Pennsylvania woman uses Google and finds her birth family

Amateur Theatricals in Rokiskis, Lithuania

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz 

One of the magical things about photographs is that they give us a window into a world we may never have dreamed of seeing or even knowing.  Recently, I received several such photographs which had been kept by Samuil Meller, who had been born in Klaipeda, but had lived in Rokiskis, Lithuania with his family

The photographs had stayed with him during the internment and liberation of his family in Siberia during World War II and thence to Israel and finally to America.  They pictured a life in Rokiskis which was torn asunder in 1941 and which was never to be again.

Many of the Jewish community in Rokiskis were not very different from their counterparts around the world.  They lived in a moderately prosperous market town, they were mainly engaged in commercial livelihoods and they participated in religious, social, political and sports activities.

They also had an over-riding love for the Jewish homeland, Palestine, and the Zionist cause.  This manifested itself in activities such as “hachsharim” to assist individuals make aliyah as well as events tailored to raise money for the “promised land”.  Those with enough means made contributions to the Jewish Colonial Trust.

One of the creative ways in which people raised money for Palestine was by putting on Yiddish amateur theatricals.  Jews have always been interested in the theater.  However, it was not until the blossoming of the Yiddish theater in the mid-1800’s and into the 1900’s, that huge audiences of adoring fans were created.  The love of the Yiddish theater existed not only in the big cities such as Vilna, where there were professional as well as amateur troupes, but in smaller shtetls as well.

The shtetl of Rokiskis was no different and the photo below depicts one such Yiddish theatrical put on for the benefit of raising funds for Palestine.  Unfortunately, the name of the production has been lost, but the name of two of the players has survived.

The woman standing at far left is Yacha Levitan Meller, the wife of Yudel Meller, and the man standing at the top right is Yudel Meller, an uncle of Samuil Meller.  Yudel Meller was the co-owner with his brothers Shmuel, Mordechai, and Khona of a business which encompassed a printery, a paperboard factory and a saccharin tablet factory.  In addition, the family was involved in the Meller Candy factory in Rokiskis.  A fifth brother Moishe-Leib Meller left the family business prior to 1914 and went to America where contact was lost with him. 

1930’s Amateur Theatricals
Rokiskis, Lithuania
As an aside, Rokiskis was known for its candies.  There were, at least, five candy factories, all owned by Jews.  These produced enough sweet treats for the shtetl as well as those further a field.  The factories and their confections were:  Avanti (Svajone candies), Meilute (Gracija and Mandarinas candies), Melesa (candy names unknown), Meller (Karvute toffee candies) and Reno (LoLo candies).
Meller Candy Factory
Rokiskis, Lithuania, 1930
(Center Left to Right, Co-Owners Shmuel-Wolf and Mordechai Meller)

One can almost see the theatrical-goers munching on these lovely bits of sweetness as they watched the excitement of the plays which sometimes featured old Yiddish favorites or even Shakespeare.

Not only did adults participate in amateur theatricals, but children also were given the opportunity to “tread the boards” and offer their talent to fond parents, relatives and friends.  Their theatricals were based on Jewish stories and legends and, very often, occurred at Purim time.   

A 1930’s Rokiskis Children’s Purim Spiel

Sometimes, the costumes for these theatricals were just thrown together depending on the circumstances of the people involved.  However, they could be quite elaborate and distinctive depending on whether the money for fabric and volunteers to tailor the garments were available.

In the following photo, Yacha Levitan Meller and a fellow actress are dressed in their best handmade finery for a theatrical production.  Note their elaborate tiaras, sequins on their gossamer dresses and their satin ballet shoes.  As far as we know, they are just two Jewish fairies, who have alighted for a while in a dream world of long ago, gossiping a bit and sharing secrets, before continuing on.
Amateur Theatricals, Rokiskis, Lithuania
Yacha Levitan Meller (left) and Fellow Actress

Another photograph of the amateur theatrical put on for the benefit of raising money for Palestine is shown below.  Here you see more inventive costumes of the leading players.  The woman standing at the top right is Yacha Levitan Meller and to the right of her is her friend who was also shown in the photo above.  The other two players are not known.

Amateur Theatricals, Rokiskis, Lithuania
Yacha Levitan Meller (top left) and Fellow Actors
Much of what we know of our ancestors in “der heim” is from stories they passed onto us and, more recently, the photographs they left behind.  It is so important to preserve these photos and be sure that the names of the people in the pictures are identified and the place and date the photos were taken be determined.

Also, it is important to identify the photographer who took the picture.  Very often the photos have a photographer’s stamp which identifies them and the location of their studio.  The photos in this article were taken by one of the three Jewish photographers in Rokiskis:  R. Rucho (Rachmiel Ruch) who owned the “Renesans” photography studio, L. Vinokuro (Leiba Vinokur) and Chanan Sneiderman.

Anyone who is interested in viewing additional photographs from Rokiskis, please visit the Rokiskis ShtetLink Site on JewishGen.

Are We All Related?

The folks from National Geographic are trying to determine just that. Below is the description of their five year "Genographic Project" (with a video link of their "The Human Family Tree" show below):
Where do you really come from? And how did you get to where you live today? DNA studies suggest that all humans today descend from a group of African ancestors who—about 60,000 years ago—began a remarkable journey.
The Genographic Project is seeking to chart new knowledge about the migratory history of the human species by using sophisticated laboratory and computer analysis of DNA contributed by hundreds of thousands of people from around the world. In this unprecedented and of real-time research effort, the Genographic Project is closing the gaps of what science knows today about humankind's ancient migration stories.
The Genographic Project is a five-year research partnership led by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Spencer Wells. Dr. Wells and a team of renowned international scientists and IBM researchers, are using cutting-edge genetic and computational technologies to analyze historical patterns in DNA from participants around the world to better understand our human genetic roots. The three components of the project are: to gather field research data in collaboration with indigenous and traditional peoples around the world; to invite the general public to join the project by purchasing a Genographic Project Public Participation Kit; and to use proceeds from Genographic Public Participation Kit sales to further field research and the Genographic Legacy Fund which in turn supports indigenous conservation and revitalization projects. The Project is anonymous, non-medical, non-profit and all results will be placed in the public domain following scientific peer publication.
On a single day on a single street, with the DNA of just a couple of hundred random people, National Geographic Channel sets out to trace the ancestral footsteps of all humanity. Narrated by Kevin Bacon, The Human Family Tree travels to one of the most diverse corners of the world -- Queens, N.Y. -- to demonstrate how we all share common ancestors who embarked on very different journeys. Regardless of race, nationality or religion, all of us can trace our ancient origin back to the cradle of humanity, East Africa. What did our collective journey look like, and where did it take your specific ancestors? At what point in our past did we first cross paths with the supposed strangers living in our neighborhood? Now, in The Human Family Tree, the people of this quintessential American melting pot find out that their connections go much deeper than a common ZIP code.
To learn more, click here. The video trailer is below.

