Illinois: Midwest Jewish Genealogy Conference, June 6

The Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois has organized a one-day Jewish genealogy conference, “From the Shtetl to the 21st Century,” on Sunday, June 6, in Skokie.

The full-day event features experienced instructors on topics to expand knowledge of genealogical resources, including a two-part Beginners’ Workshop. Five time slots each feature three concurrent programs.

This event can also be considered a great lead-in and preparation for the main event of the Jewish genealogy year, the 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy – JGSLA 2010 – which runs from July 11-16, in Los Angeles.

Speakers at the Illinois event include Ron Arons (keynote speaker), Judith R. Frazin, Harriet Rudnit, Abby and Bill Schmelling, Ralph Beaudion, Leslye Hess, Robin Seidenberg, Irwin Lapping, Alvin Holtzman, Louisa Nicotera, Everett L. Butler and Mike Karsen.

Topics include: Beginners’ Genealogy Workshop, Using the Internet to Research Your Family History, Travel to Your Ancestral Shtetl, Find That Obituary Online, Holocaust Research in Libraries and Internet, Polish Translation Guide, Mining for Gold: Online Newspapers, Waldheim Cemetery, Basics of DNA Testing, Mapping Techniques, Cook County Genealogy Online, Genealogy Research Reasoning, Write Your Family History Now, Ask the Experts.

Before May 15, fees are: Members (of any Jewish Genealogical Society), $45; others, $50, Conference plus JGSI membership (new member only), $70. After May 15, each category increases by $10.

Download an event brochure, and find more program details, at the JGSIllinois website.

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.

JGSLA 2010: New programs, classes, workshops!

In addition to lectures, JGSLA 2010 will offer programs on maps, roots travel, films and filmmakers, classes and crafts.

“This year in LA” is the 2010 mantra for Jewish genealogists around the world.

Don’t miss the early registration discount for the 30th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, July 11-16, in Los Angeles. Discounts end April 30, don’t miss out. Go to JGSLA 2010 and register today.

Two fascinating speakers have been added to the program, and see further down for even more additions to the program.

Holocaust

USC Shoah Foundation Institute executive director Dr. Stephen Smith will speak on Wednesday evening, July 14.

He was founding director of The UK Holocaust Centre, the UK’s first dedicated Holocaust memorial and education center. For this work, he was named a Member of the Order of the British Empire (M.B.E.). Additionally, Smith co-founded the Aegis Trust, withe the goal of prevention of crimes against humanity and genocide. He chairs the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, which organizes the UK national Holocaust commemoration.

A dynamic speaker, he is dedicated to bringing the Shoah Foundation’s survivor testimonies into the 21st century by making them accessible to a worldwide audience. His talk will address this topic.  The conference resource room will offer streaming Shoah Foundation survivor testimonies daily during the conference, beginning on Sunday, July 11, at 10am.

Sephardim

Professor Delores Sloane will discuss her new book, “The Sephardic Jews of Spain and Portugal: Survival of an Imperiled Culture in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries,” a storyteller’s account of what happened to the expelled Iberian Jews who built new lives in exile after leaving what had been their home for 1,500 years.

Sloan believes that history is best understood through the experiences of those who lived it.

In 1996, she traveled through Spain and Portugal for five weeks, by train, bus and by foot, looking for footprints left by the remarkable Jews who had created a golden age of learning and discovery.

Her new book offers a compelling portrait of Sephardic Jews, who created a Golden Age on the Iberian Peninsula under Moslem rule for nearly seven centuries, and continued to advance science, medicine, political economy, government and the arts under Christian rule that followed. See the link above for more information.

Here’s even more to absorb:

Maps and more

Ukraine and Galicia are on the menu with the famous Brian Lenius speaking on cadastral maps and landowner records; Alexander Dunai (from Lviv) on maps in the Ternopil (Tarnopol) archives; and Alexander Denysenko (from Lviv), on roots travel. Dunai and Seattle’s Sol Sylvan will present how you can plan the trip of a lifetime. Other experts will be able to discuss roots travel to Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania.

Films

Filmmaker, researcher and travel planner Michael Masterovoy of Moscow is flying in to  speak at the Belarus SIG luncheon (don’t forget to sign up for this added event!). He’ll speak about his recent trip to several Belarus towns, including Vitebsk, home to Movsha Shagal (AKA Marc Chagall).

He has created documentary and campaign videos for North American Jewish organizations and the film festival will screen several of his films, including “Brailov: A Town Without Jews.”

In about two weeks, the complete Film Festival schedule will be online.

Arts & Crafts, Workshops, Classes

Frequent conference-goers know we all need breaks from lectures.

