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.

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.

Belarus: Dokshitsy Diaspora Reunion, August 20-22

Tracing the Tribe reported earlier on the planned Dokshitsy (Belarus) Diaspora Reunion.

Aaron Ginsburg of Natick, Massachusetts has provided more information on the reunion which will take place in a suburban Boston hotel, from Friday-Sunday, August 20-22. See Tracing the Tribe’s earlier post for additional details.

There’s also a tentative program which may also help other researchers attempting to plan such a reunion for their own ancestral villages.

Aaron’s message is doubly important at this time of the year:

Passover is a time when we are called on to remember our shared past.

We remember Sinai because we know that our ancestors were there; we remember Dokshitsy because our ancestors were there.

The road from Sinai to today runs through shtetlach like Dokshitsy where so many of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents began their lives.

The lost Jewish communities of Eastern Europe, including Dokshitsy, are part of a past that continues to unite us no matter where we live.

Aaron reminds Dokshitsy descendants that volunteers are needed to help out, families to create presentations and talks about their family histories from the shtetl to the Diaspora.

Descendants who wish to participate and help in planning should contact Aaron through the group’s website or Facebook page (Jewish Dokshitsy).

Tentative Schedule:

Friday, August 20
5-8pm: Sign in, cocktails, light snacks, introductions, and networking.
7.30-8.20pm: Services, followed by dinner (Kosher option).

Saturday, August 21
7-9am: Services
8.15-9am: Breakfast
9am: Organizers’ welcome and introductions
9.30am: Dokshitsy– a vanished world
10.45am: The Dokshitzers who left – how a small shtetl gave rise to the Dokshitsy Diaspora
Noon: Lunch
1pm: Dokshitzers who stayed – the Holocaust in Dokshitsy; the Dokshitsy Cemetery Restoration Project; future remembrance projects
2:15-4pm: Family Presentations
4-7pm: Break
7pm: Pre-dinner presentation; slide show; photographs
8-11pm: Dinner, informal sharing experiences, family stories

Sunday, August 22
8-11am: Light breakfast and goodbyes

When will YOU plan a reunion for your ancestral shtetl’s descendants?

Boston: Maps and Mapping Tools, March 14

Web-based maps and mapping tools are the focus of the next meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston on Sunday, March 14.

The program with Ron Arons and Jay Sage begins at 1:30 pm at Temple Emanuel, Newton Centre.

Ron will discuss websites that provide a broad range of historical maps.

He’ll demonstrate basic and advanced features of internet-based mapping facilities developed by Google ( and Microsoft (, as well as lesser known mapping facilities provided by, Microsoft’s MapCruncher, and IBM’s Many Eyes.

Jay will feature Google Earth – the web-based software and data that provide an amazing high-resolution three-dimensional model of the earth, based on satellite and aerial photographs – and explain how it can be used to map one’s family history or to make virtual visits to places where family events took place.

Ron has spoken at several international conferences on a variety of genealogy topics. He appeared in the PBS TV series, “The Jewish Americans,” to discuss Jewish criminals of New York’s Lower East Side and his book, “The Jews of Sing Sing,” appeared in 2008.

Former JGSGB president, Jay is current co-editor of the Society’s journal and has given lectures at international and local conferences.

Fee: JGSGB members, free; others, $5.

For more details, click here.

Boston: Hands-On Problem Solving, Feb. 21

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Boston will host “Problem Solving with Experts – A Research Session” on Sunday, February 21.

It begins at 1:30 pm at Temple Emanuel, 385 Ward St., Newton Centre.

Beginners as well as more experienced attendees will be able to consult with experts for help with family research.

Roundtables will feature the following topics:

— Getting started with Jewish genealogy
— Using immigration, naturalization, and vital records
— Eastern European country-specific research
— Translation of foreign-language documents (Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish, Russian, German)
— Holocaust research

Admission: members, free; others, $5. Refreshments will be served. For directions, click here.

For more information, visit JGSGB.