and comedian Kurt Schoonraad.

The celebrities' stories demonstrate the history that created modern South Africa and will encourage viewers to start exploring their own history.

Ancestry24, a comprehensive ancestral and genealogical service, assisted the producers and researchers, while its channel manager spent hours in the archives and other repositories to assist with the research of the individual celebrities. If you have South African ancestry, you might want to check out the website, which offers a beginner's guide, the 1907 Who's Who, directories, vital records, biographies, community history, government gazettes, tombstones, a forum and a blog - even DNA testing.
“We effectively travel back in time to meet the featured celebrities’ extended family and those who knew them, and walk where their ancestors lived and worked,” she said.

The international series format has triggered a general interest in family history and a return to libraries, museums and domestic travel as people go back to the small towns they or their families came from.
The first episode focused on actress Nthati Moshesh, who's also the great-great-granddaughter of King Moshoeshoe, the first king of the Basotho people. In the segment she crosses into Lesotho to speak to historians and family members.

It seems everyone in the world is already watching the show in a local version, except for the US. Oh well.

Read more here.

Michigan: Erin Einhorn to speak, June 7

Journalist Erin Einhorn, author of The Pages In Between, will speak at the annual meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Michigan (JGSMI) on Sunday, June 7.

The meeting, which includes installation of new officers and a dessert reception, begins at 1.30pm at the
Holocaust Memorial Center, 28123 Orchard Lake Rd., Farmington Hills. There is a fee.

When Einhorn found the family that hid her mother from the Nazis during WWII she thought she'd created a made-for-TV-reunion for two families thrown together by history. A man who had known her mother as a child embraced Erin and told her that her mother had been like a sister to him.

But the initial embrace soon gave way to 50 years of hurt feelings and resentments. Erin was apologizing for choices made years before she was born, untangling a real estate deal made on a handshake by people long gone. She found herself struggling to prove the death of a great-grandfather born in 1868. Then, as she confronted the circumstances of her family's tragic past, unexpected events in her own life altered her mission completely.

A Detroit native who lives in New York City, Einhorn is a reporter for the New York Daily News, and has also written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and Fortune Magazine. She is a contributor to National Public Radio's This American Life. Einhorn's story was the basis for one of the show's most popular episodes.

For fees, additional details and reservations, click on the JGSMI site.

Webcast: Jewish life in Mr. Lincoln's City

Here's a new Library of Congress webcast, featuring "Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City," with speakers Laura Cohen Apelbaum and Wendy Turman. It runs 49 minutes.

View the Webcast here.

The women spoke about and showed a power point presentation on the new exhibit at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington on "Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln's City."

A Washington area native, Cohen Apelbaum has been executive director of the Jewish Historical Society since 1994. Her work has centered on preservation of the 1876 historic synagogue, building the community's archives, expanding the Society's school and family programs, and outreach in the community. Previously she worked as an attorney for both the local and the federal government. She has a master's degree in taxation (Georgetown University), a law degree (George Washington University) and a bachelor's degree in American history (Duke University).

Turnman has worked at the JHSGW since 2000. She holds an MA in museum studies (George Washington University) and a BA in history (UC Santa Cruz) . She previously worked at the National Museum of Health and Medicine and at the Smithsonian Institution.

Caribbean: Jewish heritage sites

It must be travel time. If you are thinking about the Caribbean, here's a glimpse at Jewish heritage sites there, along with some history and websites for more information.

Read the article here. Here are some of the highlights:


In 1651, Joao d’Yllan, a Jewish merchant who migrated to Holland from Portugal as a result of the Inquisition, convinced the Dutch West Indies Company to colonize Curaçao. He and a small group set sail for the island that summer, and soon several independent Jewish businessmen from Amsterdam followed. In the spring of 1659, another group of Jewish immigrants brought Curaçao’s first Torah scrolls. Since that time, the Jewish community of Curaçao has remained one of the most active in the Caribbean islands.
Mikve Israel synagogue, with its sand-covered floors, was established in 1651, and today also houses the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum, home to a permanent collection of art and artifacts. Among the treasures is the original Torah scroll brought to Curaçao in 1659. Nearby Blenheim Cemetery is the oldest Jewish cemetery in the Western Hemisphere and has smore than 5,000 graves. For more information, click here.


In 1754, Moses Solomon Levie Maduro, a prominent member of a Sephardic Jewish family in Curaçao, established himself in Aruba with his wife and six children. There, Levie Maduro founded a branch of the Dutch West Indies Company. Over 250 years later, Maduro and Sons operates as the main shipping company in Aruba.
Beth Israel Synagogue blends both Sephardic and Ashkenazi, with some 70 local and 180 overseas members. The Sephardic cemetery has graves back to the 19th century. For more information, click here.


When the first Jewish settlers arrived in 1511, Jamaica was a Spanish territory ruled by the family of Christopher Columbus. The island welcomed Jews, and when England conquered Jamaica in 1655, there was no attempt to expel or limit the Jewish presence. Jewish life flourished, and during the 17th century a small synagogue was established. The United Congregation of Israelites in Kingston recently celebrated its 350th anniversary with a permanent exhibition on Jewish contributions to Jamaica.
The new Jewish Her­itage Center offers important Jewish artifacts, an art exhibit by Jewish Jamaican artists, a family history center, and a reference library.For more, click here.


The Jewish history in Nevis is vast and has had a prominent impact on the United States. It is suspected that Sephardic Jews first came to Nevis as traders from Barbados sometime after 1654. By the late 17th century, the Nevis Jewish community established a complete enclave, including a cemetery, a synagogue and a Jewish school. In fact, Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the treasury of the United States, was born in Nevis and attended Jewish day school. Though its numbers have since dwindled, at one time the Jewish community constituted one fourth of the island’s population.
The Jewish cemetery dates to 1679 and was rededicated in 1971. Jewish cemetery dating back to February 1679. For more, click here.


The British first colonized Barbados in 1627 and actively promoted Jewish settlement during the years that followed. Later, Barbados became the first British territory where Jews obtained full political rights. In 1654, the Jewish community in Bridgetown established a Sephardic synagogue, and by 1679, nearly 300 Jews lived on the island. Many Jewish settlers engaged in sugar and coffee cultivation, and soon tensions between Jewish and British merchants rose. In 1668, the government forced Jews to live in a Jewish ghetto and forbade them from engaging in retail trade; the discriminatory laws were removed in the early 19th century. Despite persecution, the Jewish community thrived in Barbados until 1831, when a massive hurricane caused significant damage to the island, displacing some residents.
The Bridgetown Jewish Syna­gogue remains in use today. For more information, click here.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Jews first settled on the then Danish-ruled island of St. Thomas in 1655. After granting Jews religious freedom in 1685, the island has since had three Jewish governors. At its peak, around 1850, the Jewish population made up half of the island’s white community. After the opening of the Panama Canal, however, the number of Jewish residents declined. St. Thomas boasts the oldest synagogue in continuous use in a U.S. territory. Known as the Congregation of Blessings and Peace, the St. Thomas Synagogue was originally established in 1796 and was later rebuilt several times.
The present Sephardic-style synagogue was built in 1833. Everything in the historic building is original, and a small museum was added in 1996. For more, read here.

The article also includes information for those who observe kashrut.

Greece: Jewish history book and more

Tracing the Tribe has just discovered the excellent English-language AthensPlus, produced by the International Herald Tribune and Kathimerini.

