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Iraq: Jewish archive’s return sought

Iraq wants its Jewish archive returned. What should be done? And who owns the materials?

Washington Post story, by Glenn Kessler, quotes well-known Jewish genealogist and former Defense Department official Harold Rhode was in Baghdad when the archive was found in a basement “floating in three feet of sewage water” in the Mukhabarat, the secret police headquarters, as a result of bombed pipes.

“They represent part of our history and part of our identity. There was a Jewish community in Iraq for 2,500 years,” said Samir Sumaidaie, the Iraqi ambassador to the United States. “It is time for our property to be repatriated.”


A high-level Iraqi delegation, led by Deputy Culture Minister Taher al-Humoud, met Thursday with senior State Department officials to press for the return of the artifacts.


But others, including many involved in saving the materials, say that they belong to the Jews who fled, or their descendants — many of whom live in Israel.

The Jewish archive contained Torah scrolls, Haggadas, marriage records, university applications, financial documents – the records of a community taken by the secret police from Jewish homes as the community fled the country under pressure and persecution. Many went to Israel or the US, while thousands also went to Teheran, until Iran’s revolution again forced them to move.

What should be done with these materials?

The soaked documents, some 3,500 tagged items, were taken out of the country with a vague promise of return after restoration. Today, they are stabilized (although with mold) in a Maryland office building, and the Iraqi government wants them back.

“I don’t see any reason for it to go back to Iraq, because if it is the patrimony of the Jewish community of Iraq, then wherever they are it’s theirs,” Harold Rhode, a former Defense Department official, told the Jerusalem Post last month. “When they left, they would have taken it with them had they been able to take it with them. You don’t abandon Torahs.”

The State Department doesn’t dispute Iraq’s claim. NARA takes no position on who owns them, but says the items need much more preservation work, and spent less than $1 million on stabilizing the materials.

The agency’s staff members recently completed an item-by-item assessment and are in the final stages of estimating the cost of a full preservation, including digitizing images of the pages. An NARA estimate in 2003 pegged the cost at $1.5 million to $3 million.

Sumaidaie said he thinks the items are stable enough so that no “further damage or decay can take place” and that Iraq can handle additional restoration.

Rhode, in Iraq at the time, received help from Iraqi exile leader Ahmed Chalabi, who provided equipment. At first, the material was placed to dry in the sun, but when Rhode learned that freezing kills mold, they were placed in a refrigerator truck. When Natan Sharansky and Vice President Cheney got involved, things moved quickly.

Eventually, and with the approval of the remnants of the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, the materials were taken to Texas, freeze-dried and transferred to Maryland for preservation and restoration. According to the State Department, when the Coalition Provisional Authority transferred sovereignty to Iraq in June 2004, it gave the Ministry of Culture the right to demand the documents’ return.

A former senior Pentagon official, during George W. Bush’s term, Dov. S. Zakheim is opposed to returning the items.

Sumaidaie said Iraq would consider individual claims for the documents but that giving them to descendants is “not for us a matter for dispute or discussion.” He also said that the documents would be made available in Iraq to researchers.

If NARA completes preservation and digitization of the items, that means copies of these precious records would be available to Iraqi Jews and their descendants outside of Iraq.

What do you think?
— Return them now although restoration is incomplete?
— Complete the restoration, digitize, keep copies and return them?
— Not return the materials?
— Make sure Jewish Iraqis and their descendants receive their records?

Read the complete story at the link above.

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New York: Non-Jewish research in Jewish resources, May 13

Looking for new research resources? “Non-Jewish Research in Jewish Resources” is set for Thursday, May 13 at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society’s new location.

David M. Kleiman, president of Heritage Muse, is the speaker. The program starts at 5.30pm at 36 West 44th Street, 7th floor, in New York City.

Explore resources from around the world for Eastern and Western European research, often available for free.

Discover the research aids, books, and online content most often associated with the world of Jewish genealogy. These tools can open extensive research avenues for families of all faiths. Find surprising connections and general research sources in 17th-century colonial, and revolutionary American material, through to late 20th century immigration and burial data.

Publisher, researcher, folklorist and popular educator, Kleiman has been involved in family history works for more than 35 years. As president of Heritage Muse, Inc. and co-founder/chair of the NY Computers and Genealogy Special Interest Group. he is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists and the Genealogical Speakers Guild, and serves on the Executive Council of the Jewish Genealogical Society of New York.

In 2009, he took on the duties of curator for the new Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue (Newport, Rhode Island), overseeing an extensive exhibit on the synagogue’s history, Colonial Newport, and the founding of America’s First Constitutional Amendment on Freedom of Religion. His company built the web site for both the Visitors Center and the sponsoring George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom.

