Oregon: New Year, new ideas, Sept. 15

Jewish genealogical societies are all kicking off their program years this month. In Oregon, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Oregon will present “New Year, New Ideas, New Info on your Family Tree,” on Tuesday, September 15.

The meeting starts at 6.30pm for networking, followed by the main program at 7pm, at Ahavath Achim Synagogue, 3225 SW Barbur Blvd., Portland.

The session will include a wrap-up of the Philly 2009 conference by members who attended, and will share new resources and helpful presentations.

Next on the agenda will be unusual research tips that are simple and effective.

Breaking down brick walls for participants by some of the JGSO experts will be the third segment.

To make sure your problems, dilemmas or questions are addressed, email them to Barbara Hershey in advance. Attendees may also bring questions to the meeting, but advance questions will have the benefit of research by the mavens.

The program is free to JGSO members, $5 for others.

For more information, visit the JGSO website.

Boston: Ellis Island experience, Sept. 13

The Ellis Island experience of our ancestors will be the focus of the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston on Sunday, September 13.

This meeting will kick off the JGSGB’s program year, and will run from 1:30-4pm at Gann Academy, 333 Forest Street in Waltham.

Were immigrants’ names changed at Ellis Island? Professor Vincent J. Cannato will discuss whether this is fact or fiction at the kick-off meeting for this season’s programs of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston (JGSGB). Professor Cannato’s presentation on the Ellis Island immigration experience will pay special attention to the experiences of Jewish immigrants.

He will discuss why an inspection station was created in 1892 on a small island in New York Harbor and how America’s immigration law evolved, and explain the inspection process and why some immigrants were rejected.

The program includes a sale and book signing for Cannato’s new book, “American Passage: The History of Ellis Island.”

He teaches history at the University of Massachusetts, Boston and is the author of “The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and His Struggle to Save New York.” He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

The program is free for JGSGB members ($5 for others). For directions, click here. For more information on the society, future programs, resources and more, visit its website.

New gen data venture announced

Just announced is a new genealogical data brokerage service by the formidable team of Susan E. King and Joyce Field, with decades of experience in genealogy and data acquisition.

Read the complete announcement here.

They have teamed up to use their unique skills to provide a service – brokerage services for those having data of important genealogical value. With contacts spanning the globe and unparalleled relationships with those in the market to digitize, store, and serve genealogical material, there is no doubt that this team will work relentlessly and tirelessly to assure that your data find the proper home which meets the objectives of your organization and are accessible to those who are on their journey of researching their past.

It is well-known, even in the current environment, that many archives and other historical institutions still house an enormous number of valuable genealogical collections in paper records and on microfilm. These records exist without indexes, without finding aids, without online searchable databases. These now inadequate storage media make vital information totally inaccessible for researchers and put an enormous strain on institutions, with staff shortages, trying to answer questions on records.

In addition, storage of and access to historical paper documents, which are often in fragile condition, and microfilm collections are expensive in comparison to digital records. While so many organizations and institutions lack financial and human resources to digitize and index their collections, there are other organizations today eager to partner with them. These partnerships could include digitizing and indexing services at no cost to the institutions with an agreement that the data can be searched online.

The announcement also says that online ordering system can be implemented to process record requests identified in the searchable online databases.

It is possible that the most important benefit of this new venture is to bring much needed funding to those who hold such collections, and also reduce the cost to for staffing to handle the increasing request load. Susan and Joyce call this a win-win situation for everyone.

The goal and objective of the team is to find the most appropriate partner institution for the holders of such collections and to assist institutions in negotiating preliminary details of an agreement to suit the needs of the collection owners.

Susan and Joyce are known through the genealogical community, and believe there should be ways to offer revenue streams for data holders by placing real records beind an online ordering system, while offering searchable indexes to locate them.

Do you have holdings to discuss?

For more information, contact Susan E. King or Joyce Field.

Egypt: Politics of Jewish preservation

The New York Times reported on Egypt’s foray into its Jewish past.

In its “Cairo Journal” section, reporter Michael Slackman offered a different view of the ongoing renovation, restoration and preservation projects relating to Egypt’s Jewish history and community.

Slackman writes that Egyptians generally don’t make distinctions between Jewish people and Israelis. They are both seen as the enemy.

Tracing the Tribe feels that despite the politics that might be advancing these projects, the possibility that genealogical and community records may be finally made accessible to those who have been clamoring for them for decades, and the preservation of Jewish heritage, it’s all worth it.

Perhaps the true worth of these projects is not why these things in Egypt are being done – to possibly serve political ends – but the end result itself.

One could even liken it to the Prague Jewish Museum which began life as a supposed collection of artifacts representing a dead people, according to Nazis. When so much else was destroyed, that collection was preserved and commemorates a people who survived despite the tragedy and murder of millions.

However, the question also arises of what happens to these projects if Hosny is passed over as UNESCO head? Tracing the Tribe will continue to watch the situation closely.

According to the story, an Old Cairo kiosk snack-seller, Kahlid Badr, 40, whose views are pretty typical, has recently had his ideas challenged.

But Mr. Badr’s ideas have recently been challenged. He has had to confront the reality that his neighborhood was once filled with Jews — Egyptian Jews — and that his nation’s history is interwoven with Jewish history. Not far from his shop, down another narrow, winding alley once called the Alley of the Jews, the government is busy renovating an abandoned, dilapidated synagogue.

In fact, the government is not just renovating the crumbling, flooded old building. It is publicly embracing its Jewish past — not the kind of thing you ordinarily hear from Egyptian officials.

“If you don’t restore the Jewish synagogues, you lose a part of your history,” said Zahi Hawass, general secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, who in the past has written negatively about Jews because of the clash between Israel and the Palestinians. “It is part of our heritage.”

