Houdini's art and magic go on display in New York

From the Jerusalem Post

A new exhibit at the Jewish Museum in New York tells the story of the impoverished son of Jewish immigrants who became one of the 20th century's most famous performers.

Click here to read the entire article and here to learn more about his family.


Guest post by Angie Elfassi

From time to time I check JewishGen and the LitvakSIG for updates on my RAYKHZELIGMAN family.

Recently, I was very happy to see that on the LitvakSIG births there was a Ginde RAYKHZELIGMAN married to Yosel s/o Ezra SHATIL. I went to the All Lithuanian Revision Database to check SHATIL and found SHATIL Ginde d/o Yosel. In the comments column was written:
"lives in house of Rejkhzeligman; 1st husband A.
Yu. Nevyazhskij; 2nd husband Shatil"
I then checked out NEVYAZHSKIJ or NAVIASKY and found the name of her first husband - Abraham Yudel NAVIASKY, as well as the name of their child (what I believe was their only child) - Ieremaya b. 1862.

But there is more to the story. In response to an email I sent to several genealogy forums, someone contacted me and asked if I would be interested in information on the surname RAYKHZELIGMAN.

Of course I was!

The info was promptly sent me which showed that one of my ancestors Nakhman (b.1848) s/o Yosel (who happens to be Ginde's father too - para. 2 above) RAYKZELIGMAN was married to Khaia (info that I had on my tree) and that Khaia's maiden name was VARSHAVCHIK from Kaunas/Kovno.

I immediately went to JewishGen's Family Finder (JGFF) and found quite a few VARSHAVCHIK variations there. I sent off emails via JGFF and not much later that day (taking into account time difference between Israel and East Coast USA) I got a reply from a VARSHAVCHIK descendant; we have compared our trees, and they match!

What could be more exciting than that?!

Thanks JewishGen/LitvakSIG and that very kind person who sent me email info.

Angie Elfassi

RAYKH-ZELIGMAN/RICHMAN, Stakliskes, Lithuania/Leeds
COHEN, Sakiai, Lithuania/Leeds
MAGIDOWITZ, Jurbarkas, Lithuania/Leeds
KASSIMOFF, Rezekne, Latvia/Leeds

Do you have a similar success story? We would love to publish it! Please send us a note by clicking here.

Announcement: JGS of Palm Beach County

Membership Meeting


November 10, 2010


  • 11:30 AM-12:15 PM (Poland Special Interest Group meets)
  • 12:30-12:55 PM (Brick Wall)
  • 1:00 PM Program (including a brief business meeting), followed by a closing session with genealogy mentors.
South County Civic Center, 16700 Jog Road, Delray Beach, FL

Internet Goldmines for Genealogists

Gerald Naditch

Gerald Naditch will address the Jewish Genealogical Society of Palm Beach County Inc. at the November 10 membership meeting. He will discuss “Internet Goldmines for Genealogists.” Registration and the popular Brick Wall Session begin at 12:30 pm with the business meeting and program following. The meeting takes place at the South County Civic Center, 16700 Jog Road, Delray Beach, FL.

Naditch’s presentation will review those networking sites that are specifically directed to researchers of genealogy—blogs, e-zines, digests, forums, newsletters, and more. Some of these "goldmines" focus on helpful articles such as "How to Publish the Results of Your Genealogical Research" or "How to Make Proper Citations in Your Genealogy Program." Others are in the form of a blog, which might be described as a stream of consciousness from a knowledgeable genealogist, often with comments from the general public. Many are daily digest where researchers can exchange information, and websites such as "Cyndi's List," which is a massive categorized and cross-referenced index to genealogical resources on the internet.

Naditch, a knowledgeable computer expert, is Webmaster of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Palm Beach County Inc, and Vice-President of the Boca Raton Computer Society. He lectures frequently at local organizations on topics of genealogical and computer interest.

For further information about the Brick Wall program, or to submit questions in advance, e-mail Program Chairperson Helene Seaman helene@jgspalmbeachcounty.org. For special Interest Groups, contact Mona Morris geniemona@comcast.net

For program information contact:
Sylvia Nusinov 561 483-1060 or Helene Seaman 561-487-2738

Stolen Jewish-Owned Art of the Nazi-Era

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

ERR Depot of Neuschwanstein, Germany
Worker carrying crate of looted cultural property on his shoulders for loading onto a truck headed for the ERR art repository codenamed “Lager Peter” in the salt mines about Altaussee, Austria, 12 June 1944.
Source: Bundesarchiv B323/310

This past Monday, October 25, 2010, a new database with approximately 20,000 entries of looted Jewish-owned art from France was made available online. The database which was taken from meticulously kept records of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) for stolen materials that was housed in the prewar Jeu de Paume building in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris, France.

Jeu de Paume, Paris, France

Whilst only reflecting a small proportion of what was stolen, it gives researchers an insight into the huge amount of cultural wealth which was taken from members of the Jewish community. The story of the stolen art can be gleaned from an article in Vos Iz Neias? (What’s News). It tells the story of the ERR and the joint project to make the stolen art assets available online to researchers and possible family members.

