Nice Ice: Jews on skates

Did you know that, from 1867, Jewish ice skating clubs existed in Lvov, Cracow and Warsaw?

Members of the Tribe who wanted to be part of Polish society were interested in sports, according to Yeshiva University professor American Jewish history Jeffrey Gurock, who is quoted in the story below.

The New York Jewish Week article, by Alina Adams, covers Jewish (or those with Jewish background) skaters and ice dancers, and the reasons for increased participation.

Skaters include Sasha Cohen, US; Emily Hughes, US; Irina Slutskaya, Russia (Jewish father); Benjamin Agosto (Jewish mother, Puerto Rican father); and Maxim Staviski, Bulgaria

Ice Dancers include Melissa Gregory and Jamie Silverstein, US; Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhanovski, Israel; and Alexandra and Roman Zaretski, Israel.

Agosto and the Zaretskis will compete in the upcoming Vancouver Winter Games.

Why the increased Jewish presence?

Kenny Moir, director of figure skating at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, says he has witnessed an increase in Jewish students at all levels since the Israel Skating Federation was created two decades ago. “Very quickly, Jewish skaters who lived and trained in countries that had a high density of competitive skaters, such as Canada, the United States, Russia, etc., could move to Israel or at least compete for Israel,” Moir says.

Another reason: the breakup of the former Soviet Union, which sent trained skaters and coaches throughout the diaspora.

Another important event was the 1995 completion of Israel’s first Olympic-sized ice rink – Canada Centre in Metulla. Those interested in the sport now had a place to train. The Israel Skating Federation was formed following a wave of Russian immigration in the late 1970s.

Russian skaters often hid their ancestry to represent the FSU.

The article provides interesting views of the USSR Skating Federation by former athletes and others. Basically, if a Jewish athlete could bring home a medal, they let him or her on the national team, but might not allow their Jewish coaches to travel internationally.

Odessa-born Mikhail Shmerkin, who made aliyah and became the first Israeli to enter the Winter Olympics, as a figure skater, asserts that while he was training with coach Galina Zmievskaya alongside eventual 1992 Olympic Champion Victor Petrenko, he was informed by the Soviet Skating Federation that if he intended to represent his country internationally, he would need to stop being Jewish.

As a result, Shmerkin’s mother divorced his father and married a non-Jewish friend so that, on paper, her son could be considered Russian. He went on to represent the USSR at the 1990 Junior World Championship.

Read the complete story at the link above.

GenAmi: Paris Archives, journal articles

GenAmi (Paris, France) has announced information on new online access to the Paris Archives and the list of articles in its new issue. Read on for more.

If your quest includes family that had lived in Paris, remember that GenAmi is an important resource.

Click GenAmi for more information on the organization, its publications and other events, such as its annual meeting, set for March 9, 2010.

Paris Archives

In the photo above, see (left) Victor Hugo’s death certificate on May 23, 1885.
At right, see a ledger page for 10 births from 1872-1881.

The Paris Archives are now online, click here to view. Records include reconstructed data through 1859, as well as decennial lists and records through 1902.

The site is only in French, which Tracing the Tribe reads but doesn’t speak. I also used Google Translate and the English translation was sufficient for those who do not read French.

The first section: 1860-1902. It contains civil records for each of 20 districts. In the The research is done in conventional tables and decadal records of acts within each of 20 districts. Birth certificates, however, in the 12th arrondissement were destroyed for the period 1 January 1870 to May 25, 1871.

Choose the type of record (birth, marriage, death) and the district; these two fields are required. The date of the record is optional. There are 20 districts, so you might need to run multiple searches to find the individual you are looking for.

For the decennial records, there are alphabetical surname lists for each 10 year period for each of the 20 districts and by type of document. Records found will include the person’s name and surname and the date. Again, if you do not know where they lived for each record, you will need to run multiple searches.

The second section: reconstructed records 16th century-1859. Of some 8 million records destroyed by fire in May 1871, only some 30% has been restored. You can check for a record in the alphabetical surname database – organized by type of document – to see if it has been reconstructed. A digitization program is ongoing.

Each sheet has the year of record, where recorded (parish, former district or municipality annexed to Paris), name and surname of the person, and the date the event. For weddings, there is a record for each spouse with the wife’s under her maiden name. sheet has been developed for each of the spouses, the wife is to look at his birth name.