Egypt has slowly, quietly been working to restore its synagogues for several years. It has completed two projects and plans to restore about eight more. But because of the perception on the street — the anger toward Israel and the deep, widespread anti-Semitism — the government initially insisted that its activities remain secret.

American Jewish Committee director of international Jewish affairs Rabbi Andrew Baker said they were told the Egyptian government was doing these things but to keep it secret. This is opposite to Eastern Europe, where the governments shout these projects aloud to try to change the old picture.

The answer is not street politics, but global politics according to Slackman, and chalks it up to the fact that Egyptian minister of culture Farouk Hosny wants to be UNESCO’s next director general. Hosney is 71, considered liberal, and has criticized women wearing head scarves. However, in 2008, he also told his local supporters that he burn any Israeli book found in the Alexandria library, even though he apologized.

After a year, work began in June 2009 inside an old synagogue around the corner from Badr’s kiosk. It is a historic place, named after Moses Maimonides (physician and scholar Rabbi Moses ben Maimon) who was born in Cordoba, Spain in 1135, and then moved to Alexandria and Cairo, working and studying in the temple until his death. Supposedly it was last used in 1960 and some say the work was ordered to quiet Hosny’s detractors.

“The irony is they have done something,” Rabbi Baker said. “It goes back at least several years now. They didn’t want to do it in a formal relationship with us. They said, ‘We accept this as our responsibility to care for our Jewish heritage, so we will do things ourselves.’”

The claim that what they are now undertaking is not for the Jews per se, but for their own heritage.

The story goes on to detail Egyptian Jewish history and the words of those who moved as young children to the neighborhood, touching on Israeli history and more. From the Jewish standpoint, there are very few Jews – Baker says fewer than 80 – left in Egypt and preservation projects are even more important.

Some area residents, says Slackman, have begun to see beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is a good thing.

Read the complete article at the link above for much more.

Egypt: Preserving Jewish heritage, records!

Tracing the Tribe has previously written about the non-profit Nebi Daniel International Association, which has struggled – since 2002 – for the preservation of Jewish cultural and religious heritage in Egypt. It is headed by co-founder Yves Fedida with offices in Malmaison, France.

A major advance in this preservation effort was made recently in Cairo on August 29, 2009, when important remarks concerning the community’s genealogical records were made by Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosny.
Nebi Daniel notes the ongoing protection and restoration of 10 of the last 15 synagogues in the country, fulfilling the minister’s promises. View the website (in six languages) for much more detail, as well as the Links page for many sites of interest.

For genealogists and Egyptian Jews looking for vital records information on the community’s records, success may not be far off. According to a Nebi Daniel press release:

In June, Fedida asked Hosny for “permission to copy the civil and religious registers still kept at the Jewish Communities for genealogical research, the issuance of civil identity papers and to study this exemplary cohabitation in an Islamic country.”

The Minister replied that “it is your right and I personally agree to it.” Fedida said “this commitment, proof of your attachment to education and culture, would augur well for your election to UNESCO. 3-400,000 descendants of the 80,000 Jews from Egypt, who have rebuilt their lives in over 80 countries, will applaud this gesture.”

Most important, during a Cairo meeting on August 29, 2009, Hosny reconfirmed his promise to allow all archives and registers currently held by the Jewish communities to be copied and the copy to be deposited for free access at the Egyptian National Library. We are therefore fully confident that our objective of making these archives available to researchers worldwide will be met within the next few weeks.

Egyptian families worldwide seeking records have not been able to access those records, so this announcement is very important.

The Nebi Daniel website indicates that as part of the Ottoman Empire, the non-Moslem communities were solely responsible for maintaining civil registers recording births, deaths, marriages, divorces and conversions. in 1925, Egypt began registering the births of Egyptian citizens only. The Alexandria registers in Alexandria date to 1830 and cover a community that numbered as many as 40,000.

Today’s aging community members are the last custodians of some 255 registers containing about 60,000 pages. In Cairo, some Ashkenazi and Karaite registers have already been, lost or stolen. The registers are not related to personal property, but are extremely important for descendants of Egyptian Jews because:

They are often the only proof of Jewish identity for a Jewish marriage, determine Jewish lineage or be granted a Jewish burial, especially in the Diaspora.
In civil matters, they are used to establish civil identity related to nationality, marriage, divorce, etc.
Concerning authenticity, the current Jewish Community leaders in Alexandria and Cairo do not hold religious authority and are therefore not truly entitled to impart, on the certificates they still issue, the level of confidence required for their
legitimacy. Furthermore, there will soon be no one to offer any certification at all. – For historical and genealogical research, the Registers are a rare collection covering 150 years of the history of a thriving Jewish community.

Also during August, two of Nebi Daniel’s council members visited Cairo to see renovation work at Maimonides’ yeshiva and synagogue, at the Karaite synagogue and in the main synagogue’s interior courtyard on Adly Street.

As far back as 2006, the Ministry of Culture had confirmed renovation plans to Nebi Daniel.

In October 2007, the association’s representatives viewed the first renovations to the main Har Hashamaym synagogue on Adly Street, which also launched a permanent exhibit near the Ben Ezra synagogue demonstrating Middle Ages Jewish life in Egypt. There is a video to watch here.

Since then, renovation and infrastructure has been aimed at protecting the neighborhood from regular flood to allow reconstruction.

Cairo Jewish Community president Carmen Weinstein said, “it is a miracle that the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) have initiated such a gigantic programme to save this synagogue whilst solving the underground water problem.”

To see a video and photos demonstrating the renovation work as of the end of August, click here.

For more information and photos, visit the Nebi Daniel website