This effort is a joint project of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In addition, it is with the cooperation of the Bundesarchiv (The German Federal Archives), France Diplomatie: Diplomatic Archive Center of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, and The United States National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The online site for the ERR database is to be found at: http://www.errproject.org/jeudepaume.
The site is divided into the listing of the art and photographs of the processing of the art and what was considered deviant art.
  • The art can be browsed by owners and the information given is the first and last name, and the city and country they were from. There are 269 owners listed, mainly from France with a few from Belgium and one lone owner, M. Margolinas, from Kaunas, Lithuania.
  • One can also browse by 260 collections, all of which are coded and described. One such is the WIL, Lazare Wildenstein (1815-1879) collection, confiscated at Panzerraum Nr. 6, Banque de France, Paris, and the confiscation date of October 30, 1940. Wildenstein was a member of the well-known family of art dealers, originally from Alsace. One can find their site at: http://www.wildenstein.com/about/index.html. If you click on the collection, there is a description of the sixteen pieces that make it up. In an Italian reference , it was said that there were 302 pieces taken from Wildenstein’s collection and that Field Marshall Herman Goring chose four of the best of them. The ERR database also includes listings for other Wildenstein family members such as Elisabeth, Georges, and Paul.
  • The listing of deviant art was quite interesting. It reflects modern art which was not of interest to the Nazis. Those pieces which were not sold were destroyed including works by Picasso and other such modernists. One of the items listed was “Marais aux songes” by Max Ernst and there were several pieces by Salvador Dali.
A part of the project was the photo gallery showing the processing of the art work which was more than just paintings as it included archives, art, books, home furnishings, Judaica and other objects. According to various sources, there were three forced labor camps in Paris for the processing of Jewish property – Austerlitz (a storage warehouse), Bassano (a magnificent townhouse), and Lévitan (a commodious furniture store). In these camps, the contents of the property of the Parisian Jews, who had been sent to the Drancy internment camp, was sorted and processed.

A fascinating article about these processing centers is found on the Sarah Wildman site (http://sarahwildman.typepad.com/my_weblog/2010/04/paris-dirty-secret.html). Described are the centers, what took place there and who worked there. The forced labor which was utilized was individuals who were mainly assimilated half-Jews or mischlinge, Jews married to Aryans or Jewish wives of prisoners of war.

Another aspect of this looting of Jewish art assets was created at the Israel Museum which mounted an exhibit of a number of the looted works in 2008. This can be seen at: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/125308

For more information on the looting of Jewish property during the Holocaust, one can read the following books:
  • Robbing the Jews: The Confiscation of Jewish Property in the Holocaust, 1933–1945 by Martin Dean, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-88825-7, 2008.
The sites mentioned are well-worth viewing, if for nothing more than to get an idea of this aspect of the Nazis efforts to destroy the Jewish population and take advantage of their property for themselves.

Update: Hungarian Vital Records Project

Posted by Sam Schleman

I am pleased to announce a major update to the JewishGen Hungarian Database of approximately 80,000 new vital records, bringing the total number of vital records on-line to over 360,000. The total number of records in the database is now around 900,000.

New Records:
Stomfa, Szilsarkany, Papa, Petroha,Kapolcs, Bokony, Sopron, Duna-Szerdahely, Kiraly-Helmecz, Ujfeherto,Fehergyarmat, Galszecs, Sztropko, Mezokasony, Pozsony and Budapest, including the Pest Orthodox records.

There are several things of particular note in this update.
  1. The inclusion of both neolog and orthodox marriages (partial) from Pozsony, now Bratislava, which records only became accessible relatively recently.
  2. The inclusion of the records for Kiraly-Helmecz, which are not available from LDS.
  3. The completion of all the births and marriages for Pest. There are over 80,000 Pest births alone.
A lot of people contributed considerable effort and skill to these accomplishments. They include Eva Abraham, Susan Ades, Roger Adler, Tomas Adler, Ann Armoza, Arie Beck, Diane Berg, Mary Blumenstein, Anne Buchanan, Shari & Asher Buxbaum, Gizella Czene, Wolf-Erich Eckstein, Bob Fisch, Ruth Gartenberg, Miriam & David Gordon, Ava Gorkin, Imre Grosz, Peter Gyrenes,
Tamas Hajdu, Pamela Hayter, Tom Heinesdorf, Agi Herman, Peter Hidas, Andras Hirschler, Debra Holman, Sara Israeli, Susan Kalish, Karen Katz, Larry Kohn, Ilan Kozma, Vera Kwait, Mir Laska, Margarita Lacko, David Laufer, Lois Levick, Esther Levinson, Julie Lockwood, Sandy Malek, Cheryl Meyer, Alex Miller, Judi Gyori Missel, Peggy Morrow, Laszlo Oberlander, Judy Petersen, Itzik Popper, Aaron Rosenberg, Andrew & Judith Sanders, Charlene Segot, Anne Selikov, Pat Shaw, Al Silberman, Roslyn Snow, Judy Spielman, Lynne Steensma, Terri Stern, Jennifer Strike, Naomi Strobach, Robyn Trytell, George Urban, Susanna Vendel, Barbara Wasser, Judy Kloogman Weinstein, and Marelynn Zipser.

That's an extraordinary number of people who have made an extraordinary contribution to Jewish genealogy. We are all in their debt. Please join me in thanking them.

Coming attractions for next Spring:
Nagyvarad (Oradea); Er-Mihalyfalva (Valea lui Mihai); Marghita; Beius; all Pest deaths, thus completing Budapest on-line; Lackenbach; Homonna; Michalovce; more Pozsony records; and the completion of Szeged.

Good hunting!!

Warren Blatt to talk on Polish-Genealogy at JGSCV November meeting

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV) will be meeting on November 8, 2010-Monday, 7:00-9:00 pm at Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E Hillcrest Drive in Thousand Oaks, CA. Please note different meeting day and time from usual--Monday night at 7:00 P M

The Topic: "Polish-Jewish Genealogical Research"

The presentation will provide a general overview and introduction to researching your Polish-Jewish ancestry. The discussion will include: a history of Polish border changes, geography and place-name changes; how to find and locate your ancestral shtetl and historical information; the vital records-keeping system in Poland; how to find and translate birth, marriage and death records; Polish-Jewish surnames and given names, language spelling and grammar issues; Yizkor books and landsmanschaftn; business directories; Polish Archives and Civil Registration Offices; using Mormon microfilms, Internet sources, and Special Interest Groups (SIGs) for Jewish genealogical research in Poland.