I checked for Cohen under marriages and found this:

Click on the second record and see this:
New Journal Issue

GenAmi has also announced the articles in its new journal issue. See the site link above for more information.:

– Bond to the soil and ties of blood: foundation of Jewish tradition, by historian Stephane Encel

– Simon Hayem and his descendents: Merchants, artists and doctors.

– Chief Rabbi Abraham de Cologna: Four known children.

– UK research:

– Tunisia’s civil records during the French Protectorate Acquisitions

– “Une Memoire de papier”, (Silvain, Perret) – Jews of Belgium in postcards

– “Atlas des Parisiens” from the Revolution to today

– “Mes anciens et la mer” by Lionel Levy- “Jews of Morocco”, bibliography

– “Durmenach se souvient”

– Booklets on Jewish Basel (Switzerland)

GenAmi is a good source of information.

Kulanu: Chinese, Indian Jewish articles

If the stories of Jews around the world in some exotic places capture your imagination, you aren’t alone.

Kulanu’s Fall 2009 Newsletter is now online. Some of the articles are:

— “French Black Jews” by Cynthia Weisfeld
— “Endings and Beginnings in Uganda” by Lorne Mallin
— “Kaifeng Descendent to Tour U.S.”
— “What I Did on my Summer Vacation” by Janis Colton (Elderhostel trip to New Mexico on Converso/Crypto-Jewish story)

Some notes on the stories:

A descendant of one of the original Jewish families in Kaifeng, China, Shi Lei spoke to our JFRA Israel group in Israel a few years ago while he was attending Bar Ilan University (2001-2002). Nearly 100 people came to hear him speak. He is now back in his home town. A spring 2010 lecture tour to the US is planned. Perhaps your JGS is interested in inviting him to speak. Email Kulanu to get details.

Colton’s story on her New Mexico trip this summer was interesting. For those who are so inspired, the Jewish Womens Archive is planning a long weekend trip to Santa Fe, NM, where some of these issues will be on the program, including a talk by Dr. Stan Hordes, who specializes in Converso/Crypto-Jewish studies.

There was also information about the Jews of India, including information on a new documentary about Mumbai’s Bene Israel community; a new website,; and a new book, “Being Indian, Being Israeli,” by Maina Chawla Singh. Near Haifa, Israel, a new Indian Jewish Community Center (called Shaare Rahamim) has been established. It will house a permanent museum displaying Indian Judaica and historic documents. For more information, send an email.

Do read all the articles at the main Kulanu Newsletter link above.

France: Issue 99, Revue du Cercle de Genealogie Juive

The newest issue of Revue du Cercle de Genealogie Juive (Paris, France) is available.

Issue 99 contains the following articles:

— The descendants of Raphael Vorms from Bionville (Moselle).

Louis Vorms and Guy Worms, descendants of Raphael Vorms (d. 1763) and his two sons Hayman and Salomon, trace the family. The article offers copies of the documents used to accomplish their research.

— How to find and obtain vital records in Poland and Galicia.

Basile Ginger and Daniel Vangheluwe provide a step-by-step “how-to” manual for genealogists in France who speak no Polish, but some English. This articles updates the chapter on Poland in the Guide pratique de genealogie juive en France et à l’etranger, by Ginger, which was published by the Society. New accessibility of catalogues and databases online make it easy now to obtain many documents.

— Vital records from Constantine (Algeria) 1843-1895.

Fernand Deray announces the completion of his project which indexes all existing vital records of the Departement Constantine, one of three Algerian administration areas. The source is the “CAOM-Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer” in Aix-en-Provence. His work, with some 15,000 entries, is searchable on on the society’s website. with full access in the Members’ Corner.

— Algerian Jewish assimilation after the Cremieux Decree.

Joëlle Allouche-Benayoun provides a description of the life, culture, religious and social practice of the Algerian Jews after the 1870 Cremieux Decree transformed “natives” into full-fledged French nationals. The assimilation process is shown over more than a century, compiled from a massive bibliography.

— Hebrew monograms.

Eliane Roos-Schuhl focuses on the Hebrew monogram (lamed peh quf) on Mordechai (Simon II) Marx’s headstone (i.e. a graphical arrangement combining the three characters in one elegant composition). The set of characters indicates that the date following is 770 and not 5770 for the complete Hebrew year.