This issue is a large PDF file, some 22 MB, but well worth it for a variety of reasons.

Page 20 carried the news that "Greece: A Jewish History," by K.E. Fleming (Princeton University Press, 2008) received the Runciman Award for books. The award is provided annually to a book on Greece or the world of Hellenism, published in English.

It also won the 2008 National Jewish Book Award for Sephardic Culture. Read the first chapter here, and read reviews here.

It was described as "a beautifully written and cumulatively moving account of how, and why, there is both Jew and Greek," by the judges' panel chair Martin Hammond.

Fleming is a New York University professor Mediterranean and modern Greek history and directs the Center for European and Mediterranean Studies and the A.S. Onassis Program in Hellenic Studies.

The book is the first comprehensive English-language history of Greek Jews, and the only one that includes material on the diaspora in Israel and the US. It tells the story of a people who for the most part no longer exist and whose identity is a paradox in that it wasn't fully formed until after most Greek Jews had emigrated or been deported and killed by the Nazis.

For centuries, Jews lived in areas that are now part of Greece. But Greek Jews as a nationalized group existed in substantial number only for a few short decades--from the Balkan Wars (1912-13) until the Holocaust, in which more than 80 percent were killed. Greece: a Jewish History describes their diverse histories and the processes that worked to make them emerge as a Greek collective. It also follows Jews as they left Greece- as deportees to Auschwitz or émigrés to Palestine/Israel and New York's Lower East Side. In such foreign settings their Greekness was emphasized as it never was in Greece, where Orthodox Christianity traditionally defines national identity and anti-Semitism remains common.
Genealogy was discovered on page 16, with a small listing indicating that the Foundation of the Hellenic World (FHW) held a public “Family Tree” discussion on May 24, at Hellenic Cosmos (254 Pireos) about its genealogy programs for Greeks, including those of the diaspora. Michalis Varlas is head of the foundation's genealogy department. The event aims to help participants discover their roots and family trees. Through screenings and group's archival digital collections, visitors can see how their own family history fits into the broader story of Hellenism.

Page 33 offers some interesting recipes from two women chefs. Sougania are stuffed braised onion shells filled with ground beef, rice and cumin. Sfougato is a thick baked grated zucchini omelet with eggs. Both sound delicious. [There are more recipes on page 32, for readers who eat octopus]

The travel section is on pages 42-43, if you're considering a visit to Greece. These pages might encourage you to do that sooner than later. Topics covered the island of Zykanthos, as well as other Greek locations for organic farms, wineries, spas and more.


Judaica auctions: Selling the family jewels

About.com has experts on all sorts of topics. In the Collectibles pages, by Barbara Crews, I found an interesting article on J. Greenstein & Co, the only auction house dealing only with Judaica.

A leading antique Judaica expert and collector, Jonathan Greenstein, 41, explained that many unique pieces were lost in 1939 when Hitler had sacred ornaments melted down for their silver. Centuries of Jewish history disappeared - what remains is even more rare.

He's been working in the field for more than 27 years and is often retained to authenticate Judaica. He says that 70% of what he sees is fake. A lecturer at major museums and institutions, he wrote "The Lost Art," which describes the making of 18th-19th-century silver kiddush cups.

There are many family owned antiques that will be owned by generations, but none are so cherished or special as the Judaica items passed down through the family after the hardship of immigrating to another country or later when fleeing Hitler during the years of World War II.

The United States saw a mass immigration of Jewish people from 1880 through 1927 and many people brought with them their cherished family items, passing them down through the generations. These are the pieces that are often being sold as older people are dying off and younger family members might need the money due to the state of today's economy.

J. Greenstein & Co, Inc.'s next auction will be on June 8, 2009. Jonathan Greenstein says “Rare and one-of-a-kind artifacts and antiques are now surfacing that haven’t seen the light of day in generations as the effects of the sinking economy and the Madoff scandal congeal.”
In the sale will be sacred possessions of Reform Judaism leader Rabbi Alexander Schindler, a Madoff victim. His wife is not only forced to sell the family home but also to sell prized items given to the rabbi when he retired as leader.

"One of the artifacts is a silver Torah crown, an ornately detailed piece which adorns the holy scroll. Another is a silver Torah pointer, used so that fingers never touch the sacred text. It dates from the 1700s and is extremely, extremely rare," said Greenstein.

"Very few objects of this quality survived the Holocaust," said Greenstein, adding that Madoff raided "little old ladies' bank accounts" like the Nazis raided the temples.
Greenstein says he will not charge a fee to the family.

Founded in 2004, J. Greenstein & Co, Inc. is the only auction house solely devoted to the sale of Jewish Ritual objects. Its biannual auctions feature rare Jewish ritual objects, works of art, books and manuscripts.

Here's more on what's available at the June 8, 2009 Judaica Auction; many items have inscriptions, and there are also a few Persian ketubot.

For genealogists, there are some poignant items, such as the silver-bound Pinkhas of the Chevrah Kadisha of Nitra (Hungary, 1898). Hand written names of each deceased community member. 12.3-inches tall; estimated sale price $2,000-5,000. There's a large brass Syrian charger plate with applied copper and silver, 13" diameter. Made c1900, its estimated sale price is $800-1,200.

If money's no object, what about a very rare modern Italian menorah by Bucellati (pictured left), 10-inches tall, with a estimated sale price of #12,000-16,000. Or a finely written and decorated Italian 18th century megillah scroll, with an estimate of $17,500-24,000.

A very collectible item in the field of Judaica are dreidels (Hanukkah spinning tops), which come in many kinds and made in diverse materials. In fall 2004, some auction prices for this collectible were:

7" Silver musical dreidel - $16. 2.7"
19th-century Russian silver/enamel dreidel - $350.
.75" pewter dreidel, Poland c1800 - $41.
2" brass w/rhinestones dreidel - $65.
1.5 gilt silver dreidel, c1900 - $300.

Current Collectible Dreidels:
Lladro dreidel with dove - $105.
Lladro dreidel with star - $130.
Waterford Marquis dreidel - $50.
Waterford jeweled dreidel ornament - $35.
Christopher Radko Dreidel ornament - $40.
Some people collect antique and vintage menorahs. Here are some prices:

Oil Pal Bell bronze olive branch menorah - $210. "Made in Israel"
37cm wall hanging brass/bronze menorah - $114. very ornate
Bronze menorah with lions - $137. Jewish star on top
Silverplate, circa 1890 menorah - $925. Very ornate, Poland, 11"
Antique brass menorah - $225. Simple design
Antique sterling silver menorah - $416. 14.5" tall, elegant, simple
Copper menorah, 6.75" tall, - $130. Jerusalem during British rule, WWI bullet casings hold wicks
Look around on the net and find many resources.

If you were not lucky enough to inherit family heirlooms from your own ancestors, you can collect a bit of family history and make it your own to pass down.

29 May 2009

Philly 2009: Program, restaurants, registration

The Philly 2009 website now offers a PDF conference program in grid format to download. While changes may still take place, this is an excellent start to planning your conference experience.

Click here, then click "Program" in the left sidebar. At the top, see the download message and click.

If you've been wondering about where to eat during the conference, a new section has been added. "Where to Eat" can be found at the bottom of the left sidebar of the conference homepage. Categories include those places quick and close, one or two blocks away, three to five blocks away, recommended, kosher, markets, prepared food and takeout.