2009 Malcolm Stern Grant Awarded to "Shamir"

I am posting this on behalf of IAJGS President, Michael Goldstein.

The Malcolm Stern Grant provides funding to encourage institutions to pursue projects, activities and acquisitions that provide new or enhanced resources to benefit Jewish genealogists.

The 2009 Malcolm Stern Grant of $2,500 was awarded to: "Shamir" a non-profit organization based in Latvia ( for "The Guide to Jewish Materials Stored in the Latvian State Historical Archive". The grant will help in preparing an overview of existing materials about the Latvian JewishCommunity that are in the Latvian State Archive.

The Malcolm Stern Grant honors Malcolm H. Stern, widely considered to be the dean of American Jewish genealogy, and his efforts to increase the availability of resources for Jewish genealogical research. The Stern Grant provides funding to encourage institutions to pursue projects, activities and acquisitions that provide new or enhanced resources to benefit Jewish genealogists.

Jan Meisels Allen
Director, IAJGS

Volunteer Spotlight: Iris Folkson

Iris Folkson
Technical Service Manager
If you are a regular user of JewishGen, and even if you are not, be sure to thank Iris Folkson the next time you are able to retrieve information from our website. 
Iris began volunteering for JewishGen in 1996, a time when a forty five minute wait for a dial-up modem internet connection was not uncommon. Since that time, Iris has become JewishGen’s volunteer Technical Service Manager and spends at least one to two hours per day uploading files to JewishGen’s Family Tree of the Jewish People (FTJP), creating new mailing lists and mailboxes for members and volunteers when necessary, and maintaining the JGID whenever there are duplicate registrations. She also makes herself available to answer technical questions concerning website operations.  And she does this all in her spare time! 
Iris works full time at a general practice law firm – when she is not helping JewishGen, that is. She started her career as a bookkeeper thirty five years ago, and has expanded her role to include systems administrator.  It is fortunate for JewishGen that Iris enjoys working with computers. She is so interested in them that she built a computer from scratch on her own six years ago.  You could call her a modern day Renaissance woman!
In addition to all this, Iris is an avid Yankee fan.  She has two grown sons, one grandchild and currently resides with her husband in Douglaston, New York, along with their American Eskimo dog, Baby, who was adopted through the internet.
Iris, on behalf of the thousands of researchers who utilize JewishGen to connect with relatives and learn about their family history and heritage – THANK YOU!
If you would like to nominate a  JewishGen volunteer to be spotlighted, please email us by clicking here. If you would like to join JewishGen as a volunteer, please click here.

Poland marks 65th Lodz ghetto anniversary

Aged Holocaust survivors commemorated the 65th anniversary of the last deportations from the Lodz ghetto to Nazi death camps on Thursday, and Poland's president recalled their suffering and praised Poles who risked their lives to save Jews. 

Lodz was the second-largest city in prewar Poland, after Warsaw, and home to the second-largest Jewish population, with 231,000 Jews representing more than one-third of the city's population.

Thursday's commemorations began at the brown wooden Radegast train station, where about 145,000 Jews began their final journey to Nazi death camps. Wooden cattle cars with flaking rust-colored paint, still stamped with the Nazi-era "Deutsche Reichsbahn," sit in the station as grim reminders of the death trains.

The survivors, many accompanied by grown children, then marched 1.5 kilometers (one mile) to Survivors' Park, where the president unveiled the memorial: a concrete eagle, Poland's national symbol, on a pedestal that forms one corner in a giant Star of David. The star's edges are inscribed with the names of the Poles who saved Jews from extermination.
Thomas Blatt, 82, a survivor of the Sobibor death camp, said he welcomed efforts to honor such Poles, and considers any person who rescued Jews during the war a "holy man."

"It was really dangerous to do something for Jews, and those who did it are heroes," he said.

However, Blatt said he would also like to see Poland do more to acknowledge its shameful episodes in the war.

"Unfortunately a lot of Poles collaborated in the case of capturing Jews," he said. "The Germans didn't know who was a Jew or not, but the helpers did know — and that's what killed us."

The Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939. In April of the following year, the Germans sealed the Lodz ghetto with barbed wire, concentrating Jews in a tightly packed section cut off from the world.

About 45,000 Jews from other parts of Nazi-occupied Europe, including Luxembourg, Austria and Germany, as well as about 5,000 Gypsies, were forced into the Lodz ghetto. Used as forced labor, many ghetto residents died from the horrific conditions. The Nazis decided to kill those remaining in August 1944. (AP)

Click here to read the entire article.

Selected JewishGen recourse for Lodz:

In New York this Sunday? Visit the Museum and Enjoy a Film

If you will be in New York this coming Sunday, Aug 30, 2009 at 2:30 PM EDT, be sure to visit the museum for a special screening of "Tickling Leo" followed by a Q&A with the writer/director, producer and some of the main actors.

This contemporary drama follows three generations of a Jewish family whose secrets threaten to destroy its future. After losing touch with his father, Zak Pikler and his pregnant girlfriend Delphina travel to visit him in the Catskills where he lives in solitude and declining health. As Zak copes with his father's dementia, Delphina uncovers a family secret the Piklers have kept hidden since World War II: a sacrifice they made to join Rudolph Kasztner's controversial train out of Hungary.
For more information, and to reserve a seat, please visit

A trailer of the film can be viewed below.