–ASF rehabilitates the Jewish cemetery in Crehange (Moselle).

Pascal Faustini details work by young Germans, Poles and Russians from ASF – Aktion Suehnezeichen Friedensdienste – who, during the summers of 2007-2009, restored the Jewish cemetery in Crehange (Moselle). They were guided by two staff members of the Brussels Jewish Museum.

— The 19th century registers of the Nuremberg commercial school.

Francoise Lyon-Caen writes about the registers (1809-1905) of a Nuremberg school that can be a genealogical source.

For information on the society, how to join or to obtain the new issue (or previous issues), send an email or see the society’s website. The website is in English and French versions.

France: New issue, Sephardic gen journal

The new issue of ETSI, the Sephardi Genealogical and Historical Review is now out.

Among the articles:

— In “An unfulfilled dream – The saga of Anusim families.” Raphael Benghiat traces the history of the previous owners of Montfavier castle in the Gironde, France. It likely belonged to Jews of the Bordeaux and Bayonne area, where many New Christians (Conversos, Anousim) settled.

— Laurence Abensur-Hazan explores the 1841 fire which partially destroyed Smyrna, Turkey. The Jewish residents were the ones most affected by this catastrophe.

— There’s also a book review of the recently published “Tanger, entre Orient et Occident.” The Jews of Tangier (Morocco) were never required to live in a specific geographic area. The book details many aspects of this community, such as Jewish businesses, the city’s first Freemason society, and provides information on the Fuente Nueva quarter where many Jews lived.

To see the indexes for this and past issues, click here. For membership information, click here. Here’s more about ETSI:

“Etsi” (my tree, in Hebrew) is the first Sephardi Genealogical and Historical Society, founded in 1998 in Paris by: Mrs Laurence Abensur-Hazan, Anne-Marie Rychner-Faraggi, Lucette Marques-Toledano, Mr Sidney Pimienta, Jimmy Pimienta, Philip Abensur, Claude Missistrano

The purpose of “Etsi” is to help people interested in Jewish Genealogical and Historical Research in the Sephardi World. “Etsi”‘s field of study covers the Ottoman Empire (Turkey, Greece, Palestine, Syria, Libya, Egypt…), North Africa (Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia), Spain, Portugal, Italy and Gibraltar. The study of every Sephardi community or family who lived in other regions is equally within the society’s aim.

The objective of the founders is to create an international exchange forum for genealogists and historians interested in research into the Sephardi world.

“Etsi” supports and encourages all research work on Sephardi Genealogy and History, especially archives records, cemeteries records, ketubbot (Jewish marriage contracts) and circumcisions registers inventories.

To obtain this issue or back issues of ETSI, contact Philip Abensur in Paris, France.

Amsterdam Sephardim: Where did they go?

If you are searching for Sephardic Jewish ancestors, check out Dr. Jeff Malka’s frequently updated

Jeff is a pioneer expert Sephardic researcher, and his book, “Sephardic Genealogy,” is a must-read for those thinking about beginning a project or who need more information to make progress.

From 1759-1813, nearly 450 poor Sephardic families were provided with funds (tzedekah, Hebrew for charity) to leave Amsterdam for other parts. They promised not to return to the city for 15 years.

Tracing the Tribe has previously written here and here about additional Sephardic records available elsewhere. For more Sephardic posts that may help your quest, use the blog’s Google-powered search.

Concerning this list:

This alphabetic list was found in the Sephardic Jewish Registers PA334-978/979 “Registros dos Despachos” (Registers of Dispatched Persons), Amsterdam Municipality Archives. The list covers the period 1759-1813 with all the names of the poor Sephardic Jews who were granted Sedaca (charity) – an amount in Dutch florins- against the promise to leave Amsterdam and not to return within the next 15 years.

The index was prepared by Vibeke Sealtiel Olsen.

Destinations listed (and number of families): Altona (2), Barbados (2), Bayonne (9), Beograd (1), Bordeaux (18), Copenhagen (1), Curacao (71), Cuyden (1), Da Isla (1), Den Haag (1), Emden (3), Frisia (1), Gibraltar (3), Hamburg (31), Isla Demarara(1), Istanbul (3), Izmir (1), Jamaica (16), Livorno (12), London (58), Mantua (1), Marseille (1), Mogador (2), New York (2), Paris(3), Philadelphia (1), Rotterdam (1), St. Eustatius (19), Trieste (2), Tunis (1), Venice (2) and Vienna (1).