Registration hours are now set for the Conference Registration Desk at the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel. Attendees who have already registered online can pick up their conference materials beginning Saturday night, August 1, after Shabbat, from 9:01-11pm, and again from 7am on Sunday, August 2. On-site registration runs from 7am-5pm each day except Friday, when hours will be 7-11am.

Try to pick up materials as early as possible as lines get longer on Sunday.

Remember to sign up online for the added-fee computer workshops, the Friday workshops and SIG lunches. These special events fill rapidly, so don't be disappointed and do register as early as possible. Don't forget about the Thursday banquet with its IAJGS Achievement Awards and entertainment. Early arrivals to Philadelphia may be interested in the Saturday evening welcome dinner so they can meet others and begin to network.

Already registered? Go to "Registration Update." If you are a new registrant, go to "Registration" and follow the instructions.

See you in Philly!

Jewish genealogy and the conversion issue

When I mentioned our family history project to an Orthodox member of the family several years ago, her reaction was very positive. She said, quite enthusiastically, "Now we'll be able to know who's Jewish and who isn't in the family."

I realized that - from her particular perspective - this was a major reason to keep genealogical records, although I have never looked at family research from such a vantage point. To me, a family member is a family member no matter how they enter the family records - they are part of the family.

Over the years, I have heard of some family historians who wonder about including adopted children, non-Jewish individuals and inter-married couples. I have even known some genealogists who decide that daughters and their descendants should not be included as they marry and become part of another family.

Jewish genealogy did make it into the conversion issue in Israel just this week, when the Israeli High Court ordered the state to fund Reform and Conservative conversion institutes as well as Orthodox ones. This is an explosive issue in Israel for those who may not be familiar with it. The Orthodox rabbinate - Sephardic and Ashkenazi - slammed the court's decision.

Genealogical research could be boosted by a likely inadvertent comment by the religious services minister, who said, "the High Court would force anyone who observed Halacha [Jewish law] and who was concerned with maintaining his Jewish identity to keep genealogy records."

As long as families keep genealogical records - for whatever reason - I'm happy!
Read more here.

Is there be a circumstance in which you would not list a family member in your records? Share your thoughts.

Who's a Jew? Who isn't?

The New York Jewish Week tackled the reverse of the "Who's a Jew?" issue with Rabbi Joshua Hammerman's take on "Who isn't?" with his article, "Everybody's A Little Bit Jew-ish."

Jewish genealogy gets a mention:
Prior Pew surveys have shown how Jews have been more successful than other groups in stemming the tide of assimilation. But with sectarian lines dissolving rapidly, in a century or two, how many more millions of non-Jewish Americans will be searching their family trees for Jewish ancestry?
The article is here.

Considering its timing at Shavout and its connection with King David's great-grandmother Ruth, whose "conversion" would likely not be accepted today by the Orthodox rabbinate, the story talks about 10 million Iberian descendants of those who were forced to leave Judaism and become Catholic during the Inquisition.

He mentions the recent DNA studies indicating that 20% of today's Iberians - some 10 million individuals - have Jewish roots. And that number is only in Iberia. There are millions more who descend from conversos who left Iberia and settled in the New World. While they might not be Jews today, they are Jew-ish, it's in their DNA.

There's a midrash that every Jew was present at Sinai, including all future generations. What about those Iberians whose ancestors were forced to convert. "We can’t retroactively crop them out of the Sinai family picture."

Hammerman believes in traditional standards determining Jewish identity, but adds "the world has become far too complicated to ignore everyone else. So, yes, there are Jews, the ones who fall within normative halachic parameters; and then there are those who are Jew-ish, a group that includes many millions more."

He says that a lot of unconditional love - chesed (Hebrew) - is needed to reach out beyond those who are Jewish to those who are generations removed from their heritage - those he calls "Jew-ish."

Thinking bigger, is his advice - to look beyond the farthest fringe, "to millions of once-were-Jews," whose spiritual search will lead them back.

A team of geneticists has uncovered explicit evidence of mass conversions of Sephardic Jews to Catholicism in 15th- and 16th-century Spain and Portugal. The study, based on an analysis of Y-chromosomes and reported first in the American Journal of Human Genetics, indicates that 20 percent of the population of the Iberian Peninsula has Sephardic Jewish ancestry. That’s about 10 million people.

While anti-Semitism remains pervasive and the Jewish population microscopic, there is a deep fascination with all things Jewish. “We’ve gone from a period of pillaging the Jews and then suppressing and ignoring their patrimony to a period of rising curiosity and fascination [about them],” said Anna Maria Lopez, the director of Toledo’s Sephardic Museum in a New York Times interview.
Of course, Hammerman isn't counting the more than 6,000 in Barcelona's Jewish community, those in Madrid and smaller communities in cities throughout Spain. There are dedicated activists among them who attempt to reclaim Spain's Jewish history and get involved in restoration and preservation projects. There are Jews in Spain today who are vocal about Jewish heritage, and people are returning to the public Jewish community.

Hammerman lists descendants of historical and contemporary figures:

--None of Theodore Herzl's three children were Jewish.
Nancy Pelosi has Jewish grandchildren.
Eight of Moses Mendelssohn’s nine grandchildren were baptized.
Thomas Jefferson reportedly had Jewish ancestors and African-American descendants.
Fiorello La Guardia had a Jewish parent.
Hammerman says "We’ve become the La Guardia Airport of faith traditions; so many coming in, so many going out," and mentions websites which identify famous half-Jews, such as Halfjew.com and Half-Jewish.net.

Read the complete article at the link above.

28 May 2009

UK: 13th century Jewish cemetery

Over in the UK, the city of Northampton has begun to excavate on the site of a possible 13th-century Jewish cemetery some 17 years after skeletal remains were found nearby.
Experts believe the cemetery, which is one of only 10 such sites in England, was situated in what is now Lawrence Court, in the town centre, between 1259 and 1290.

Their research seemed to be confirmed when bones discovered by workmen in a collapsed culvert in neighbouring Temple Bar back in 1992 were dated to the same period.

Now a team of forensic archaeologists from Birmingham University has begun a survey of the area, hoping to discover evidence of the cemetery's enclosure walls, grave cuts and associated buildings.

Anglo-Jewish historian and Northampton resident Marcus Roberts is leading the project and said: "This is potentially the last unexcavated known Jewish cemetery in the country and perhaps the only one accessible for study, so it is a site of huge national importance.
The project plans to use non-intrusive methods, and not to start digging things up, as it is a sacred burial site.
"If we do find evidence of the cemetery from this survey we may consider taking a look at the buildings or boundary walls but we would not want to dig up the graves."
The team recently marked a grid to begin the survey.

A Birmingham University archaeology student was quoted as saying passing electrical current through the ground could determine if there had been graves in the past.
"If you dig a grave you aerate the soil and a lot of moisture gets caught up in the soil. So when we look for grave cuts we look for an area of very low resistance, possibly with a mass within it causing high resistance, if there is all or part of a skeleton buried there."
Read the complete story here in the Northampton Chronicle & Echo.

Morocco: A Jewish oasis

Walter Ruby has a fascinating inside look at Morocco in New York's Jewish Week, which also showed his photographs. Ruby and his fiance visited during Passover.
The Moroccan idyll I shared with my fiance Tatyana began with a Passover evening service at the ornate Neveh Shalom Synagogue in the heart of Casablanca’s Jewish Quarter — an upscale French-flavored district in this mostly modern city where 3,500 Jews live among a much larger number of Muslims — and a sumptuous seder at the well-appointed apartment of prominent community member Sammy Ifergan, his wife Natalie and their two charming teenage daughters.

