Showing posts with label Holiday. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holiday. Show all posts

20 March 2011

Library of Congress: Szyk Haggadah program, April 4

In the mid-1930s, Polish-Jewish artist Arthur Szyk created a haggadah in the style of medieval illuminated manuscripts.

The Szyk Haggadah will be displayed on Monday, April 4, at a Library of Congress program marking the Abrams publication of a new facsimile edition, with translation and commentary by Rabbi Byron L. Sherwin and Irvin Ungar.

The original Haggadah is housed in the LOC's Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Ungar's talk - "Arthur Szyk and His Passover Haggadah: A Library of Congress Treasure" - will take place at noon, Monday, April 4, in the African and Middle Eastern Division Reading Room, Room 220, Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First Street SE., Washington, DC. The talk is free and open to the public. Tickets are not required, but seating is limited.

Arthur Szyk (1894–1951) was an acclaimed artist, activist, illuminator and political illustrator. During World War II, his anti-Nazi caricatures were widely published in the United States, most memorably as covers for news magazines such as Time and Collier’s. For almost a decade, Szyk labored to create an elaborately illustrated haggadah that attacked the Nazis, but he could not find anyone willing to take the risk to publish his version of the Passover story. Szyk retold the ancient narrative as if it were an event unfolding in his own time, imagining the Hebrews as Eastern European Jews in need of a modern Exodus to the Land of Israel. His masterpiece was finally published in England in 1940, stripped of its anti-Nazi iconography.
Born of Jewish parents in Lodz, Poland, his early training was in Paris and Cracow. He served as artistic director of the Department of Propaganda for the Polish army regiment quartered in Lodz, 1919-1920. In 1921, he moved to Paris and lived and worked there for 10 years. In 1934, Szyk traveled to the US for exhibitions of his work, such as a Library of Congress exhibit of 38 miniatures commemorating George Washington and the Revolutionary period. In late 1940, after living for some years in the UK, he immigrated to the US.
In 2000, the Library of Congress celebrated the acquisition of several important original works by Szyk with an exhibition in the Swann Gallery titled "Arthur Szyk: Artist for Freedom." The display, which can be viewed online at, featured 17 representative works, from caricatures of Axis leaders to masterpieces of illumination such as the Szyk Haggadah.
A former pulpit rabbi, Ungar is CEO of antiquarian booksellers Historicana, founded in 1987. He has led the interest in Szyk; curated major museum shows, written and edited several books, and lectured internationally on the artist.

Jewish scholar and ethicist Sherwin has authored or edited 28 books and more than 150 articles and monographs. An Szyk authority, he has served on the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies faculty since 1970.

"The Szyk Haggadah" (128 pages, 48 color illustrations) is available from Abrams and nationwide bookstores and online ($40, hardcover; $16.95, paperback). Copies signed by Ungar will be sold at the April 4 event.

See an LOC online exhibit of some of Szyk's works here.

18 March 2011

Library of Congress: 'The Washington Haggadah,' March 23

In just a few weeks, Jews around the world will be reading one or another edition of the Haggadah.

While one of Tracing the Tribe's favorite nostalgic editions is that printed by Maxwell House Coffee, there are many others.

The 15th-century  illuminated Washington Haggadah, in the Library of Congress, is considered an exquisite edition. A new facsimile edition has just been produced by Belknap Press/Harvard University Press this year.

The importance of this work and its new edition will be discussed by David Stern (University of Pennsylvania) and Katrin Kogman-Apel (Ben Gurion University) at noon on Wednesday, March 23. The program will take place in the Mumford Room, sixth floor, James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. SE, Washington, DC. The talk is free and open to the public; tickets are not required.

Both speakers wrote essays for the new edition, which will be on sale during the program, and speakers will sign copies.

The Washington Haggadah, held in the Library’s Hebraic Section of the African and Middle Eastern Division, will be on display.

According to a press release about the event, The Washington Haggadah is being discussed on the Books and Beyond page on Facebook, where readers can discuss books and access webcasts of LOC events.

17 March 2011

Sweden: ArkivDigital offers free weekend access

Are you searching family that lived in Sweden?

That country will celebrate Genealogy Research Day on Saturday, March 19. Genealogical societies, archives and libraries will be hosting events many localities.

ArkivDigital and its online service - ADOnline2 - will be free this weekend on Saturday and Sunday.

According to a communication from ArkivDigital, "We hope that this offer also will help genealogical societies and archives to demonstrate what modern genealogical research is all about."

The site is the biggest private provider of Swedish church and historical records online. Some 500,000 images are added each month to the current 24 million images available. The digital color images are available via online subscriptions or as CDs.

There is a list of Swedish counties. Click on each county to see the parishes and volumes available.

Genealogists know that good digital images are as readable as the original register pages. While previous efforts were made to photograph the registers, ArkivDigital believes it was important to do it again, in color.

The site details the imaging (1948-1963) of records by the Mormon Church and recent changes in technology:

Future - digital photographs in color

During the 90's and 00's both SVAR and Genline digitalized many of the old microfilms. Many people think that the original books at the archives are as black, and in many cases, unreadable as those images sometimes are. Fortunately that is not the case. It is the copies that are black and hard to read because the technology in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s was not as advanced as today and the copies have been transferred several times since then, making the digital images copies of copies of copies. Since ArkivDigital photograph the old unique source material using modern technology the readability is far superior to the old images.
The site offers a good example of the old imaging (left) versus the new image (right):

Tracing the Tribe is sure that all of us have seen record images as difficult to read and wished that new projects would be undertaken to produce better images.

The procedure for obtaining free access this weekend is somewhat complicated, but check out the instructions here.  It involves installation of the ADOnLine2 program.

