Around the world: Looking for Jews

When we traveled much more than we do now, Tracing the Tribe always looked for signs of Judaism.
Many years ago, when we lived in Iran, we visited Isfahan, from where my husband’s family had migrated to Teheran in the mid-1850s. Our itinerary included the various Jewish quarters and old synagogues of Isfahan and I convinced my husband to travel 30km on a gravel road in a mini-bus to the ancient Jewish cemetery at Pir Bakran (below). Unexpectedly, we even met a very distant cousin on the mini-bus that day and were invited to share eggs cooked over a fire, tomatoes and bread.

Some years ago, I wrote about our visit to this cemetery here for the IAJGS Cemetery project. For more outstanding photos of the cemetery, view here. One of these days, I will scan in my own photos of our trip.

In Shiraz, we visited cousins by marriage, walked through the old Jewish quarter, visited synagogues and community institutions.

In Teheran, I accompanied American visitors to the old Mahalleh – the old Jewish neighborhood – when it was really most unfashionable to go there.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, we ran the gauntlet of phone calls to be approved to attend a Shabbat service at the guarded Jewish club.

In Catalunya – Barcelona, Girona (see image right), Besalu, Lleida and elsewhere – we visited the silent stones of once important Jewish communities.

Massachusetts resident Lynn Nadeau does much the same, and detailed her travels in this story in the Jewish Journal Boston North. The story covers Rome, Palermo, Belize and Argentina.

— Split, Croatia: She found a third-floor room in Diocletian’s Palace that the only Jews in the city – six men – used as a synagogue. the nearest rabbi was 300 miles away in Zagreb.

“In Argentina (and wherever I travel), I look for the Jews. I go down streets called “the Jewish quarter,” but often the streets are empty of Jews and contemporary Jewish life. My Jewish tour of Palermo, Sicily, was paltry. Although there was lots of history, I was able to find only one Star of David and one candelabra in a Norman palace.”

— Hania, Crete: Nadeau walked through narrow alleys on Succot to pray with a handful of local Jews.

— Syracusa, Sicily: A closed abandoned mikvah – no sign of a synagogue.
She also finds existing vibrant communities, such as in Rome, in a heavily guarded Munich shul, in a Sephardic synagogue with a sand-covered floor on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas, on Barbados, and in the third largest Jewish community in the world, Buenos Aires.

She describes the museum of Temple Libertad, built in 1897, with photographs, wedding gown displays, information on Jewish gauchos, and also covers the 1970s wave of anti-Semitism and the “disappeared,” as well the tragic bombings in 1992 and 1994.

Nadeau sums up her searches:

“But my searches have resulted in a deeper identification with Jews of other nationalities, in a feeling of pride because of the depth and breadth of our Jewish family throughout the world. My searches have added the excitement of a detective novel to my travels, and a deep satisfaction in finding that the spirit of Jewish studies and customs live on, despite all the global obstacles we have faced and overcome.”

What have you discovered on your travels?

Read the complete story at the link above.

May is Jewish Heritage Month

Since 2006, May has been American Jewish Heritage Month, recognizing more than 350 years of Jewish contributions to American culture.

The Library of Congress offers a portal for activities and events surrounding this celebration.

Partners in this collaborative effort are The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Click here for related exhibits and collection links.

Events  include:

May 4-26
First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors
1pm, Tuesdays/Wednesdays, USHMM.

May 5
Keynote Address: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) delivers the keynote address for the LOC’s celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. LOC.

May 6
Lecture: “American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust” 2010 Monna and Otto Weinman Annual Lecture. USHMM.

May 10
Book Talk: Author Robin Gerber, “Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.” LOC.

May 13
Lecture: “Child’s Play: The Judaization of Adolescence in 20th-Century America,” by Jenna Weissman Joselit (Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies; George Washington University; former Distinguished Visiting Scholar, John W. Kluge Center, LOC), LOC.

May 14
Conversation: with Holocaust survivor Charles Stein, USHMM.

