I have just returned to Tsfat after a week in Jerusalem…I was at a Jewish Genelogy conference, sponsored by the International Society of Jewish Genelogy (or something like that). This organization’s conferences are usually held in various cities in North America, but this year, for the second time in 10 years, they came to Jerusalem. Seven-hundred genelogy buffs arrived to hear lectures about Jews throughout the world – most of the conference attendees were English-speakers, including a lot of Anglos living in Israel, but there were others from throughout the world.
During the week-long conference, a number of local organizations opened their archives to researchers who wanted to look for materials. Yad VaShem, JNF, the Diaspora Museum, the Central Archives of the Jewish People, the National Jewish Library…these were just a few of the resources available to us to utilize in-between lectures, with a bus making constant circles around Jerusalem taking us where we wanted to go to.
One lecture dealt with the most extensive collection of records of Jewish data from Eastern Bloc countries…the Morman Church’s Family History Center. For years, the Mormans have made it their business to collect and archive records from these countries, and they have all these records on microfilm in Salt Lake City. Any individual who visits a local Morman Church’s library and requests these microfilms may access them locally. These records have been a boon to genelogists worldwide, and especially to Jewish genelogists, for whom other records were often destroyed.
The question is, of course, WHY do the Mormans take this project upon themselves? Turns out that, according to the Morman religion, in order to live after death with the heavenly Lord, one must be baptized by a Morman baptisism, and since one is continuing one’s life after one’s death (up above, though), it’s still possible to be baptized. AND, it is possible to be baptized by proxy. So the Mormans collect these names in order to baptize the dead. They have, in recent years, baptized hundreds of thousands of Jews who have died, including many Holocaust survivors, and although they agreed in 1995 to stop the practice, they are, in fact, continuing at full speed.
One of Jewish genelogists’ biggest concerns right now is that, within half a year, Yad Vashem’s list of Holocaust victims will be available on-line, and that will be the next target of Morman interest.
A second session dealt with the search for the “Ten Lost Tribes”.
About 2500 years ago, the Land of Israel was divided into two areas. The North was conquered by the Assyrians, who exiled the 10 Jewish Tribes which lived there, while the South resisted the invasion. (The subsequent invasions, that of the Babylonians, who destroyed the First Temple, and that of the Romans, who destroyed the Second Temple , also produced exiles, but generally, the exiles from those periods remained connected to “mainstream” Judaism).
There is a legend in Jewish theology which states that the Messiah will come when the tribes are reunited, so there are some people who have decided to “push the envelope”. One of these people traveled throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, searching for groups of people who have traits, legends, customs, traditions, or other hints which indicate that they may be descended from the Ten Lost Tribes.
The movie which we were shown was quite interesting, and while some of the groups of people really do seem to have traditions which indicate descendancy from the Ten Tribes (Aramaic writings, songs which tell of an Exodus and the parting of a sea, not eating pig-meat, etc), some of the conclusions drawn were a bit far-fetched. But, when the Messiah appears, we will see….
Other than that, I didn’t “find” much. I did see the Yizkor (memorial) books from Prosnitz, where my mother’s maternal family is from, and saw Rudas listed as having been killed during the Holocaust – I can only assume that they are somehow related, but don’t know how.
I also saw the Yizkor book for Bobroisk, where the Lifshitz clan is from. That book didn’t list many names, but the two volumes described life in Bobroisk pre-WWII. There was an article describing the Zionist movement in Bobroisk, and it described a meeting which took place in Bobroisk in the early 1900s where young Zionists who were planning their aliyah met with a fellow Bobroisk-native, Knatzelson, who is well-known in Zionist history. The article named the participants of this meeting, and it included Batya Lifshitz-Shein, who was Jacob Lifshitz’s sister. Batya subsequently made aliyah and married Eliezer Shein, also from Bobroisk, and they lived at Kibbutz Ein Harod. Eliezer died young, and the Batko family (whose name many of our cousins recognize) served as the adoptive family of Nechemia, Batya and Eliezer’s son who died in 1946 in a Palmach raid.
