Monday, July 30, 2012


At the beginning of last week, I had a phone call from an old friend, Zvi Ofer, who lives in Kiryat Arba, right outside Hevron. Zvi and Celia's second son Uri would be making a brit on Thursday.

Uri and his family live in the Admot Yishai neighborhood of Hevron, quite near the cemetery. They live in the upper floor of a building called Beit Zechariya, which had been purchased by the Jewish Community of Hevron seven years ago, but that purchase has fallen under threat of  cancellation by the Supreme Court. (See more about that here.) The brit was to be in another apartment in the building, with the festive meal in the small park adjacent to the building.

Admot Yishai is named for the father of King David. He and his grandmother - the Biblical Ruth - are buried there.

There is something special about a brit during the nine days leading up to Tish'a beAv, the fast which commemorates the destruction of both Holy Temples in Jerusalem, as well as other national tragedies. During the nine days we do not eat meat or drink wine, have weddings or make music, go to the beach - and according to some customs we don't shave or do laundry. A brit overrides some of that - the meat and the wine and the music - and generally mitigates the sense of bad omen usually ascribed to the period.

A personal good omen too - a few weeks ago, when I was planning my coming blog posts, I set this week's subject as Hevron. It seemed to fit the theme of mourning and coming redemption associated with Tish'a beAv. And besides, the eighteenth of Av is the eighty-third anniversary of the massacre. I do not feel competent to retell this story, but here it is in one sentence.

The local Arabs slaughtered their Jewish neighbors and the British overlords took that as an excuse to snuff out a vibrant Jewish community, hundreds of years old.

You can - and really should - read more about that in dozens of sources including here and here and here.

(It also fits into the current discussion about the refusal of most of the world to acknowledge the murder of the eleven Jewish athletes at the Munich Olympics.)

Hevron remained Judenrein for the remaining nineteen years of British rule and throughout the nineteen years of Jordanian occupation. When the Jews returned, many of the murderers were still there and they feared vengeance.

Who was the first Jew to return to Hebron in 1967? Who was the first Jew to enter the Cave of the Patriarchs in over 700 years? Before 1948, Muslims refused to permit Jews into the Cave of the Patriarchs, they were only allowed to pray outside on the steps to the building, the infamous "7th step"- and no further. Arab guards stationed there would beat anyone attempting to get any closer to the entrance. The first Jew in Hebron and in the Cave of the Patriarchs was the then Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces, Rabbi Shlomo Goren z"l.
Rabbi Goren was with Israeli forces as the IDF conquered the Western Wall in Jerusalem. As a general, Rabbi Goren knew that the army's next mission was Hebron. He wanted to be among the first Israeli's in the ancient City of the Patriarchs, so he joined the soldiers stationed at the recently captured Etzion Block (sic), on their way to Hebron. On the 28th of Iyar, at night, he asked to be woken-up when the soldiers began their march to Hebron the following day.
The next morning he woke-up, only to find himself alone with his driver. Realizing that he had been "left behind," he ordered his driver to begin the 20-minute journey to Hebron; he expected to meet the rest of the army, already on their way.
Rabbi Goren thought it was strange that he hadn?t met any other Israeli soldiers on the road as he reached Hebron. He thought that by now the army would be in Hebron. Driving into Hebron, Rabbi Goren was greeted by the sight of white sheets, hung from rooftops and windows, throughout the city. He was astounded, but understood. Knowing that their relatives had killed 67 Jews and wounded many more during the rioting of 1929, the Arabs of Hebron were terrified that the Jews would take revenge. So, they didn't fire a shot, instead they hung white sheets from windows and rooftops to surrender.
Rabbi Goren quickly made his way to the Cave of the Patriarchs. Finding the huge green doors bolted, he fired his Uzi submachine gun at the lock - you can still see the bullet holes in the door till this day. Finally, after getting into Cave of the Patriarchs, he blew the Shofar - ram's horn, as he had done 24 hours earlier at the Western Wall, as a sign of liberation.
Only afterwards, did Rabbi Goren discover that when he left the base at the Etzion Block, the rest of the army was on the other side of the hill, making plans for the attack on Hebron. They did not know that the Arabs would surrender. In other words, Rabbi Goren, a lone Israeli soldier, single-handedly conquered a city of almost 40,000 Arabs. Jews had returned to Hebron and to the Ma'arat HaMachpela - Cave of Machpela or Cave of the Patriarchs, the second holiest site in Judaism!  

