Friday, April 21, 2023

Skalat, Yavneh

Thursday I made the forty minute drive to Kevutzat Yavneh, not far from Ashdod, for the first-year memorial for Yocheved Sarid. She was ninety-five years old and a Holocaust survivor. Yocheved (born Weissman) lived on Yavneh since arriving in Israel seventy-five years earlier. She lived her early years in Skalat - the ancestral home of my Pikholz family. 

It was Yocheved who organized the annual Skalat memorial in the Holon Cemetery and her family (three sons and a daughter) played a major role every year. I have been attending most every year since I learned - twenty-odd years ago - that my grandfather's family had called it home during much of the 1800s.

The memorial was simple and dignified, as things on Yavneh tend to be. About forty-fifty people. Just the Psalms as tradition dictates. No speeches or anything. They gave me one of the sections of Psalm 119 to read.

After minha, we proceeded to one of the rooms in the kibbutz dining hall for some light refreshment followed by brief speeches by several people from Yavneh who had known Yocheved well. A handful of Skalat descendants were there including one who had actually lived there. But it was mostly Yavneh and the family.

I was in a category of one, different from everyone else. Aside from the family, you were either Yavneh or Skalat. I was both.

Fifty-five years ago, I participated in a post-high school work study program run by the Bnei Akiva Religious Zionist youth organization in which I was active. I spent that year on Yavneh, so whenever I am there it is a bit of a homecoming. My first Israeli address. 

I did not know Yocheved at the time - or her brother Motel. I was aware of her sons, who were about my age, but nothing more than that. Her husband Yitzhak gave us a presentation (too big a word for the occasion) about some of his experiences during the Holocaust, but I remembered little of it. Later I learned that Yitzhak was from my great-grandmother's town Zalosce. But at age twenty, I knew nothing of Zalosce or Skalat or anyplace else in Europe. 

I cannot blame my parents for that. After all, we had been in Pittsburgh since before the First World War and my father knew nothing either.

But now I know what I was missing then. Had I known, I could have talked to Yocheved about my family, not close but cousins nonetheless.  She could have referred me to other Pikholz descendants here in Israel. Yitzhak Kiwetz, Cyla Dlugach, Eliezer Haniel and others. People who could have helped me put together the genealogy puzzle that I have been working on these past twenty-five years.

There is a lesson here about passing on what you know, even if it is incomplete. You never know when someone will run into people who know things. If we only know to ask.

Monday, February 27, 2023

When There Is No Congregation To Maintain Your Pittsburgh-Area Cemetery

The Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle sends out an email they call "Update" a few times a week and I am a subscriber. One day last week, their Update included this:

I do not recall having heard of this before.

The link led to a film about an hour long, showing all the cemeteries under their management. There are dozens, some from defunct congregations in the city and some in small towns where there are no longer active congregations. These congregations were founded anywhere from the mid-1800s to the 1960s.

A number of these cemeteries have graves of members of my family, so I had visited them myself over the years. Sometimes more than once.

The opening picture is from Anshe Labovitz in Shaler Township, where my family has two members - in both cases women whose husbands are buried elsewhere. The film visits this cemetery again later.

Other cemeteries of family interest are Tiphereth Israel (adjacent to Anshe Labovitz), Machzikei HaDas (where I have great-grandparents and three sets of aunts and uncles), Podolier, Beth Abraham as well as Grandview in Johnstown. And dozens of others.

The JCBA also crossses state lines to the Steubenville/Weirton area.

These are only cemeteries which are not maintained by active congregations.

You can see the film here. You can find the organization itself at

The JCBA sign was not there when I last visited

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Ancestors, Direct Ancestors and MRCAs

 I think everyone agrees that a descendant is "One whose descent can be traced to a particular individual or group" (American Heritage Dictionary). That same dictionary defines an ancestor as "A person from whom one is descended, especially if more remote than a grandparent; a forebear."

Many genealogists, although agreeing on the definition of "descendant," have a wider definition of "ancestor" which includes aunts and uncles, perhaps even some older cousins. They use the term "direct ancestor" when they want to weed out the avunculars and their female equivalents.

But I have yet to see any reference to a MRCDA - Most Recent Common DIRECT Ancestor - that basic target of much of our research. Genealogists use MRCA to define how two people are related. As in "Mordecai Meir Kwoczka is your great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather" - our Most Recent Common Ancestor.

So Linda's father and my father are brothers. Both are more recent than our grandparents, who would be the traditional bearers of the MRCA title. So would their sister, our aunt. Our parents and their siblings are by definition more recent than our grandparents. That sounds silly and obvious, but it is equally true for more distant ancestors. Of course, no one - even those who would consider our aunt to be our ancestor -  would suggest that our most recent common ancestor would be our aunt, rather than our grandparents. That would be a useless designation.

So it seems to me that for the sake of consistency, a trait valued both by genealogists and by our research, people should choose one of two options. EITHER go back to the traditional definition of ancestors as the reverse of descendants, dropping the aunts and uncles (and the term "direct ancestor") OR start referring to your genealogical targets as MRCDA.

End of rant.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Because Genealogy Is More Than Just Names And Dates

 Monday evening, 4 Kislev, 28 November, at seven-thirty I shall be presenting 



for English Speakers of Ashkelon - Kehillat Netzach Israel,  Harel 8 (entrance on the side path..Yaakov Haham). Cost for ESOA members 20 shekels, non-members 25 shekels.

Please send an email to to reserve your spot!




This is not a genealogy group, so the presentation should interest non-genealogists as well. 


More than twenty years before Israel Pickholtz began doing serious genealogy, his father sent him a postcard with three bits of family information. One of those was that Israel's great-grandfather Hersch Pikholz had an uncle Zelig. That information was very important in Israel's research over the last twenty-five years, research that was helped along by traditional sources and more recently by genetic genealogy.


But even as he was progressing in his research, Israel could not shake the question "Why did my father know this?" Israel says "My father was eight years old when his grandfather Hersch Pikholz died and they never had any real conversation. None of the cousins knew about Uncle Zelig, not even the older one who lived in the same house as my great-grandfather. My father himself did not recall why he knew this."


And does it even matter? This evening, Israel tells the story of his great-great-great-uncle, what he learned about his family and why now he thinks he knows why (if not how) his father knew. And yes, it matters.


A European story with an Ashkelon connection.


Because genealogy is more than just names and dates.


The presentation will mark my father's forty-second yahrzeit.