Do look at the ArkivDigital site if Swedish records are relevant to your research.

Food: Hamantaschen and more!

It's almost Purim! And it can't be Purim without hamantaschen! offers a roundup of interesting fillings for these little triangle pastries.

Click on these for some yummy treats:

Cheating Hamantashen
Apple Pie Hamantashen
Cranberry White Chocolate Hamantashen
Gluten Free Hamantashen
Lemon Hamantashen
Date-Walnut Hamantashen
Chef Laura Hamantashen (almond and rosewater filling)
Cinnamon Dulce De Leche
Cinnamon Apple Hamantashen
Pumpkin Whole Wheat Hamantashen
Almost Like a Bakery Hamantashen with Poppyseed Filling

What's better for Purim than a Persian menu? offers a Persian menu on her blog, incuding meatballs a chicken herb stew, rice and a rosewater rice pudding.

However, while it sounds and looks delicious, it is not entirely authentic as Persians do not eat saffron rice with any khoresht (a stew), but only chelo (steamed white basmati rice with a crunchy crust). Saffron is not incorporated into the entire dish, but a small amount of the white rice is mixed with a few drops of prepared saffron liquid and then that small amount of golden rice is sprinkled over the top of the rice platter to decorate it. A form of saffron rice is used with havij polo (rice mixed with carrots and kidney beans).

Also, her rice cooking method is not authentic and does not result in separate, fluffy grains as it should.

The Persian method is to parboil the washed and soaked rice for 7-8 minutes and drain it. Place oil and turmeric in the bottom of a heavy dutch oven, pat down a layer of the rice and add the rest spatula by spatula, mounding it up. Poke a few holes in it. Cook on medium high for 10-12 minutes, lower the heat. Make sure to use a double layer of white paper towel under the tight-fitting lid to absorb the condensation and avoid soggy rice. Cook another 20-30 minutes on medium, then raise a corner (keep it slightly open) of the pot to let out the steam, and lower heat to very low. Keep it on the burner for up to 20 minutes.

This method will result in fluffy grains and and a fabulous golden crispy-crunchy layer that Persian diners fight over. Yum! My trick is to use a circle of parchment paper on the bottom of the pot, add the oil and turmeric on the paper and then add the rice. The crisp tahdik (literally, "bottom of the pot") will lift right out of the pot!

My favorite brand is Lal Qilla aged malai basmati rice, best purchased in a Persian or Indian store, where you know there is a lot of turnover. There are other good brands as well. Long-grain is used for Persian rice eaten with a meal, but short-grain (sometimes called rice for ash - a thick soup-stew) is used for desserts, like the rosewater rice pudding in the menu above.

In some Persian families, the Purim menu uses fish or vegetables (sometimes stuffed, representing Esther's hidden secret), representing the menu that she ate in the palace as she tried to keep to the Jewish dietary restrictions.

However, it doesn't matter really - it is all delicious!

25 November 2010

Family Traditions: Mr. Turkey Day

Tracing the Tribe wishes its readers a wonderful holiday with friends and family.

We hope you take this opportunity to talk about family history and to preserve holiday traditions.

Our family's Thanksgiving Day tradition is to retell The Story of Mr. Turkey.

When we lived in Iran long ago, we made a real effort to celebrate our favorite - well, my favorite - holidays.

The first year there, I decided to do a proper Thanksgiving.

It wasn't as easy as it seems. Turkeys there were rarely sold whole, even harder was trying to get a kosher one. Cranberry sauce? Libby's Pumpkin Puree? Miracle Whip for leftover sandwiches? Those were all black-market items, found only in a handful of specialized shops.

We invited a bunch of our friends, mostly Americans married to Persians, and I set off on my quest.

Actually, the accompaniments (cranberry, pumpkin puree and Miracle Whip) were relatively easy as there was a very large US contingent in Teheran in those days, with a steady demand for such items.

Number one was Mr. Turkey. I visited a supermarket where we knew the owner and asked him to get me a whole, kosher-slaughtered turkey, cleaned and ready for the oven, and it had to be at my house on Wednesday morning.

It didn't come in the morning, or the afternoon or the evening, despite repeated calls and promises from the other end. Early Thursday morning, the doorbell rang and a large brown-paper wrapped parcel was thrust into my eager hands.

As I took it from the deliveryman, it did feel somewhat warm, which set off a vague alarm. I placed it on the kitchen counter and started to unwrap it. The first piece out was the neck with head - and eyes - attached to the body, which was still feathered. The turkey was intact inside and out - everything but the gobble - and I stood there, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.

My husband heard the commotion, came in and started laughing. He called my mother-in-law who agreed to send over her housekeeper/cook to clean up the bird. They were both laughing hysterically on the phone during this conversation. The woman arrived and efficiently cleaned Mr. Turkey inside and out and cut off the parts I didn't want to see. Most disturbing were its eyes. I think I can understand why there are vegetarians!

Need I remind anyone that where I came from - New York City - turkeys came cleaned in plastic bags and ready for the ovens. I don't think even my grandmother had to defeather a turkey. How was I supposed to know what to do?

Mr. Turkey was soon ready to be stuffed, roasted and basted to a golden brown. Our guests said it was delicious.

But each year we act out the story of Mr. Turkey.

Of course, we don't mention my first attempt - many years earlier - at duckling a l'orange, where a perfectly cooked and delicious bird held a surprise in its tummy - the plastic bag containing the giblets. THAT was embarrassing.

Oh well, no one is perfect.

Enjoy your feast with family and friends!