Heritage Muse is a New York City digital publishing and research firm offering historical, genealogical, and design services to individuals, foundations, museums and corporations.

Fee: NYG&B members, $25; others, $40.

Visit the NYG&B website for more information and registration.

May is Jewish Heritage Month

Since 2006, May has been American Jewish Heritage Month, recognizing more than 350 years of Jewish contributions to American culture.

The Library of Congress offers a portal for activities and events surrounding this celebration.

Partners in this collaborative effort are The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Click here for related exhibits and collection links.

Events  include:

May 4-26
First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors
1pm, Tuesdays/Wednesdays, USHMM.

May 5
Keynote Address: Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) delivers the keynote address for the LOC’s celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. LOC.

May 6
Lecture: “American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust” 2010 Monna and Otto Weinman Annual Lecture. USHMM.

May 10
Book Talk: Author Robin Gerber, “Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.” LOC.

May 13
Lecture: “Child’s Play: The Judaization of Adolescence in 20th-Century America,” by Jenna Weissman Joselit (Charles E. Smith Professor of Judaic Studies; George Washington University; former Distinguished Visiting Scholar, John W. Kluge Center, LOC), LOC.

May 14
Conversation: with Holocaust survivor Charles Stein, USHMM.

Other exhibits:

A Forgotten Suitcase: The Mantello Rescue Mission (USHMM). The story of George Mandel, a Hungarian Jewish businessman who befriended a Salvadoran diplomat, Colonel José Arturo Castellanos, in the years leading up to World War II. After Castellanos was named El Salvador’s Consul General in Geneva, he appointed Mandel, who had assumed a Spanish-sounding version of his last name, “Mantello,” to serve as the Consulate’s first secretary. Learn about this little-known story.

Jews in America (National Endowment for the Humanities)

Jewish Veterans of World War II

See the websites of the partner organizations for more events.

New Resource: SCIRUS finds people!

Are there academics or scientists in your family? Would you like to know? Do you want to cast a wider family search net? Here’s a new resource to help you.

SCIRUS.com is considered the most comprehensive science-specific search engine on the Internet, it searches more than 380 million science-specific Web pages. Researchers can pinpoint scientific, scholarly, technical and medical data; find the newest reports, articles, patents, journals, websites, homepages, courseware and repository information that other search engines might miss; and help scientists and researchers.

Importantly, it is also great for genealogists and family researchers looking to cast a wider net.

My search centered on our TALALAY and DARDASHTI families, and I was very pleased with the results.

There are quite a few academics and scientists in our TALALAY family, and this search engine found them. From Dr. Paul Talalay of Johns Hopkins Medical School, to Dr. Mikhail Talalai (a Russian historian who lives in Italy), Dr. Pavel Talalai (Misha’s brother in Saint Petersburg, a specialist in deep-sea ice), Dr. Alexander Talalai (communications) and many others, including Dr. Boris Talalai (originally of Saint Petersburg, now Beersheva University). Paul’s daughter Rachel, a film/documentary producer, even got a mention.

Results: For TALALAY, there were 9,835 hits;  for TALALAI, 58 hits (this is the Russian spelling and also for a family of Polish Catholics in New Jersey and elsewhere). There were even 261 hits for TALALLA (sometimes the Spanish spelling as LL=LY, which can also be Talalya). A search for TALALAJ (a variant Polish spelling) produced 274 hits for people in Poland, the US and elsewhere. TALLALAY produced 13 hits, seemingly with TALALAY misspelled (I knew the people referred to, such as cousin Paul).

Our DARDASHTI family is also well-represented: Cardiologists Drs. Iraj Dardashti and Omid Dardashti; musician/anthropologist Dr. Galeet Dardashti; some in Iran (although I have no way of figuring out how they might be related at this point in time); some in Germany, Sweden, Norway; Dr. Kambiz Dardashti, our Philadelphia cousin Ephi Dardashti, and more. Tracing the Tribe even got a mention on a posting on the Sephardi Studies Caucus. There were 1,055 hits, with just one for DARDASHTY (a variant rare spelling).

Areas represented cover medicine, research, patents, culture, technology, anthropology and much more. It is well worth a visit and a search, particularly if you are dealing with an uncommon name.

Tracing the Tribe is not sure if a search for COHEN will turn up useful information for a particular family. Non-family names, such as my old New York pediatrician, Isaac Newton Kugelmass – who was in his 90s when I last knew him – got six mentions.

It is so successful at locating these types of results that it was voted Best Specialty Search Engine (2001. 2002) and Best Director or Search Engine Website (2004-2007).

