JGSLA 2010: New programs, classes, workshops!

In addition to lectures, JGSLA 2010 will offer programs on maps, roots travel, films and filmmakers, classes and crafts.

“This year in LA” is the 2010 mantra for Jewish genealogists around the world.

Don’t miss the early registration discount for the 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, July 11-16, in Los Angeles. Discounts end April 30, don’t miss out. Go to JGSLA 2010 and register today.

Two fascinating speakers have been added to the program, and see further down for even more additions to the program.


USC Shoah Foundation Institute executive director Dr. Stephen Smith will speak on Wednesday evening, July 14.

He was founding director of The UK Holocaust Centre, the UK’s first dedicated Holocaust memorial and education center. For this work, he was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.). Additionally, Smith co-founded the Aegis Trust, withe the goal of prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide. He chairs the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which organizes the UK national Holocaust commemoration.

A dynamic speaker, he is dedicated to bringing the Shoah Foundation’s survivor testimonies into the 21st century by making them accessible to a worldwide audience. His talk will address this topic.  The conference resource room will offer streaming Shoah Foundation survivor testimonies daily during the conference, beginning on Sunday, July 11, at 10am.


Professor Delores Sloane will discuss her new book, “The Sephardic Jews of Spain and Portugal: Survival of an Imperiled Culture in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,” a storyteller’s account of what happened to the expelled Iberian Jews who built new lives in exile after leaving what had been their home for 1,500 years.

Sloan believes that history is best understood through the experiences of those who lived it.

In 1996, she traveled through Spain and Portugal for five weeks, by train, bus and by foot, looking for footprints left by the remarkable Jews who had created a golden age of learning and discovery.

Her new book offers a compelling portrait of Sephardic Jews, who created a Golden Age on the Iberian Peninsula under Moslem rule for nearly seven centuries, and continued to advance science, medicine, political economy, government and the arts under Christian rule that followed. See the link above for more information.

Here’s even more to absorb:

Maps and more

Ukraine and Galicia are on the menu with the famous Brian Lenius speaking on cadastral maps and landowner records; Alexander Dunai (from Lviv) on maps in the Ternopil (Tarnopol) archives; and Alexander Denysenko (from Lviv), on roots travel. Dunai and Seattle’s Sol Sylvan will present how you can plan the trip of a lifetime. Other experts will be able to discuss roots travel to Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania.


Filmmaker, researcher and travel planner Michael Masterovoy of Moscow is flying in to  speak at the Belarus SIG luncheon (don’t forget to sign up for this added event!). He’ll speak about his recent trip to several Belarus towns, including Vitebsk, home to Movsha Shagal (AKA Marc Chagall).

He has created documentary and campaign videos for North American Jewish organizations and the film festival will screen several of his films, including “Brailov: A Town Without Jews.”

In about two weeks, the complete Film Festival schedule will be online.

Arts & Crafts, Workshops, Classes

Frequent conference-goers know we all need breaks from lectures.

Some classes and workshops:

  • Sunday, Lil Blume will offer a two-part workshop on “Writing Family Stories and Memoirs.”
  • Monday-Thursday: Lynn Saul – “Creating and Retelling Your Family’s Stories: A Participatory Writing Workshop;” Mike Karsen – “How to Create Your Family History;” and Marlis Humphrey – “I Couldn’t Put it Down! New Ways to Publish Family History.”


  • A Tallit–making class will cover the history of the Jewish prayer shawl, the Hebrew prayer for the atarah (or collar), the aleph bet chart with various Hebrew fonts, images to stitch to decorate the tallit, how to tie tzitzit (corner fringes), and sha’a’tnez. (prohibition of using two different fibres in the same textile).
  • “How to Create a Genealogical Quilt” using ancestral photographs as the artwork.
  • “Pomegranate Jewish Papercut” session to learn the art of Jewish paper cutting, using scissors. References to Jewish paper cutting date from 14th century and it became an important folk art among both Ashkenazim and Sephardim in the 17th-18th centuries. Each participant will have a papercut that they can display at home. There’s a $10 kit fee for the project materials.

