Michigan: Jewish children’s signatures, April 11

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Michigan has been invited to the Polish Mission in Orchard Lake on Sunday, April 11, from 1-2.30pm.

Ceil Wendt Jensen and Marcin Chumiecki will lead the tour.

Jensen (below right), a Certified Genealogist who presents at many genealogical conferences, heads the Polonia Americana Research Institute, and Chumiecki (left) is the
Polish Mission Director

The event will highlight newly-discovered “yearbooks” with thousands of signatures of Jewish children.

Chumiecki and Jensen will present the holdings of the Association of Former Political Prisoners of German and Soviet Concentration Camps.

Opened in 1990, the collection holds uniforms, documents [including signatures of Jewish students from Mlawa, Olkusz and other Polish towns, camp art, and memoirs of Displaced Persons who settled in Michigan]. These former Polish citizens were incarcerated in Auschwitz, Dachau, Gross Rosen, Mauthausen, and the Soviet Gulag.

The artwork of Jan Komski is featured. Komski’s artwork features both Jewish and Catholic inmates – he depicted both the Star of David and the red triangle with a black P which depicted political prisoners.

The first part of the program is in the handicap-accessible Adam Cardinal Maida Library; the second part requires climbing several flights of stairs in the “Ark” Building.

The session will be held at the Adam Cardinal Maida Library
3535 Indian Trail,
Orchard Lake.

Fee: JGSM members, free; others, $5. Register online.

Today in Jewish history: March 6

Interesting things happen every day, and to keep up with interesting Jewish history, try “This Day in Jewish History.”

On this day in history:

1239: With the Edict of Valencia, Spanish King James I validated privileges of the Jews of Aragon. The Jewish courts (bet din) were authorized to try all cases except capital offenses.

1475: Birth date of famed Italian artist Michelangelo Buonarroti. Say Michelangelo to most people and they respond, Sistine Chapel ceiling. Say his name to Jews and the response is “Moses.” “Moses” is a marble sculpture which depicts the greater Jewish leader. Originally intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II in St. Peter’s Basilica it was placed in the minor church of San Pietro in Vincoli on the Esquiline in Rome after the pope’s death. The statue depicts Moses with horns on his head. This is believed to be because of the mistranslation of Exodus 34:29-35 by St Jerome. Moses is actually described as having “rays of light” coming from his head, which Jerome in the Vulgate had translated as “horns.” This horned Moses provided further proof that the Jews were, as the Gospel says, “the Devil’s spawn.”

1815: With the defeat of Napoleon, new restrictions were imposed on the Jews all over Europe.

1816: The Jews were expelled from the Free City of Lubeck, Germany at the instance of the local guilds. This was part of the reactionary backlash that followed the defeat of Napoleon a year earlier.

For more information, go to the Temple Judah website and open the Adult Education Tab.

“This Day…In Jewish History ” is part of the Jewish History Study Group in Cedar Rapids, Iowa: “There is no claim to originality or scholarship by the ‘compiler,’ Mitchell A. Levin. The sources, including texts and websites are too many and too varied to provide academic citations for each entry or part thereof. “

Hong Kong: Markets, magazines and more

Erica Lyons – who has been here for some seven years with her family – and I went to an old temple – I love the smell of incense – and a walk through the market.

We later met some of our dining companions from the other night for a fabulous vegetarian dim sum lunch.

Erica, a lawyer by training, is editor-in-chief and publisher of the new Asian Jewish Life: A Journal of Spirit, Society and Culture.

The now-quarterly free publication – hopefully to become more frequent – focuses on the Jewish experience in Asia. It is handed out on El Al flights from Asia in business and first. It is also online.

She gave me a copy of the 40-page premier issue which features an excellent group of articles by some very interesting writers, covering artists, book reviews, personal stories and much more. Read it online at the link above.

Erica (photo right) is also on the board of the Hong Kong Jewish Historical Society, and shared some information about the century-old Jewish cemetery, which I hope to visit Friday morning.