The elegant century-old synagogue was packed with about 200 worshippers, many of them members of the worldwide Moroccan Jewish diaspora of up to one million, stretching from Jerusalem to Paris, Montreal and Caracas. Then Tanya and I experienced our very first Sephardic seder, with Ifergan performing fascinating rituals like holding a platter of matzah over the heads of family members and guests, while intoning, “You were once slaves in Egypt, but now you are free.”
Among Moroccan Jews, bitter herbs aren't bitter but are a celery-like plant (the Persians also use celery!). Ifergan says in the story, “Maybe because our 2,000-year exile in Morocco hasn’t been as bitter as some others."

Their seder dinner included charoset of dates and figs, soup with ful, salads, lamb with truffle mushrooms, homemade pareve ice cream and more.

The history of the Moroccan Jews is more than 2,000 years old, before the Arabs arrived in the 8th century CE. The original inhabitants of Morocco include the Berber tribes, some of whom converted to Judaism centuries ago. There are shrines to Jewish-Berber holy men like the 14th-century sage Shlomo Bel-Hench.

Moroccan Jews today include descendants of both Berbers and Spanish Jews who arrived in 1492.
The sprawling souk within the walled city of Marrakesh is a vast, pulsating marketplace where every product ever conjured by humankind seems to be on sale; including carpets, metalwork, pottery, jewelry and exotic herbs and spices. Visitors can watch robed and turbaned tradesmen plying timeless crafts including leather working, cloth dying and slipper-making. Adjoining Jemaa-el-Fna Square, with its snake charmers, fire-eaters, and fortune tellers, has an almost hallucinatory quality at sunset, with storks flying eerily overhead.
The couple also visited the seaside town of Essaouira, where Jews were the majority until the 1930s.

If you'd like to visit Morocco, the story includes websites and other resources.

Read the complete story at the link above.

Southern CA: Genealogy in the round, June 7

Genealogy in the round, focusing on sharing genealogical successes, failures, artifacts and brick walls, will be the next meeting of the JGS of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV) on Sunday, June 7.

The meeting begins at 1.30pm, at Temple Adat Elohim, Thousand Oaks.
Come and share a genealogical success, failure, brick wall, or genealogical artifact. This is a meeting to learn from one another. Take this opportunity to share your genealogical story - success or failure, brick walls or questions and more.
To share your experience at the meeting, contact president Jan Meisels Allen here. Each person will have about 5-10 minutes.

The meeting is open to all and free of charge. For more information, visit the JGSCV website.

Postcard Festival: Wheels go round and round!


If postcards of bygone days and modern subjects interest you, make sure to see the first Festival of Postcards at Evelyn Yvonne Theriault's blog, A Canadian Family.

The new carnival is for bloggers to share their love of vintage and modern postcards, and some two dozen bloggers (some international) participated in this inaugural edition.

The topic was wheels, and entries showed bicycles, boats, cars and trains, water wheels and oil derricks, spinning wheels and amusement park rides. Cards included old black-and-white, shiny chrome, and subjects went from serious to funny.

Categories ranged from motorized transportation, non-motorized transportation, wheels in the workplace, to grab bag. Some two dozen bloggers participated. See the article link above.

The deadline for the next Postcard Festival is June 20, and the topic is Main Street. Interpret it literally or creatively. The post should contain the front and back of the card, its size and other details.

Another way to participate is an article on the topic of deltiology. Evelyn asks bloggers to share their expertise and passion and answer why you collect cards, how you got started and whether your collection serves a specific purpose.

Sounds like this Postcard Festival may really fly! I'm guessing "wings" will be a future topic.

Washington DC: Arlington Cemetery Project

Due to blog problems, Tracing the Tribe could not inform readers about the Arlington Cemetery Project event on May 27 to take grave photos at the Arlington National Cemetery, sponsored by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.

The project is too important to neglect, so here are the details.

The Arlington Cemetery Project is sponsored by the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington (JGSGW). The original data was collected by Kenneth Poch (z'l) prior to his death in 2003.

In 2008, Ken's family donated his materials to JGSGW. Since that time, the society has created a database, added more than 1,100 names and digitized Ken's 2,000 photos. During his lifetime, he also interviewed family members, collected obituaries and other memorabelia from the families. This material will also be digitized and will be available to researchers from the JGSGW website.

The spreadsheet and photos will be donated to the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR), while Ken's original materials and photos will be donated to the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington for preservation and conservation.

The project committee includes project manager Marlene Bishow, webmaster Ernie Fine, Rabbi Marvin Bash and Eli Savada. Visit the project site here. More than a dozen JGSGW members entered data for the project.

Even if you missed the volunteer day, there is still much that area residents can still do. Volunteers are always welcome to participate. For more information, email the project.

Marlene writes that anyone who would like to participate should contact the project administrator to obtain a list of needed photos. Volunteers may visit the cemetery on their own to take the photos.

Those who think ahead should mark their calendars for the 31st IAJGS Conference on Jewish Genealogy - DC2011 - which will be hosted by the JGSGW in Washington DC.

For more information on the JGSGW, click here.

Illinois: Skokie beginner's workshop, May 31

The Skokie Library will host a beginner's genealogy workshop given by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois (JGSI) on Sunday May 31.

Experienced researcher and past JGSI president Judith Frazin will present the program, which starts at 1pm.

The practical workshop will focus on available records, books and websites available to help with your family research, and a comprehensive handout will be provided.

Frazin is the author of two editions of A Translation Guide to 19th-Century Polish Language Documents (Birth, Marriage, and Death Records) and has developed two unique forms for recording genealogical information. A genealogist for 26 years, she was program chairperson for the 1984 international Jewish genealogy conference.

For more information, click here.

Nearly back to normal! Thank you!

Tracing the Tribe thanks its loyal readers for bearing up in the face of some technical problems. We think things are much better now.

Tracing the Tribe was informed of the problem by readers, for which I am thankful.

And now back to business as Tracing the Tribe continues to inform its readers of what's new in the world of Jewish genealogy and related topics.

26 May 2009

Blogger.com: Update on IE problem

Blogger.com has finally posted an update on the Internet Explorer problem:

Update (May 26): We are still working on resolving this bug. This only affects viewers using IE to view the blog; for right now, blog owners can either move the Followers gadget lower in their sidebar, or remove it altogether. Either action will eliminate the pop-up dialog box in IE.We will update this post when a fix has been made.

Tracing the Tribe removed the Followers gadget during the weekend, but some readers are still experiencing problems and I am following up with Blogger.com. Other readers have reported that things are fine now. Do let me know if you are experiencing any problems.

Tracing the Tribe's posts are duplicated at its mirror site, tracingthetribe.wordpress.com.

The simplest workaround is to download Mozilla Firefox. It takes about 5 minutes to do, imports all contacts and bookmarks, and does not replace IE. You will then have both IE and Firefox to choose from when using the Internet. I've done it myself and it is not at all complicated.

According to stats for Tracing the Tribe, some 50% of readers use IE, while about 25% use Mozilla Firefox.

24 May 2009

Hungary: Jewish Vital Records Project grows

Does your family history connect to Hungary? Do you know where to find records? JewishGen is a good place to start.

