Hong Kong: ‘Asian Jewish Life,’ spring issue online

On my recent Hong Kong visit, I met with editor-in-chief Erica Lyons of “Asian Jewish Life: A Journal of Spirit, Society and Culture.”

The new AJL spring 2010 issue is now online with stories covering India, Shanghai, Cambodia, foodies, book reviews, film and more.

“Asian Jewish Life is a contemporary journal of Jewish diaspora life throughout Asia. As Jews in Asia we are but a tiny minority unified by tradition, a love for Israel, common contemporary concerns and shared values. While Asian Jewish Life is a common media forum designed to share regional Jewish thoughts, ideas and culture and promote unity, it also celebrates our individuality and our diverse backgrounds and customs.”

Here’s the table of contents (read each online or download the PDF at the link above):

— Inbox: Your letters
— Letter from the Editor
— India Journal- Life with the Bene Ephraim (Bonita Nathan Sussman and Gerald Sussman)
— Eating Kosher Dog Meat: Jewish in Guiyang (Susan Blumberg-Kason)
— Through the Eyes of ZAKA (Jana Daniels)
— Interview: Ambassador Yaron Mayer

— Replanting Roots in Shanghai: Architect Haim Dotan’s journey (Erica Lyons)
— A Palate Grows in Brooklyn: Birth of a foodie (Sandi Butchkiss)
— Poetry by Rachel DeWoskin
— The Death Penalty: What Asia can learn from Judaism (Michael H. Fox)
— Learning to Speak: A cross-cultural love story (Tracy Slater)
— Book Reviews (Susan Blumberg-Kason)
— Places I Love
— Expat Diary: Raising a Jewish Child in Cambodia (Craig Gerard)
— Film in Focus

Each article provides a diverse look into life in Asia, with a Jewish “hook.” Tracing the Tribe will always remember the line “tenderloin of my heart,” from Tracy Slater’s “Learning to Speak.”

Readers and writers with Jewish Asian experiences are invited to submit articles; click here for more information.

If you enjoyed this issue (the winter issue is also online), let Erica know, and tell her you learned about AJL at Tracing the Tribe. Feedback is always welcome.

A great issue, Erica!

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Are you a poet? Don’t know it?

Want to be a visual poet? Yes, you can!

Not particularly genealogical in nature, but still fun, is ResearchBuzz’s great post on a new fun application called FlickrPoet.

Click here and input text, a poem, a paragraph and it will search for the words and illustrate them with Flickr images. The input screen is black, but don’t let that worry you, just type in the words you desire and click “show story.”

Photos illustrating your words show up below the story box. To do a new text input, refresh the screen to remove the previous illustrations and clear the story box.

If you can’t remember any song verses or poems, click here, a compendium of many writers, poets, quotes and much more.

For fun, I tried Shel Silverstein’s “Bear In There.” Here’s the whole poem:

There’s a Polar Bear
In our Frigidaire
–He likes it ’cause it’s cold in there.
With his seat in the meat
And his face in the fish
And his big hairy paws
In the buttery dish,
He’s nibbling the noodles,
He’s munching the rice,
He’s slurping the soda,
He’s licking the ice.
And he lets out a roar
If you open the door.
And it gives me a scare
To know he’s in there
–That Polary Bear In our Fridgitydaire.

And here’s the display for lines eight-11:


The app is a bit quirky. I wanted to use the first seven lines, but it wouldn’t let me use the word”hairy,” admonishing me to keep the language clean. The fact that the bear’s paws were covered in butter didn’t seem to be the problem.

The words in the picture are sometimes hard to read (light letters on generally light backgrounds). You may also get different pictures if you do a new search with the same words, but you can’t replace individual pictures.

Have fun!

Place of space: Our ancestors’ homes

How do our surroundings, our living spaces impact our families, our thoughts, our history?

Isn’t this what our pursuit of genealogy helps to reconstruct? To make sure that our family history remains alive and known and preserved?

In a poem by Leib Borisovich Talalai, a young Yiddish poet whose family was from our shtetl of Vorotinschtina, who later lived in Baranovich and in Minsk, and who was ultimately murdered in the Minsk Ghetto in 1941, he writes about his family house in our shtetl, “If the walls of this house could talk. …”

What do you know about the spaces in which your ancestors lived? At left are steep steps in the old Jewish quarter of Girona, Spain.