Other exhibits:

A Forgotten Suitcase: The Mantello Rescue Mission (USHMM). The story of George Mandel, a Hungarian Jewish businessman who befriended a Salvadoran diplomat, Colonel José Arturo Castellanos, in the years leading up to World War II. After Castellanos was named El Salvador’s Consul General in Geneva, he appointed Mandel, who had assumed a Spanish-sounding version of his last name, “Mantello,” to serve as the Consulate’s first secretary. Learn about this little-known story.

Jews in America (National Endowment for the Humanities)

Jewish Veterans of World War II

See the websites of the partner organizations for more events.

Israel: Already preparing for 2014!

Every 10 years, the International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is held in Israel and 2014 is the next one.

The Israel Genealogical Society is already preparing a list of documents to convert into databases to be available at the event.

IGS webmaster Rose Feldman says that many families or parts of families immigrated to Eretz Israel. Some remained and built their lives in the country, and some moved on to other places.

Databases available now may be viewed here. Those which have been completely funded are available for viewing by the public.

The Montefiore Censuses are being prepared as a joint project of IGS and London’s Montefiore Endowment.

The IGS is currently considering the following collections:

—  Names changes as published in the official government publication Yalkut Hapirsumim through 1954;

— 1928 Pinchas Habogrim –  which is the equivalent of electoral lists of those over 18 years of age. Currently, they have been located in Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

They are already working on some early 20th century Mukhtar Ledgers of Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi population.

Readers who are aware of any other documents dealing with Eretz Israel covering the early 19th-century through 1930, are asked to contact Rose.

JGSLA 2010: Belarus events set

As a charter member of the Belarus SIG, this group is dear to Tracing the Tribe’s genealogical heart.

Belarus SIG began life as a crowded birds-of-a-feather meeting spearheaded by Daveid Fox, at the Boston 1996 conference and became a SIG at the 1998 Los Angeles event. The speaker in Boston was a then-recent Mogilev immigrant to Brooklyn, Bella Nayer, who had been very involved in community affairs.
The map (above left) is a 1916 map of Belarus. 
The graphic (below right) is a woodcut of the Mogilev synagogue.

What does the SIG have planned for its return to its birthplace?

Tracing the Tribe has already covered the Belarus luncheon (Tuesday, July 13) speaker: Moscow born, Jewish filmmaker, researcher and travel professional Michael Masterovoy.

The luncheon description reads:

 “In 1793,the central part of Belarus, including Minsk, became a part of the Russian empire. In addition to being the capital of Belarus it was also a center of Jewish life and home of many Torah sages and Yeshivas that attracted students from all over Europe. Before World War II, Jews made up 40% of the total  population in the city. Join Moscow born, Jewish filmmaker, researcher and travel professional, Michael Masterovoy, as he takes you on a tour of a present-day Belarus, which resonates with the past. View a short video of several Belarusian shtetls, walk the streets of Movsha Shagal’s (Marc Chagall’s) Vitebsk with Michael (and view the museum) and learn about the positive aspects of travel to a socialist state with a human face, the land of vodka and honey that echoes with the footsteps of our ancestors.”

The luncheon is a fee-added event. Belarus SIG luncheons are always well-attended – sign up early and avoid disappointment.

The Belarus SIG business meeting is set for later the same day and will feature the group’s progress and achievements.

The group also plans to be part of the Sunday opening day Market Fair, from 2-4.30pm.

The Market Fair will feature experts and mavens staffing “pushcarts” and offering assistance and guidance, representing nearly every region where Jews once lived. “Wares” will include old maps, vital records, landowner records, historical photos and postcards, translation, crafts, cooking and much more.

Food (including kosher) will be available for purchase. And don’t miss the great klezmer concerts (yes – two of them!) by Yale Strom and Hot Pstromi, after the Market Fair and again in the early evening.

For more information on the Belarus SIG, its treasure trove of databases and much more, click here.