Jews of South Dakota

For fortune hunters looking to strike it rich in Deadwood, the gold is no longer in "them thar hills," but rather in the many casinos lining Main Street. For history hunters, though, especially those interested in Jewish history, a visit to this South Dakota city offers great treasures. Just a quick dig at the surface reveals that Deadwood's past is intimately connected with the Jewish community that called this once rough-and-ready mining town home.
Deadwood was established in 1876 during the Black Hills gold rush. The Jewish population of Deadwood, which numbered in the hundreds at its peak, was drawn to the lawless frontier less for the chance to strike it rich on the gold claims (though Jewish prospectors undoubtedly tried their luck with everyone else) and more for the auxiliary services they could provide the growing town. Such was their success that about one-third of all the early buildings on Main Street were owned or occupied by Jewish merchants. These were mostly traditional Jewish enterprises such as dry goods or those related to clothing.

The wooden huts and muddy streets where the first Jewish inhabitants conducted their business are long gone - gold rush-era Main Street burned down in a fire on September 25, 1879. Long gone too is the licentiousness and vice that characterized the infamous mining town. Today's Deadwood is a sanitized echo of its notorious past. While gambling remains a major pastime (there are some 80 historic gaming halls), modern Deadwood is a combination of Disney's Frontierland, complete with swing door saloons and "period" photographers, and an aging seaside resort where tacky memorabilia and taffy stores jostle for space.

A visit to Jewish Deadwood should initially ignore the gambling establishments on Main Street and begin instead with a foray up the steep hill overlooking the town where Mount Moriah cemetery - Deadwood's Boot Hill - is located. While many of the approximately two million tourists who visit Deadwood annually visit the cemetery to see the graves of two of the Wild West's best-known characters, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, the graveyard is also the final resting place of a number of the town's Jewish citizens.

EVEN BEFORE entering the cemetery (admission $1, which includes a walking tour guide and map), the gates indicate a Jewish presence. Three metal circles adorn the entrance. The circle on the left contains three smaller circles, possibly signifying the trinity of Christianity; the middle circle encloses a triangle, either a well-known Masonic symbol (many of the cemetery's founders were Masons) or a nod to the Black Hills that surround the city, while the circle on the right surrounds a Star of David.

Established in either 1877 or 1878, Mount Moriah replaced a smaller cemetery situated further down the hill. On August 28, 1892, the Hebrew Cemetery Association purchased a section in the new cemetery for Jewish burials for the sum of $200. Hebrew Hill, as the Jewish area was called locally, is located at the top right-hand side of the cemetery and is accessible via a pathway marked "Jerusalem," which is most likely a Masonic, rather than a Jewish, reference.

While there are more than 80 Jews buried up on Hebrew Hill, or Mount Zion as it was known among the community, Deadwood's most famous Jewish citizen, Sol Star, is not among them. In accordance with the wishes of his family, Star lies in the Mount Sinai Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. Two hundred and fifty meters up from the Jewish section lies the grave of Deadwood's first sheriff and Star's long-time friend and business partner, Seth Bullock.

Click here to read the entire article.

New Book Traces a Jewish Family Back to 1350

From the Write Speaking blog:

Michael Karpin follows one single family, the Backenroth’s, the tale begins in 1350 with their perilous trek from what is now called Germany eastward to Poland. The reason for the move was the Plague that had ravaged Western Europe.

Click here to read the entire review.

Database of 10,000 army POW's held by Nazis go online at Ancestry

The records, which are almost all for British personnel, along with a few hundred Canadian and Australian troops, were compiled by the German captors, who were obliged under the Geneva Convention to notify the UK and other nations about those being held.
Also available is a more sobering set of records, the so-called roll of honour, listing the 170,000 army personnel who died in the conflict, including in many cases where and how they were killed.
Timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the war next month, the archives have been compiled by a commercial family tree research website,, which already holds a mass of searchable data from the first world war along with the usual census and birth, marriage and death information.
The list of war dead was compiled by military officials during the war as a rolling record, with details usually scribbled down using abbreviations or forms of shorthand. These have now been translated with the help of military experts, meaning people can – if they choose – perhaps discover where a relative died and what wound they suffered.
While the POW archive might seem more glamorous – "I'm sure everyone would be interested to know they had a relative at Colditz," Jones said – life inside the camps was no high-spirited game. Aside from the genuine risk of getting shot during an escape attempt, everyday life could be brutal and gruelling.

James Wicketts, a prisoner at Stalag XXIB in Szubin, central Poland, later recalled the "dire" living conditions and diet of boiled potatoes. "One of the jobs assigned to prisoners within the camps was the digging up of graves in a Jewish cemetery and taking the gold from the corpses. Many of us refused to participate, quoting the Geneva Convention in protest, but our pleas fell on deaf ears," he said in reminiscences released to mark the launch of the archives. (GUARDIAN)

Click here to read the entire article. 

Reminder: You can start researching directly via JewishGen - visit today!

Riga’s Only Synagogue Reopens

This week in Riga, after two years of restoration work, the doors of the Peitav Shul – the only synagogue in the Latvian capital – will finally open once again. (FJC)
Click here to read the entire article. To learn more about the Jews of Latvia, visit the JewishGen Latvia SIG.

As Old Nazis Die Off, Pursuit Goes On

From the NY Times:

For 30 years, Eli M. Rosenbaum has been hunting Nazi war criminals. Even as the last of them die off, he is not giving up. “There is still time to bring some of these people to justice, and we ought not fail to do that,” said Mr. Rosenbaum, director of the Office of Special Investigations, who arrived at that Justice Department agency as a summer intern in 1979, the year it was created, and became its chief in 1995.
Mr. Rosenbaum says that at present, about 30 people in the United States who may have a Nazi past are under investigation, along with some 80 possible war criminals from more recent conflicts.
About half the office’s recent litigation efforts have involved Nazi suspects, among them John Demjanjuk, who is charged with atrocities as a concentration camp guard in Poland. Mr. Demjanjuk was deported to Germany in May.
“It’s a few years more,” Mr. Rosenbaum said of the hunt for the last Nazis. “I don’t think that you will hear the department soon say: ‘That’s it. These cases are finished.’ ”

Click here to read the entire article.