On Yom Kippur, I usually read for a good portion of the day. This year, it was “Sepharad,” by Antonio Munoz Molina, one of Spain’s most famous writers, who draws on the Sephardic diaspora and touches on the Holocaust and even the purges of Stalin while telling this story I couldn’t put down.

The book, praised as “a masterpiece” by “The Lost” author Daniel Mendelsohn, offers some insights into what I’m terming “the place of space” in our lives and in our family history. Mendelsohn wrote in the New York Review of Books:

“Shame and guilt, homelands and exile, ceaseless wanderings and bitter alienations both internal and external, metaphorical and real, are persistent motifs….”

Writes Munoz Molina:

“What is the minimal portion of country, what does of roots or hearth, that a human being requires?” Jean Amery asked himself, remembering his flight from Austria in 1938, perhaps the night of March 15, on the express train that left Vienna at 11:15 for Prague, his troubled, clandestine journey across European borders toward the provisional refuge of Antwerp, where he knew the endless insecurity of exiled Jews, the native’s hostility toward foreigners, humiliation from the police and officials who examine papers and certify or deny permits and make you come back the next day and the next and who look at the refugee as someone suspected of a crime. The worst is to be stripped of the nationality you thought was yours inalienably. You need at least a home in which you can feel safe, Amery says, a room that you can’t be dragged from in the middle of the night, that you don’t have to run from as fast as you can when you hear police whistles and footsteps on the stairs.

Later on he asks the reader:

What do you do if you know that from one day to the next you can be driven from your home, that all it takes is a signature and a lacquer seal at the bottom of a decree for the work of your entire life to be demolished, for you to lose everything, house and goods, for you to find yourself out on the street exposed to shame, forced to part with everything you considered yours and to board a ship that will take you to a country where you will also be pointed at and rejected, or not even that far, to a disaster at sea, the frightening sea you have never seen?

He describes an old Jewish house with a low door, on a narrow street in a neighborhood of 15th century houses. On the two ends of the large stone lintel are two Stars of David, inscribed in a circle. The author adds:

The two Stars of David testify to the existence of a large community, like the fossilized impression of an exquisite leaf that fell in the immensity of a forest erased by a cataclysm thousands of years ago. They couldn’t believe that they would actually be driven out, that within a few months they would have to abandon the land they had been born in and where their ancestors had lived. The house has a door with rusted studs and an iron knocker, and small Gothic moldings in the angles of the lintel. Maybe the people who have gone carried with the key that fit this large keyhole, maybe they handed it down from father to son through generations of exile, just as the language and sonorous Spanish names were perpetuated, and the poems and children’s songs that the Jews of Salonica and Rhodes would carry with them on the long hellish journey to Auschwitz. It was a house like this that the family of Baruch Spinoza or Primo Levi would leave behind forever.

Quite by coincidence, a Google alert this morning led me to the Genealogy Blog’s post which also commented on “the place of space” in our family histories.

This leads me to a thought: what part do places hold in our family histories? It would seem places (like houses) take on a character of their own, a spirit, if you will. They facilitate gathering and celebrating and memories. When they are taken away, it seems there is a disruption in our gatherings until we can find another substitute. In our transient society where we uproot every two years, are we constantly severing these vital ties with the past and memory.

Is there a difference between taking away a house, or taking away the family that lived there? What happens to the generations and centuries of memories? How long do they remain to be passed on to younger generations?

When do those memories disappear?

When does the disconnect occur between history and youth?

Museum of Family History – new in January

Steve Lasky, creator/curator of the Museum of Family History.com, is visiting in South Florida and attended two JGS meetings in the area. He just informed me that he has updated his website search tool to a custom Google search engine. Steve’s site grows so fast that a good search engine was essential. Check it out here

He’s always busy and those who know him believe he never sleeps. Here’s a quick look at what he’s added just this month:

World Jewish Communities: Multimedia honors the history of our Jewish families where they once lived. The first two WJC exhibits are for Czernowitz (Ukraine) and Ozarow (Poland) with Zambrow (Poland) and Mukacheve (Ukraine) on the way.

– Voices of Czernowitz: Read about several Czernowitzers: tenor Josef Schmidt and poets Itzik Manger and Rose Auslander. You can hear some Schmidt arias; you can hear Manger recite two of his poems in Yiddish and hear an Auslander poems and read her words (written in German.) The Yiddish poems are presented in Yiddish (with Hebrew letters), transliterated Yiddish, as well as in English.