Holocaust, Sephardim, maps, roots travel, writing, films and filmmakers, along with arts and crafts! No matter your specific interests, there will be something – and lots of somethings – for you.

Tracing the Tribe looks forward to greeting you in Los Angeles.

Boston: Sephardic Jewry history, DNA – April 25

Two Sephardic presentations (covering history, genealogy and DNA) are on the program of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston on Sunday, April 25.

The program begins at 1:30 pm, at Temple Emanuel, Newton Centre, with Brandeis Professor Jonathan Decter, and Tracing the Tribe’s good friend Dr. Dan Laby of Harvard University Medical School.

In “Sephardic Jewry after the Expulsion from Spain,” Decter will talk about Sephardic migration after 1492 – to Portugal, the Ottoman Empire, Europe, and the Americas, with a focus on Eastern and Central Europe. He will discuss intellectual and economic connections across the Sephardi Diaspora, and the nature of Sephardi identity.

Laby will present “Tracing Family to 13th Century Spain,” Dr. Daniel Laby will describe his quest to trace his Laby- De La Caballeria family. Using both modern (DNA) and classical methods (microfilms), he was able to follow the trail from western Massachusetts and New York’s Lower East Side all the way back to the Ottoman Empire and pre-inquisition Spain.

[NOTE: In fact, Dan holds a document dated 1202 from the same archive – Lerida/Lleida (in Catalunya, about 140km NW of Barcelona) where our first Talalay document, dated 1358, was discovered. We share the same researcher in Spain.]

Decter is Associate Professor and the Edmond J. Safra Professor of Sephardic Studies in the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University. His first book, “Iberian Jewish Literature: Between al-Andalus and Christian Europe,” received the 2007 Salo W. Baron prize for best first book in Judaic Studies.

Laby is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and is a specialist in Sports Vision working with the Boston Red Sox as well as several other professional and Olympic teams.

Fee: JGSGB members, free; others, $5.
Click for directions. For more information about JGSGB, click here.

UK: Genealogists are ‘creepy, boring’

Remember a few weeks ago when the New York Times television reviewer made disparaging remarks about genealogy and genealogists?

Today, the UK’s Times Online writer and author Sathnam Sanghera says, “I can’t think of a single revelation produced by a single genealogist that hasn’t made me think: meh.

[As a non-Brit, I’m assuming “meh” is either the sound a baby goat makes (having seen them up close and personal with many making “meh” noises as they nibble at your clothing) or an uninspired remark indicating “so what?” Yesterday at the supermarket cheese counter, looking for sheep feta (the closest we get to real Bulgarian panir here in Tel Aviv), I forgot the word for sheep and said “b-a-a-a.” A helpful woman on line informed me that Israeli sheep say “meh” not “b-a-a-a.” In any case, I pointed to the correct cheese! But I digress.]

A little later in the story, Sanghera pronounces:

Show me a genealogist and I’ll show you someone who is basically obsessed with proving that they come from royal, aristocratic or celebrity lineage. Creepy and boring.

His other gems included:

And before anyone points out the hypocrisy of a memoirist [see his website above]slagging off genealogy, life writing and genealogy are completely different. One being the equivalent of an interest in music, the other the equivalent of an interest in hi-fi equipment.

Though perhaps a better way of putting it is that genealogy is the academic equivalent of endlessly googling yourself. Aficionados like to say their pastime is a good way of learning about history, but it strikes me as a highly solipsistic and narcissistic way of doing so.

Don’t know what “solipsistic” means? Solipsism, a philosophical term, means (1) The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified or (2) The theory or view that the self is the only reality.

[Tracing the Tribe prefers the opposite view. Each of us are made up of pieces of all our ancestors, recombined genetically, throughout time. Our ancestors and their lives are who we are today. As genealogists, we want to know who our ancestors are, regardless of where they came from, how they lived and in what ways their experiences and history have contributed to who we are today. But I digress again.]