01 November 2010

New Jersey: Intro to genealogy for teens, Nov. 23

In an effort to get teens involved in genealogy, the Clifton (New Jersey) Public Library will offer a special introduction session on Tuesday, Nov. 23.

The program runs from 4-5pm at the Main Memorial Library. Coming only a few days before Thanksgiving, a traditional family-gathering holiday, it might spur the participants into asking questions of their senior relatives during the holiday weekend.

Attendees will learn how to start a search, how to create a family tree and how the library's resources can help them.

This is how it was billed:

Teens – did you ever wonder where your family came from or how they ended up where you live now? If you answered, yes, than you’ve been bitten by the genealogy bug. Your past is a twisted and winding road that can be hard to follow but don’t give up your hunt because the library is here to help.
No registration is necessary. For more information, click here.

10 May 2010

Mother's Day history has some surprises

Tracing the Tribe apologizes for this day-after post, but we were out celebrating!

The history of Mother's Day holds some interesting twists.

A story by Connie Wieck in the Terra Haute TribStar mentions the earliest Mother's Day celebrations of ancient Greece as well as Mothering Sunday (England, 1600s).

In the US, it dates to 1872. The lyricist for the "Battle Hymn of the Republic," Julia Ward Howe, began organizing a day for peace in Boston.

In 1907, schoolteacher Anna Jarvis began encouraging the establishment of a national holiday and asked her mother's church to celebrate it on her mother's death anniversary, which was the second Sunday in May.

Jarvis and her supporters wrote to all sorts of leaders including clergymen, politicians and businessmen to gather support for the idea. By 1911, nearly every US state celebrated the new holiday, and it was declared a national holiday by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

Other countries celebrate on the same date, including Denmark, Finland, Italy, Turkey, Australia and Belgium.

Although the holiday caught on, so did its commercialism - why is that a surprise? - and Jarvis became bitter and disillusioned. So disillusioned, in fact, that she and her sister spent their family fortune trying to cancel the holiday. She died unmarried, childless and penniless.
As she put it: “A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world. And candy! You take a box to Mother — and then eat most of it yourself. A pretty sentiment!”
Today, the holiday is a great commercial success. Wieck's statistics, from IBIS World, show Americans spend $2.6 billion on flowers, $1.53 on pampering gifts (spa treatments, etc.), $68 million on greeting cards. Oh yes, how could we forget that in 2008, jewelry for Mother's Day accounted for 7.8% of the jewelry industry's annual revenue.

Are you angry or upset when your family buys you flowers, gifts, jewelry or treats you to brunch on this day? Do the commercial aspects of the day worry or annoy you?

Read Wieck's complete story at the link above.

22 March 2010

Passover: The perfect genealogy holiday!

As we read the Haggada during our seders, we are reminded that each of us is considered to have come out of Egypt into the Land of Israel.

For many of our families, it was only one stop on the immigration trail.

If our ancestors had not left their homes in many countries, we might not be here today celebrating this ancient holiday.

Here are two resources to consider for this holiday.

Looking for a way to bring some humor into your seder?

Jacob Richman has a list of 108 Passover YouTube videos at his website. It runs from serious to wacky to satiric to just fun - with something for everyone. Here are some of them:
Matzo Man
Matzah Madness
The Passover Seder Symbols Song
20 Things To Do With Matzah
Ask Moses: Why eat Matzah on Passover?
Who Let The Jews Out
Passover Blues
Get Down with Moses
Japanese Passover Tip
The Story of Passover in 7 minutes
Ofra Haza - Deliver Us
Shlock Rock - "Seder Too"
Moshe's Rap
The Gefilte Fish Chronicles
Passover Recipe - Kosher Brownies
The Aviv Matzha Story
The Barry Sisters Tribute - Passover Yiddish Medley
Sixty Second Seder
Aish: The Great Escape
Dayeinu (Hebrew, Sephardi)
Hand Made Matza Baking with David Sussman
Chad Gadya in Hebrew, Chava Alberstein
Had Gadya in Arabic (Moroccan singer)
Chad Gadya in Yiddish by Moishe Oysher
For a cyber exhibit of non-traditional Haggadot from the National Library of Israel, click here. Unfortunately, I can only find the section in Hebrew. However, there is a number on the right for each of the 28 items. Click on each and view the online exhibit or hit the PDF file on the right for each and see the Haggada that way, page by page. Videos and songs are lower down on the list.

Since the early 20th century, there has been a shift to non-traditional Haggadah - the text that provides the order of the Passover seder - which uses only some of the traditional text and has various additions.

It reflects changes in society, culture, Jewish history, new trends, the creation of Israel and more.

The Library has more than 600 non-traditional Haggadot. Of these, 28 have been chosen for the online exhibit. They represent various types: kibbutzim, youth movements, the Jewish Brigade, satirical Haggadot etc.

It also includes videos (kibbutz Passover and Omer ceremony) and recordings of seder songs.

Enjoy! And search previous Passover postings here on Tracing the Tribe.

25 December 2009

Singing in the snow!

Tablet Magazine's Marc Tracy wrote a piece about the top 10 Christmas songs written by Members of the Tribe.

As a kid growing up in the Bronx (Parkchester), I always loved the music of the season. There was a sort of tent-igloo where Santa resided, opposite Macy's, and the loudspeakers filled the air with many of these melodies. It's impossible not to hum along whenever they are aired.

David Lehman, who authored, A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Nextbook Press), listed the numbers in the Tablet story.

In reverse order, here they are with their YouTube links. Read the complete story at the link above for Lehman's comments, including names of the composers, lyricists and other tidbits.

Tracing the Tribe has frequently listed the people connected to these songs. How many do you know?

