Lebanon: Ashkenazi, Sephardi Beirut burials online

Jeff Malka, creator of SephardicGen.com, informed Tracing the Tribe that Beirut Jewish Cemetery data is online now at his site.

In 1948, some 24,000 Jews lived in Lebanon. Most of them were in Beirut. Today, there only 30 seniors.

Jewish community symbols in Beirut today are the Magen Avraham synagogue and the Jewish cemetery (with 3,300 burials).

Tracing the Tribe has previously written about Beirut and its Jewish community.

 During the Lebanese civil war, the cemetery was the border of  the Christian Phalange forces. Although damaged by bombs, it was never desecrated.

A Lebanese Christian, Nagi Georges Zeidan, has memorialized the Jewish community of his country by researching its history and creating a database, using both cemetery and civil registrations, with 3,184 gravestone inscriptions
.
Both Ashkenazi and Sephardi burials are included in the searchable database.

Click here for the English database and here for the French version.

Do check out the many searchable databases covering numerous countries and topics at SephardicGen.com.

Shanghai: Saving the stones

As is too often the case, Jewish gravestones are used for other purposes by people who live where Jewish populations no longer care for and maintain cemeteries.

Israeli journalist Dvir Bar-Gal, who arrived in Shanghai nine years ago, is the Jewish tombstone collector of the city, according to a CNNGO.com story.

Scattered in cauliflower patches, or sunken, mud-covered, in riverbanks, or sometimes used as washing slabs by villagers around the city, are the gravestones of old Jewish settlers of Shanghai. During the Cultural Revolution, the gravestones were uprooted, smashed and scattered throughout the region. The cemeteries have long been paved over, with no recognition of the bodies buried underneath. The stones that remain are like historical islands, isolated and disconnected from their past.

For Israeli photo-journalist and documentary maker Dvir Bar-Gal, a first encounter with a headstone in a Shanghai antique store has become a decade-long quest to discover their origins. And what started as a journalistic project quickly turned into a personal mission. “I got more connected emotionally,” he says. “There’s a lot of energy involved every time we flip over the stones and read the mud-covered inscriptions.”

Bar-Gal’s quest, now called the Shanghai Jewish Memorial Project, has seen him journey to numerous rural villages around Shanghai. There, he’d find old tombstones in fields, along rivers, or used as construction blocks for pathways and walls. His plan is to discover and restore as many stones he can and then display them, as a shrine to this nearly lost aspect of Shanghai’s Jewish history.

Stones have been recovered by the Shanghai Jewish Memorial Project from bike path bridges, fields and riverbeds. Bar-Gal interviews local residents and tries to put the puzzle pieces together.

Bar-Gal says there may have been some 3,700 Jews buried in the city, but couldn’t find gravestones or cemeteries other than the pieces he discovers. He’s found some 85 stones over the past 10 years. He’s contacted families of the deceased and asked architects to design a permanent home.

A few years ago, American Lily Klebanoff Blake joined Bar-Gal and they went to the rural location where he found her grandmother’s stone in a riverbed.

“It was still covered in mud but I felt compelled to show my respect for my grandmother by washing the mud off the gravestone,” she says. “Touching the gravestone, I felt an uncanny connection to my grandmother, who died when I was four years old.”

The recovered stones remain in a few places: a storage space, a Buddhist cemetery and the journalist’s own gallery.

He has a network of people who let him know when stones are found. In March, a neighbor told him some stones were found in a western suburb and he found two new ones.

His inspiration comes from days like that, and he’s working on various projects: a documentary (not yet funded), a book about Shanghai’s Jewish history, and as a tour guide and photographer.

Yanhua Zhang, research director for a non-profit heritage conservation group, believes that a permanent home for the stones can help people trace their family history, and would raise awareness of the former Jewish ghetto.

Read the complete story at the link above.

Vienna: Searching JASSNIGER

At the Bendigo Famiy History Expo, attendee Margaret Brown told me about her JASSNIGER relatives from Vienna, and even went home to bring me the birth and death certificates.

Click on each image to see them better. Each holds detailed information on various individuas, including maiden names of mother and grandmother, etc.

If you are researching Margaret’s father’s rare name, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with her. Some dozen burials are in Vienna; she knows there was a US branch but has not yet checked for it.

Hong Kong: The Shabbat experience

Although Tracing the Tribe is now in Melbourne, I wanted to report on my Shabbat in Hong Kong.

I attended Friday night services with Garry Stein (an old Jewish genealogy friend from Toronto) at the United Jewish Congregation (liberal). Melodies were a mix of old, new and nostalgic There were Jewish faces and Asian faces, but most of all, there were singers. This is a singing congregation.

UJC’s premises were carved out of space in One Robinson Place (70 Robinson Road), which includes two tall residential towers, the multi-floored JCC and the original Ohel Leah historic synagogue.