Speaker: Warren Blatt, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief, JewishGen, (www.jewishgen.org), 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: Preserving Heirlooms for Future Generations

Phoebe Frank, JGSCV founding member, will discuss how she reproduced a hundred year-old challah cover for her family members to use on Shabbat. Phoebe's presentation is in lieu of our monthly book report.

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County is dedicated to sharing genealogical information, techniques and research tools with anyone interested in Jewish genealogy and family history. There is no charge to attend the meeting.

Our rotating traveling library will have Categories A and C (and Polish books from Category B). To see which books are listed under which category, please go to our website, www.JGSCV.org and look under traveling library. The books are available starting 30 minutes before the program to shortly after the rogram.

We have started our 2011 membership renewal drive and any one who renews/joins now through our December 6 meeting is eligible to have their name drawn for great genealogical gifts- but they must be present at the December 6 meeting. Membership dues paid now ($25 single, $30 family) are good through December 2011!

The meeting is open to all and there is no charge. The meeting is co-sponsored with and held at Temple Adat Elohim, Thousand Oaks, CA For more information including directions to the meeting, see our website for directions and more information: www.jgscv.org

Jan Meisels Allen
President, JGSCV

YIVO Launches New Website

YIVO has announced they have launched a new website: "The Milstein Online Archives of the New York Jewish Community," sponsored by the Milstein Family Foundation and its successor the PIM (Paul and Irma Milstein) Foundation, to preserve and document the historic legacy of Jewish New York with emphasis on the histories and archival treasures of five agencies. These are the 92nd Street Y, the Educational Alliance, F-E-G-S Health and Human Services System, NYANA, and Surprise Lake Camp. The site can be accessed at:

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Director-at-Large
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

Allen County (Indiana-USA) Public Library Launches New Website

The Allen County Public Library (Fort Wayne, Indiana) has launched a new genealogy website- which includes several free databases and portals including Our Military Heritage. See: www.genealogycenter.org

For those who are not familiar with the Allen County Public Library it is known as one of the premiere genealogy libraries in the United States. The Fred J. Reynolds Historical Genealogy Department, located in the Main Library Branch of the Allen County Public Library, is the second-largest genealogy department in North America. A valuable online service of all is the "As a Librarian" section. Contact them at Genealogy@ACPL. Info for additional information about The Genealogy Center.

I typed in both "Jewish" and " Jewish Genealogy" into the search box and results were 242 for Jewish Genealogy both books and microfilms and "Jewish" 1, 458 for books, microfilms, magazines and newspapers.

If you are not located near Fort Wayne Indiana ask your local library if they can interlibrary loan something you find on the new website that is of interest to your genealogical research.

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Director-at-Large
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

Ancestry.com Acquisition of iArchives, Inc Finalized October 21, 2010

The acquisition by Ancestry.com of iArchives and its branded website, Footnote.com is completed. See:

In a statement e-mailed by Footnote.com ( which I was not able to find on their website) they said: ".....The plan is to continue to run Footnote.com the way we have always run Footnote.com - continuing to do what we believe is best for our customers, our business and our brand." They signed the message Footnote.com--a subsidiary of Ancestry.com

I have no affiliation with either Ancestry.com or Footnote.com and this is being reported for genealogical interest only.

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Director-at-Large
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

National Archives (USA) Pilot Program in Research Room at Archives II in MD

The National Archives and Records Administration (USA) announced a pilot program for the month of November where they will provide archival records retrieval service for textual records on Saturdays at the College Park, MD (Archives II) facility. The types of record for the pull service are only for those that have designated retrieval information and housed in open,
unclassified stack space.

For more information, including hours see the press release at:

For more information on the pilot program see:

Thank you to Marlene Katz Bishow, president of the JGS Greater Washington and co-chair of the 31st IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy for alerting us to the pilot program.

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Director-at-Large
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

National Genealogical Society and You Tube on Genealogy

The National Genealogical Society (NGS) has a channel on YouTube called Paths to Your Past where you can watch short videos, typically 2-10 minutes in length, from a variety of genealogists. Currently there are 8 videos:

1. Connecting Youth to Family History - Leslie Anderson, MSLS
2. We Are All Cousins - Elizabeth Shown Mills, CD, CGL, FASC, FNGS, FUGA
3. On NGS - David Rencher, AG, CG, FIGRS, FUGA
4. Inspiring Others - Thomas Adams, Rubincam Youth Award Winner
5. We Are All Cousins - National Genealogical Society
6. Paths to Your Past - National Genealogical Society
7. Home Study Course - National Genealogical Society
8. Conferences - National Genealogical Society
See: http://www.youtube.com/user/PathstoYourPast#p/u

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Director-at-Large
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

A Journey to Poland in Search of Roots

From the Providence Journal

My grandfather, Jozef, was in his early twenties when he left his ancestral home in north-central Poland in the spring of 1899. He traveled to join his older brothers and a new life in America. After a 12-day steamship journey he landed on Ellis Island with one dollar in his pocket, the ship’s manifest shows.

Jozef died before I was born and his wife, Marion, my grandmother, died when I was in first grade

Growing up, my father spoke little of his Polish heritage. Probably it was the classic first-generation urge to leave the past behind and embrace the new. As a result, I grew up with a difficult-to-pronounce, ethnically identifiable last name but no understanding of either the companion Polish language or culture.

This summer, 111 years after my grandfather began his journey to America, I fulfilled a long-suppressed ambition to retrace his steps and learn what he, and indirectly also my father, were so determined to put behind them.

Click here for the entire article.

IAJGS Conference Update - Call For Papers

Proposals are now being accepted for the 31st IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, to take place Sunday, August 14, through Friday, August 19, 2011, at the Grand Hyatt Washington, Washington, D.C. The deadline for receipt of abstracts is January 15, 2011.

To enter the Call for Papers site and to register your abstract online, please click here.

Help Preserve our History for Future Generations

Dear Friend,

We share a common goal - preserving our Jewish family history for future generations.