10. “The Christmas Waltz”
9. “Silver Bells”
8. “Winter Wonderland”
7. “Santa Baby”
6. “Sleigh Ride”
5. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”
4. “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm”
3. “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow”
2. “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”)
1. “White Christmas”


23 December 2009

Fun: New Jewish tunes for the holiday

Many Tracing the Tribe readers - at least those in the US - will be eating Chinese and going to the movies tomorrow.

Here's something else to occupy you if that's a relevant description of your day: The Forward's J.J. Goldberg offers a selection of very funny holiday videos in his blog post, Give It a Rest, Adam Sandler: The New Jewish Holiday Tunes.

He begins by telling us to give Adam Sandler's “Chanukah Song” a rest after 15 years, lists some new ones and provides some very funny videos, straight from YouTube.

Since Tracing the Tribe has already covered the usual Christmas songs written by MOTs, here are Goldberg's choices for more holiday expressions, sure to put a smile on your face.

His choices include "Chinese Food for Christmas," a Chipmunks' parody, rap and gangsta-rap renditions, Lex Friedman's medley of holiday songs that haven't made the top 10 (yet!), the hysterical "Jewish Christmas Song" by an unknown, and a few more.

Go to his blog link above and enjoy a little!

14 December 2009

Latkes: What do YOU put on yours?

While latkes are often considered to be a staple of Chanukah, European Jews had never even seen potatoes - that "New World" crop - until the late 16th century.

In fact, food columnist and author Matthew Goodman says latkes and other potato dishes weren't popular in the Russian Empire until the mid-19th century, as the vegetable was rumored to be a carrier of typhoid and leprosy. It wasn't until the failures of other common grains that farmers decided to try their hand at the new-fangled potato plant. (And aren’t we glad they did!)

The above is the sidebar from a story I wrote in 2007 for the World Jewish Digest (a magazine that reached some 240,000 homes and is now defunct) on what people put on their latkes. Read on and see some familiar names in Jewish genealogy who contributed to the story. The frying latke photo is by Lisa F. Young.

In honor of the holiday, here it is:

You Are What You Eat
By Schelly Talalay Dardashti
(World Jewish Digest, November 2007)

Potato pancakes. Latkes. These golden delights of potato and onion appear in nearly every Ashkenazi frying pan during Chanukah, helping to honor that one small vial of oil that lasted for eight days. While the rest of the world crunches candy canes, decorates trees, sits on Santa's lap or returns strange gifts, our people are frying.

I, of course, a seasoned genealogist, know the truth. (Well, part of it, at least.) No recipe is created in a vacuum and, sometimes, learning a family's latke tradition is more like playing a round of Jewish geography than anything else. For instance, Galitzianers (Galicia was in the former Austro- Hungary, then in Poland, now in Ukraine and Poland) tend to like their food sweet, while Litvaks (Lithuanian Jews) tend to like theirs salty. Some genealogists surmise that sweeter cuisine resulted from cheaper prices of sugar, whereas saltier cuisine resulted from high taxes on sugar. But no one knows for certain. The question is: do these regional tendencies apply to latkes, too? And if so, what are the geographical boundaries?

The topic came up one day last year when I was cruising through the various online genealogy discussion lists I belong to. I noticed a post from one Shelly Crane, whose family comes from both Poland and Ukraine. Crane's Polish relatives used sugar on their latkes and the Ukrainian ones, in turn, would tease them. Having come across other sugar lovers of Polish origin, Crane wanted to know whether the tie between country and condiment was a bubba meiseh (Yiddish for a grandmother's tale) or not.

Crane wasn't the only one thinking along these lines. Judy Baston of San Francisco, Calif., who moderates the Jewish Records Indexing-Poland list ( - which provided the framework for much of this story - found that "nothing brings people into the discussion as much as the foods served in their family homes...[it's] a link to 'old country' connections."

Old country connections indeed. Crane's question seemed to awaken something warm and fuzzy in my fellow genealogists, whose discussion threads are generally limited to archival records, cemetery stones and translations of new records. A deluge of postings suddenly bombarded the discussion group, each regaling list members with the "right" way to eat a latke. Intrigued, and hoping to make some order of the chaos, I fished out a few of the more interesting stories. So, here to relieve your Chanukah kitchen angst is a peek into the lighter - and oilier - side of Jewish genealogy. But whatever you do this holiday - whether you serve your latkes with sour cream or sour pickles - just remember one thing: don't use a store-bought mix. Traditional hand-grated latkes are best, no matter how scraped your knuckles may get!

1. Less is More
Hadassah Lipsius, who lives in New York but whose family roots are in Poland, likes her latkes plain. Her family's holiday traditions include the annual guarding of the pan, whereupon those individuals who are quick enough snatch the latkes out of the spitting hot oil and wrap them in a napkin. Most of the time, says Lipsius, the latkes never reach the table - let alone any condiment. "Am I supposed to add anything else?" she asks innocently. Former Londoner Ingrid Rockberger, who now lives in Ra'anana, Israel, but whose family roots are near Lodz, Poland, also eats them naked. "Oh, the calories!" she adds.

2. The American Way
Hal Stein lives in Sacramento, Calif., but his maternal roots are in Kapyl (Kapulie), near Slutzk, in Belarus. He remembers eating his latkes thin, moist and crusty around the edges, served with sour cream, apple sauce or both. "I don't understand how some of these concoctions of today, which look and taste like stringy hash browns, can pass as latkes. They’re an insult!" Sarah Lee Meyer Christiansen, who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, but whose roots are in Warsaw and southern Ukraine, says she never knew about sugar or sour cream on latkes. In her family, they knew only of applesauce. There’s another American classic - ketchup - but only one person publicly admitted to this tradition. He knows who he is and we don’t want to embarrass him...