I have discussed the possibility of forming a Jewish genealogical society here under the auspices of the historical society. I hope to meet more of the historical society members when I return through HK from Australia towards the end of March.

New York City: Voices of the Silk Road, Jan. 16-17

Travel the exotic Silk Road at the American Museum of Natural History, during its “Living in America: Voices of the Silk Road” from noon-5pm, Saturday and Sunday, January 16-17.

The program is in conjunction with the current exhibition, Traveling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World.

In addition to the weekend activities, other special programs will take place in January, such as “Global Kitchen: Aromatics Along the Silk Road,” at 6.30pm, Wednesday, January 20, and “Caravanserai: A Perfumed Tasting Menu,” at 7pm, Thursday, January 21. In February, there are events for students also, such as the Silk Road Camp for 2nd-3rd graders (Monday-Friday, February 15-19).See these other events here. See the special kids’ page.

The Silk Road was also followed by Jewish merchants and traders and many other travelers of diverse religions and ethnicities who interacted with the peoples who lived along the way.

The weekend program includes performances, conversations and hands-on activities. For the details of speakers and presenters, click here.

Saturday: Folk paper cutter, calligrapher, face painting, Arab folktales, Arabic calligraphy, exquisite textiles from India, Silk Road spices, cultural Central Asian treasures. Music: Ukrainian bandura, Japanese fue, Tibetan folk singer, Bukharan Jewish singer, Kyrgyz traditional musician, Iranian vocalist and qanun.

Sunday: Music, dance, acrobatics from three unique cultures with Silk Road ties. Gagaku, the oldest traditional orchestral, Chinese Theatre Works music, acrobatics, dance of the Tang Dynasty; Bukharan Jewish music ensemble Maqam performing shashmaqam, vocal performance, stringed and percussion instruments.

See the link above for more information. Sessions are free with museum admission.

Florida Jewish History Month kick-off, Jan. 3

Florida Jewish History Month launches with a panel discussion, “Cultural Identity Through Art,” at the Jewish Museum of Florida, on Sunday, January 3.

Because defining who’s a Jew and Jewish art are challenging questions, the program will feature a panel discussion, in an effort to answer the questions: How does one’s identity influence art? And if it does, how is it expressed?

The program at the museum starts at 10.30am, moderated by Diane Camber, retired executive director and chief curator of the Bass Museum of Art. She is an art historian, educator and architectural preservationist.

Panelists will be architect Deborah Disilets, freelance journalist Dina Weinstein, Rabbi Shoni Labowitz and former South African artist and teacher Neitzah Benbenisti. Click here for extensive details on each panelist.

Following the program, there will be an art show, featuring acrylics, sculpture and silk screenings by Florida Jewish artists Shimon Dray, Natasha Ten, Shoni Labowitz and Neitzah Benbenisti.

Florida Jewish History Month began at the Jewish Museum of Florida, which collects, preserves and interprets the Jewish experience in Florida documented since 1763. Jews have been allowed to live in the state only since 1763 when Florida was taken from the Spanish and turned over to the British in the Treaty of Paris following the French and Indian War.

The first Jews settled in Pensacola that year and bought property to begin businesses. David Levy Yulee brought Florida into statehood in 1845, served as its first U.S. senator and was the first person of Jewish ancestry to serve in the U.S. Congress.

Fee: members, free; others, $6. For more information, call 305-672-5044, ext. 3164, or see the museum’s website (link above). The museum is located at 310 Washington Avenue, South Beach.

Romania: Jewish Museum genealogy resources

There is a Jewish museum in Bucharest, detailed as part of a website devoted to the country’s past and present Jewish life.

If your research includes this once-large Jewish presence in many population centers, Tracing the Tribe highly recommends this website. The museum section of the site details the displays of community history and how it preserves the past. Read below for more details of the exhibits.

According to the site, it is sponsored by B’nai B’rith International (Washington DC), The Federation of Jewish Communities of Romania, Embassy of Romania (Washington DC) and the US Agency for International Development.