Over the past year, we added more than 1 million records to our databases, including more than 200,000 new entries for JOWBR (our online burial registry). As you may have noticed, the website redesign that began last June is now 90% complete. Thousands of people make use of our Discussion Groups on a daily basis, and more than 30,000 new users have registered since January 1st of this year. These enhancements allow you and over 400,000 JewishGen users worldwide, to connect and access tools, databases and information in an easy to understand format from the convenience of your home or office.

But we need your help to continue.

Right now, please contribute generously to JewishGen so that we can continue to offer you, and thousands of others like you, this valuable service. (US residents are eligible for 2010 tax deductible benefits on all donations submitted before December 31st.)

Your generous donation of any amount - whether it's $25, $50, $100, $250, $500, $1,000 or more - will make an immediate difference.
Gifts of $100 or more will grant you access to enhanced database search capabilities, enrollment in our online genealogy course and other extra features.

Last year, despite the global economic uncertainty, we were able to balance our budget based upon the high level of participation from our users. While we received some donations in excess of $1000 or as little as $5, each gift was significant, and we hope you will help support the important work of JewishGen in any way that you can.

  • Credit Card contributions can be submitted on our secure website by clicking here.
  • If you prefer to fax you donation, please click here and then select "print and fax."
  • If you would like to make a donation over the phone, please call (646) 437-4326.
If you prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to JewishGen and send it to:

36 Battery Place

New York, NY 10280

Over the past twenty years, JewishGen has helped forge countless family connections, but time is essential, and there is still so much to do, please help us continue our important mission.

With grateful appreciation,

Warren Blatt
Managing Director, JewishGen.org

New Online Education Class

Posted by Phyllis Kramer

Our third course begins on November 1st, with an introduction to JewishGen, Jewish History, Culture and Naming Patterns, Geography and Jewish Communities. It moves into JewishGen Researcher and Country Databases and closes with practical hints on translating original documents, finding researchers, Cemetery and Holocaust research. Our research is limited to what we can find on the Internet.

The course will run 5 weeks and includes 7 downloadable text lessons and a forum on which you can post one of your family branches to research and ask questions.We require that you post to the class forum; no exceptions. You’ll need 8 - 10 hours a week to read the lessons and do the assignments.

Is this the right course for you? Yes, IF you’ve done enough basic genealogical research to know your immigrant ancestor’s Hebrew names, approximate year of birth, originating town. If you are an experienced researcher and have already found your family in European databases, this is not the course for you.

To enroll in the course:
1. Visit www.JewishGen.org/education
2. Review the detailed description of the course
3. Click on the "enroll link" next to the course you are interested in
4. Pay online with our secure system

Please note that that Value Added Services waiver is not available for this course (it is only for the basic genealogy course).

If you have any questions, please send an email to email: JewishGen-education@lyris.jewishgen.org.

We are looking forward to another great course!
Nancy Holden, Instruction Manager
Phyllis Kramer, VP, Education

Cycle of Life: Natural Disasters (Part 5 of 5)

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz
Often, it is helpful to research natural disasters in our ancestors' shtetls or countries they originated in. These things put the cycle of life in perspective and explain why families may have left a shtetl or why certain stories may have been passed down the generations regarding these matters. I have chosen to extract a number of various disasters which are taken from The Jewish Chronicle, published in London, England. Dates of the issues of the paper are found in parentheses. The names of shtetls are given as they were in the article and not as they appear today.

This is the fifth and final installment of the series.

Part 1 is available by clicking here. Part 2 is available by clicking here. Part 3 is available by clicking here.
Part 4 is available by clicking here.

Droughts appeared to come in waves of years and none was worst than that which came in the 1860’s and 1870’s and was worldwide. One of the countries which continually had droughts from biblical times onward was Israel and many natives and settlers died during these periods of drought from famine and disease. No matter how much money was raised by Jews around the world to help those in the Holy Land, there was no respite from these conditions until the 20th Century when better methods of agriculture or mechanization and irrigation came into being.

Given this natural disaster of such long term significance, one finds many allusions to it in the religious liturgy where it is prayed for every day between autumn and spring. A special prayer, Vaneinu, the Jewish prayer for rain in times of drought is as follows (in Hebrew and English):

תפלה לעצירת הגשמים בשומע תפלה:
וַעֲנֵנוּ בּורֵא עולָם בְּמִדַּת הָרַחֲמִים, בּוחֵר בְּעַמּו יִשרָאל לְהודִיעַ גָּדְלו וְהַדְרַת כְּבודו, שׁומֵעַ תְּפִלָּה תֵּן טַל וּמָטָר עַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה, וְתַשבִּיעַ אֶת הָעולָם כֻּלּו מִטּוּבֶךָ, וּמַלֵּא יָדֵינוּ מִבִּרְכותֶיךָ וּמֵעשֶׁר מַתְּנַת יָדֶךָ, שְׁמור וְהַצֵל שָׁנָה זו מִכָּל דָּבָר רָע, וּמִכָּל מִינֵי מַשְׁחִית, וּמִכָּל מִינֵי פֻּרְעָנִיּות, וַעֲשה לָהּ תִּקְוָה וְאַחֲרִית שָׁלום, חוּס וְרַחֵם עָלֵינוּ וְעַל כָּל תְּבוּאָתֵנוּ וּפֵרותֵינוּ, וּבָרְכֵנוּ בְּגִשְׁמֵי בְרָכָה וְנִזְכֶּה לְחַיִּים וָשׁובַע וְשָׁלום, כַּשָׁנִים הַטּובות, וְהָסֵר מִמֶּנּוּ דֶּבֶר וְחֶרֶב וְרָעָב, וְחַיָּה רָעָה וּשְׁבִי וּבִזָה, וְיֵצֶר הָרָע וְחָלָיִים רָעִים וְקָשִׁים, וּמְאורָעות רָעיִם וְקָשִׁים, וּגְזור עָלֵינוּ גְּזֵרות טובות מִלְּפָנֶיךָ, וְיִגּלּוּ רַחֲמֶיךָ עַל מִדּותֶיךָ, וְתִתְנַהֵג עִם בָּנֶיךָ בְּמִדַּת הָרַחֲמִים, וְקַבֵּל בְּרַחֲמִים וּבְרָצון אֶת תְּפִלָּתֵנוּ

