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?

Melbourne: Meeting the family – at last!

Thirty years ago, Alexander Katsnelson, his wife Jenny and toddler Nelly arrived in Melbourne from Bobruisk, Belarus.

Later on, his father and brother Leon arrived from Bobruisk. Alex and Leon’s mother was a TALALAI whose family was from Mogilev.

In the photo below are (from left) Leon, Schelly and Alex.

About seven years ago, members of the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society – notably the late Les Oberman – located Alex and Jenny after information from new-found Moscow cousins indicated they might be in Melbourne.

We communicated for awhile until I experienced a major computer malfunction and lost much data (including emails). Yes, I know. Tracing the Tribe always advocates backing up, backing up, backing up. I goofed and thus our family lost years during which we could have been in contact.

However, as soon as I landed in Melbourne, I told my hostess, Ziva Fain, that we needed to find them. Fortunately, we found L. Katsnelson in the online phone book (cousin Leonid), who gave me Alex’s number.

Today was cousin day.

Alex and Jenny came to take me to their home – which is very close to Ziva’s – where Alex’s younger brother Leon, their older daughter Nelly and granddaughter Miliana, 2, were waiting. Later that day I also met Nelly’s son Jordan, 5, and Nelly’s sister Fleur.

Nelly has a degree in journalism – is it genetic? – while Fleur is an attorney. Our daughter is Liana, Nelly’s is Miliana.

We went over family charts and photographs. Leon told us many anecdotes from his childhood. As the younger brother, he was closer to his grandmother and he remembered a large photo on the wall of his mother’s family in Mogilev.

When Alex and Jenny left, they could not take any family photos with them. When Leon left, he took many small photos, but was not permitted to take other family memorabilia. His mother’s sister went to Brooklyn later on and took other items, including the photo. She has since died; no one knows where the large photo of the Mogilev family is now, but Alex and Leon said they will try to find who has it (and many other photos) and have them scanned.

After lunch, Jenny showed me a Russian-language site that translates as “classmates” – sort of a Russian Facebook. We checked for TALALAI and were amazed to find so many, although some I knew. This could be a very valuable resource for genealogists. Names can be typed in English, but everything else seems to be in Cyrillic.

I showed Jenny and Nelly how to use both Ancestry and JewishGen. Everyone was surprised to see how many FamilyFinder entries for KATSNELSON from Bobruisk were listed. A few years ago, Leon had been contacted by a US researcher who sent him information and charts but they couldn’t see how they were related; he did not hear from that researcher again.

Many of the KATSNELSON researchers in the Family Finder are either deceased or have not logged in since 2004.

Jenny is also looking for her HEIMAN (sometimes written KHAYMAN) family of Bobroisk. Her grandmother lived in Bobruisk, but her family had moved to Riga, Latvia, where she grew up and attended school. How and why they moved to Riga is a story in itself.

Jenny and I later went to dinner and we didn’t stop talking all evening. There was an instant connection, as if we had known each other for a lifetime.

There will be more to tell. And this time we won’t lose the connection!

Boston: Dokshitsy shtetl reunion, August 20-22

Are your roots in Dokshitsy, Belarus? Aaron Ginsburg is planning a shtetl reunion weekend in the Boston area, August 20-22. More than 50 people have already indicated they will attend.

He writes:

The reunion will give us a chance to meet in person with our extended families – both the families we know, and the families with whom we are interrelated. It will give us a chance to share family stories, to learn about recent and not-so-recent trips to Dokshitsy and work recently performed at the cemetery and Holocaust sites. It will give us a chance to learn about the lives our Dokshitsy families built in the safer, greener pastures they found after they left. And it will give us a chance to connect in person with the friends we have made since this project began.

To plan properly for the Dokshitsy Reunion Weekend, Aaron needs to know who will be attending. He also needs volunteers to help with all reunion aspects, such as programming, organizing and communicating with other individuals in the Dokshitsy Diaspora.

Aaron stresses that you don’t have to attend to volunteer to help. For more information, send an email. Indicate your name and contact details, who will accompany you to the reunion, ages of children who may attend and whether you would like to help plan the event

For more information on Dokshitsy, click here.