Following services, we went up to the Sabra Coffee Shop in the JCC for Shabbat dinner. The large space was transformed into separate dining rooms for two groups. The food was excellent and the company – a real mix of individuals – even better. One Chinese woman who attended is studying ethnomusicology at Hong Kong University and focusing on Jewish music, another young man is Brazilian; there are Americans and other nationalities.

On Shabbat morning, Ohel Leah was my choice. This wonderfully restored synagogue is across the courtyard from the JCC’s Garden Terrace function room. The courtyard also has a playground well-used by the young children.

As OHL is an Orthodox congregation, women sit upstairs; the mechitza is an openwork grill surrounding the three-sided balcony. The acoustics are excellent, and the Torah scrolls in their silver Sephardic cases (tik) are masterpieces. The congregation uses the ArtScroll siddur and Stone chumash.
Everyone who read or participated had beautiful voices – it was a pleasure to be part of this Shabbat service. A sit-down kiddush followed. Among the familiar faces of people I had spoken to all week wasa new one: Howard Elias, who is both the Jewish cemetery warden and Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival organizer. Tracing the Tribe bets you didn’t know there was one!

Kiddush included baked salmon in a delicious sauce, Chinese cold noodles, dressed cucumber salad, tomato salad, even hummus and eggplant salad. The community’s excellent challah is superb; dessert was a strudel-ly pastry. Howard said this was regular kiddush fare, adding that I should see it when there’s a simcha!

Howard grew up in Toronto, was a USYer, and lived very close to my TALALAY cousins.

During the zemirot singing after the meal, visiting Rabbi Jackson – from Ireland – offered a melody for one popular song that sounded very much like the Mighty Mouse cartoon theme. I won’t forget that one very soon.

Over the past week, I’ve received many private comments from readers who have visited Hong Kong but never knew about the Jewish community, the JCC or attended a Shabbat service.

If this destination is on your radar screen, do try to visit, attend a Shabbat service, check events and meet the community – I’m sure you’ll enjoy the experience.

Don’t forget the 11th Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival, set for November 13-21, 2010.

I am looking forward to my return trip March 21-25 to this diverse, welcoming and interesting community.

Belarus: Dunilovichi 1834 census, cemetery

Artist and genealogist Susan Weinberg of Minnesota spent six weeks studying Yiddish at the Vilnius Institute and also visited Dunilovichi, Belarus, during the summer of 2009.

While there, she made a copy of the 1834 census for Dunilovichi, which has 375 entries and some 60 surnames.

Susan would like to have it included – to benefit other researchers – on JewishGen’s All Belarus Database, but there is a cost to get the translation done. She has already created a ShtetLinks page for the town with extensive information (see link below).

Readers with roots in the area may wish to contribute to this effort.

Where is the shtetl?

It is 82 miles N of Minsk, 80 miles ENE of Vilnius, 18 miles WSW of Hlybokaye (Glebokie) and 16 miles ESE of Pastavy (Postawy). Interestingly, Tracing The Tribe had a TALALAY branch that lived in Glebokie for a short period of time.

Readers might know this shtetl by some of its other names: Dunilovichi (Russian), Dunilowicze (Polish), Dunilovitsch (Yiddish), Dunilavichi (Belarus), Dunilavicy, Danilevitch, Dunalovitch, Dunovitz, Duniloviche, Danilevicai, Dunilovicy, Dunilaviciy. It looks like this in Belarusian: Дунілавічы; in Russian: Дуниловичи; and in Yiddish: דונילאוויטש


She also visited the Dunilovichi cemetery, but it was nearly impossible to walk through as it was so overgrown and stones have fallen (see above photo).

Susan reports that there is now an opportunity to work with the Jewish Heritage Research Group of Belarus to arrange for an annual site clean-up, during which vegetation would be cut back and fallen stones lifted.

“We are fortunate that there is an intact cemetery in this shtetl as so many others have been destroyed,” she writes.

Photos on these pages were received from Susan, who writes that she would very much appreciate the efforts of Tracing the Tribe and its readers to assist in both these projects.

The Dunilovichi site contains extensive information, including name lists, gravestones, families, maps, photographs and more.

Contact Susan directly for more information.

She researches and paints her family history, which focuses on Poland, Ukraine and Belarus. During her Vilnius summer, she conducted research in the archives and traveled to her family’s Belarus shtetls.

Since her return, Susan has created Shtetlink websites for Dunilovichi and Radom, published an article in Avotaynu and is now developing a body of artwork based on her travels. Her art addresses family history themes through painting and collage. She also does genealogy consulting and lectures frequently on genealogy topics.

Additionally, Susan is a geneablogger – see her Layers of the Onion: A Family History Exploration. She began blogging last summer when she studied Yiddish at the Vilnius Yiddish Institute for six weeks.