English Translation

Answer us, Creator of the world, with your attribute of Mercy. He who chooses His nation Israel to make known His greatness and glory. He who hears prayers – grant dew and rain on the face of the earth and satiate the whole world from Your goodness. Fill our hands from Your blessing and from the wealth of Your giving Hand. Protect and save this year from anything evil, from any type of disaster, from any type of tragedy and provide this year with hope and a peaceful ending. Have mercy upon us, our produce and our fruits and bless us with blessed rain. May we merit a life of plenty and peace as in the good years; and remove from us: pestilence, sickness, famine, wild animals, captivity, plunder, the evil inclination, illnesses and disastrous events. Decree upon us
positive decrees before You, and may Your mercy triumph amongst Your attributes and may You lead your nation according to the attribute of mercy. And may You accept our prayers with mercy and appeasement.

Some other countries where drought brought its ugly and damaging tentacles were:

Melbourne Drought (April 13, 1866) – A long and arduous drought was felt in Australia, particularly in Melbourne, where a day of humiliation and prayers with special services in all the houses of worship was arranged on January 5, 1866. A special prayer was read by Rev. A.B. Davis of Sydney in the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation located at 472 Bourke Street. Offerings were given in the amount of £112. It was mentioned in a later report that the rains came shortly after the Jewish prayers were offered (June 2, 1876).

Memel Drought (March 26, 1869) – The severe and incessant drought of 1868-1869 in western Russia on the Prussian frontier led to a scanty harvest. This, in turn, led to diminished food for the famished population. Out of approximately 8,000 Jews, only 10 could be counted on for support. Winter brought famine and pestilence including widespread typhus. In the town of Chitowein, families were used to living six families to one home and whole houses were stricken with parents dying and children left uncared for and starving. The situation was terrible.

Moroccan Drought (January 3, 1879) – It was reported that copious incessant rains were now falling in the Empire of Morocco after over three years of severe drought. As a plentiful harvest was now expected, the relief which had been collected would not be needed for more than three or four months. Any excess of funds would be put towards other issues in the area. Further reportage spoke about drought again coming to the land and fervent prayers for rain being offered. Remembered were the years of the previous long drought where almost every family had lost loved ones (April 16, 1897).

The Last Shtetl Jews of Belarus

From the Forward

It’s a lonely life for Jews who returned to their shtetls after nearly everyone else was massacred. More than 600,000, or 90%, of Belarusian Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. Today, most of these market towns have but a handful of Jews left struggling to get by on pensions so slim — sometimes no more than $120 a month — that they sometimes have to choose between heat and food. These survivors are often sickly, and unlike most Belarusian elderly, they lack extended family to take care of them.

People in villages can count on potatoes and cucumbers grown on small plots behind their homes, provided that they are in good enough physical condition to bend down and harvest them. Often, isolated seniors rely on neighbors and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee which, through Hesed welfare centers, provides home visits, meals and winter aid. For Nazi victims among these elderly, aid from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany is distributed by the JDC. The help isn’t much, and sometimes visits are no more frequent than once every three months. But it all alleviates suffering and reminds Belarus’s lonely elderly citizens of communities lost.

What the aid cannot restore is the collective memory of shtetl life that is about to vanish. When these last people pass on, so will 350 years of vibrant Jewish tradition in Belarus, which was once a major center of European Jewry and the cradle of Hasidism.

The Forward’s Judith Matloff recently traveled throughout Belarus to document some of the last shtetl Jews there.

Click here to read the entire article.

Exhibit about the Jews of Dubuque, Iowa

The exhibit tells the story of Alexander Levi, a French Jew of Spanish descent. The exhibit follows Levi’s immigration to the United States and arrival in Iowa in 1833, the same year Dubuque was founded. His story parallels those of many immigrant entrepreneurs of different nationalities who made good and took leading roles as philanthropists in their communities.

He began his career as a fur trader, created a grocery business and became a successful miner. In 1847, he opened what would become one of the most successful retail stores of his time and became a leader of Dubuque’s Jewish community, founding the first two Jewish congregations in Dubuque and purchasing land for a Jewish cemetery.

The exhibit expands on Levi’s story and connects the Jewish community’s continuous contributions to Dubuque’s 175-year history. The exhibit also asks questions that encourage visitors to learn about and record their own family histories.

Click here for more information and to view the museum website.

Book Review: Jewish West Virgina

Guest post by Toby Anne Bird

Jewish West Virginia
by Julian H. Priesler

We, who are engaged in genealogical research, expect to find Jewish communities just about anywhere, but did you know that there has been an active and thriving Jewish population in West Virginia? This is all laid out in Julian H. Preisler’s delightful Jewish West Virginia, the latest in the series Images of America from Acadia Publishing which advertises itself as “the leading local history publisher in the United States.”

This slim volume is made up of vintage photos of Jewish West Virginians and their religious and civic institutions as well as their business enterprises, with text that annotates each photo. Each of its seven chapters is devoted to a geographical area of the state, from Beckley and Bluefield-Princeton covered in Chapter One to Wheeling and the Northern Panhandle covered in Chapter Seven.

In his introduction, Preisler, a professional genealogist who moved to West Virginia five years ago, presents the reader with a concise history of Jewish migration and settlement in West Virginia. He states that the first record of a Jewish settler was Alexander Heyman who, in 1843, was recorded living in Wheeling. Records reveal that soon after, in 1849, German Jews established a burial society in Wheeling. In Preisler’s overview of the development and evolution of the West Virginia Jewish community, he states that as industries grew, especially coal mining, opportunities for successful retail establishments followed which brought Jewish merchants to West Virginia.