In an article which I saw at the Palmach Museum about Nechemia, it was also mentioned that he had an aunt in Israel whom he used to visit, Batya (and Jacob’s) sister, Yehudit, at Kibbutz Kinneret. I contacted the Archives of Kibbutz Kinneret, and was told that Yehudit was one of their best-known founders, having come to Palestine in 1913. She married someone named Koritsky, and they never had children – Yehudit’s husband died young as well, and Yehudit’s only pregnancy ended in a miscarriage due to her ill health (probably from maleria), which plagued her throughout her life. She died young, in the 1930s.
Neither of these sisters, nor Nechemia, have ever had anyone named after them – a fact which was brought home to me at the conference, where it was noted several times that Jewish genelogy is made easier by the custom of naming children after deceased ancestors. For instance, in the Bobroisk Yizkor book, a “Jacob Lifshitz” was noted as one of the compilers of the book – he evidently survived the Holocaust and subsequently made his home in Israel. Chances are that he is somehow related to us, and he and “our” Jacob Lifshitz were probably named for the same ancestor. (In another line of inquiry, the JNF was offering the chance to get information about some of their early doners…the Bobroisk-Yizkor-book’s Jacob Lifshitz was one of them, so I’m waiting for the JNF to contact me with the information about him, which I formally requested. Israel and Ida Sendler were also some of JNF’s earliest doners, in the 1920s. )
Other than that, our summer vacation is pretty much like summer vacations in America – the ever-present question of “how to keep ‘em busy”?
I am lucky, in that my work is a 5-minute walk from my house, so the kids can stop by with questions, requests (for money, of course), or just to come say “hi”. A neighbor will be doing a ceramics class for younger elementary students, which Margalit is planning on attending, and the other kids are busy with pool, computer, and books. Ariella and Yochi also fill in at the Visitor’s Center, in the hours after I finish, and have been helping out with cooking and cleaning at Livnot. And even 8-year-old Margalit has a job…taking care of a neighbor’s 4-year-old every morning.
Other than Margalit, who just finished first grade doesn’t have the “tuchas” for reading, the other kids are big readers, and we count on the local library to keep us stocked with books. Many of the books are translations from English (the kids enjoyed the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, as well as the Beverley Cleary books, the Judy Blume books, Jules Verne, Arthur Conon Doyle, and Alexander Dumas, as well as, dozens of times, the Harry Potter and Tolkin books), but they have also read all sorts of translations from other languages which Americans generally don’t have access to, or take advantage of.
Avishai is awaiting his army call-up, which is scheduled for November. In the meantime, he will be in the States and work with his father, mostly on Martha’s Vineyard, where Yoni’s mother lives. Avishai is looking forward to his service (can’t say that his mother is), and has his sights set on the Egoz Unit of the Golani Brigade. Hm-m-m-m-m…how can he be going into the army? His bris was just yesterday! No one is thrilled by the thought of army service, but Avishai and his friends are very motivated to serve. They are aware of the controversies surrounding Israeli politics and policies, and discuss them extensively – there’s no consensus among them. But they all feel strongly about the need to protect the State and its citizens, and believe that the army (with a little help from above) is the only answer.
I find it interesting that so many Israelis, even those who are outwardly irreligious, are so connected to Jewish traditions and beliefs. A few weeks ago, two young thirtysomething women came into the Visitor’s Center. Both were dressed in a very “modern” manner – halters, multiple earrings, tight low pants, etc. But they were searching for the gravesite of Yonatan Ben Uziel, a sage at whose grave people pray when searching for a life-partner. “We’re thirty now – enough!” one of the women told me. “It’s time to get married. So we came to Rabbi Uziel’s grave”.
Another incident occurred yesterday – I was contacted by a man from the South of the country who stated plainly that he was “not religious”. But he wanted to verify the times that the Ari Synagogue would be open – he and his wife have not been able to conceive, and the Elijah’s Chair in the Ari Synagogue has a reputation as giving a “segula” (good omen) to any woman who wants to become pregnant. So he and his wife, “not religious”, were prepared to make a 5-hour drive to Tsfat, and a 5-hour drive home, in order that she might sit in The Chair. (If I hear anything, I’ll let you know).
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