Sanghera’s article came out of a point made by Ricky Gervais in a Times magazine interview over the weekend:

Namely: “I don’t see the point really.” In reference to Who Do You Think You Are?, the genealogy TV show, he continued: “Who cares who the **** you are? I love it when they cry when they find out their great-great-grandmother was a prostitute. Really? It’s all come flooding back now, hasn’t it? Oh, the terrible memories of 150 years ago.”

Sanghera said this was his reaction more or less when reading about the Arts and Humanities Research Council funding a major new research project to create the largest database of the UK’s family surnames which will apparently be “of enormous interest to home genealogists and family historians.”

Although Sanghera states that genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies on the planet, he just doesn’t get it. His own research on his Punjabi-origin family indicates that the males were all farmers.

You may want to read his opinion on the Ancestry announcement that Madonna and Ellen DeGeneres are distant cousins, and his linking of Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards with the librarian profession.

Read the complete story at the link above. There were only two comments there when I checked it, and readers may wish to add their own opinions.

Chris Dunham – The Genealogue – provided his own take on Sanghera here.

Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak wrote more about Ricky Gervais’ comments in her latest Huffington Post piece, and provided a link to Tracing the Tribe’s recent “Doing the Happy Dance” post.

Sephardim: The Portuguese story

Here is a new and fascinating book of great interest to Sephardim around the world. Unfortunately, it is currently available only in Hebrew.

Thanks to Ruth Almog for her Haaretz review of “Portuguese Jewry at the Stake: Studies on Jews and Crypto-Jews,” (Hebrew) edited by Yom Tov Assis and Moises Orfali (Magnes Press and the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish History, 259 pages, NIS 89).

In the preface to “Portuguese Jewry at the Stake,” Yom Tov Assis writes: “This is the first book in Hebrew that is dedicated exclusively to Portuguese Jewry, a subject that has been rather neglected by scholars in Israel. This book is designed to partly remedy the situation.”

This extremely interesting compilation of scholarly articles does indeed reveal new facets of an extinct Jewish community. That said, it is not by chance that the study of Portuguese Jewry has been neglected, but because Portugal’s Jews have in large part been lumped together with those of Spain, since the two countries, whose borders fluctuated throughout the Middle Ages, were both part of medieval Iberia.

There’s a short description of how Portuguese came to be. It developed in the 11th-12th centuries following encounters between Galician and Lusitanian languages, and influenced by Arabic. Historically, Moslems conquered much of Portugal in 713. It was reconquered at the end of the 9th century and only a century later did Portugal separate from Galicia. In the second half of the 12th century, Lisbon was conquered when Portuguese were assisted by troops on their way to the Second Crusade. The Moslems left, the Jews stayed. At the time, estimates are of only 35,000 people in the whole country.

The Jewish history of Portugal is short, some five centuries:

The first Portuguese king, Alfonso Henriques (1109-1185 ), encouraged Jews to settle in the areas he had conquered. By appointing a Jew, Yahya Ibn Yaish (also known as Yahia Ben Rabbi), as state treasurer, Alfonso paved the way for his successors to employ Jews in financial and administrative positions. Ibn Yaish was not only “chief rabbi,” but also the “chief cavalier.” The king’s heirs expanded the employment of Jews as administrators in the kingdom. So it was that during the reign of Portugal’s first five kings, the situation of the Jews was good and they lived in security. The problems began later, but even during the period surrounding the 1391 pogrom against the Jews of Spain, Portugal served as a haven for the Jews of Castile.

According to Assis, the well-organized community (alfama) lived in its own neighborhoods was headed by a chief rabbi, was recognized by the crown and protected by the king. Persecution came from the church. The Jewish population increased and after the 1492 Expulsion from Spain, some 120,000 of them went to Portugal.

The Jews were never expelled from Portugal in 1496. Manuel I wanted to marry the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, who demanded he first get rid of his Jews. He didn’t want to lose them, but announced a plan for their departure. When the Jews arrived to board the ships, priests demanded they convert, and no one was allowed to leave. Thus baptised, the king could claim there were no Jews in his country and he could marry the princess.