And, since Tracing the Tribe often brings readers more than esoteric bits of information, here’s the background on how the organizers selected the name SCIRUS:

“To the Eleusinians who were warring against Erechtheus, came a man, Scirus by name, who was a seer from Dodona, and who also established at Phalerum the ancient temple of Athena Sciras. After he had fallen in the battle, the Eleusinians buried him near a winter-flowing river and the name of the region and the river is from that of the hero.”

We chose the name Scirus because seers and prophets are said to judge the signs of what is to come. And science is a visionary discipline in which you are continuously working on new ideas and developments. The Scirus search engine will pro-actively support your role as a seer.

*Excerpt from “The Description of Greece” by Pausanias, translated by August A. Imholtz, Jr., CIS Executive Editor

Check it out and see if Scirus can help you. See what you can find.

South Africa: Seeking Ochberg Orphan descendants

Genealogists are detectives, so here’s a case many of us might be able to help solve.

David Solly Sandler of Australia is seeking 2,000 South Africans – the descendants of 60 Ukrainian war and pogrom orphans, known as Ochberg’s Orphans.

Writes David: 

In 1921, Isaac Ochberg, representative of the South African Jewish Community, travelled to Poland and the Ukraine and brought back with him to Cape Town 167 “Russian, Ukraine and Polish War and Pogrom Orphans” plus 14 “attendants and nurses,” mainly older siblings.

Half the children were placed in the care of the Cape Jewish Orphanage (later Oranjia) and half went to Johannesburg, under the care of the South African Jewish Orphanage (later Arcadia). Many children were adopted by Jewish community members, who contributed generously to a fund to bring the children to South Africa and care for them.

What’s David’s connection to Arcadia? Born in 1952, David grew up from age 3-17 at Arcadia, the South African Jewish Orphanage in Sandringham, Johannesburg. Now a semi-retired chartered accountant, he lives in Western Australia and has completed two books on Arcadia (see below for more information). For the history of the orphanage – established in 1899 – click here.

David is now in month 18 of the 27 months he’s allocated to record the life stories of the Ochberg Orphans. Of the 181 children, the stories of 90 have been recorded, contact has been made with another 30, but 60 still remain to be contacted.

How did he arrive at this number? David believes – for the so far “missing” 60 – that each child was born around 1910, married and had three children, nine grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren, thus there should be more than the estimated 2,000 descendants cited above. Of course, no one knows for sure.

However, what is really important in this story is that many descendants might not know their connection to the Ochberg Orphans. The children did not often speak about this and many tried to hide the fact from their children because of the stigma of being an orphan.

One descendant wrote, says David:

Today, as for the general South African Jewish community, half  of the 2,000 descendants likely have left South Africa and now live around the world in Israel, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US.

“The general attitude of the community was that it was a mitzvah to have adopted one of those poor orphans, a good deed in a dark world, but you really wouldn’t want one of them to marry into your family, would you? After all, you knew nothing of their parents and extended family, their health history and their genetic background. This is a generalisation that isn’t true of all the adopters but it was certainly true of a fair number, nervous, insecure, only to do nothing that would jeopardise their increasing prosperity and emergent social solidity.”

Here’s the kicker – here are the names of these orphans. If you have someone with this name in your family tree, born c1910, there’s a chance you might be an Ochberg Orphan descendant, so read the list carefully and if you find a name of interest, contact David (email below).