Another Article about the IAJGS Conference

For Rabbi Gary Gans of Marlton's Cong. Beth Tikvah, the best week of the year is when the international conference on Jewish genealogy takes place.
Earlier this month, it was a double simcha for him. Gans was a presenter and a learner at the 29th Intern ational Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Conference, held at the Sheraton Philadelphia Center City Hotel during the first week of August. The Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Philadelphia cosponsored the event, which drew 900 visitors from four continents, 13 countries and 42 states.
"This is one of the most creative weeks, when fellow genealogy addicts end up in the same place. It brings about a great new energy level," said Gans, whose synagogue is the meeting site for the Jewish Genealogical Society's South Jersey affiliate group. The rabbi, a tombstone maven, presided over two wellattended workshops on the history of grave markers, focusing on how to decipher Hebrew inscriptions and use them to gain clues valuable in family research.
At the conference, Gans also discovered more contacts and resources to aid his own research. He has already found his great-grandmother's Lithuanian postal bank account in rubles, and noted that with the fall of the Iron Curtain and archives from Eastern Europe resurfacing, there has never been a better time for budding genealogists.
JGSGP's David Mink, who co-chaired the conference, grew up in Jenkintown, PA, but lived in Cherry Hill for 32 years before moving to Philly in 2006. Mink, the owner of the Sansom Street Oyster House, said South Jersey was destined to play a major part in the conference.
"South Jersey's Jewish agricultural communities are a story that isn't told too often, but this was an opportunity to tell that story," he said. Workshops and panel discussions about the Jewish agricultural colonies were followed by a mid-week bus tour of key sites.
Amateur genealogist David Brill, a civil engineer from Cherry Hill, has researched his maternal great-great-grandparents, Moses and Rebecca Levene, who settled in the colony of Carmel in the early 1880s. They relocated to Philadelphia around 1893, but kept the idealism that drew them to make something of the land.
"A lot of the Philadelphia Jewish community find they have connections to these Jewish colonies," Brill said. He ran one of the workshops that gave the conference a unique local flavor, and helped lead the bus tour, which stopped at the one-room, circa 1890 Garton Road Shul in Rosenhayn, and visited the Alliance, Carmel and Woodbine colonies.
A highlight of the tour was meeting Helen and Morris Ostroff, who grew up in the colonies and are guardians of the Garton Road Shul. "We were very happy to get that personal connection," Brill said. (JVNJ)
Click here to read the entire article.

Seven Brooklyn Synagogues Considered for NY State Register of Historic Places

At least seven historic Brooklyn synagogues and one church are being considered for listing on the New York State Register of Historic Places
As reported by the Historic Districts Council (HDC) this week, the synagogues are among several buildings, districts and sites that will be discussed at the Sept. 15 meeting of the the New York State Review Board for Historic Preservation, which meets quarterly to evaluate and vote on the nominated sites.

According to Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the HDC, the following Brooklyn sites are among those under consideration:
  • Ocean Parkway Jewish Center, 550 Ocean Parkway, Parkville.
  • Shaari Zedek (Congregation Ahavath Achim) Synagogue (currently in use as St. Leonard’s Church), 767 Putnam Ave., Bedford-Stuyvesant.
  • Kol Israel Synagogue, 603 St. John’s Place, Crown Heights.
  • Kingsway Jewish Center, 1485 E. 29th St., Marine Park.
  • Jewish Center of Kings Highway, 1202-1218 Avenue P, Ocean Parkway.
  • Young Israel of Flatbush, 1012 Avenue I, Midwood.
  • Temple Beth-El of Boro Park, 4802 15th Ave., Boro Park.
The State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), a gubernatorial agency, assesses the site based on the following criteria:
  • It is associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of local or national history; or
  • It is associated with the lives of persons significant to our history; or
  • It embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or represents the work of a master, or possess high artistic values, or represents a significant distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction; or
  • It has yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.
Click here to read the entire article at the Brooklyn Eagle, or here to view the "Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn" recently published by Avotaynu.

זעץ דיין דאָקומענט - Translate your documents from Yiddish

Yiddish has taken another high-tech step on the information highway — Google, which bills itself as the most popular English-language search engine in the world, just introduced a Yiddish version.
Google isn't saying why it added Yiddish to its roster of common and more-obscure language sites, which includes Afrikaans, Latvian and Punjabi. It didn't make a formal announcement, and a Google spokesman did not return a call for comment from this paper. (JWR)
Click here to read the entire article. 
Note: You can view this blog in Yiddish (or any other language offered by Google) by clicking the Google Translate feature on the right hand part of this page.

Israeli PM to receive Auschwitz plans

BERLIN - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be given original blueprints of Auschwitz during a visit to Berlin this week, the German publisher that will make the presentation said on Tuesday.
Netanyahu will be handed the 29 documents for the Nazi death camp at the Berlin headquarters of Axel Springer by the editor of the Bild daily, Kai Diekmann, on Thursday, the company said.
The prime minister will then present the drawings, which were found in a Berlin apartment in 2008 and then bought by Bild, to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Springer added.
“The sketches and building plans of Auschwitz are the only original documents of their kind ever to be found in Germany,” Springer said. “The federal archive, which has confirmed them as genuine, called it an important discovery.” The blueprints, which date from 1941-2 and include plans drawn with cool technical precision of a gas chamber and a crematorium, were put on display by Springer earlier this year. (Khaleej)

Click here to read the entire article.

Announcement: JGS of Greater Miami

Posted by Joan Parker
Hello Genners,
We are delighted that Daniel Shoer-Roth, a metro reporter and columnist for El Nuevo Herald (whose work also appears in the English-language Miami Herald), will be the guest speaker at the JGS of Greater Miami meeting on Sunday, September 13.
Shoer-Roth grew up in Venezuela. He was close to and spent a lot of time with his grandfather, but he never knew much about the life of his ancestors in Poland before and during World War II. As is the case with many of that generation, Elias Roth didn't talk much about it.
In his quest to learn more, Daniel traveled to Poland and did extensive genealogical research, starting in the records area of the Nowy Sacz city hall, talking with an 88-year-old one-time resident and finally visiting the
Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw.
He told his story in a July 19 article in the Miami Herald (and, in Spanish, in El Nuevo Herald). On September 13, he'll talk more about his genealogical  quest and will expand on the original story.
Meeting Details:
Date: Sunday September 13, 2009 
Time: 10:00am 
Location: Greater Miami Jewish Federation 4200 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami, FL
Phone: (305)-576-4000 for directions
Note: There is free secure parking on site and light refreshments will be served. ((Have ID with you).

