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)
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