Genealogical Treasures

Genealogically, the website and the museum are useful for those searching for details about Romanian Jewish families. Numerous names of individuals and families appear in every section. As one example, in the section on Jewish financiers, viewers can read about the families of Bercovitz, Manoah, Halfon, Daniel, Marmorosh and Blank.

The history details the country’s political and geographical history through the Holocaust and today’s community. The sections – each contain many names – are literature (Romanian, Yiddish), science, press, music, Judaica (silversmiths, objects, architecture, textiles and gold/silver embroidery), fine art, theater (posters, costumes, photos), religious life (personalities, institutions, buildings, synagogue models).

The Community Archive offers Micro-monographies (also accessible through the Jewish Reality section), providing numerous detailed articles on Romanian communities, with history, names and more; and Genealogy research (currently under construction and looking for donors).
There is – click here for the Romanian-only collection – a list of Jewish entrepreneurs in Moldavia (register of documents for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry at the National Archives, Iasi county division, 1879-1950). See below.

Also, only in Romanian, is the list of Jews in Romania’s first university 1860-1950. See below.
There is also a Family Roots section with information on surnames taken from various records, including Holocaust records held at the USHMM in Washington, DC.

For an interesting overview of what you might discover, choose letter C and click on Cohn for a long list of individuals from various record groups. Be aware that data for each person varies:

Choose ACTION (far right column), and see all the information for a person (address, job, marital status and more), and click at the bottom to see other family members. When we click on Moise Cohn (second in the list above) we see:

And, when we “click here to view all family members,” we see:

The Romanian community included both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews, who arrived in the 16th century. By 1715, there was a synagogue and by the 20th century, synagogues and ritual baths were common. When the Nazis came to power, the community was decimated, many Jewish buildings and institutions were destroyed.

The museum – established on January 15, 1978 – is located in one of the few surviving synagogue buildings. Built in 1850, the building was the Holy Union synagogue, known also as the Tailors’ Synagogue, on Mamulari Street in the Vacaresti neighborhood.

Originally called the Museum of Romanian Jewish communities, today it is the Museum of Romanian Jewish History, named for the prominent Chief Rabbi Dr. Moses Rosen, who served from 1948-1994. He founded the magazine Revista Cultului Mozaic (Mosaic Cult Magazine) in 1956, served as leader of the Federation of Jewish Communities from 1964, and a documentation center on the history of the Romanian Jews was established in 1977.

Rosen’s activities were meant to counter the trend of forcing the remaining Jews to forget their ethnic and religious identity and disappear as an ethnic group. The museum demonstrated the creative Jewish presence in every sector of Romanian culture and society.

In its current form, the museum offers a systematic outline of Jewish history in Romanian lands.

Thousands of exhibits reflect the communal, cultural life of the Jews; their economic, social, and political integration with Romanian society; their scientific, literary, and artistic creations-indicating a rich multi-centennial Jewish activity within the circumstances of Romanian history.

The ground floor traces the political, cultural, and eco­nomic evolution of Romanian Jewry from the 14th-20th centuries, along with information on historical roots to ancient Judea and the Roman conquest in the 1st century CE.

A replica of a bas relief from Emperor Titus’ triumphal arch in Rome shows how the Romans chased the Jews from Judea leading to their dispersion around the world, mainly into Europe. A number of archeological findings prove that the wandering sons of Israel, particularly those who served in the Roman troops, occasionally arrived as far as the territory of Roman Dacia.

Medieval Sephardic Jewish world traveler, Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, wrote that he found Jews among the Wlachs, south of the Danube River, and the community was on the map.

Sections of the site include the museum exhibits on Jewish history in Romania, 14th-19th centuries, Jewish life in the early 20th century and contributions to culture and science. Included are maps, portraits, documents, edicts, and economic life.

There are models of old synagogues from the three Danube-Carpathian principali­ties. They include the 500-year-old timber synagogue in Piatra Neamt, the fortress-synagogue in Iasi cited in late 17th-century chronicles, the Sephardic synagogue in Bucharest, and more.