Guests are always welcome!
Wishing all a "L. Shona Tova"

Joan Parker, President
JGS of Greater Miami, Inc.
Would you like to announce your JGS event for free on the JewishGen blog? Simply email us using the contact us form on the right hand part of this page.

Help Needed: Looking for Hidden Children

A request was received from Dr. Sheryl Needle Cohn, asking for information about children hidden in Quaregnon, Belgium.  Dr. Cohn is specifically seeking former hidden children who were hidden by the Destrain family.  The family owned a bakery in Quaregnon, and they hid Jewish children (and guns) in flour sacks in their attic. Dr. Cohn is writing a book and she would like to interview these “flour children” or their adult children.

If you have any information on the Destrain family from Quaregnon, please contact Dr. Cohn directly at:

Dr. Sheryl Needle Cohn
University of Central Florida
College of Education
South Lake Campus
1250 No. Hancock Rd
Clermont, FL 34711

Click here to email Dr. Vohn, or here to visit her website.

New York City Birth Records 1901-1907 Now Online

Records are available online here and here
Learn more about this database at Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter.

One Foot in America: The Jewish Emigrants of the Red Star Line and Eugeen Van Mieghem

Posted by Linda Cantor
I have been asked to pass this invitation on to you.  I heard Erwin Joos speak at the annual genealogical conference in Philadelphia earlier this month and it was fascinating.  So if you can, come hear him speak at YIVO.  Please be sure to RSVP by August 31, 2009  to YIVO at 917 606-8293 or via email by clicking here.

One Foot in America:
The Jewish Emigrants of the Red Star Line and Eugeen Van Mieghem

Many Eastern European Jews who immigrated to the United States around the turn of the 20th century began their journey in Antwerp, Belgium, on the steamships of the Red Star Line. They made a deep impression on the Flemish artist and Antwerp native Eugeen Van Mieghem (1875-1930), whose timeless, evocative drawings and paintings of the emigrants are beautifully reproduced in One Foot in America. This new book, and the Red Star Line Museum scheduled to open in Antwerp in 2012, will do much to illuminate the experience of those who made the brave decision to leave their old lives behind for the New World.

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, in association with the City of Antwerp, The Eugeen Van Mieghem Foundation and the Antwerp World Diamond Centre, cordially invites you to: 

One Foot in America:
The Jewish Emigrants of the Red Star Line and Eugeen Van Mieghem
Book Launch and Signing - Thursday, September 10, 7:00 PM

Scheduled Speakers:
  • Philip Heylen, Vice Mayor of Antwerp and promoter of the Red Star Line Museum
  • Erwin Joos, co-author of One Foot in America and Director of the Van Mieghem Museum and Foundation
Exhibit on the Jewish Emigrants of the Red Star Line in YIVO’s Constantiner Gallery, with brief tours conducted by Mandy Nauwelaerts, curator of the Red Star Line Museum. 

Book signing by One Foot in America co-author Erwin Joos.

Jews of Oakland and Berkeley

Frederick Isaac’s newly published book, “Jews of Oakland and Berkeley,” starts its tale in the 1860s. It ends last December.
Isaac deliberately wanted to bring his history of East Bay Jewish life as close as possible to the present day. “I intended the end to be now,” says writer, who lives in Oakland. “Because 15 years from now, this is going to be history.” 
Isaac’s book — 127 pages of historical photos and extensive captions, with a short introduction — shows how Jews migrated to once-sleepy East Bay outposts and built a grand network of institutions. There’s a shot from 1900 of the First Hebrew Congregation at 12th and Castro in Oakland. The elegant Victorian with Moorish accents housed the congregation that would later become Temple Sinai.
There’s a photo of the young Judah L. Magnes, looking dapper in his three-piece suit and watch fob, years before he became a leader of world Jewry (and namesake of the Berkeley Jewish museum). And there’s a classic photo of the Jewish Federation’s Women’s Division, circa 1954: four Lauren Bacall look-alikes dressed in fur stoles, white gloves and hats right out of an Edith Head sketchbook.
Isaac’s photo survey of the East Bay goes through the development of traditional Jewish institutions in Contra Costa and Alameda counties, as well as offbeat staples like the Berkeley-based Jewish Music Festival and Noah’s Bagels (which started in Berkeley).
In many ways, the saga mirrors that of Jews across America — but in other ways, says the New York–born author, Jewish life in the East Bay is unique.
“It’s interesting how many things that are not synagogue- and federation-related have flourished here,” Isaac says. “The [Contra Costa Jewish Film Festival] and the music festival, for example. I have five pages on [U.C.] Berkeley.”
Those pages cover the campus Hillel and Lehrhaus Judaica (both housed in the same building), and influential U.C. professors like Bible scholar Robert Alter.
Researching and compiling the book came easily to Isaac, who earned a master’s in library science from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the former head librarian at the BJE Jewish Community Library in San Francisco, and currently serves as archivist of his synagogue, Temple Sinai in Oakland.
“I started with things I knew,” says Isaac, who did the bulk of his research at the Magnes Museum’s Western Jewish History Center. “I wanted several historical narratives that interwove. The first were the synagogues.”
East Bay synagogues that go way back include the 125-year-old Temple Sinai, Oakland’s Temple Beth Abraham and Congregation Beth Israel, all of which figure prominently in the book.