Some classes and workshops:

  • Sunday, Lil Blume will offer a two-part workshop on “Writing Family Stories and Memoirs.”
  • Monday-Thursday: Lynn Saul – “Creating and Retelling Your Family’s Stories: A Participatory Writing Workshop;” Mike Karsen – “How to Create Your Family History;” and Marlis Humphrey – “I Couldn’t Put it Down! New Ways to Publish Family History.”

Crafts:

  • A Tallit–making class will cover the history of the Jewish prayer shawl, the Hebrew prayer for the atarah (or collar), the aleph bet chart with various Hebrew fonts, images to stitch to decorate the tallit, how to tie tzitzit (corner fringes), and sha’a’tnez. (prohibition of using two different fibres in the same textile).
  • “How to Create a Genealogical Quilt” using ancestral photographs as the artwork.
  • “Pomegranate Jewish Papercut” session to learn the art of Jewish paper cutting, using scissors. References to Jewish paper cutting date from 14th century and it became an important folk art among both Ashkenazim and Sephardim in the 17th-18th centuries. Each participant will have a papercut that they can display at home. There’s a $10 kit fee for the project materials.

Holocaust, Sephardim, maps, roots travel, writing, films and filmmakers, along with arts and crafts! No matter your specific interests, there will be something – and lots of somethings – for you.

Tracing the Tribe looks forward to greeting you in Los Angeles.

New York: Gesher Galicia spring event, April 18

The Gesher Galicia Spring regional meeting is set for Sunday, April 18, at the Center for Jewish History, 15 W. 16th Street, New York City.

The two-part program begins at 11am.

Part 1: Update on the Cadastral Map and Landowner Records Project, with Gesher Galicia president and research coordinator Pamela Weisberger.

Cadastral land records and property maps are an excellent source of family history information. Studied together, they can show the exact location where a family lived in a shtetl. They can tell the story of neighbors or siblings who resided near each other and demonstrate how close a family lived to the synagogue, cemetery, schools, or the market square. Using house numbers gleaned from vital records, a connection can be made between these physical locations and the genealogical data. Landowner taxation books show the size and value of the properties that Jewish families owned or rented, adding greatly to the history of a family. These records are invaluable when other metrical records are not available, and in some cases they may be the only documented evidence relating to your ancestors.

Examples of maps and records from Phase 4 of the project will be shown and discussed, along with examples from a 1765 Polish magnate “census” book showing the Jewish residents of Grzymalow and the first appearance of Jewish surnames as derived from the occupations of the Jews who lived on the estate grounds. The next phase of the project (June 2010) will be detailed along with the return of the Lviv Street and House Photography Project in July 2010.

2. A Galician Childhood Recounted – The True Story of Feige Hollenberg-Connors Feige, who was born in Korolowka in 1933.

In addition to a house on the market square, her family had farmland outside of town, inherited from her Rosenstock grandfather. She led an idyllic childhood until war broke out and her family had to go into hiding. Hear her first-hand account of what it was like to grow up in this shtetl, until at age 14 she was hidden by a Ukrainian family that later betrayed her, escaped from the ghetto andlabor camp, and survived in the forest until the war’s end.

Feige returned to Korolowka last summer with cave explorer Chris Nicola, who will be on hand to add a coda to her story involving his discovery of “Priests Grotto” the seven-mile long cave where 38 Jews from the town hid until the war was over, and his tenacious path to both discover the identities of those who survived the horrors of war and to successfully reunite them.

There is actually a Part 3 to this program. After lunch, the JGS of New York will meet with speaker Roma Baran to hear her story of rediscoveringher family’s true identities.

A JGSLA 2010 preview will also be offered.

The meeting is free to all. Invite anyone who might be interested. Click here for directions.

China: A visit to Kaifeng

The one thing I really wanted to do, on my recent visit to Hong Kong, was arrange a visit to Kaifeng. It was impossible this time, but will be number one on my next visit – whenever that will be.

Matthew Fishbane recently visited the city and recounted his experience in the New York Times Travel Section, “China’s Ancient Jewish Enclave.” He also provides details for making a successful trip, mentions two guides and offers an interesting look.

One guide mentioned in the story is Shi Lei, 31, who studied at Bar Ilan University in Israel. We met when he spoke to a Ra’anana branch meeting that attracted nearly 100 attendees.

Through a locked door in the coal-darkened boiler room of No. 1 Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Kaifeng, there’s a well lined with Ming Dynasty bricks. It’s just a few yards deep and still holds water. Guo Yan, 29, an eager, bespectacled native of this Chinese city on the flood plains of the Yellow River about 600 miles south of Beijing, led me to it one recent Friday afternoon, past the doormen accustomed to her visits.

A mezuza at the doorway of Guo Yan’s house in Kaifeng, where traces of a thriving Jewish community remain.

The well is all that’s left of the Temple of Purity and Truth, a synagogue that once stood on the site. The heritage it represents brings a trickle of travelers to see one of the more unusual aspects of this country: China, too, had its Jews.