— BARMATCH Sara, BARUCH Leya, BERNFELD Hersh,
— CWENGEL Saul,
— ELMAN Blume, ELMAN Jentl/ Izzy, ELSHTEIN Abo, ENGELMAN Jakob,
— FREMD/FRIEND Max,
— GARBUS /GOLDSTEIN Shmul, GAYER Chawa, GEBENCOL/GOLZ Rochel, GERYNSHTEIN Abram, GINSBURG Mintcha, GUBER/GEIBER/GRUBER Tcharna (Charlotte ODES),
— H/GURWITZ Rosa,
— ISRAELSON Chaim,
— JUDES Rubin,
— KAHAN Channe, KAHAN Golda, KAHAN Morduch/Mordche, KAHAN Shachna, KAILER Rywka, KAUFMAN Cypora, KAUFMAN Soloman/Shlama, KAWERBERG Mayer, KAWERBERG Mees/Moshe, KIGIELMAN Jacob, KNUBOVITZ Zlata, KREINDEL Rejsel, KRUGERr Rejsel, KRUGER Abram, KRUGER Jacob,
— LIPSHIS Moishe, LIPSHYTZ Perel,
— MARGOLIN Sara, MILER Braindel, MORDOCHOWITCH Gutro, MORDOCHOWITCH Estel,
— NUDERMAN Gdalia,
— OCHSTEIN Salomon, ORLIANSKY Abram,
— PERRCHODNIK/PERECHODNIK Ussr, PINSKY/PINSKA Faywel, PINSKY/PINSKA Feyga (Birdie GLASER), PINSKY/PINSKA Maisha, PINSKY/PINSKA Zlata,
— REICHMAN Abram, REICHMAN Chaim, REISENDERRubin, REKLER Leya, RINSLER/RINZLER Chaskiel/Chaykel, ROSENBAUM Leon, ROSENBLIT Gdalia, ROSENBLIT Szamay,
— Y/J/SAGOTKOWSKY Jacob/Jacov, SCHTERN/SHTERN Szlema/Solomon, SCHWARZ Josef, SHTEINER/STEINER Chaskel, SHTEINER/STEINER Hersh, SHTEINER/SZTEINER/STEINER Isaac, SMITH Morduch/Mordche, SHTRASNER Feyga, STILLERMAN Hersh/Harry,
— TREPPEL Jacob
— WEIDMAN Sheindel.

David adds that by the end of 2010, the lifestories of some 130 of the children will have been collected. They will be included in a book to be published and sold internationally with all proceeds going to Arcadia and Oranjia, as are the Arcadian Memory Books.

Readers who recognize names of interest should email David for more information, or if you are a descendant and want your family’s story included.

“100 Years of ARC Memories” (March 2006) celebrates the centenary book of Arcadia, formerly the South African Jewish Orphanage.

“More ARC Memories” (December 2008) is the sequel to the first volume, and includes 17 chapters on the Ochberg Children.

Together, the books total 1,100+ pages and hold the memories of more than 250 children. All proceeds go to the Arcadia Children’s Home that still exists and looks after children in need. By the end of 2009, some Rand 365,000 had been raised and the target is Rand 1 million. The set of two books costs $100 plus $10 shipping (click here for more information).

WDYTYA: Changing the world of genealogy!

Are you – or your genealogy society – ready to ride the wave generated by the US-version of Who Do You Think You Are?

The show – we hope – will create as much buzz for genealogy in the US as it did in the UK.

The British version created – with a captivated audience of millions of viewers – an entire popular genealogy industry.

Tracing the Tribe said, early on, that once the US version hit the airwaves, the same thing would likely happen here. Many of us remember what happened following the airing of the television series “Roots.” WDYTYA may well create the Roots 2 phenomenon.

As genealogists, we (and our societies) need to be ready to ride the wave.

In addition to genealogical societies, historical societies, libraries, archives, our friends and neighbors – if not already “into” family history – will be looking for answers to their questions.

The show – and the other family history shows now being screened – offers the genealogy community an opportunity to grow societies, increase membership, bring in younger audiences (the next “Generation Gen”) as we help educate our communities and the general public on how to find information on their own unique family histories.

Writes Susanne, “this show presents the community with the opportunity to revolutionize, reshape and redefine family history as a whole.”

Here are 10 ways in which genealogy societies can spotlight themselves and their resources, and inform members, friends, families and communities:

— Post flyers, wallpaper, and more. Ancestry.com just launched a Spread the Word webpage with downloadable flyers, computer wallpaper and other ideas for everyone to tell let everyone know about the show.

— Host a Who Do You Think You Are? premiere party. Invite members of your society and local community to watch the show’s premiere together on Friday, March 5 at 8/7c. Thomas MacEntee of GeneaBloggers provides some great tips on hosting a viewing party. View those tips here.

— Hold a society open house or workshop for beginners. Newcomers who catch the bug from the show want to know how to find their own histories.

— Invite local media to your society’s premiere party, open house, or workshop. Local papers usually print news of community events.

— Send an email to your society members. Spread the Word has a simple pass-along email with a video that includes the trailer and Lisa Kudrow speaking about what prompted her to produce the series.

— Encourage society members to invite their friends. Who better to promote your event, the TV show, and your society than your society members – already passionate about family history -with networks of friends and family?

— Prepare getting started materials for beginners. Print a one-page “Getting Started in Family History” guide that beginners can pick up at your event. Post the same information on your society’s website, blog or Facebook page. See below for beginners’ tips.

— Share the Who Do You Think You Are? trailer. Post a link to one of the Who Do You Think You Are? trailers on your society’s Facebook page, Twitter account, website or blog.

— We all know the benefits of society membership. We just need to explain them to others!Programs, workshops, and community events – with enthusiastic audiences – will help understand why joining a society is a good thing. Consider membership discounts for those considering joining while the series is airing or for a specific time period following the series.