But Isaac wanted to capture hidden Jewish stories of the East Bay. He includes photos of rare documents, monuments and out-of-the-way markers of a Jewish presence.(JWEEKLY)

Click here to read the entire article

Old treasures offer insight into Jewish ancestry

Participants at the Aug. 5 meeting of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland entitled “What Was That in Bubbe’s Attic?” got the chance to find out. The meeting, located at Menorah Park, allowed residents, Jewish Genealogy Society members, and guests the opportunity to share and discuss their family history through ancestors’ books, documents and photographs.
Sean Martin, associate curator for Jewish history at The Western Reserve Historical Society, welcomed the small crowd of about 25 people as he shared some of his family’s historical archives. He brought a copy of the novel Ivanhoe with his grandfather’s name written inside and a photo taken in 1939 outside of Monongahela System Garage.
Martin explained that while archives like newspaper articles are interesting, they are easily found and duplicated. Items such as a brochure for a community synagogue will reveal more about how deceased relatives lived.

“I am concerned with the content of the materials,” Martin said. “Full-faced portraits should be saved, but that portrait is really only for the family who knows that person. But if there is a photo of someone standing outside of a store in Glenville, they have the kind of work they did, what the block looked like, the entire setting.”

Janet Gold of Lyndhurst had never attended a meeting for the Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland, but family archives sparked her curiosity. Her artifacts consisted of a photograph of her father, a young music conductor, and another photo of her parents during their courting years. The piece Gold brought that told the most compelling story, however, was a graphic poster that advertised her father’s band “Old Gold and his Radio Orchestra” playing at the Coliseum in Mansfield on June 9, 1935.

Gold, along with the other meeting attendees, learned that documents and photos that hold sentimental value can lead to information about how their ancestors lived. Naturalization and immigration papers, along with any photo or poster, should be stored in acid-free folders or boxes to best preserve the archives.

Jewish Genealogy Society of Cleveland meetings are usually held on the first Wednesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at Menorah Park. (CJN)
Click here to read the entire article.

Restoration of Famous Egyptian Synagogue Under Way

The head of antiquities on Thursday unveiled restoration work under way at one Egypt's most famous synagogues - the synagogue named after Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, a famous physician, philosopher and Torah scholar who was born in Cordoba, Spain, in 1135 A.D. He eventually moved to Cairo, where he died in 1204 and was buried inside the synagogue. The remains of the rabbi, who is known in the West as Moses Maimonides, were later transferred to the Holy Land.

The synagogue was built in an area called Haret al-Yahoud, or "The Jewish Quarter," a reflection of how medieval Cairo was divided up into religious and ethnic neighborhoods. It was declared an antiquity in 1986 due to its historic architecture and religious importance.
The area around the synagogue is now known as el-Gamalia. It used to be a slum filled with garbage-covered dirt streets until the government recently cleaned up the area to attract tourists.

Hawass said the synagogue sustained serious damage over time from earthquakes and ground water. The restoration is part of a national project to refurbish ten Jewish synagogues across Egypt.

The synagogue is divided into three parts: an area dedicated to prayers and rituals, another for Ben Maimon's tomb and a third that included a women's prayer section.

Click here to read the entire article and here to learn more about the Jews of Egypt.

Holocaust survivor, 91, awaits potential reparation payment

From the Baltimore Sun:

Food was scarce at the Nazi concentration camp, but the work was relentless. Morris Kornberg toiled day after day in a 1,500-foot-deep, pitch-black coal mine. His weight plummeted to 60 pounds, almost half what it is today. The starvation diet and hard labor stripped him of not just his girth, but also of his will to live. "When I was in Auschwitz, I gave up," he said. "I didn't want to live anymore. Whatever they were going to do to me, I just wanted it over."
And yet today, even as he recalls watching hundreds of his fellow prisoners kill themselves by running into the electric fence around the camp, he can't explain why he didn't do the same. Why did he live to tell about the horrific experience and eventually celebrates a 91st birthday in January? And why does he now stand to receive a check from the German government that attempts - at least symbolically - to atone for its World War II atrocities?
Kornberg doesn't have the answers; he just knows that, if his story is ultimately verified and he receives a 2,000-euro check from Germany, he will immediately hand it to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. It's a decision he made before June's fatal shooting of a security guard at the museum by a Maryland man with a long history of ties to neo-Nazi organizations, but one Kornberg feels even more strongly about now.
"For going through [ the Holocaust], 2,000 is not a big deal," Kornberg said. "This is not for my enjoyment. I just don't want to leave the money for [the government]."
Kornberg, who lives in Waldorf, is one of more than 50 Maryland residents seeking restitution.

In January, he underwent a lengthy application process and follow-up interview, describing how he was arrested in his native Poland in 1941, then endured four years of confinement in concentration camps. If the German government verifies his story, he will be eligible for the one-time payment equal to about $2,800.

Kornberg is one of the few survivors willing to speak publicly about conditions in the concentration camps, according to groups that assist victims in getting reparations. The youngest of six children, Kornberg was born to a Jewish family in Przedborz, Poland. His father owned a business that supplied factories with raw metal materials. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Kornberg and his family were ordered to provide metal for the war.
But in 1941, Kornberg was arrested, beaten until he passed out, revived by having his head placed under a water pump, then beaten again. He was taken to Auschwitz and never heard from his family again.
Kornberg said he was one of the first Jews to arrive at the concentration camp, where conditions deteriorated to a virtually unliveable state in the two years he spent there. Kornberg's job was to fill underground holes where coal had been removed to prevent collapses. It was dangerous work with no pay, he said. Jewish laborers were given one day off a month, and Kornberg watched many detainees electrocute themselves.
Kornberg, who was sent to two other camps after Auschwitz and was finally liberated by the Russians in 1945, moved to Maryland in 1949. He had met his wife of more than 50 years, Herta - whose German family was anti-Nazi - before leaving Europe. With no place to call home, Kornberg and his wife moved to Czechoslovakia, then applied to come to the United States through a relocation program. Once here, Kornberg worked his way up to supervisor at a wholesale appliance company plant and stayed for 38 years.

Click here to read the entire article.

Suitcase proves Nazi fugitive 'Dr. Death' was in North Africa

From the Jerusalem Post

German authorities say their analysis of dirt found in a suitcase belonging to Nazi fugitive and concentration camp doctor Aribert Ferdinand Heim, confirms the man known as "Doctor Death" spent "considerable time" hiding in North Africa, and probably in Cairo.