Did you know that Jewish Gen's All-Hungarian Database (AHD) has been increased with an additional 105,000 new vital records. The AHD now includes some 800,000 records (180,000 birth, 45,000 death, and 25,000 marriage).

Thirteen databases are incorporated into the AHD: including 1828 property tax census, 1848 Jewish census, 1869 Hungarian Census, 1781-1850 other censuses; births, deaths and marriages databases; Holocaust Memorials, Who's Who in Budapest 1837 and 1845, Yizkor book necrologies, Holocaust Database, JewishGen Family Finder, and the JewishGen Online Worldwide. Burial Registry. Click here to learn more about each database.

Here's a map showing (circa1900) the ratio of Jewish residents in geographic areas. The darker the area, the higher the percentage of Jewish residents.

Geographical locations for records include Bezi, Budapest, Csenger, Eger, Erdotelek, Erk, Eperejes, Fuzesabony, Gyomore, Gyongyos, Hodasz, Jarmi, Kassa, Kemcse, Kisleta, Koszeg, Mateszalka, Miskolc, Moson, Sztropko, Szeged, Szobrance, and Vag Besztercze.

Still ongoing are the records for Budapest, Gyongyos, Miskolc and Szeged. Today, the database includes 20,000 records from Miskolc and 60,000 from Budapest.

This efforts was made possible by many volunteers who contributed their time, effort and skill to the preservation of these valuable resources. For more information on the volunteers (there were too many to list here) see the AHD site.

The Hungarian Vital Records Project coordinator is Sam Schleman of Malvern, Pennsylvania.
The AHD contains multiple databases searchable on one form. These databases have been contributed by the JewishGen Hungarian Special Interest Group (H-SIG) and individual donors.

The combined databases have over 660,000 entries, referring to individuals living in the current and former territory of Hungary — this includes present-day Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, northern Serbia, northwestern Romania, and subcarpathian Ukraine. The database is a work in progress and new entries are being added regularly.
There is a volunteer opportunity for transcribers as the project is now working on the Budapest records, including the Orthodox community, and for the towns of Miskolc, Anarcs, Apagy, Baja, Papa, Sopron, Szeged and Lackenbach. According to Schleman, no language skills are required. Their philosophy is to use as many transcribers as possible to lighten the workload. If you'd like to volunteer, email Sam.

23 May 2009

Tracing the Tribe: Mirror site activated

Tracing the Tribe has reactivated its mirror site, http://tracingthetribe.wordpress.com, while the Blogger.com glitch producing access errors with Internet Explorer continues.

If you are in the category of readers having error message problems, click on the mirror site above. All the posts are there, although not all comments, etc. have been loaded.

Many blogs have been impacted by the problem, and everyone hopes that it will be fixed as quickly as possible.

Happy reading!

Seattle: Lady Luck and the Hungarian Archives, June 8

Extreme Hungary is on the menu when Theodore Grossman presents "Lady Luck on the Hungarian Archives Roller Coaster," at the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Washington State, on Monday, June 8.

The program begins at 7pm at the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island.

Grossman will talk about researching Jewish family history in Hungary and Slovakia, where his father was born and raised.

His father lived 15 years in what is now Slovakia. For nine years it was in Hungary and part of Czechoslovakia for six years. Neither his father nor the town moved - only the border!
Jews living outside Austria-Hungary proper but inside the empire – Slavs, Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Romanians, Serbs, Croats, etc. – were subjects of a Hungarian government that demanded that they speak the Hungarian language and embrace Magyar culture. Many were thrilled to be rid of Hungary when the borders changed at the end of World War I. But there was no joy among Hungarian Jews, among them the members of his father’s family. They were super patriots who spoke only Hungarian, opposed the Zionist movement, and shared their countrymen's contempt for the other ethnic groups within their borders. “We used to laugh at those who spoke Yiddish,” his father once told him, adding that he and his friends waved Hungarian flags and sang songs that disparaged the non-Hungarians. What a shock it would become when these super patriots were forced to watch many of their non-Jewish countrymen join with the Nazis and attempt to kill all of them.
This program is important for researchers whose quest takes them to more than one country and documents in several languages. Grossman knows some Hungarian so he could research there. In Slovakia, however, he needed help. His archival experiences differed according to the archivists he encountered and ranged from acts of kindness to the proverbial runaround.

A retired newspaper editor and publisher for three decades, his obsession then turned to his father's family. For three years, he studied Hungarian in Seattle and New York, auditing Eastern European classes and researching in libraries. He traveled twice on extended visits to Hungary and Slovakia and wrote a paper, “Riding Lady Luck on Archive Roller Coaster.” (click here to read).

Fees: JGSWS members, free; others, $5. For more information, see the JGSWS site.

Argentina: Basavilbaso community site

For 25 years, Yehuda Mathov (Monosson, Israel) has collected information on more than 6,000 residents of the town of Basavilbaso, Argentina, also known as Lucienville. It was established by Baron Maurice de Hirsch and the Jewish Colonization Association in the 1890s.

The photo above shows immigrants arriving at Buenos Aires port circa 1900.

Mathov has created a new JewishGen ShtetLinks website for the town; view it here.

Many settlers emigrated from Kherson and Bessarabia (southern Ukraine and Moldova). The first South American agricultural cooperative was established in this settlement.

To see names of immigrants in the smaller settlements of the area, click here. These smaller areas were Novabuco, Aquerman, Villa Mantero, Las 1300, Escrinia, Gilbert, Lucienville, Colonia San Juan, Linea and others. This link shows the size of the plot and plot numbers for each person/family.

Under Historical Records, find documents from many sources, including business records, occupations, farm records and censuses, town residents and addresses, abandoned farms. One interesting example lists the assets of a farm back in 1896 and compares it with the much more extensive assets in 1926.

Under Family Stories, find memoirs (PDF format) in English, but mostly in Spanish. The Photo Gallery shows images of people and documents. There is a list of useful links and a bibliography.

Readers with connections to the town are invited to contribute memories and material. Contact Mathov here.

Philippines: Israel and a much older connection

Two items this week focused on the Philippines, which has a little-known and very interesting Jewish history dating from Inquisition days, when the islands were a refuge for Jews escaping from persecution.

Additionally, the Inquisition used the Philippines as a sort of penal colony. There are Mexican Inquisition records indicating that people were sentenced to Manila for several years.

One story concerned a monument to be dedicated in June in Israel commemorating the "Open Doors" program, and remembering the courage, hospitality and determination of the Philippine government, through President Manuel L. Quezon, to give humanitarian support to European Jews seeking refuge from the Holocaust in the 1930s.

The second story was about a Philippino family that learned about its Sephardic Converso background and has just returned to Judaism in Kansas City.

Tracing the Tribe posted on the country's Jewish history in March 2007. Here's a link to the Embassy of Israel's web site for an online exhibit telling the Manila community's history since the Spanish colonial days through to more contemporary times.
The islands were a Spanish colony from 1521-1898, and conversos accompanied Spanish adventurers who settled the islands, according to Harvard University history professor Jonathan Goldstein, who wrote a paper on Jewish merchants in Far Eastern ports.

New Christians Jorge and Domingo Rodriguez are the first recorded Jews to have arrived, reaching Manila in the 1590s. In 1593, both were tried and convicted at a Mexico City trial ( auto-da-fe) because the Inquisition was not operating in the Philippines. At least eight other New Christians were also tried and convicted. Others with Jewish roots kept very quiet, settling in rural areas, living a precarious existence and keeping their traditions very secret in a very Catholic colony.