Countries listed: America, Austria, Denmark, France, Germany, Guyana, Israel (Palestine), Italy, Jamaica, Morocco, Netherlands Antilles, Serbia, Suriname, Tunisia, Turkey, UK, US and the West Indies. See important note below on searching for countries.

You can search by surname, first name, city or country. Searching by country, I found one anomaly. clicking “America” brought the record of Aron LOPES COLACO to America in 1784, via Bordeaux, France.

Clicking “USA” returned three records: Abraham b. Ely AZUBY to 1783 Philadelphia, Sara (nee SASO) COHEN DA SILVA (widow of Ebiatar) to 1759 New York, and Joseph LEVY FLORES, also to 1759 New York via London.

Clicking “Israel” – a misnomer as the country did not exist in the year of the record 1759 – shows Isaac LOPES GONSALES and his wife.

Clicking “UK” brings 59 records. The first 10 are for the families of Aron b. Isay ACOHEN (HACOHEN) 1770 with wife and three children, Aron b. David ALVARES 1802 with wife and two children, Semuel AZOUGE 1766 with wife and six children, Imanuel b. Jacob AZULAY 1765 with wife, Moseh AZULAY 1776, Abraham b. Isaac BARUH 1789 (grandson of Zeharia), Rachel BERNAL 1790 widow of Abraham, Eliau BUZAGLO 1789 with two children, Sara b. Ishac CARTZO 1764 and Isaac COHEN DE AZEDO 1789.

In 1766, Semuel Azouge with his wife and six children received only FL40, while in 1770, Aron ACOHEN, his wife and three children received FL200. Individuals such as widow Bernal received only FL25 in 1770, while other single travelers received from 40-60FL.


The record may include other details as to how and where they traveled to their destination, how much money they received, whether they went with spouses and how many children, if a woman was a widow (and her husband’s name), father’s name, names of spouses, even grandparents’ names in some cases, etc.

Not everyone went far from Amsterdam, some went to other cities in the Netherlands. In 1787, Simon b. Jacob De Leon and his wife, went to Den Haag (The Hague), and was given FL25 to do so. In 1763, Jacob b. Ishac LOPES went to Frisia (possibly Friesland?), and, in 1808, Ishac ALVARES VEGA went to Rotterdam with his wife and two children.

Search anomalies: If you click Netherlands Antilles as a country, there are no hits (because it did not exist when the records were produced). If you click Curacao in the city list with Netherlands Antilles in the country list, there are no hits. If you click Curacao in the city list, with a blank for the country, the database returns 71 results.

Thus, it is better to click the city list as some countries did not exist at the time these people left Amsterdam. If no hits result on one set of parameters, change them.

UPDATE NOTE: On May 15, I received an email from Dr. Jeff Malka of SephardicGen: “I took advantage of your testing and fixed the problems you noticed with the Netherlands Antilles and Israel. I had missed them!”

This database is an excellent source of Sephardic names with many genealogical details.

Egypt: Alexandria’s Jewish history and records

Over the years, the major problem of Egyptian Jewish family research has been difficult, nearly impossible access to community registers held in a small archives, staffed by increasingly elderly volunteers. It has been nearly impossible to get that access or to copy documents.

Here’s a story about the remnants – only 18 survivors of a community that once numbered 80,000 – of Alexandria’s community, which was established some 2,300 years ago. It touches on the vital records problem, the El Shatby cemetery, the Eliahou Hanabi synagogue and more, along with photos. The focus of the story is the youngest Jew in the city, Youssef Gaon, 53, and Yves Fedida of the Nebi Daniel Association.

Surprisingly, the story appeared in The National, a new English newspaper launched by the Abu Dhabi Media Company. According to its About Us, its reporters and editors are drawn from The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. The author is Cairo-based Jack Shenker, a freelance journalist from London, whose credits include TheTimes and The Guardian in Britain, the Hindustan Times in India, and other publications in print and online.