Though witnesses, including Heim's Cairo doctor and members of his family, told The New York Times that he died of rectal cancer in 1992, Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Jerusalem office, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday it was far from certain that Heim was dead.

Heim is accused of killing and torturing inmates of concentration camps - including Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen. He allegedly conducted medical experiments on prisoners, tested the efficacy of various lethal injections to the heart, and removed organs from prisoners without using anesthesia.

Tipped off that police were prepared to arrest him, Heim fled Germany in 1962. Though some Nazi-hunters, including Zuroff, believed Heim was hiding in Chile, some witnesses said that after his escape he moved through European countries before settling in Cairo, where he allegedly changed his name to Tarek Hussein Farid and converted to Islam.

In a statement released on Friday, German police said that along with other substances linked specifically to North Africa, traces of the mineral lime, in a form which only existed in Cairo, were found in Heim's suitcase, confirming his presence there.

Click here to read the entire article.

New Exhibit Focuses on the rescue of Albanian Jews during the Holocaust

Photographer Norman H. Gershman's "Besa: A Code of Honor" exhibit chronicles one of the more unusual -- and less-known -- stories from the Holocaust.
Its 30 black-and-white photos tell the stories of some of the more than 20,000 Albanian Muslims who rescued Jews from the Nazis during World War II.

"In many cases, Jews were arrested or were refugees, and those (Albanians) living there would give them false passports and dress them in Islamic garb," Gershman said. "In many cases, the Albanian rescuers never even knew their real names." (El Paso Times)

Click here to read the entire article

JGS of Conejo Valley and Ventura County Meets August 30 Warren Blatt Speaker

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV)--California, USA will meet on Sunday, August 30, 2009 at 2:00 p.m.-4:00 p.m. The meeting is co-sponsored by and held at Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, CA.

JGSCV is celebrating its 4th anniversary!

The Program: "Jewish Given Names" and Klutzmer (not Klezmer) Band Playing Eastern European Music

Learn why "Mordechai Yehuda" is also "Mortka Leib" is also "Max". Anintroduction to Jewish given names (first names), focusing on practicalissues for genealogical research. Our ancestors each had many different given names and nicknames, in various languages and alphabets -- this can make Jewish genealogical research difficult. This presentation will teach you about the history and patterns of Jewish first names, and how to recognize your ancestors' names in genealogical sources.

Speaker: Warren Blatt, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, JewishGen, an affiliate of the Museum of Jewish Heritage and founding member and board member of JGSCV . He is the author of Resources for Jewish Genealogy in the Boston Area; and co-author of Getting Started in Jewish Genealogy.

Also: Be entertained by the Klutzmer Band (no, not Klezmer), playing Eastern European music.

The meeting is open to all and there is no charge.

For more information including directions to the meeting, see our

Jan Meisels Allen
President, JGSCV

Pennsylvania Office of Open Records Finds In Part Against the Philadelphia Marriage Bureau

A recent decision of the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records is of interest to genealogists interested in Philadelphia Marriage Records. The case was brought by genealogist, Dennis Gries, who brought suit through the Office of Open Records against the Philadelphia Marriage Bureau for their charging $20-$30 per record, charging for looking at a record, preventing use of a digital camera, and limiting the number of records one may request at a time. The Office of Open Records decided the case on July 31, and the plaintiff (Mr.Gries) won on some points and lost on others--per the Office of Open Records the Marriage Bureau may only charge $2.00 per page plus $2.00 for certification, the Registrar may not charge to view the record, no digital camera may be used to copy the records, the City conceded on the number of requests at one time. Currently the City of Philadelphia only provides certified copies and used that, and budgetary reasons as part of the reason for their high charges.

Mr. Gries has been in touch with me over the Open Records Law. He advised me that the City of Philadelphia will appeal their loss of the case in both in both the Court of Common Pleas and Commonwealth Courts. At this time I don't know when the courts will hear the case...and since this was a local case it only involves the Philadelphia Marriage Bureau. Because it is on appeal, the Office of Open Records decision is in "limbo" until the courts make a final decision..this may end up in an Appeals Court at a higher level depending upon what the lower courts determine.

The case is also posted on the Pennsylvania Department of Open Records under final determinations

Jan Meisels Allen
Director, IAJGS and
Chairperson, Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

National Archives Start New Blog on Online Public Access to Records

The (USA) National Archives started a new blog on online public access to records of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). It is called NARAtions.They plan to post questions and want the public to share their opinions, ideas and stories. They will also post news items about descriptions or digitized archival materials available onlineMark in your favorites:

Thanks to Dick Eastman and his Online Genealogy Newsletter for alerting on this new blog.

Jan Meisels Allen
Director, IAJGS and
Chairperson, Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

Ask JewishGen: Why JewishGen does not have a "Russian Database"

Posted By Phyllis Kramer

I often get this question:
JewishGen has Databases for most of the current Eastern and Western European nations, but not Russia. So many of us have heard our family was from Russia, or the Census tells us our family birthplace is Russia. Why isn't there a special database for Russia on JewishGen?
The answer requires a bit of history.

Jews have moved frequently since medieval times. While there were many reasons for this, it was partly the result of governmental policy changes that alternated between establishing favorable living conditions for Jewish inhabitants to outright incitement and promotion of pogroms against the Jews.

Indeed, the good times were often described as the absence of bad times. Paul Johnson’s History of the Jews is one of the best books I have ever read on this topic.

By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Poland and Lithuania had become the center of learning and prosperity for Eastern European Jewry; the Council of Four Lands even provided self government for the Jews. But by the end of the eighteenth century, Poland was ruled by very weak nobles, who lost control, and the country was divided up between Russia (to become known as Russian Poland), Prussia and Austria (to become the Austrian province of Galicia). As you can see from the map below, the country of Poland disappeared completely.

Russia did not want the Jews it inherited in the heart of its empire, and therefore created the “Pale of Settlement” in 1790, and forced all the Jews to move there (see map below). For example, after the designation of the “Pale,” twenty thousand Jewish craftsmen were expelled from Moscow. The “Pale” lasted until 1919, when Poland was recreated by the allies at the Treaty of Versailles.