The vintage photos and text that make up each chapter are engrossing. Many are similar to the wonderful sepia-toned cover photo taken in the 1940’s of a celebration of the Temple Youth Group of Bluefield’s Ahavath Sholom. Preisler includes photos of classes and other official synagogue groupings, as well as photos of prominent family groups, couples and individuals. For example, in Chapter Three, which covers the town of Huntington, we meet the Glazer family as well as the large and prominent Broh family. In Chapter Four, Preisler has a number of photos of early Martinsburg Jewish families that include members of the Snyder, Fine and Kusner families.

Synagogue architecture is of great interest to the author, and he has included many interior and exterior shots of West Virginia synagogues, those that no longer exist as well as ones that currently have active congregations. The 1925 photo he uses as the frontispiece of the book is of the construction of the sanctuary dome for Ohev Sholom’s new synagogue in Huntington which is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

In each chapter, Preisler documents how members of the Jewish community made their living. We get a sense of their presence in street shots which spotlight their store signs, and he includes exterior and interior photos of stores selling dry goods, women’s and men’s fashions, furniture, and jewelry.

He also includes photos of drug stores and electrical supply stores as well as full service department stores and movie theaters. There are also representative samples of vintage ads that had been created to publicize the merchandise for sale.

Some families established businesses that grew beyond the borders of West Virginia. For example, the Shoenbaum family from Charleston, West Virginia founded Shoney’s, a restaurant that grew into a chain that expanded into many states in the South. The Shoenbaums were prominent members of the community, known for their acts of philanthropy.

Preisler notes in his introduction that over the past thirty years the Jewish population of West Virginia has both shrunk and consolidated. As has happened elsewhere, many Jews who had been living in rural areas moved to larger towns and cities. Many young people went to college out-of-state and did not return. However, he makes the point that, despite demographic shifts, many West Virginia Jewish communities are thriving.

For more specific genealogical resources concerning the Jewish population of West Virginia, Julian Preisler, has constructed a useful website www.westvirginiajewishhistory.com which includes six links with very specific information. For example, one link will take you to a listing of Jewish cemeteries in West Virginia which then provides links to the burials that are available online. Another link will take you to a listing of the names, addresses and websites of Jewish institutions and another link lists well-known Jewish West Virginians.

Further information can also be found in the Jewish Encyclopedia which has an interesting article about Jewish West Virginia including the names of early settlers.

For those interested in other Jewish-related titles in Arcadia’s Images of America series, an additional seventy titles can be found at http://www.arcadiapublishing.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?


This pictorial history that documents the vibrant Jewish presence in West Virginia has been lovingly executed both on the part of the author and publisher. It is a welcome addition to the historical record and, of course, is a wonderful resource for Jewish genealogists.

New Yorker, Toby Anne Bird, PhD, is a retired English professor and amateur genealogist as well as the author of an intriguing blog which features memoirs and other alternative sources for Jewish genealogists and students of Jewish history and culture.

Cycle of Life: Natural Disasters (Part 4)

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz
Often, it is helpful to research natural disasters in our ancestors' shtetls or countries they originated in. These things put the cycle of life in perspective and explain why families may have left a shtetl or why certain stories may have been passed down the generations regarding these matters. I have chosen to extract a number of various disasters which are taken from The Jewish Chronicle, published in London, England. Dates of the issues of the paper are found in parentheses. The names of shtetls are given as they were in the article and not as they appear today.

This is the fourth installment of an ongoing series.

Part 1 is available by clicking here. Part 2 is available by clicking here. Part 3 is available by clicking here.

Much of what we may associate with famine is due to war and its depredations. Many times, crops are destroyed, or there is no one to harvest the crops as they are in the army or have been killed whether by war or disease.

However, there are incidents when natural forces play a role in the destruction of crops and the population thereby suffers from lack of sufficient food. One of the places which had many incidents of famine was Israel. In the 1800’s one will find these incidents last for long periods of time. Many attempts were made to obtain foodstuffs for the population, but many such donations came too late to help the residents.

Persian Famine, 1872 (March 14, 1873) – The Persian (Iranian) famine sorely affected the Jewish population, especially in the towns of Ispahan, Shiraz and Teheran. In one instance, the Jews sold all the doors and windows of their homes to buy bread. In another incident, the Jews sold their holy objects from their synagogue and refused to take assistance to purchase bread until these objects were redeemed. The poverty in Ispahan, in particular, was occasioned by the breaking up of about 3,000-4,000 silk looms which were a major provider of income for the Jewish population.

One of the early supporters of relief for the Persian Jews was to be found in the Hebrew newspaper HaMagid which advertised Persian Famine donation lists totaling over 40,000 Jews from the Pale of Settlement with 5,000 Lithuanian Jewish heads of families. These are to be found on JewishGen by clicking here.

Fund for the Relief of the Jewish Victims of the War (April 14, 1922) – An estimated one million Jews were in the grip of starvation and pestilence following World War I with approximately 200,000 destitute refugees and 100,000 homeless orphans accounted for. Further, it was stated that there were 60,000 orphans and homeless children in Volhnyia and central Lithuania alone.

OZE Bessarabian and Lithuanian Relief Campaign (April 19, 1929) – The OZE which was an organization which promoted health among the Jewish population tried to raise funds to support their fifty-three medical and relief institutions in sixteen towns: Akkerman, Balti, Bender, Britschewo, Chisinau, Chotin, Falesti, Jedinetz, Lipkani, Orgejew, Resina, Rishkany, Romanowka, Soroki, Telenesti, and Walui-Wladi. Their plans were to add thirteen new towns and help 4,000 children there.