Sweating in the mid-morning heat, Abdul Salaam gently brushes the dirt off a grave to reveal a faded Star of David. Mr Salaam, a committed Muslim, has lived as a resident guard within the high walls of this Alexandrian Jewish cemetery for 41 years, just as his father did for five decades.

The cracked headstones and marble tombs around him bear witness to people who first made this Egyptian city their home more than 2,300 years ago, and in their heyday numbered almost 80,000. Last summer, the final remnants of that vibrant community gathered here to bury their leader. So few of them were left that the Kaddish, a Jewish funeral blessing, could not be recited. The significance of that was obvious to all who attended; this once-cosmopolitan corner of the Arab world will soon entomb its final Jewish resident, and Mr Salaam will be left alone with the graves.

The death of Max Salama, 92, an Egyptian Jew who once served as King Farouk’s personal dentist, leaves 18 surviving Jews in what was once one of the religion’s greatest cultural capitals. The majority of those remaining are in their 70s or 80s and reside in old people’s homes, no longer interacting with the city they have always called home. At the tender age of 53, the new leader, Youssef Gaon, is now the youngest Jew in Alexandria by a considerable margin, and he is childless.

“What can I say?” he shrugs, as he gives a tour of a beautifully decorated but deserted synagogue in the old city centre.

Jews have been an integral part of Alexandria’s history ever since the port city was founded by Alexander the Great in 332BC. Their numbers have ebbed and flowed over the years but reached a zenith in the early 1900s, when Jews from across Europe and North Africa flocked there to escape persecution.

“It was an immigrant community drawn from all corners of the world, especially the remnants of the old Ottoman Empire,” said Yves Fedida, an Egyptian Jew now living in France, whose grandparents emigrated to Egypt from Palestine at the turn of the century in search of work. These were the rekindled glory days of Alexandria, an urbane melting pot of nationalities where poets, scientists and intellectuals mingled freely on the Corniche.

The story goes through Nasser’s arrival in 1952 through the creation of Israel in 1948 which led to the gradual exodus of the city’s Jewish community, which eroded still further following the 1967 and 1973 wars. Many who stayed were suspected of being spies for Israel and imprisoned.

Fedida works with the Nebi Daniel Association, a French group that brings together Jews originally from Egypt around the world.

Although Gaon says the community is in “very good hands,” and does not want to upset the relationship they have with the Egyptian government, another war is brewing over the heritage of this community.

But as the final echoes of Alexandria’s Jewish ancestry die out, a new battle is raging over their heritage. At stake is the set of religious and civil registers maintained by Egyptian Jewry under the Ottoman Empire, which devolved such record-keeping to its non-Muslim communities. Mr Gaon and his elderly compatriots are the final custodians of these logbooks, which run to 60,000 pages detailing all the births, deaths and weddings of the community stretching back to the 1830s.

These documents are of vital importance to descendants of Alexandrian Jews such as Mr Fedida, as the Jewish faith requires individuals to prove their maternal Jewish bloodline in order to get married. The problem is that issuing such certification from Alexandria is increasingly burdensome for the small number of Jewish pensioners left and the process is often hampered by local bureaucracy. The Nebi Daniel Association is lobbying the Egyptian government to allow copies of the archives to be placed in a European institution where they could be more easily accessed, but so far their efforts have met with failure.

Shenker writes that the Egyptians’ reluctance to allow access is their fear that descendants of Alexandria’s Jews will use the data to make financial compensation claims against the government for property confiscated under Nasser.

The issue is a sensitive one; last year an unspecified amount was paid by the state to the Jewish family who originally owned The Cecil, a luxury Alexandrian hotel immortalised in Lawrence Durrell’s novels The Alexandria Quartet and seized by the government in 1957. Earlier this summer, a planned Cairo conference of Jews hailing from Egypt was cancelled after local media questioned the intentions behind the event.

Fedida says that fear is misplaced and that they aren’t interested in financial claims.

“Our generation are the children of those who really suffered from expulsion and imprisonment. Although our parents tried to reconstruct their lives elsewhere, we saw their grief and we need to do them justice by giving them back the identity that led to them being uprooted in the first place.”

Unfortunately, in a community where the handful of Jews are in their 70s and 80s, this fight over the community’s vital records is somewhat moot. What will happen when even Gaon is gone?

Read the complete story at the link above.