3. A Pinch of Salt
With parents from Poland, Bobbie Fromberg eats latkes with salt. "I don't know anyone who doesn't add a little salt to their potatoes. Sour cream or applesauce - feh! Just gimme some really good fried-in-schmaltz latkes with salt and pepper." (If you're dieting, Fromberg shares a great way to have your latkes and eat them too: in a non-stick waffle iron. "Yes, they look like waffles, but put a little salt on them and they taste just like latkes without all that grease.")

4. A Spoonful of Sugar...
Susan Rosenthal grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Salt Lake City, Utah. Her family roots, however, are in a shtetl south of Bialystok, Poland. According to her, the family rule was cinnamon sugar, although she doesn't know why or when the cinnamon was added. Yael Liber, a former Israeli who now lives in the U.S. but whose maternal roots are near Lublin, Poland, also sprinkles hers with sugar. "I knew of no other way to eat them until I arrived in the U.S. from Israel," she says. Of course, 100 percent Litvak Jonina Duker, from Maryland, disagrees. "Sugar on latkes?" she writes. "Feh!"

5. Elbow Grease
Marilynn Handelman, from Laguna Woods, Calif., says her grandmother from Ukraine mixed together potatoes, onions, garlic, as many eggs as were available, matzo meal, salt and pepper, and then fried them in shmaltz until crisp. "We ate them right out of the pan - the greasier, the better! Oh, were they good! Gramma lived to be almost 100." Today, Handelman makes her latkes much healthier, substituting egg whites for eggs, grilling them instead of frying and blotting with a paper towel—after which she freezes, reheats and blots again, lest there be a drop of oil. "My kids and grandkids think they are the best in the world. What do they know? They’ve never tasted those greasy latkes fried in shmaltz."

6. Fish 'n' Chips 'n' Vinegar...
Jerusalemite Harold Lewin, who emigrated from Manchester, U.K., says his family from Lithuania always ate latkes with malt vinegar, as in the British fish-and-chips tradition. The vinegar was a U.K. invention, he says; he’s never heard of such a custom before.

7. If You Say So ...
Albuquerque native Ken Rubin, a chef now living in Portland, Ore., and editor-in-chief of, has his own recipe. "I used to eat latkes with matzo brie [fried eggs and matzo with salt or sugar on top] and raspberry preserves were great on a crunchy, salty latke." Rubin’s family, originally from Russia and Poland, was not quite as daring.

8. Cream Rises to the Top
Across the country, in New York City, Joel Maxman remembers that until he left for college, "latkes on the stove meant sour cream on the table." Maxman's mother was from Zalozhits, Galicia. Sandra Greenberg, from Denver, Col., says her mother-in-law - from Minsk, Belarus - was too poor as a child to eat sour cream. (Another reason for the paucity of sour-cream eaters is that, in the old country, most latkes were fried in chicken or goose fat. Since most Jews observed kashrut - and therefore could not mix milk with meat - sour cream was not an option.)

9. Pass the Gravy
Herb Huebscher, of Long Island, N.Y., says his parents were from Horodenka, Galicia, but lived in Vienna after World War I, until they immigrated to the U.S. in 1939. He insists that his mother made genuine authentic latkes, never putting a grain of sugar or a trace of applesauce or sour cream on them. "I remember always bathing them in gravy from the roasted chicken or the like and adding a little salt." He maintains there is a latke Mason-Dixon line, along a geographical latitude north of Lviv, Ukraine.

10. Scarborough Fair
"I once flavored potato latkes with small amounts of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme," says Lisa Kahn Betros of Riverdale, N.Y. "They were delicious with sour cream." Betros, who grew up in Dallas, Tex., says her father, whose family originated from the towns of Pultusk and Makow, Poland, was known locally as the "Lat-kuh Doc-tuh." In spite of his expertise and Polish origin, he found her American concoction "acceptable."

That's it. Go make some latkes and put on your favorite toppings ... or not!

Does your family do things differently?

Tell Tracing the Tribe. Everyone is interested in what YOU put on your latkes. and don't forget to vote in the JGSLA 2010 latke topping poll

13 December 2009

JGSLA 2010: Vote in the new Chanukah poll!

Here comes a new poll by the 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, which will take place July 11-16, 2010, in Los Angeles.

The conference committee wants your input for the great latke debate, and devised the following poll.

UPDATE (December 14): You can now click on multiple choices in the poll. If you like applesauce and sour cream, pick both - or any other items. Also, Tracing the Tribe had a few problems getting its vote registered using IE8, but no problems using Mozilla Firefox. So if your vote seems to "hang," try a different browser.

See it on the JGSLA 2010 homepage; scroll down for this box:

What do YOU put on your latkes (potato pancakes)?

Maybe you like them naked?

And, let them know if you're Sephardic and don't eat latkes, but do have something else (biscochitos, bimuelos, even empanadas! Vote and join in the fun.

Make sure to enjoy the conference website when you click in. Learn about the hotel, the area, the conference, the Call for Papers (open until January 15, 2010) and more.

Happy Chanukah!

12 December 2009

Chanukah: How do you spell it?

Ever wonder why there are so many ways to spell Chanukah? Is there one correct spelling?

Chanukah, Hanukah, Hanukkah, Hannukah, Channukah ....

This what it looks like spelled in Hebrew. Very simple. Five letters. No variations (although some scholars say there should be a dot under one or two letters, which messes up graphic design).

The names of the letters - from right to left - are CHET - NUN - VAV - KAF - HEY.

Five simple letters, so many transliterated spellings.