Their efforts in Lithuania were to be found in the towns of Birshtani, Kaidani, Kovno, Mariampol, Morsheiki, Outyani, Ponevezsh, Shavli, Vilkomir, and Vilkovishki. There had 6,000 children under care and were going to treat an additional 1,000 children in the summer, who were famine victims. Approximately, 40% of the Jews of Lithuanian lived in the affected districts.

Involved in this relief campaign were Dr. O. Finkelstein, member of the Sejm (Lithuanian parliament), Dr. A. Kotzin, Chairman, Medical Association of Lithuania, Dr. R. Rubinstein, Editor, “Yiddische Stimme”, I.B. Woolf, President, Jewish Congregation, Kovno, and Dr. J. Rabinson, President, Jewish Group in the Sejm.

Bessarabian Famine Relief Fund (February 14, 1936) - Approximately 50,000 Bessarabian Jews were in the throes of the third major famine in twelve years. An emergency appeal went out in England to assist them which related the following: “The population of the affected area has for some time been eating the so-called “famine bread”, a product baked from inedible surrogates, affecting the intestines, and a considerable numbers of deaths, particularly among the children, have been recorded as a direct consequence of this famine food.”


The Jewish heritage of ‘New Scotland’

From the Jerusalem Post

Nova Scotia is a visual and cultural treat for anyone looking for a unique Canadian adventure. Situated among the Atlantic Maritime provinces along Canada’s eastern seaboard, it offers a unique blend of natural scenic wonders and strong Celtic cultural influences. Nova Scotia – Latin for New Scotland – is also a source of considerable Canadian history. Although European settlements were established by both the French and British in the early 17th century, British influence proved more enduring, particularly after the 1749 founding of Halifax.

From the 19th century and well into the 20th, more Europeans arrived on Canada’s eastern shores, including Jews from Poland, Lithuania, Germany and Russia.

Much like New York, Halifax served as the gateway for European immigrants entering Canada, and much like New York’s Ellis Island, Halifax’s Pier 21 was Canada’s major point of entry between 1928 and 1971.

Arriving by sea, about a million and a half immigrants passed through the pier before they settled in towns and cities across the nation, and, in the process, enriching Canada’s cultural mosaic.

However, not all immigrants who arrived at Pier 21 left for other parts of the country. Many stayed in Nova Scotia, especially Halifax, including a Jewish community that remains just under 2,000.

Although modest in number, the Jews of Halifax proudly represent the largest Canadian Jewish community east of Montreal.

Significant traces of Jewish history can be found in Halifax, especially along Oxford Street. While perhaps a dozen Jews inhabited Halifax at its founding, a formal community with Jewish infrastructure and Jewish organizations did not take shape until after Canadian Confederation in 1867.

In 1894, Halifax’s Baron de Hirsch Congregation, at the corner of Starr and Hurd Streets, was the first Orthodox congregation established east of Montreal.

Click here to read the entire article.

Announcement: JGS of NY

October 17, 2010, 2:00 p.m.

Center for Jewish History
15 West 16 St., New York, NY

Free to JGS members; $5 non-members.

Erwin Joos


“One Foot in America, the Jewish Emigrants of the Red Star Line and Eugeen Van Mieghem." This is a riveting account about the mass emigration of Eastern-European Jews from Antwerp to America between 1873 and 1934. The greatest number came over after the pogroms, between 1900 and 1914.

The journey to American ports that took from seven to fourteen days was a grueling experience for those in steerage. The estimate is that between 30-40 percent of Jewish Americans have ancestors who sailed with the Red Star Line. Many stories have been written about the emigration experience from Antwerp by Jewish writers such as Sholom Aleichem and Yuri Suhl. Noteworthy passengers include Irving Berlin, Golda Meir, and Albert Einstein. The Antwerp artist Eugeen Van Mieghem is probably the only artist in Europe who made a cycle of works of art about these Jewish emigrants.

Erwin Joos is the curator of Belgium’s Eugeen Van Mieghem Museum and president of the Eugeen Van Mieghem Foundation, a non-profit organization with more than 1,000 members. He has organized exhibitions at YIVO, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum and South Street Seaport Museum in addition to numerous exhibitions in Europe.

Mr.Joos has lectured in Antwerp, Amsterdam, Paris, and New York, has written five major art books including Antwerp New York: Eugene Van Mieghem, and has edited 12 albums.

The Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute at CJH will be open before the meeting starting at 11:00 a.m. for networking with other researchers and access to research materials and computers.

Yizkor Books - Update

Posted by Lance Ackerfeld


Well the holidays are over (for now) which seems to hint that we should get back to work. Still, I don't think that the Yizkor Book Project should be ashamed of our activity over the last month. I was particularly happy to see the renewal of a number of long standing projects and I hope this trend continues.

Note that the YB Project exists through a great number of volunteers who translate, transliterate, transcribe and edit material which becomes part of the various translation projects and I send out my deep appreciation for the very heartwarming dedication and involvement of these many wonderful people in the YB Project.

Now to figures. During this last month we have added these 4 new projects:
Added 3 new entries:

We have continued to update 29 of our existing projects:
Please remember that all this month's additions and updates have been flagged here to make it easy to find them.

All the best,
Lance Ackerfeld
Yizkor Book Project Manager

Cycle of Life: Natural Disasters (Part 3)

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz
Often, it is helpful to research natural disasters in our ancestors' shtetls or countries they originated in. These things put the cycle of life in perspective and explain why families may have left a shtetl or why certain stories may have been passed down the generations regarding these matters. I have chosen to extract a number of various disasters which are taken from The Jewish Chronicle, published in London, England. Dates of the issues of the paper are found in parentheses. The names of shtetls are given as they were in the article and not as they appear today.

This is the third part of a series.

Part 1 is available by clicking here. Part 2 is available by clicking here.

Earthquakes are covered, sometimes in great detail, along with subscriptions for funds to help the hapless victims of this disaster. Due to the inability to predict the occurrences of earthquakes and the lack of architecturally designed structures built to withstand such incidents, these incidents very often were tragic in the extreme.