The Suez Canal opened in March 1869, cutting the travel time from Europe to the Philippines from three months to 40 days. In 1870, brothers Adolf, Charles and Rafael Levy arrived from Alsace-Lorraine, fleeing the Franco-Prussian War, and established a Manila jewelry store famous throughout the Philippines, La Estrella del Norte included general merchandise, gems, pharmaceuticals and automobiles. Leopold Kahn, also from Alsace, arrived in 1909 and joined them in business.

Many refugees were welcomed during the Holocaust. Later, Sephardic Bagdadi Jews from India arrived, as well as those from the American-European Ashkenazi community.

Some Sephardic discussion groups, such as Sephardim.org have recently seen messages from Filipinos discussing their Jewish backgrounds and remnants of Hebrew still preserved.

Click here to read the story of Cantor Cysner and more.

The Manila Bulletin's story about the monument in Rishon-le-Zion, Israel is here.

Recognizing the generosity and humanitarian assistance of the Filipino people to the Jews during the Holocaust, the Israeli government is set to inaugurate the first Philippine monument in Israel’s Rishon Lezion Holocaust Memorial Park on June.

The Israeli embassy in Manila described the first-ever monument as a "lasting symbol" of more than five decades-old bilateral partnership between the Israel and the Philippines.

This year marks "another milestone for the cordial ties" between the two countries with the inauguration of the "Open Doors" monument, designed by Filipino artist Jun Yee, on June 21, the embassy said in a statement.

"The warm hospitality of the Filipino people undoubtedly shed light to one of the darkest and most difficult periods in Jewish history," the Israeli embassy said.

Holocaust survivor, Frank Ephraim, documented the Holocaust in his book "Escape to Manila," which prompted the creation of the "Open Doors" monument, which was initiated by former Ambassador Antonio Modena, who died in 2007.

The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle covered the story of a group of individuals who recently converted to Judaism. Involved in this story was Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn, a Brazilian native, well know for assisting converts and in outreach efforts in South and Central America. The group included a Filipino family:
It’s been a long road for Romeo Bagunu, his wife, Araceli, and their three children, Yeremeya, 10, Yonatan, 9, and Annaliza, 6. Both Romeo and his wife were born in the Philippines and raised in the United States.

“The whole process has taken many years for us, from study, trying to work out our faith,” said Romeo Bagunu.

He estimates they’ve been studying Judaism on their own for 11 years. Research into their ancestry sparked a curiosity about Judaism. Both Romeo and Araceli found that their heritage was Spanish and that their ancestors had settled in the Philippines after the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition expelled Spain’s Jews and forced those who remained to convert to Christianity.

“During the Inquisition, a lot of the Jews settled in the Philippines. In learning that, we became more interested that our family had a lot of Spanish-Jewish culture they kept,” Bagunu said.

In exploring their faith, “we went from a very charismatic Christian background to a Messianic congregation, then to an Orthodox congregation and finally settled last year with Rabbi Cukierkorn’s New Reform Temple… Moving from the Christian faith to this, we wanted to know where the paths were alike and different,” he said.
Read the complete articles at the links above.

22 May 2009

Texas: Discovering Jewish roots

Rabbi Stephen Leon of Congregation B'nai Zion (El Paso, Texas) relates why he does what he does:
“God said to me, 'I cannot bring back the 6 million who were killed in the Holocaust, but there was another group before who are alive in much larger numbers than Holocaust survivors because it's been 500 years, generation after generation of generation," he said. "Their souls are still alive. … You have to do something about it.’”
The story of Hispanics with Jewish roots returning or searching in various ways to discover who and what their families really were so long ago is told in a story by Amy Klein here.
Three strange things happened to Rabbi Stephen Leon the first week he moved here in 1986 to lead Congregation B'nai Zion, the Conservative synagogue in this border city.

“Rabino,” said a Catholic man calling from Juarez, Mexico, about 30 minutes away. “I need to talk to you.”

Every Friday night from the time he was little, the man's grandmother took him into a room, lit candles and said some prayers in a private language he didn't understand. His grandmother had just died, and he asked his mother if she would continue the tradition. She told him to go find a rabbi.

Three days later, a Catholic woman from El Paso came to the rabbi after visiting a relative in mourning, where she noticed that all the mirrors were covered.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked her relatives. They said it was a Jewish custom.

Then the cable guy came, and the rabbi told him, “Shalom Y'all.” The man -- a Catholic Hispanic -- opened his shirt and showed his Jewish star necklace -- he had just found out about his Jewish roots.

“Three incidents in a week and a half?” Leon recalled. “There has to be something going on.”

Twenty-two years later that something is still going on: A steady trickle of Hispanics in the Southwest, from Juarez to Texas to New Mexico, are discovering Jewish roots.
Some people remember unusual customs (not eating pork or not working on Saturday) holiday traditions. For others, it's a word, a name, and they wonder who or what their family really was once upon a time and long ago.

There are several names for these people - such as Crypto-Jews. Anusim (Hebrew, child of the forced). Judios (Spanish, Jews). Conversos (Spanish, converts), as well as the insulting, pejorative Marrano that should never be used - it is an infuriating word to Hispanics with Jewish roots.

All the terms refer to Jews and their descendants whom the Inquisition forced to convert after Spain, Portugal, and later Sicily expelled non-Catholics, forcing Jews to convert to remain. They went underground, continuing to practice traditions in secret and even maintained certain customs after migrating to Europe and the New World, including the Southwest US.

Some are interested in genealogy but not returning to Judaism, some are messianics observing both Jewish and Christian customs. Some return to Judaism openly.
“Who do you count?” asked Stanley Hordes, one of the foremost experts on the Crypto-Jews and author of “To the End of the Earth: A History of the Crypto-Jews of New Mexico” (Columbia University Press, 2008).

“Chances are really good that many people have Jewish ancestors going back 500 years,” he said, estimating that after half of Spain's several hundred thousand Jews left the country, half converted to Catholicism -- half of those Jews converted willingly, assimilating and eventually blending into Catholic society.

“There were certain families that held onto ancestral Jewish faith and continued to practice,” he said. “Today, the overwhelming majority are perfectly content in their Protestantism and Catholicism. Only in a handful of cases people are exploring a relationship with mainstream Judaism.”
On Shavuot, some returnees will celebrate bnai mitzvot at B'nai Zion, a 400-family synagogue, where conversos number 10%. Leon quips that without the anousim, he might not have a minyan.

Blanca Carrasco, 43, returned to Judaism last year and is about to celebrate her bat mitzvah on Shavuot (this year it begins the evening of May 28). She has journeyed from Catholic child in Mexico, Evangelical Christian, a decade at a Messianic congregation, and finally she and her husband returned to Judaism.

Some members of Leon's congregation began their journey at El Paso's Messianic Center where they learned about Judaism, festivals, holidays and Crypto-Jews. Carrasco found some Converso names and that a grandmother spoke Ladino.
“Now we belong -- we are not longing anymore, we are here," Blanca Carrasco said. "We reached the place we were heading to.”
Leon has returned 50 anousim families to Judaism since arriving in El Paso. Previously he headed a New Jersey congregation for 22 years.