The Cave of the Patriarchs
I have always had an affection for Hevron, preferring the Cave of the Patriarchs to the Kotel in Jerusalem. I have spent parts of Tish'a beAv there at least half a dozen times and Yom Kippur twice. My wife and I went there for a day tour one year on our anniversary. And I have taken any number of visitors from abroad on what I call Ultimate Genealogy.

The "Tombs of Yitzhak and Rivka" are
 off-limits to Jews except ten days a year.
 Before the bypass road was completed sixteen years ago, I would drive right through Hevron on my way to and from work a few times a month. Then for more than a dozen years, I drove the bypass road most every day, right around the edge of the city.

At some point I decided I had to make some contribution and when JewishGen set up its Online Burial Registry  (JOWBR), I realized how to do it.

The old Rabbinic "Reishit Hochma" section, refurbished
Thus was born my Hevron Cemetery Project, showing the precise layout of the cemetery, with grave photos and translations. My latest update had been about six weeks ago, but when Zvi called, I realized I could take the opportunity for an additional update.

They are not accepting plot purchases, but at 120 that's where I would like to be.

The brit was called for five o'clock and got underway about five-thirty. There were a few dozens of men and similar numbers of women and children. The baby was named Shai. Afterwards we adjourned to the neighboring parklet, where there were tables set up for a catered meat meal.

It was a pleasant hilltop day, away from the heat that has been oppressing us for the last few weeks. The view down the hill was the city itself - the Arab homes and the much smaller Jewish neighborhoods. Less than a hundred yards away was an Arab house, flying the flag of the Palestinian Authority. Soldiers lounged around. Just another day in another Jewish neighborhood. And another baby boy joins the ranks of the Jewish people in the place where it all began.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


I'm not sure how long ago it was. It was definitely before we began our single-surname Pikholz Project in the fall of 1998. And I know it was late spring, so it would have to have been 1998 or maybe 1997.  My own email files don't go back quite that far.

Wait - the JewishGen Archives. Here it is. From 27 July 1998.

Subject: BAUER from Kunszentmiklos
Comments: To: JewishGen Discussion Group-Moderation
I'd turn to you folks for some direction. We have
no LDS here in Israel and I'm not in a position to spend
significant money right now.
My ggm, Regina Bauer, was born 1 July 1870, probably in
Kunszentmiklos. Her father was Shemaya. (Perhaps he had a gentile
first name as well?) Her mother was a Stern From Kaloscha. We know
the names of Regina's brothers and sisters, but do not have an age
order. (Hermina, Ilona, Susanna, Lajos, Sigmund and Louisa. Louisa
came to the US, so we know something about her. One of the brothers
was a high official in Franz Josef's government - perhaps Commerce.)

I expect that my next step is a birth certificate, which would
give her mother's first name, but I'm not clear how to go about even
that simple step, from this distance. Regina was married to Moritz
Rosenzweig (a widower) in about 1889/90 and they lived in Budapest,
but I'm told they weren't married there. Perhaps that too is to be
found in Kunszentmiklos.
Your guidance would be greatly appreciated. (I've run this by the
Hungarian SIG, with no response.)
I got a response from Eleanor Bien in Virginia, she offered to get me all the Bauer records from Kunszentmiklos and to see if there was anything relevant in Kalosca in  exchange for my finding her great-grandmother's grave on the Mt of Olives.

the namesake of Eleanor's sister
Carol Skydell, VP of JewishGen
Chaya Gittel Wagner had come to Jerusalem as an elderly widow and died in 1911. I don't remember if Eleanor had a precise date, but she knew her great-grandmother had come from Seret, in Bukovina.