Several mentions of earthquakes in various locales are as follows:

Cap Haitien, Haiti (December 9, 1842). It was reported that the earthquake of May 7, 1842 in Cap Haitien, Haiti, had caused much damage. The French consul, Monsieur Frederic Theodore Cerfbeer, an Israelite, born October 27, 1786 in Strasbourg, died on October 22, 1842 on the ship taking him from New York to Le Harve. He died of injuries sustained during the earthquake and of grief over the death of his only daughter who was killed in the earthquake and buried in the ruins. Cerfbeer was descended from an ancient and prominent Alsatian Jewish family, who had participated in the Grand Sanhedrin of Napoleon in 1807.

Earthquake at Cap Haitien, Haiti, 1842
(Courtesy Amis et Passionnes du Pere-Lachais)

Lisbon, Portugal, November 1, 1755 (May 30, 1856). During the great Lisbon earthquake, said to be of an 8.5 magnitude, a story was sent about regarding a pregnant Jewish woman fled to what she thought was safety from the earthquake. She ended up being buried in the ruins. Help came and although, at first, she was thought to be dead, she was rescued and her son was born soon afterwards (Note, it does not state that he was actually born in Lisbon). He was named M. Furtado and later became the Mayor of Bordeaux, France, and made great contributions to his community.

Lisbon During the 1755 Earthquake
(The Jan T. Kozak Collection)

As an aside, the following site which contains information on the Grand Sanhedrin of Napoleon to which Abraham Furtado belonged. It states that Abraham Furtado was born July 30, 1756, in London, which is a while after the earthquake. He was the son of marranos, Elie and Hana Pinto Vega. He served as assistant to the Mayor of Bordeaux not as Mayor of Bordeaux.

Further, the Jewish Encyclopedia states that his father was killed in the earthquake and that his mother escaped to London and then went onto Bayonne and thence to Bordeaux where her son was educated.

Abraham Furtado

In an additional mention of the earthquake (April 7, 1882), it was stated that a number of Jews fled from the Lisbon earthquake where they became some of the early settlers in Newport, Rhode Island. Their names can be found in the records of the historic Truro Synagogue.

During this earthquake, a building which housed the Inquisition was destroyed. It was later replaced. Of further interest, it was mentioned that in May, 1768, King Jose of Portugal "ordered all former registers of taxes and copies thereof, in which the names of the New Christians were recorded to be destroyed." Further, on May 25, 1768, all distinctions between Old and New Christians ceased.

Broussa, Turkey
, February 28, 1855/April 11, 1855 (June 8, 1855). The town which sat at the foot of Mt. Olympus and was famous for its silks, was the recipient of two major shocks which killed 54 Jews of that community who numbered approximately 2,000 souls. The total population was 73,000, and most of their homes and businesses were destroyed.

Safet, Israel
, 1837 (October 14, 1859). It was noted that Nissim Serachja Asulai (the son of Chaim Josef David Asulai of Hebron, who died in Livorno in 1807) was killed in the earthquake of 1837 in Safet.

In addition, Safet had a long history of earthquakes which was related by a Mordechai Segal of Poland. He said that 100 years previous, during an earthquake, 200 died and 12 synagogues were destroyed. In the 1837 earthquake, 1,500 Jews were buried alive.

Despite this loss, by 1859, there were 2,100 Jews (800 Sephardim and 1,300 Ashkenazim) in Safet. Of these, there were 400 from Galicia and Hungary and 900 from Russia. In the village of Perkyin, nearby to Safet, there was a community of 50 Sephardim who worked the land and raised cattle quite successfully.

This information was actually originally taken from a book entitled “The Jews of the East, Volume 2” by Ludwig August Frankl (1810-1894), Austrian poet and writer, and Patrick Beaton, published in 1859.

Beyrout, Syria
, 1859 (June 10, 1859). Along the course of the Jordan River in the neighborhood of the Dead Sea, there were frequent and regular tremblings.

San Francisco, California
, October 8, 1865 (December 22, 1865). Mentioned was an earthquake (6.3 magnitude) that caused considerable damage, but no loss of life. The Jewish community lost two of its four synagogues, Emanu-El and Sherith Israel. The house of the Cemetery of Giboth Olam was damaged.

Many places were found in the Chronicle to have repeated earthquakes over time such as Safet and Smyrna. I did not mention the earthquakes of the islands in the Caribbean as they were quite frequent during the 1700's and 1800's and have been covered in many other resources.


JewishGen in the News

From the NY Times - by David Laskin

...Our final days in Israel were dedicated to learning what we could about the lives and deaths of these relatives. To pursue this search, we left behind the mountains and coastal farming villages where we had spent the first part of the week and headed to the nation’s two major cities — one of them ancient, the other not even a century old, both rushing rapidly into an uncertain future. Specifically, we were intent on visiting two major cultural institutions, one in Tel Aviv, the other in Jerusalem, dedicated to helping the Jewish people untangle and come to terms with their past.

In Tel Aviv we devoted most of our time to Beit Hatfutsot (the Museum of the Jewish People, commonly called the Diaspora Museum) on the campus of Tel Aviv University. Two floors of multimedia galleries packed with dioramas, replicas of Jewish artistry and architecture, historic film clips, snatches of music, photos, models of synagogues, and searchable computer terminals conjure up 2,000 years of Jewish exile in all corners of the world. I was most interested in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, where my family had lived for hundreds of years, and though I found much that was redolent of the spirit of the past, there was little specific to my search.

I had hopes of learning more in the ground-floor database room, where a couple of helpful English-speaking archivists are on hand to guide visitors at no charge through searches of digital genealogical and historical files. But I had already visited the museum’s Web site before I left home, and the same information came up. Far richer was a search for our family’s shtetls on the Yizkor (memorial) Book Project run by Jewish Gen (www.JewishGen.org/yizkor).

Click here to read the entire article.