Says Assis, most of the Jews became Conversos – converted under force – and the Jewish percentage there was the highest in Europe. Many of them succeeded in leaving and reaching other safe geographic destinations. There are the Conversos of Belmonte, whose matriarchal society has kept Judaism alive since the Inquisition.

Articles include:

— Historian Elvira Azevedo Mea’s “New Christian Women and the Inquisition” is based on her study of Inquisition files, which suggest that almost until the 20th century, it was the women in New Christian families who were responsible for passing on Jewish traditions.

— Eric Lawee writes about philosopher and financier Isaac Abarbanel (1437-1508 ), during his Portuguese years.

— Late historian Elias Lipiner deals with Jewish religious law problems that concerned the Conversos.

— co-editor Moises Orfali’s “Jews and Judaism in Christian Polemics in Portugal,” shows how, even after Jews had “disappeared,” accusatory writing against them did not stop. This article also relates the long reach of the Inquisition – into Goa, India (then a Portuguese colony) – where many Sephardim lived. In 1560, the Goa Inquisition center was founded and persecuted Jews, Hindus and Moslems.

— Edgar Samuel writes about the Curiel Sephardic family over a century (16th-17th centuries) as some branches remained in Portugal, others went around the world, some were burned alive at the stake, others acquitted, some became devout Catholics and others became public Jews again in South America.

— Historian Jose Nunes Carreira’s “Portuguese Diaspora in the Near East (in the 16th and 17th Centuries ) in the Light of Travel Reports,” covers the travelogues of Portuguese missionaries. He describes travelers who reported on meetings with Portuguese Jews in Aleppo, Tripoli, Basra, Cairo, Persia and Palestine. He includes clergyman Gaspar de Bernadino who says most Jews he met in Aleppo were Spanish speakers; he met Portuguese Jews in the Galilee, where there were more than 400 “Portuguese origin” households. The reports reveal that Sephardim were on the Persian Gulf island of Hormuz and Syria’s community longed for Portugal. And he includes Frey Pantaleao de Aveiro, who discovered many Portuguese Jews in the Middle East (in Jerusalem, Galilee, Damascus and Tripoli). Aveiro wrote about Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi who leased Tiberias from the Turkish sultan in 1558. In Damascus, he met a man from Braga, Portugal, who had fled after his father was burned.

— Claude (Dov) Stuczynski’s article deals with religious identity and economic activities of the “New Christians.”

Now we need the English version to make these articles accessible to the worldwide community.

Vancouver, BC. Jewish Museum, April events

The Jewish Museum and Archives of British Columbia has April programs focusing on women’s history and Jewish summer camps, and has announced a new book and a new online archive for a local Jewish newspaper.

The Women’s History Fair will display more than 20 displays from museums, archives, historical societies, cultural groups, schools and more in cooperation with the Women’s History Network of British Columbia. Jewish women pioneers are part of the exhibit.

The exhibit takes place Saturday, April 10, from 1-4pm, at the Central Library, 350 West Georgia St. Admission is free. It is co-sponsored by the VPL Special Collections, Herstory Cafe and the Vancouver Courier.

Michael Schwartz will present a curator’s talk on the Home Away From Home exhibit which focuses on British Columbia’s Jewish summer camps, on Thursday, April 15, from 7-9pm. Admission is free.

The exhibit runs through October 7, and includes hundreds of photographs from Camp Miriam, Camp Hatikvah and Camp Solomon Schechter. Explore the camp histories and view interactive displays including camp alumni interviews, photographs and songs. Visit Sunday-Thursday, from 10am-5pm.

Since the 1930s, the children of the BC Jewish community have attended Jewish summer camps in BC and elsewhere. They have learned about Jewish history and ethics, the history and politics of Israel, and developed a strong sense of community. When asked about their experiences at camp, alumni often say that their dearest and longest lasting friendships began at the age of seven or eight, in their first days at camp. The exhibit explores such lasting impressions and features an array of photographs, artifacts and interactive displays. Jewish Camps featured in the exhibit include Camp Miriam, Camp Hatikvah, and Camp Solomon Schechter.