— Brainstorm more ideas with your society members.

Beginner Tips

Tracing the Tribe remembers what it was like as a complete newbie trying to get a handle on the resources and putting together the pieces of the puzzle. It can be overwhelming when you don’t really know where – or how – to begin. We can make it easier for newcomers with some “getting started” tips.

Start with what you know

The best place to start your family history journey is with information you already have. Create an online family tree (Tracing the Tribe recommends MyHeritage.com for many reasons, including privacy and safety, advanced features and more) and enter names, places and dates of birth for yourself, parents and grandparents. This is just the beginning – you can fill in the blanks as you go along.

Search historical records

We have so many online resources today, including Ancestry.com, JewishGen, SephardicGen, Footnote, NewspaperArchive, Genealogy Bank and hundreds of other sites. Help members and newcomers find family in historical censuses, military and immigration records, newspaper articles and other sources.

Ask family for more

Family history provides an opportunity for you to really talk to your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. Ask for stories, photos and other information. If you have senior relatives, run – do not walk – to interview them!

Add context to family story

Add and share photos, stories and important documents to your online family tree. Create timelines. Record interviews with relatives by phone, video them if in person, and save them wherever you have placed your family tree online.

Share family history

Share your history and heritage by inviting family members to visit your online family site. Give charts and reports as gifts for lifecycle events (baby, marriage, anniversary, etc.). You could also create a family history book, calendar, poster or other items.

Tracing the Tribe’s personal tip

FamilyTreeDNA.com for genetic genealogy. Submitting samples of Y-DNA and mtDNA to the largest database in the industry means more opportunities for you and others to find matches.

There is a reason that nine out of 10 Jewish genealogists utilize FamilyTreeDNA.com. Within that largest sample database is also the largest Jewish database, essential for genealogists researching their Ashkenazi and Sephardic ancestors.

The more samples in the database, the more opportunities to find matches and family separated by history and geography. The company’s just-announced Family Finder will provide even more possibilities.

Until time machines become common household appliances, genetic genealogy is the best thing we have that to answer some questions about our ancestors.

Nice Ice: Jews on skates

Did you know that, from 1867, Jewish ice skating clubs existed in Lvov, Cracow and Warsaw?

Members of the Tribe who wanted to be part of Polish society were interested in sports, according to Yeshiva University professor American Jewish history Jeffrey Gurock, who is quoted in the story below.

The New York Jewish Week article, by Alina Adams, covers Jewish (or those with Jewish background) skaters and ice dancers, and the reasons for increased participation.

Skaters include Sasha Cohen, US; Emily Hughes, US; Irina Slutskaya, Russia (Jewish father); Benjamin Agosto (Jewish mother, Puerto Rican father); and Maxim Staviski, Bulgaria

Ice Dancers include Melissa Gregory and Jamie Silverstein, US; Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhanovski, Israel; and Alexandra and Roman Zaretski, Israel.

Agosto and the Zaretskis will compete in the upcoming Vancouver Winter Games.

Why the increased Jewish presence?

Kenny Moir, director of figure skating at Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, says he has witnessed an increase in Jewish students at all levels since the Israel Skating Federation was created two decades ago. “Very quickly, Jewish skaters who lived and trained in countries that had a high density of competitive skaters, such as Canada, the United States, Russia, etc., could move to Israel or at least compete for Israel,” Moir says.

Another reason: the breakup of the former Soviet Union, which sent trained skaters and coaches throughout the diaspora.

Another important event was the 1995 completion of Israel’s first Olympic-sized ice rink – Canada Centre in Metulla. Those interested in the sport now had a place to train. The Israel Skating Federation was formed following a wave of Russian immigration in the late 1970s.

Russian skaters often hid their ancestry to represent the FSU.

The article provides interesting views of the USSR Skating Federation by former athletes and others. Basically, if a Jewish athlete could bring home a medal, they let him or her on the national team, but might not allow their Jewish coaches to travel internationally.

Odessa-born Mikhail Shmerkin, who made aliyah and became the first Israeli to enter the Winter Olympics, as a figure skater, asserts that while he was training with coach Galina Zmievskaya alongside eventual 1992 Olympic Champion Victor Petrenko, he was informed by the Soviet Skating Federation that if he intended to represent his country internationally, he would need to stop being Jewish.

As a result, Shmerkin’s mother divorced his father and married a non-Jewish friend so that, on paper, her son could be considered Russian. He went on to represent the USSR at the 1990 Junior World Championship.

Read the complete story at the link above.