UK: Meeting the family in Israel

Tracing the Tribe loves family reunions. The Jewish Chronicle covered the recent get-together of the Sugarman family in Israel.

The story was written by one of the attendees – Gita Conn – making it very personal, indeed.

Thirty-six people from the Conn branch of Manchester were among the more than 200 people – including 80 children – at the reunion in LaRomme Hall, in Rehovot. Some were meeting for the first time and some were there in utero, born after the historic event.

The attendees were all descendants of Manchester quilt-blanket manufacturer Chaim Sugerman, born in Vaslui, Romania, and his wife Rosa. Some 80 years ago, in 1929, the couple brought five of their eight children to Palestine.

According to the story, the group was a real mix:

The dairy farmer from Meggido met the financial director from Paris; the radical feminist from Haifa chatted to the head of a yeshivah; the UK’s leading legal pensions expert hung on the words of the retired Ashkelon health inspector, fascinated to hear that, after service in the British Army from 1938, he departed Manchester in ’48 to serve the Hagganah and, at the age of 91, still spoke fluent English “with a Mancunian accent which only exists abroad”.

Secular and Charedi, professionals and blue-collar, kibbutzniks and city dwellers ate, drank and mingled joyfully as they celebrated a Jewish family saga with a rare theme of happily-ever-after… at least so far. We had made it. Grandchildren and spouses, great-grandchildren, great-great and one great-great-great descendant of just one couple — Chaim and Rosa Sugarman, who took five of their eight children from Manchester to Palestine 80 years ago.

Planning a similar reunion?

There are tips in this story for you including badges, activities, recording the historic event, an historic photo display, family tree books, entertaining the children at such an event, displaying memorabilia and much more.

Read the complete story at the link above.

Florida: Finding family success

Toby Levin’s recent family reunion in Israel was the main event at the recent meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami.

This society provides excellent programming and Tracing the Tribe always carries its meeting announcements. We hope the following story will encourage you to attend the meetings of your own local society.

Levin’s father came to the US in 1910, leaving his family in Austria, in a town that changed from Austria to Poland to Ukraine. In 1955, when her father died unexpectedly after surgery, she knew nearly nothing about her paternal family, except for her father’s birthplace.

The branches of her family tree were bare for 50 years.

The Miami Herald covered the story of how retired freelance journalist Levin, 77, found her cousin Shalom Rosenblatt, 82, in Israel through Yad Vashem’s Pages of Testimony, and how the The American Society of Yad Vashem’s southern regional director Aaron Bernstein personally called Shalom.

This past August, Levin was inspired by a few events, including listening to a success story at a JGS meeting. She began a dedicated quest, worked all August and made her discovery in September.

Levin typed in her father’s last name and his birthplace on Yad Vashem’s Internet site. To her surprise, a screen popped up with a Page of Testimony. She had discovered two cousins; one had survived, one had perished in the Holocaust.

“My heart literally stopped,” Levin said, describing her emotions when she saw a scanned document, hand-written by someone she immediately identified as her cousin.

The entry was for Rosenblatt’s younger brother, murdered at 14 in then-Poland.

The Page of Testimony indicated that her only living paternal relative, Shalom Rosenblatt, had moved to Israel. Levin called her brother Jack and told him they were going to Israel.

If you’ve ever attended a meeting where someone has described such a discovery, you’ll know that audience reaction is mixed. Some applaud while others cry. It was the same in Miami, when Levin shared her story.

Following her online discovery, she learned that The American Society for Yad Vashem had opened an Aventura branch a few months earlier. She called and told her story to regional director Aaron Bernstein.

“Within a half an hour, he called me back and said that he had spoken with my cousin in Israel and that he’s a very nice man,” she said, still with a look of disbelief on her face.

She then called Rosenblatt herself. And then her brother.

In October, there was a three-generation reunion near Jerusalem.

The Pages of Testimony at Yad Vashem have helped many family history researchers reconnect with family they thought was lost.

So many of us just don’t know what happened to the family left behind after our relatives arrived in the US.