Schwartz was a Camp Miriam long-time staff member and served as executive director in 2006 and 2007, and as programming director in 2005. He earned an MA in History (University of Toronto) and worked as a researcher and coordinator at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.

The Jewish Western Bulletin which changed its name to the Jewish Independent in 2005, has been the British Columbia Jewish community’s newspaper since 1930. Currently, it is published 49 weeks of the year.

Originally labeled “The Organ of the Jewish Community Centre,” the Jewish Western Bulletin was first published as a newspaper October 9, 1930. It superseded the Jewish Centre News, a publication that had existed under a series of names since 1923. Issues of the Jewish Western Bulletin and its precursor publications dating from 1923 – 2004 have been digitized using OCR technology and are made available on the Multicultural Canada website.

The project was made possible through the financial support of the Irving K. Barber BC Digitization Program, Multicultural Canada, the National Archival Development Program (NADP), Simon Fraser University and the THEN/HiER History Education Network.

A new book on sale at the Museum is the 50-year history of Camp Solomon Schechter, by David Michael Smith.

Established in 1955 by Rabbi Joshua Stampfer and his colleague Rabbi Joseph Wagner, Camp Solomon Schechter aimed to fill a gap by providing the Jewish families of the Pacific Northwest with the region’s first kosher summer camp.

Its 156 glossy pages chronicles the history and life of camp with photos, illustrations and alumni experiences. The price is $10 (softcover), $12 (hardcover) plus S&H.

For more information, send an email, or view the Museum website.

JGSLA 2010: Hollywood’s silver screen

How could any group hold a Jewish genealogy conference in Los Angeles and not focus on Hollywood?

JGSLA 2010 will recount the influence of Jewish pioneers who headed west, not for gold, but for better production facilities. These pioneers built and headed the major movie studios, making Hollywood the industry’s center.

Author Vincent Brook will speak on “Ost Meets West: Immigrant Jewish Moguls: Jewish Directors and the Rise of Film Noir.”

Hollywood was founded largely by a group of immigrant Ostjuden (Eastern European Jews), who eventually headed nearly all of the major American film studios.

In the 1930s, an influx of German/Austrian Jewish film directors arrived in the US, due to the rise of Nazism. Some would play an important role in the rise of a crime genre later called film noir.

Have you registered yet for the conference? Reserved your room? Your transportation? For all details, check out JGSLA 2010.

Brook will examine the ethnic origins of these filmmakers and what part their backgrounds played in their contributions to American cinema.

Miami: "I chose life," April 4

Author Mildred Nitzberg – “I Chose Life” – is the speaker at the JGS of Greater Miami’s meeting on Sunday, April 4.

The meeting begins at 10am at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, 4200 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami.

Nitzberg’s riveting story is about her husband who survived Auschwitz and the Holocaust and his 33-year search to find his missing brother. It also describes how her husband experienced a world of unmitigated evil and yet emerged with his sense of humanity intact.

“I Chose Life draws a picture of the struggle of my husband, Saul I. Nitzberg, M.D., as his privileged and peaceful life in a small town in eastern Poland was shattered by the inferno of World War II. From 1939 to 1945 he experienced life under Russian occupation, the Pruzhany ghetto, and Auschwitz. Following liberation from the concentration camp he worked prodigiously to rebuild his personal and professional life. Yet he was left with a lingering sense of a life not quite fulfilled, a gnawing ache that led him on a daunting journey to the Soviet Union in search of an elusive peace. He sought to find his brother, the sole remaining member of his family. Still unresolved, he returned to Auschwitz to face his nightmare years, to recite the Kaddish at that vast gravesite where his beloved parents were buried.”

Nitzberg has been collecting oral histories of survivors for many years, and has spoken to other JGSs, the Miami Book Fair and Meet the Author at the Holocaust Center in Hollywood.

For more information please see her website.

If available, David Hirschorn will also be here to discuss the latest on Yad Vashem. He is also very involved with Pages of Testimony. Guests and friends are always welcome. There is no admission fee.