Hear two recordings of Yiddish songs sung c1913 by Liza Fischer, who acted in the Yiddish theatre of Warsaw. Click on the link at the bottom of the page.

– A searchable database is online for alumni or searchers of alumni of Thomas Jefferson High School, in East New York, Brooklyn. This was a predominantly Jewish school, and the database will become part of a future “Jews of Brooklyn” exhibit – Steve also plans to add Jews of the Bronx, Manhattan, etc. Currently, there are eight Jefferson yearbooks (1927-1936) to browse through or search. For those who attended Samuel J. Tilden High School, in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Steve Morse has a similar database.

As Tracing the Tribe previously noted, I found my Uncle Bob in the Tilden database. Readers who graduated either school should contact Morse or Lasky, who are both looking to add to their respective databases. I almost feel inspired to create one for the High School of Music & Art, my own school! There are several Jewishgenners who attended M&A. Hooray for the magenta and powder blue – well, it WAS an “arty” school!

Living in America, The Jewish Experience: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania includes “The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia,” and two related short exhibitions.

– Something is always new at this virtual Museum. For breaking news, visit the Recent Updates page.

Take a cyberwalk around the museum. I know you’ll find it informative.

Museum of Family History – new in January

Steve Lasky, creator/curator of the Museum of Family History.com, is visiting in South Florida and attended two JGS meetings in the area. He just informed me that he has updated his website search tool to a custom Google search engine. Steve’s site grows so fast that a good search engine was essential. Check it out here

He’s always busy and those who know him believe he never sleeps. Here’s a quick look at what he’s added just this month:

World Jewish Communities: Multimedia honors the history of our Jewish families where they once lived. The first two WJC exhibits are for Czernowitz (Ukraine) and Ozarow (Poland) with Zambrow (Poland) and Mukacheve (Ukraine) on the way.

– Voices of Czernowitz: Read about several Czernowitzers: tenor Josef Schmidt and poets Itzik Manger and Rose Auslander. You can hear some Schmidt arias; you can hear Manger recite two of his poems in Yiddish and hear an Auslander poems and read her words (written in German.) The Yiddish poems are presented in Yiddish (with Hebrew letters), transliterated Yiddish, as well as in English.

Hear two recordings of Yiddish songs sung c1913 by Liza Fischer, who acted in the Yiddish theatre of Warsaw. Click on the link at the bottom of the page.

– A searchable database is online for alumni or searchers of alumni of Thomas Jefferson High School, in East New York, Brooklyn. This was a predominantly Jewish school, and the database will become part of a future “Jews of Brooklyn” exhibit – Steve also plans to add Jews of the Bronx, Manhattan, etc. Currently, there are eight Jefferson yearbooks (1927-1936) to browse through or search. For those who attended Samuel J. Tilden High School, in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Steve Morse has a similar database.

As Tracing the Tribe previously noted, I found my Uncle Bob in the Tilden database. Readers who graduated either school should contact Morse or Lasky, who are both looking to add to their respective databases. I almost feel inspired to create one for the High School of Music & Art, my own school! There are several Jewishgenners who attended M&A. Hooray for the magenta and powder blue – well, it WAS an “arty” school!

Living in America, The Jewish Experience: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania includes “The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia,” and two related short exhibitions.

– Something is always new at this virtual Museum. For breaking news, visit the Recent Updates page.

Take a cyberwalk around the museum. I know you’ll find it informative.

Wales: Jewish cemetery in Merthyr Tydfil

On a photo site, I found an image of the old Jewish cemetery in Merthyr Tydfil. According to the photographer, it is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in South Wales. Here’s the entrance to the cemetery.

The site was purchased in the 1860s, with the first burial in 1867 and others in 1872. there is a poem recited by Grahame Davies, with a link to the full text and recording.

Wales: Jewish cemetery in Merthyr Tydfil

On a photo site, I found an image of the old Jewish cemetery in Merthyr Tydfil. According to the photographer, it is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in South Wales. Here’s the entrance to the cemetery.

The site was purchased in the 1860s, with the first burial in 1867 and others in 1872. there is a poem recited by Grahame Davies, with a link to the full text and recording.