Ms. Guo, who identifies herself as a Jew, says she hears it from scholars, visitors and Chinese people alike: “ ‘You Chinese Jews are very famous,’ they say. ‘But you are only in the history books.’“

That seemed a good enough reason to come looking, and I quickly found that I was hardly alone.

Ms. Guo and I were soon joined by a 36-year-old French traveler, Guillaume Audan, who called himself a “nonpracticing Jew” on a six-month world tour of “things not specifically Jewish.” Like me, he’d found Ms. Guo by recommendation, and made the detour to see what the rumored Kaifeng Jews were all about.

Earlier, Ms. Guo had brought us into a narrow courtyard at 21 Teaching Torah Lane — an alley once central to the city’s Jewish community, and still home to her 85-year-old grandmother, Zhao Cui, widow of a descendant of Chinese Jews. Her one-room house has been turned into a sort of dusty display case, with Mrs. Zhao as centerpiece. “Here are the Kaifeng Jews,” Ms. Guo said, a little defiantly. “We are they.”

Fishbane says, as does my own research over nearly two decades, that for 150 years following the death of the last rabbi, there was still a spirit:

Grandparents told their grandchildren, as Mrs. Zhao told Ms. Guo: “You are a Jew.” Without knowing why, families avoided pork. And at Passover, the old men baked unleavened cakes and dabbed rooster’s blood on their doorstep.

Read the complete story, at the link above, which tells of the visit to Mrs. Zhao, Judaica, and the 50 or so descendants of this ancient Jewish community as they are relearning their heritage. Fishbane also provides a good capsule history of Kaifeng as well. Their synagogue, damaged by floods, was never rebuilt.

And, if this story inspires you, view the details, resource books and possibilities of arranging such a visit to Kaifeng. Most visit only for a day as there are few sites to see that exist, and a visit relies on how the visitor and guide explain what once was.

If you do plan a trip, you might want to do it sooner than later. The street where Shi’s grandfather lived – where Shi keeps a one-room mini-museum of photographs, documents and donated objects – is scheduled for re-development. We all know what that means and Shi doesn’t know where the museum will move. Read the story for details on a Kaifeng visit planned for October 2010 by a group that specializes in such trips.

JewishGen: ShteLinks additions

Check out these geographic locations below. Are any of them part of your unique family history?

If so, view the pages, contact the site creator or compiler and add your family’s information. This is one way to create a living memorial to your ancestors.
(NOTE: N=new site, U=updated)

POLAND
Baligrod (N)
Created: Maurice I. Kessler
Webmaster: Arie Schwartz.

Ilza (Drildz) (N)
Created: Barbara Sontz

HUNGARY
Debrecen (N)
Compiled: Eugene Katz
Created/Webpage Design: Marshall J. Katz

Tiszafured (N)
Compiled: Dr. Agnes (nee Szego) Orbanne
Created/Webpage Design: Marshall J. Katz

Hodmezovasarhely (U)

ROMANIA
Iasi (N)
Created: Robert Zavos

AUSTRIA
Lackenbach (Lakompak) (U)

You, too, can create a new ShtetLinks webpage for your ancestral shtetl or adopt an existing page that has been “orphaned” and requires a dedicated person to maintain it.

If you are interested in starting such a project but need help with website design, a team of volunteers is available to help you.

For more information, send an email.

Tracing the Tribe is always available to ShtelLink site creators to help the Jewish genealogy world learn about your project and find more descendants who may wish to get involved.

Australia: Visiting Sydney, Day 1

Ziva drove me to the airport, before dawn, to catch an early morning flight to Sydney to see my cousins.

Bob and Di met me at the airport and, since time was so limited, they drove me around to get a feeling for this beautiful city. The weather was sunny and breezy and Bob shared his love for the city where he has lived for more than three decades.

For lunch, we went to the Sydney Fish Market for fish and chips. An amazing building full of fresh everything that can say “glub glub.”

Some of them were still speaking!

Name a creature of the water and it is on ice or in a tank somewhere here. There are also other kiosks inside (sushi and more).

At 2pm, Bob and Di dropped me off at the Kent Street site of the Society of Australian Genealogists, where I met the SAG program director Carole Riley, a GenClass.com colleague Kerry Farmer and MyHeritage.com’s Linde Wolters (who lives in Sydney). From left, Carole, Kerry and Linde:

We had a quick tour of the excellent facilities, library (there is another archive offsite), talked genealogy – what else? – and went for refreshment to the cafe across the street. First it was 3.20pm and the next time we checked it was 4pm. If I wasn’t being picked up by my cousins, we could have gone for several more hours.

For dinner, we went to a Lebanese restaurant with our cousins’ friends and had a great time talking genealogy, DNA and much more.

Tomorrow, say my cousins, I’ll get to see koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, wombats, emus and other unusual animals. Looking forward to that!