According to one site, here are the 2005 Google rankings for various spellings. The second column of numbers is Tracing the Tribe's search today, followed by a few that weren't ranked in the 2005 post: :

- Hanukkah: 12,700,000 - 8,940,000
- Chanukah: 2,440,000 - 2,990,000
- Hanukah: 739,000 - 486,000
- Hannukah: 631,000 - 793,000
- Chanukkah: 465,000 - 269,000
- Hanuka: 377,000 - 239,000
- Chanuka: 359,000 - 234,000
- Channukah: 191,000 - 140,000
- Hanaka: 163,000 - 141,000
- Chanukka: 119,000 - 86,800
- Hanukka: 95,100 (2009)
- Channukkah: 82,300 (2009)
- Hannukkah: 55,200 (2009)
- Januca (Spanish): 118,000 (2009)
- Hanouka (French): 61,500 (2009)

Jewish genealogists may have an easier time understanding this dilemma as we are familiar with transliterating names from other alphabets into English.

To my mind, it is rather simple and it is why Tracing the Tribe chooses to use Chanukah, which represents the word as written in its proper Hebrew characters.

The first letter is pronounced CH (the guttural KH) which is the same as in chutzpah, chazer, and christmas (well, not really, just wanted to see if you were awake!).

It is not pronounced as in chipmunk (see right for a cartoon character, either Chip or Dale - I could never tell which was which)). Although it's a cute little forest animal, it doesn't generally celebrate Chanukah. I seem to remember an Alvin and the Chipmunks perhaps doing something related to the holiday. Here's a Chanukah video parody of their Christmas Song.

There's only one K and one N in the Hebrew spelling - so why do some variations use two of one or even both in English? I have no idea and think it's silly.

Click here for more analysis of the variations, including a neat table of all the variations that author found in 2005. That posting refers readers to a funny point-by-point comparison of Christmas and Chanukah, click here.

For a great discussion on why there are so many spellings, click here for a National Public Radio (NPR) episode of "All Things Considered." It is a winner!

For Tracing the Tribe readers who may still be a bit perplexed about this holiday or who may wonder about getting started in Jewish genealogy, here's a post from Diane Haddad at Family Tree Magazine's Genealogy Insider blog.

Diane posted these suggestions:

-- Learn the history and traditions of Hanukkah, from the History Channel

-- The story of how Hannukah has evolved over the years

-- Descriptions of potato latkes and how they became a traditional Hanukkah food (according to this author, there’s more to it than just eating a food containing oil)

--Another winner is this site all about Sufganiyot (doughnuts, a tradition on Chanukah).

Diane also listed the following for those researching Jewish ancestors:

-- free JewishGen collection on

-- Footnote's Holocaust records collection (free through the end of December).

And resources on include:

-- Online resources for Jewish research (free article)

-- Ties That Bind: Seven research strategies, accessible to Family Tree Magazine Plus members, written by Tracing the Tribe's author.

-- Jewish heritage research guide (digital download,

Have a great holiday!

11 December 2009

Jewish foods: Fry, fry again!

Tracing the Tribe wishes all readers a very happy Chanukah surrounded by family and friends.

Although this photo shows Israeli sufganiyot (filled doughnuts), this post isn't really about them, except to make you hungry. And if you scroll down, there's more on potato latkes. Yum.

Chanukah starts tonight (Friday) at sundown and we celebrate it for eight nights. Our hanukkiah is cleaned and ready.

Israeli sufganiyot are creative, offering many fillings and topped with chocolate, powdered sugar, dulce de leche and whatever they think of each year. Ordinary jelly doughnuts are not that fashionable and can be found in supermarkets. Many bakeries set up outdoor tents where they fry, fill and top the fresh doughnuts for the lines of customers.

My local bakery today had the following varieties: fillings of mocha, creme patisserie, pistachio, chocolate, halva, vanilla cream, banana and more, topped with chocolate, whipped cream, sprinkles and even more. We bought one of each. Pistachio was new this year.

Hungry yet? Here's more food for thought.

Why do some people eat latkes with sour cream or with applesauce? The simple answer is tradition - or not.

Many Ashkenazi Jews only eat applesauce with their latkes. Back in the shtetl, the only fats were chicken or goose shmaltz (rendered fat) - olive oil was rare. You couldn't fry something in poultry fat and then put sour cream on it - it wouldn't be kosher.

And, although these same families arrived in places where the preferred oil was olive, canola, peanut or sunflower - shmaltz wasn't even seen anymore - the old traditions still held firm.

There are as many ways to make these yummies as there are things to make them out of (potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini and various other permutations. I've even seen beet latkes), as well as things to mix into the batter (we've heard of some with raisins or nuts, but we think that's blasphemous) or to put on top (applesauce, sour cream, sugar, cinnamon or just grab them naked - the latkes, not the cook - out of the frying pan!).

Tracing the Tribe likes thin crisp ones, while others prefer thicker pancakes. With our latkes tonight, we'll have a roast turkey breast that's been marinating in a mix of dijon mustard and orange juice.

Of course, the very best way to eat latkes is to get invited to someone else's home who makes a fantastic recipe.

That way, you won't have to scrub the oil spatters off your cabinets, stove and counters and - yes - the floor. It can make a real mess, although for a delicious cause. Some extraordinarily organized individuals start making these a few weeks in advance and freeze them. All they need to do is heat them up - foil-covered - until they are hot and crispy.

It's a good thing there's only one week of Chanukah, as all that frying, oil and sweet stuff often produce a sensory overload.

We wait all year for a fantastic dulce de leche or pina colada or mocha-filled doughnut, covered in chocolate, and think we can eat 10 of them. After about the third one, we can't look at them anymore.