Disagreeing with Leon's approach is El Paso's Chabad Rabbi Yisrael Greenberg. He also receives calls from Hispanics who think they have Jewish roots, but he discourages conversion or return
“I think the Crypto-Jew is a real thing -- 500 years ago in the Inquisition hundreds of thousands of Jewish boys and girls disappeared from the Jewish community … Jews always disappeared from the Jewish community -- most of it by force,” Greenberg said.

But, he added, referring to the strong religious ties of Mexican families and the community, “We have to be careful -- we break families.”

“We should put our energy into the Jewish people rather than to try and bring anusim back,” Greenberg said. “If the anusim have a desire to understand Judaism, then let's teach them about their ancestors and let them have an understanding,” he added, implying that the best thing to do would be to leave it at that.

Another person quoted is "just curious." He's been researching his genealogy and considering DNA testing. He discovered Dr. Hordes' book and heard him speak at the New Mexico Jewish Historical Society in Taos, NM.

Leon helped start an anousim/Sephardic learning center and yeshiva in El Paso with Rabbi Juan Pablo Mejia (of converso background himself), a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary's Rabbinical School in New York, and Sonya Loya, director of Bat-Tzyion Hebrew Learning Center in Ruidoso, N.M.

The goal is to raise awareness in the Jewish and general community about the Inquisition and Crypto-Jews, on a par with Holocaust remembrance.
“The anusim will come back eventually; there is a yearning. There is a divine plan out there,” Leon said.

With Hispanics being the fastest-growing population and the Jews constantly concerned about their diminishing population, Leon says the Jewish community should welcome those Hispanics who want to explore their Jewish ancestry.

“I think the anusim are the only answer,” he said. “They are returning one way or another.”
Read the complete article at the link above, as well as other Tracing the Tribe posts on the various aspects of the Converso issue. There is a companion piece to this story, an interview with Dr. Stanley Hordes, "So You Think You're a Crypto-Jew?"

Oregon: Jews in the News, May 31

Genealogists know that newspapers can be our best friends in our quest for family information.

Pamela Weisberger of Los Angeles will present two excellent programs focusing on newspapers resources at the annual brunch of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon (JGSO), on Sunday, May 31.

The program begins at 10.30am at Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Portland.

"Jews in the News: Enhance Your Research with Newspaper Databases" offers techniques for locating people and events of interest to your quest.
Some of the most exciting resources for genealogists are the online databases and microfilms of old newspapers and journals. Following this oft-neglected “paper trail” will enhance your genealogical knowledge. From obituaries, birth, engagement and marriage announcements, to curiosities such as “Yesterday’s Fires,” “News of the Courts,” and articles covering Eastern European towns and businesses, you will be astonished by the unexpected appearances immigrant ancestors make in the pages of these tabloids and broadsheets.
"When Leopold Met Lena: Marriage, Divorce and Deception in the 1890s" is a fascinating case study.
First came love, then came marriage - but after the baby in the baby carriage came adultery and two trials in New York’s Court of Common Pleas. A divorce decree in the 1890s New York Times “News of the Courts” leads to scandal-ridden NYC court transcripts and revelations of a family secret. From Czestochowa , Poland and Cracow , Austria to Manhattan ’s Lower East Side and Little Rock , Arkansas - the tumultuous, romantic and litigious world of our ancestors is brought to life in court records, newspaper articles, census and vital records. Learn how present-day research can be used to solve 19th century mysteries.
Pamela is program chair for the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles, Gesher Galicia president and research coordinator for Gesher Galicia, and co-chair for the 2010 IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (July 2010, Los Angeles) .
Her first job in the film industry was working for Otto Preminger who never took no for an answer. This was the perfect training for becoming a genealogist. Documenting her family’s history for more than 20 years, she has visited and researched her ancestral towns and villages conducting research in Polish, Ukrainian and Hungarian archives. Her special interest is late-19th-early-20th century city directories, newspapers and court records. She has produced two genealogy-related documentaries.
Fee: JGSO members, $7; others, $9. For more details and reservation information see the JGSO website.

SephardicGen: Santa Coloma de Queralt and more

SephardicGen.com's Jeff Malka has informed Tracing the Tribe that 85% of databased names on his site can be searched through his Consolidated Index Search Form. This "index of indexes" directs researchers to links to databases containing the name(s) of interest. The rest of the names will soon be added to the Index.

More databases will soon be included on the site, he added.

Did you know that SephardicGen also has the databases in French? He'd like to add the descriptions of the databases and the search forms in Spanish and into Catalan. Native speaker volunteers are invited to email Jeff.

And here's yet another recently added database for the small Santa Coloma de Queralt community in Catalunya, Spain.

The names appeared in Professor Yom Tov Assis's book "The Jews of Santa Coloma de Queralt: An economic and demographic case study of a community at the end of the thirteenth century" (Hispania Judaica, v.6).

Assis is a member of the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and head of the Hispania Judaica Research Center which is part of the Institute.

The contents are based on notarial documents over nine years, 1290-1299, found in the local archives. There are 42 surnames with given names, year and place, and the reference page in the book. It is a small database limited to only one small community detailed over a short period of time. However, if you find your family name there, the benefits may be enormous.

Check the database here.

In addition to town residents, some individuals came from Barcelona, Cervera, Guimera, Lerida and Montealbo.

One drawback is that there is no indication of what the document is referring to in the book. Is it a business record, a property sale or purchase, or anything else requiring a notarial record? If one of these records is for your possible ancestor, you will have to find a copy of the book and check the page number reference to learn more.

For Santa Coloma de Queralt, there are 36 records, and the family names include:
Researchers of Sephardic families have even more resources to look forward to, thanks to Jeff.

21 May 2009

Queens NY: 'Tree of Life' screening, May 23

Queens residents can see the acclaimed "The Tree of Life" by Hava Volterra, closer to home as it will be screened at 10 pm, Saturday, May 23, at the Utopia Jewish Center in Flushing.
Hava Volterra tries to come to terms with her father’s death by traveling to Italy to trace the roots of her family tree. With the help of her feisty 82 year-old aunt, she travels relentlessly from city to city, digging through ancient manuscripts and interviewing a wide range of quirky scholars.

Using Monty Python-style animation along with music from Golden Globe-nominated composer Carlo Siliotto, the documentary tells the story of Jewish mystics, money lenders, scientists and politicians.

Hilarious and emotionally gripping, the film is a fresh look at history.
The Jewish Week wrote:
"the project is clearly Volterra’s way of reconciling herself to her father's death. In an age of embarrassing and unedifying frankness about family matters, her reticence is refreshing. You can read all you need to know from what is there on the screen and for that alone, “The Tree of Life” is a refreshing and fascinating change of pace."
The Village Voice wrote:

"…. in the town of Volterra that gave her family its name, she digs up a pretty interesting family tree and a truly fascinating history of Italian-Jewish life from the 15th century through the Holocaust, enhanced by interviews with historians in Italy and Israel and some nifty animation and marionette puppetry

Tickets are $10. Contact the Utopia Jewish Center in Flushing for more information.

Thanks to Hadassah Lipsius, who provided this pointer.

Film Festival at Philly 2009

Pamela Weisberger informed Tracing the Tribe about the Philly 2009 Film Festival. The schedule will soon be uploaded to the online program and we'll let you know when that happens.

There is always something to do at an international Jewish genealogy conference and Pam has organized a great line-up of films as well as many producers, writers and directors who will introduce their films and do Q&As following the screenings.

In the meantime, here's a peek at what will be screened. Remember to go to Philly 2009 for all conference details.