If you ever needed a reason to join a local Jewish genealogical society, this may be it. Hearing a first-hand amazing discovery may encourage you to look for your own. If you are in Southern Florida, why not check out the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami?

Read the complete story at the link above.

Miami: Reunion story, Nov. 1

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Miami has a heartwarming reunion story to share at its Sunday, November 1 meeting. Success is always great, and it inspires others to never give up!

It all begins at 10am, Sunday, November 1, at the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, 4200 Biscayne Boulevard. NOTE: There is now extra security for the free parking (see below). Bring ID with you.

The speakers are Aaron Bernstein, the American Society for Yad Vashem’s Southern Region director, and JGSMiami member Toby Leven. Bernstein helped Leven locate a missing cousin in Israel.

Toby Leven says:

For years, my brothers and I tried to find out what happened to my father’s family in Europe during the Holocaust. We joined the JGS and they helped identify the town they came from. That was the first and most important step. We tried many websites for years, but in September I went to the Yad Vashem website and typed in the name of my father and the town. Thankfully, a page of testimony had been submitted by the only survivor of the family. I now had the name and address of my cousin in Israel. I learned there was a local Yad Vashem office in Aventura and Aaron Bernstein made the first contact. When I spoke to my cousin, Shalom Rosenblatt, I told him my brothers and I were coming to Israel to meet him. We had a marvelous reunion October 1, 2009.

In May 2009, Bernstein – a Florida native raised in Israel who served in the Israel Air Force – joined the American Society for Yad Vashem as director of the new Southern Region (Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and as far as Texas).

An active speaker – as an Israel Hasbara team member – on Israeli culture, business, and politics, he is past chair of the Atlanta-Ra’anana Sister City Committee and is involved in numerous civic causes.

Join the meeting on Sunday to hear the full story. Arrive early and join the Early Bird shmooze session at 9.30am. Guests are always welcome, according to JGS president Joan Parker.

Security Note: The gate is now permanently closed and there is a yellow security box on the left side. Press #001 for Security. Announce you are there for the JGS meeting, the gate will slide open and close after you have gone through.

New Jersey: Oldest family circle to meet

Do you remember family circle meetings?

Our FINK family in New York had an active one that my grandparents and parents would attend, but I only remember some life cycle events, such as bar mitzvahs and some weddings.

The family was also active in the Suchostawer Benevolent Association (Suchostaw, Galicia, now Ukraine) and some film has come down to us of their events, with my grandparents and then-teenage mother figuring prominently in the footage.

The New Jersey Jewish Standard reports on an October 18 reunion of a very special family circle group. More than 200 people from Israel, Canada, South America and all over the US will celebrate the anniversary of the United State’s longest continuously functioning family circle.

In 1909, the David Kantrowitz Family Benevolent Association (DKFBA) was formed; the common ancestor of today’s 500 members was Mirke Becker, born 1776 in a Russian shtetl.

Benevolent associations originally functioned as self-help groups to assist relatives with housing, jobs and loans. Such groups were formed by families as well as by immigrants from a specific town in the old country.

According to Sylvia Goldstein of Teaneck:

“The members are more than our relatives, they are our friends,” she said. “We look forward to getting together with them on a regular basis. We reconnect with family. It’s a nice thing to be close with your fourth or fifth cousins.”

Goldstein says that they have a lot of fun, a kosher Chinese dinner, speakers, musicians and entertainers. Every meeting is different and the group is alive. “We’re not just a family tree.”

Each month, about 40 of them meet in the tri-state area. Many don’t know their exact genealogical relationship, but it is enough to know they are family.

Goldstein is active in the group because her parents were. Now her children are doing the same.

Some things have changed: Meetings are in English, not Yiddish. They meet at members’ homes, not at Manhattan hotels, and most live outside of Manhattan, spanning the tri-state area, Florida, Israel and the world. Instead of card games, they go to barbecues and baseball games, have an orchestra and a website.

Although there have been changes in the way they interact, Goldstein’s son, David, says the ancestors would have recognized the “spirit, love, and warmth that abound at all our gatherings.”

Read the complete article at the link above.