Well, I need to get back to the kitchen, so have a great holiday with your loved ones!

As you gather with family over the holidays, remember to talk to your relatives. Record conversations, make videos, ask questions, write down the details. The holidays are the best time of year to add to your research. Good luck!

Enjoy your holidays!

With best wishes,

10 December 2009

Jewish foods: Teaching teens about the world

Aliza Green spoke at the Philly 2009 Jewish genealogy conference and participated in a first-ever for the annual conference - a hand's-on cooking demonstration.

Her article on teaching teens about the wonderful world of Jewish foods is in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In her career, she's cooked everything on the decidedly not-kosher edibles list, distancing herself from her Orthodox upbringing:

But in recent years, I've embraced my Jewish heritage, especially its connections to food and culture, and I am researching a book exploring Jewish culinary history through the spread of ingredients worldwide.

So I jumped at the chance to teach Jewish cuisine and culture to high schoolers and junior high kids at the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College, whose mission is to educate Jewish teens about the heritage, traditions and language of the Jewish people. The course brings together my love and knowledge of food and culinary history with Jewish traditions. My weekly challenge is to come up with recipes from far-flung Jewish communities that the kids can make.
The kids come from area high schools and have varying interests.

Nicole Kaminsky, a freshman at Wissahickon High School, whose family comes from Puerto Rico, was interested in learning whether some of the Hispanic cooking at her home was actually Jewish cooking. "I've learned that in Ashkenazi cooking, people used ingredients that wouldn't spoil easily. It all depended on the area and the trade routes."
Green included a large section on olive oil as Chanukah is coming up tomorrow night. She discussed Jewish history, and the miracle of the oil and the holiday's significance, and added how olive oil is central to Jewish food traditions across the Mediterranean.

Olive oil was rare in Ashkenazi lands, where our ancestors used rendered chicken or goose fat (shmaltz) instead.

The class made teiglach - although Tracing the Tribe always associates this dish with Rosh Hashanah but, what the heck, it uses oil - which means little bits of dough in Yiddish and its Italian name cicerchiata means little bits of chickpeas.

Egg dough bits are fried until puffed and crisp, immersed in honey, mixed with nuts and formed into individual shapes or one large centerpiece, as Green does.

The class discussed potato pancakes (latkes), apple fritters and squash latkes for the Ashkenazi communities. Mizrahim and Sephardim add sugar and sesame seeds, or stuff cheese into fritters or doughnuts, or soak fried loukoumades in honey syrup. Indians add yeast, milk and butter and fry them.

Read the complete story at the link above.

08 December 2009

Poland: Chanukah guide for 'hidden Jews'

The first-ever Polish-language guide to Chanukah - for the hidden Jews of Poland - was just released by Shavei Israel, headed by Michael Freund.

The guide, "Lights for Polish Jewry," will be distributed for free during the holiday throughout Poland. Read the complete story here.

According to Freund, many Poles have just discovered their Jewish roots and that they were and are hidden Jews and that they want to reconnect with Jewish traditions.

"It is our hope that this book will, in some small way, enable a new generation of Polish Jews to celebrate Chanukah with joy, as well as gain a better understanding of our eternal faith, its principles and beliefs."

Despite the fact that there are only 4,000 Jews that are officially registered as living in Poland, the organization has estimated that there are tens of thousands of others who have concealed their true identity, or are simply unaware of it.
Because of historical events in Europe, many people have lost their Jewish connection. Many do not know that they are descendants of Jews, and others were "hidden children" raised by Catholic families during the Holocaust.

Many people in these situations are now following up on clues, on half-remembered stories, on hints dropped by relatives.

Michael writes for the Jerusalem Post, and founded Shavei Israel after he made aliyah from the US. He has spoken to our Jewish genealogical society, JFRA Israel, in the past.

06 December 2009

Keep spinning: A diamond dreidel

Looking for the ultimate Chanukah gift? How about a diamond-studded dreidel for $1,800?

Now, that's a nice heirloom to pass down through the generations. Of course, you'll have to frisk your dreidel players after each game.

You could always just have it painted into a family portrait and let your descendants spend a lot of time looking for it each Chanukah. Tracing the Tribe believes in establishing your own holiday traditions!

If you really want one, the Platinum Micro-Pave Diamond Dreidel, with .96 carats of handset diamonds is available from Mervis Diamond Importers.

This is not the kind of dreidel you stuff chocolate coins in. This one requires real gold (not foil) coins.

Tracing the Tribe would like to say we received one of these limited edition items in return for writing about it, but ours must be lost in the mail!

Read about it here. (NOTE: Here is the Mervis Diamond page for more info and the phone number for ordering. For those who have asked, the stones are handset in gold and platinum.)

Montana: An officer, a dog and a rabbi ..

How does a Montana police officer communicate with his Israeli-trained sniffer dog who only understands Hebrew?

He finds a Hasidic rabbi - a rare commodity in the state - to tutor him in Hebrew.

Nu? You were expecting a joke from that headline?

The Jewish world learned about Montana in a big way back in 1993 when homes displaying a hanukiah (menorah) were broken into by vandals. Church leaders organized a successful protest by more than 10,000 city residents and business owners to display the holiday symbol in their windows to support and protect the tiny Jewish community of some 36 families.

But Jews have been in the state since the 19th century, when immigrant Jews arrived in mining towns and worked in jobs needed by the miners and townspeople. Butte had kosher markets, B'nai B'rith, a Jewish mayor and three synagogues. Helena's Temple Emanu-El (built in 1891) could seat 500 worshippers, and its cemetery has stones dating to 1866.