Sections of the website include: Jewish Heritage Trail (a map of community locations), Jewish history chronology, Bucharest’s Jewish community, the Tailor’s Synagogue history, sections on community leaders, rabbis and the work of community institutions, such as the Federation.

This site is well worth a look for readers looking for information on the Romanian Jewish community, past and present.

Illuminated Leaves: Medieval manuscripts

Facsimile Editions (UK) offers 450 different illuminated leaves available from the facsimile editions of the Kennicott Bible, Rothschild Miscellany, Barcelona Haggadah and a few from the North French Miscellany.

While the company also offers leaves from additional Hebrew manuscripts that are suitable for bat/bar mitzvah, brit milah, festivals, traveller’s prayers, weddings, anniversaries, as well as gifts by name and more, the entire site should be of interest to all those who find medieval illustration fascinating. The notes for each page (just float your mouse over the page name to see the detailed notes) are also interesting.

From the Rothschild Miscellany, find exquisitely illuminated pages for Adon Olam, Shir HaKavod, Mah Tovu, Nishmat, Kiddush, Pirkei Avot, Piyuttim, Sheva Berachot, music pages, Eshet Chayil, and items appropriate for such events as weddings, anniversaries or holidays. From the Barcelona Haggadah, find Sheheheyanu and Next Year in Jerusalem.

Click here to see the outstanding decorated individual leaves. Even pages that are mostly black text include imaginative drawings. One page has a pink-spotted dragon with golden claws, Parashot Behar (folio 73) has a bear dipping into a honey jar. Find lions, centaurs, the red heifer (Parashah Chukkat, folio 88), human figures and design elements.

There are special pages that separated sections, called carpet pages, such as this one (right, folio 122).

The facsimile editions were printed on special parchment paper in up to 9-12 colors (depending on manuscript) with hand-applied gold leaf.

The major collections include:

THE ROTHSCHILD MISCELLANY (Israel Museum, Jerusalem).

The most elegantly and lavishly executed Hebrew manuscript of the 15th century. It was planned as a sumptuous work to encompass, in minute detail, almost every custom of religious and secular Jewish life. More a library than a book, the manuscript comprises 37 religious and secular works including, Psalms, Job, Siddur, Mahzor, Haggadah, Pirkei Avot and Meshal Haqadmoni.

THE ROTHSCHILD HAGGADAH (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)

It is exceptional for its elegant and elaborate illustrations of the Passover story. The illuminated and illustrated Haggadah demonstrates the Ashkenazi Passover seder as we know it. In the margins is Maimonides’ Hilkhot Hamez Umatsah, ‘Laws Concerning Leavened and Unleavened Bread’. In addition, the piyyutim are exquisitely illuminated with fine miniatures.


Written about 1340 when Barcelona was the center of a thriving center of manuscript illumination, this manuscript is outstanding for rich decorative illuminations scattered throughout the text. Its fanciful figures, medieval musical instruments and pictorial scenes provide fascinating insights into Jewish life in medieval Spain.

THE KENNICOTT BIBLE (Bodleian Library, Oxford)

One of the most exquisite medieval Spanish manuscripts extant. It includes the Tanakh and Rabbi David Kimchi’s grammatical treatise Sefer Mikhlol. Moses ibn Zabara was the scribe, Joseph Ibn Hayim the illuminator. In 1476, they created this piece for Isaac, the son of Don Solomon di Braga in La Coruña, Spain. The manuscript includes burnished gold and silver leaf.

And – because genealogy concerns names, dates and people – readers should note that medieval manuscripts often include information on both scribe and illuminator.

On folio page 438, is the page for the scribe, Moshe ibn Zabara (right) indicating for whom and when it was created, while a separate page (folio 447) offers information on the artist Joseph ibn Hayim (left).

Leaves run from £55 each to £130 for a set of leaves.

For more information, click here.