- The Jews of India: "In Search of the Bene Israel"
- Prague: "House of Life: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague" with filmmaker Mark Podwal)
- Italy: "The Tree of Life" with filmmaker Hava Volterra
- Libya: "The Last Jews of Libya"
- Cuba: "Abraham & Eugenia"
- South America: "The Longing: The Forgotten Jews of South America" with filmmaker Gabriela Bohm)
- Austria: "Vienna's Lost Daughters"
- South Africa: "Lest We Forget"
- Lithuania: "The Partisans of Vilna"

New Films - Holocaust and Post-Holocaust Experience:

- "Against the Tide": narrated by Dustin Hoffman. The attitudes of President Roosevelt and his senior advisers, who used the pretext of winning the war against the Nazis to block any Jewish immigration to the U.S. and juxtaposes the events in America with heart-wrenching heroic stories of the doomed Jews of Europe and the leaders of Polish Jewry who had faith that their powerful brothers and sisters in the United States would somehow be able to save them.

- "Blessed is the Match": First documentary feature about Hannah Senesh, World War II-era poet and diarist who became a paratrooper, resistance fighter and modern-day Joan of Arc. Safe in Palestine in 1944, Senesh joined a mission to rescue Jews in her native Hungary. Shockingly, it was the only military rescue mission for Jews during the Holocaust.

- "We Were Exodus": Archival footage with contemporary interviews, recounting the voyage of Exodus, a ship that was haven and prison to thousands of Holocaust survivors. Meticulously researched and artfully composed, "We Were Exodus" invites viewers aboard one of the 20th century's most famous vessels to relive this milestone in the creation of Israel.

- "Captain László Ocskay, The Forgotten Hero": A Hungarian army officer whose heroic deeds saved the lives of hundreds of Jews in Budapest have all but been forgotten. Attending the screening to discuss it will be Miskolc native John Kovacs, who escaped deportation to Auschwitz and ended up in the Abonyi Street Jewish School featured in the film.

The Philadelphia Jewish Experience:

- "Echoes of a Ghost Minyan": A speaker will attend.
- "Philly Hoops: The SPAHS and Warriors": A speaker will attend.
- "From Philadelphia to the Front": One of the few few documentaries to explore the stories of Jewish-American World War II soldiers, focusing on six Philadelphia octogenerian veterans, their wartime experiences and a bittersweet reunion.
- "Tak for Alt": The life of Philadelphia educator and Survivor Judy Meisel, whose experiences in the Kovno ghetto and Stutthof Concentration Camp inspired a life-long campaign against racism.

Eastern Europe:

- "Horodok: A Shtetl's Story: 1920-1940" retells the vibrant life of an Eastern European Jewish village with rare 1930s archival silent movie footage with Israeli survivors' recollections.

- "Bashert": Two cousins return to their grandfathers' shtetl that they left in 1908A series of miraculous incidents lead to previously unknown family members who survived and returned to Linitz (Ilintsy, Ukraine).

- "No. 4 Street House of Our Lady": If your neighbors were being hunted down and came to your door begging for help, would you risk your life to save theirs? The remarkable, little-known, story of Polish-Catholic Francisca Halamajowa who rescued 16 Jewish neighbors while passing as a Nazi sympathizer. In Sokal (Galicia->Ukraine)more than6,000 Jews lived there pre-war; only 30 survived, half rescued by Halamajowa. Attending to discuss the film will be Lviv-based researcher Alexander Denisenko who assisted in researching the film.

- "Terpe Kind Mains, Terpe Persevere, My Child, Persevere": To discuss the film will be New Jersey-born composer Jeffrey Hamburg of Amsterdam. He returns to Ukraine to discover his ancestors' world and demonstrates how an individual search leads to a universal composition on searching, commemorating and coming home.


- "The Beetle": The heartwarming, hilarious genealogy of an old Volkswagen owned by an Israeli. Torn between the responsibility of fatherhood and an irrational passion
for his sputtering car, Yishai track down the past owners to understand the car's rich history.

- "His Wife's Lover" (Zayn Vaybs Lubovnik): In 1931, this Yiddish film was billed as "the first Jewish musical comedy talking picture," starring popular Yiddish theater comedian Ludwig Satz in his only film. Fast-paced, song-filled comedy shot on the Lower East Side, includes role reversals and love triangles and explores gender issues.

- "My Mexican Shiva": Entertaining, wacky comedy set in a Mexico City Jewish neighborhood, focusing on the death of a man and the celebration of his life. The seven-day shiva reunites family, friends and former lovers; sidesplitting stories, conflicts and rivalries are cataloged over the mourning period.

- "The Rise and Fall of the Borscht Belt": For all of us Catskill kids who spent hotel and bungalow vacations, where Jewish-American
iconoclastic humor was born.

Back by Popular Demand:

- "Genealogy Goes to the Movies" with Jordan Auslander, who updates last year's hilarious experience recreating the excitement, drama, adventure, glamour and - yes - romance of family history research in kitschy, classic clips from popular films and TV shows.

The True Bielski Boys Experience:

- "Defiance": Hollywood feature starring Daniel Craig, about the partisans who created a thriving shtetl deep in the Western Belarus forests while conducting sabotage missions against the Nazis. Introduced by Tuvia Bielski's granddaughter Sharon Rennart.

- "The Bielski Partisans: A Granddaughter's Story": Award-winning filmmaker Sharon Rennart will also present her own program detailing her 11-year journey around the world from Brooklyn to Belarus, Israel and Lithuania. She will discuss her family's history and screen excerpts from a work-in-progress documentary, "In Our Hands: A Personal Portrait of the Bielski Partisans". Excerpts include exclusive family movies, photos and oral histories for a glimpse at the real characters behind "Defiance."

- "On Moral Grounds": The story of WWII restitutions and those who have sought justice for 50 years from insurance companies who perpetrated wrongs on survivors.

- "Saved by Deportation": Filmmaker Robert Podgursky will speak about his film which is based in 1940, a year before the Nazis began deporting Jews to death camps. Stalin orders the deportation of some 200,000 Polish Jews from Russian-occupied Eastern Poland to forced labor settlements in Central Asia. Asher and Shyfra Scharf are followed as they return to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and are warmly welcomed by locals who recall the refugees.

Short Films:

- "The Holocaust Tourist": A whistle-stop tour from Auschwitz hot-dogs to Krakow's kitsch Judaica that asks how dark tourism is changing history.

- "Toyland (Spielzeugland)" This year's Oscar winner for best live-action short film. In 1942 Nazi Germany, a young boy's mother answers her son's question about the whereabouts of his best friend whose family has been deported. She tells him the boy has been sent to Toyland, and he sneaks off to join him.

- "OBCY" (Alien VI): New Polish short. A young Jewish man appears in a tranquil Polish village years after shameful local memories of WWII have faded. The villagers react in surprisingly diverse ways, reflecting ambivalent attitudes toward their past.

Who Do You Think You Are?

Two conference regulars will introduce episodes with which they were personally involved. "The Esther Rantzan story": Hadassah Lipsius researched Warszawa microfilms for vital record information on the well-known UK newscaster's family. "The Zoe Wanamaker Story": Gayle Riley will introduce the story of her actor relative with a plot moving from Minsk to reading a father's FBI files.

Films will be screened beginning Sunday afternoon August 2 through Friday, August 7, including during lunch and dinner breaks and with evening screenings.