Today, there are many fewer Jews than in the old days, but there are now three rabbis. Two are in Bozeman, one in Whitefish - Tracing the Tribe can imagine the jokes about that one!

Eric A. Stern, of Helena, is senior counselor to Gov. Brian Schweitzer, and wrote a New York Times column on the Montana rabbis and an Israeli-trained bomb-sniffing security dog.
In Montana, a rabbi is an unusual sight. So when a Hasidic one walked into the State Capitol last December, with his long beard, black hat and long black coat, a police officer grabbed his bomb-sniffing German shepherd and went to ask the exotic visitor a few questions.

Last year, all the rabbis were at the Capitol on Chanukah to light the menorah. That's when the security officer and his dog followed the rabbi.

Amid the haggling of who gets to light the candles in which order, reports Stern, other attendees commented that a Great Falls supermarket would carry matzo on Passover and a Missoula man mentioned his pastrami shipment from Katz's Deli in New York. Things seem to be changing in Montana.

The officer and his dog watched the ceremony and the chanted Hebrew blessings.

According to Stern, the dog sat at attention, watching the ceremony with a peculiar expression on its face, a look of intense interest. After the ceremony, the officer approached the Hasidic rabbi, introduced himself and Miky, and asked some questions.

Miky was born in a Dutch animal shelter and shipped to Israel as a puppy and trained by the IDF to sniff out explosives. The Helena Police Department needed such a talented animal - the cost is around $20,000 - but learned it could import a surplus bomb dog from Israel for only the airline ticket. Miky's new home was Montana.

The problem: Miky had been trained in Hebrew and his non-Jewish handler received only a list of Hebrew commands and expressions. While Fosket tried practicing and also studying a Hebrew audio-book to learn more, Miky didn't respond or understand what he was to do.

Stern comments that Mikey was perhaps just using Fosket's bad accent as an excuse to ignore him. The officer needed a Hebrew tutor.

Lubavitch Rabbi Chaim Bruk - a recent immigrant from Brooklyn (definitely a different country than Montana!) now helps Miky and Fosket when needed. Fosket has learned to pronounce the difficult Hebrew/Yiddish "ch" (as in CHanukah, CHutzpah, CHaroset, etc.).

Happy officer, happy dog and, says Stern, the rabbi now has someone to converse with in Hebrew.

Read the happy story at the link above.

30 November 2009

Los Angeles: JGSLA celebrates 30th, Dec. 6

It's a party!

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles is celebrating its 30th anniversary with a Chanukah party and film festival, on Sunday, December 6.

The event runs from 1.30-4pm at the University Synagogue.

Join the group at a pre-holiday celebration to schmooze with friends and browse the library while enjoying latkes and applesauce, jelly donuts and other holiday treats.

Learn about exciting JGSLA 2010 conference plans and watch some of the great films shown at the Philly 2009 conference, followed by discussions.

Make sure to reserve, so they'll have enough yummy munchies.

Screenings include:

When a young Jewish man appears in a tranquil Polish village years after shameful local memories of WWII have long since faded, the villagers react with a surprisingly disparate variety of ways, reflecting their own ambivalent attitudes toward their collective past.

Unwittingly, the visitor reminds the local inhabitants of a world that has been out of existence for so long that many had thought it right to believe it never existed. People begin to confide with him, as if they sought to clear their minds of their memories or second-hand stories. When he leaves, the town will never be the same again. 30 minutes.

Who Do You Think You Are? - The Zoë Wanamaker Story

Zoë Wanamaker was born in New York, but when she was three her father, American actor Sam Wanamaker, fled to the UK to escape the anti-communist McCarthy witch-hunts. Hoping to better understand her father's decision, Zoë heads to Washington DC where she visits the FBI headquarters and under the Freedom of Information Act, Zoë gains access to her father's FBI file.

Wanting to explore the roots of her father's left-wing politics, Zoë next looks into the life of her grandfather Maurice Wanamaker, an émigré Russian Jew. Zoë is moved to discover that, soon after his arrival in Chicago, Maurice suffered a series of personal tragedies and hardships that almost destroyed his American dream. Finally, Zoë travels to Nikolaev in Ukraine where she discovers the original form of her unusual surname and the reason why her family left for America. 60 minutes.

Toyland (Spielzeugland)

2009 Oscar for best live-action short film. Set in the early 1940s in Germany, Toyland explores the guilt, the responsibility, and the small and big and lies during one of the most heinous periods in European history. In order to protect her son, Marianne Meisner tries to make him believe that the Jewish neighbors are going on a journey to "Toyland." One morning her son disappears, along with the Jewish neighbors. 15 minutes.
Suggested donation towards the incredible edibles is $10/member, $18/guest, payable at the door.

The JGSLA traveling library will be open from 1pm.

Reservations are essential so there'll be enough for everyone at this festive occasion. Make your reservation (name and number of people) with an email to Pamela Weisberger.

29 November 2009

NewspaperArchive: Reproductions 60% off until Nov. 30

Two days left to cash in on a fantastic gift idea for a birthday, anniversary or other gift occasion, offered by NewspaperArchive through Monday, November 30.

Genealogists can find pages related to an ancestor's arrival in the US, or a birth, engagement or wedding announcement. The possibilities are endless.

NewspaperArchive is offering a 60% off sale on any page reproduction from its collection. The sale price is $11.95 (regularly $29.95 each)

The unframed pages (22"x30") are printed on 100% cotton, acid-free paper, with archival-quality ink.

You can search for any print in the archives, although the site has some pre-selected collections focusing on sports, famous people, history or film.

Order by December 11 to ensure domestic holiday delivery.