Thus if your Eastern European ancestors emigrated during the mass migration period (1880’s – 1920s), many would claim Russia or RussianPoland as their origin, others Austria. But since our databases are delineated by present day borders, there are few Jewish records available for current day Russia.
Best of luck with your research!

The Mathematics Genealogy Project

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz
For those of you who are math geniuses and also those not so, the idea of a mathematics genealogy project might be intriguing.  The idea sprang from the brain of mathematician Harry B. Coonce, who one day decided that he wanted to know the name of his advisor’s advisor.  This turned into a lifetime project to document all PhD’s in mathematics and their advisors and enter them into a database. 

The database became known as The Mathematics Genealogy Project which is a service of the North Dakota State University Department of Mathematics in association with the American Mathematical Society and funded, in part, by the Clay Mathematics Institute.  The database can be accessed by clicking here.
The database requires a submitter’s name and e-mail address and then identifying information of the mathematician such as given name, other names and family name as well as MathSciNet ID.  It has their degree information such as the name of the degree, year and thesis topic, math subject class and school(s), and advisor(s).  There are even visual tutorials on how to enter data and utilize the database as well as update it.
The database can be searched by the following criteria:  first, middle and last names of the PhD, the name of the school(s) he/she attended, the year of their degree, thesis keyword, country, and math subject class.
What this means is that you can trace some of the top mathematicians such as Leibniz (Dr. jur., 1666, Universitat Altdorf), to the present.  This stretches to a database with over 135,384 records and includes the “descendants” or students of some of the top fifty mathematicians in the world. 

An instance of how this works is the inclusion of the well-known function theory mathematician Felix Klein (April 25, 1849 – June 22, 1925) who advised fifty-eight doctoral students or “descendants” during his career.  This can then be extrapolated to the students they advised and so on until there are now 26,563 “descendants” for Dr. Klein.  This amounts to quite a substantial family tree.

This database is not only an important one for the mathematics community, but for Jewish genealogists as well.  The Jewish genealogist can look up their relative(s) and gain valuable information on their education and status.  They can also add them to the database where information is known.

What made me think of investigating this is my interest in the intellectual history of mathematics and the large number of Jewish mathematicians that I have been aware of, especially those whose families I knew such as Richard Courant and his son Ernest and Gilbert, Benjamin and Marc Baumslag. 

In the case of Richard Courant, who taught at New York University, the database indicates that he had 32 students and 3,361 descendants. 

Richard Courant

As to New York mathematician, Gilbert Baumslag, who teaches at the City College of New York, he has 19 students and 26 descendants, so far, in The Mathematics Genealogy Project.

Other mathematicians to be found in the database are the well-known Victorian era professors, Arthur Cayley and James Joseph Sylvester; the German mathematicians Ernst Steinitz and Friedrich Wilhelm Levi; and Americans Norbert Wiener and Isadore Singer.

As you can see, this type of resource is invaluable in tracing one’s ancestors and their descendants who had a mathematical bent.  Perhaps it will even encourage you to document the mathematical traits of your family as you would their physical traits and health histories.

1827-1865 Ostrow Mazowiecka Marriage (Alegata) Records - Now Online

Posted by Stanley Diamond

On behalf of the Ostrow Mazowiecka Research Family and volunteer Judie Ostroff Goldstein, I am pleased to announce that full extracts of the 1827-1865 marriage alegata records are now online in the Jewish Records Indexing - Poland (JRI-Poland) database.

These indices were created from the alegata rather than the marriage records themselves. Alegata (also known as Marriage Supplements or Annexes) are a group of documents that form a more detailed record of the betrothal than the marriage record alone.

In addition to the marriage registration, Alegata files typically include at least the birth records for the bride and groom. Other documents relating to the bride and groom or their parents may also form part of the Alegata file, such as the marriage banns, a record of divorce or army record. The marriage banns were typically issued in the town of residence of the groom. When a birth record could not be produced by the bride or groom, a protocol (sworn statement from witnesses with details of the birth) was created.

The search results include include the following information for both the bride and groom:
  • Type, Year, Akt (record)#
  • Surname and Given Name(s)
  • Father and Mother Name(s)
  • Father's Father's Name(s) for most entries
  • Indication if father is deceased
  • Age, Year and Place of Birth and Birth Akt # in the town of birth
  • Current place of Residents
  • Occupation
  • Remarks (often the name and date of death of previous spouse).
Since marriages were often between individuals not residing in Ostrow Mazowiecka, the information in these records provide invaluable pointers to further research in the records of other towns. 

For a full description of the Marriage Alegata records extracting project, please go to the home page of the Ostrow Mazowiecka Research Family at

Thanks again to Judie Ostroff Goldstein for providing us with this invaluable database.

Announcement: JewishGen Intermediate Genealogy Course

Posted by Phyllis Kramer
JewishGen is proud to announce the Intermediate Genealogy Course will begin September 1, 2009.
This course consists of eight lessons delivered online twice weekly. You can read the lessons online and/or download them at your own pace; they will be in the form of PDF's.
The lessons will cover U.S. topics: 
  • Naturalization
  • Passports
  • Death Records (Probate, Obituaries, Cemeteries)
  • Newspapers
  • City Directories
  • Immigration Ports other than Ellis Island
  • Major Archives and Libraries (including the Mormon microfilms)
  • Military records
  • Internet Research and miscellaneous State and Federal Government Records.
  • Hints and tips on how to best use your computer and the Internet.
We feature an Education FORUM where students are encouraged to post one ancestral branch and get answers to questions and suggestions on avenues to research.
  • Students must have already researched items covered in the Basic Course (Vital Records, Federal Census, Ellis Island Manifests and JewishGen databases).  
  • Students must be comfortable browsing the Internet. 
  • To best utilize this class, we suggest students have 5-8 hours per week to read the lessons, sample the websites and interact with the FORUM.
Tuition is $60. Registration is now open. To enroll, please click here
Once enrolled, return to the JewishGen Learning Center after Sept 1, 2009 and click "enter class".
If you have any questions, please email us by clicking here.