Finding the grave was the secondary mission - the primary goal was to learn her father's name.

I had never done anything on the Mt of Olives before, though I had gone past it many times. How hard can it be, right? Of course I knew that the nineteen-year Jordanian occupation had been accompanied by much destruction in the cemetery, but still.

I decided to start by phoning the burial societies - first time for that experience! - and the first one I called had her. That was the Hassidim and her grave was in a section  right opposite the police station, near the checkpoint at the beginning of the Jericho Road that leads to the Dead Sea. He said if I'd come to the office, he'd go out to the site with me. The grave site was easy to find, he said, because it was very near an easily recognizable pile of tombstones that were out of place.

In the office, I saw the record. It had her name "Chaya Gittel bat" then a large space where her father's name ought to be, "from Seret" and the date, 18 Menahem Av 5671. They didn't have the father's name either, but they left a space in their record book, as though someone expected that this information might yet turn up. Not a good omen.

There was no mention of a surname, but apparently the date and the mention of Seret was enough for him to consider this an absolute identification. There is no gurantee, he said, that there actually is a stone. And if there is, it may not be legible.

We went up to the site and I saw the pile of tombstones that he used as a landmark. More like three stones at various angles, looking something like an Indian teepee.

Some of the graves had no stones. Others were broken or battered by the weather. We went up and down the row a few times, counting plots and trying to make out inscriptions. Eventually, he settled on an unmarked grave and said that this was Chaya Gittel.

Chaya Gittel's stone in its place.
You can see that the left side
had been buried.

But we didn't leave it at that. We decided to look around and see if perhaps the stone was someplace else nearby. And sure enough, one of the teepee stones, half-buried lengthwise, showed "Chaya Git" and "18 Menahem." The rest was in the ground. Even what we were able to read was face down and that may be why it was so legible, having been protected from fifty years of weather.

I seem to recall that we exposed the entire stone on that visit, though it was too heavy for the two of us to move to the grave site. There were four lines:

P"N [= Here lies buried]
Chaya Gittel bat
                   from Seret
18 Menahem Av 5671

No father's name, but there was a space. Like they were hoping someone would yet provide that information.

A few days later, I came out again with one of our boys and a crowbar and we moved the stone to its proper place. I felt bad for anyone who had used the teepee as a landmark, because the remaining stones were now quite useless for that purpose.

I took pictures before and after, plus a panoramic view and had two copies, one for Eleanor and one for her sister Carol. I visited again soon after, after receiving some special stones from Chaya Gittel Skydell.

A few weeks later, I received the Hungarian records from Eleanor. Some of them provide the basis for what I wrote here last month.

When I first considered writing about this here, I asked permission from both Eleanor and Carol. Here is what Carol wrote:
How nice to hear from you Israel.  I tell the story often about how genealogy binds us to people we may never meet in person.  People cannot believe that you were willing to find Chaya Gittel's grave, get your son and his friends to lift the stone that had fallen over it and ultimately visited memorializing the  visit with  prayers and placing two stones from my favorite beach in the entire world (Squibnocket on Martha's Vineyard).  Connectivity is what it is all about and people are truly amazed at what you did on our behalf, despite the fact we never met in person.

Go right ahead and share the story....I never stop telling it!
Housekeeping note - Next week's post will go up Monday, not the usual Sunday.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


In 1800s Galicia, our ancestors often had a proper rabbinic marriage without bothering to report it to the civil authorities. The children of such marriages were registered as illegitimate and were given the mother's surname, though usually the father would confirm his paternity in the "comments" column. But that was another place, another time, another mentality. Nothing like that happens anymore.
My daughter Merav met her intended, Aharon Zvi Brand, here in Israel, and it was here that they planned to make their home. Her mother was (still is) in Chicago, so that's where they made the wedding, the evening leading into Merav's twenty-first birthday. As required by law, they took out a local marriage license.

In order to benefit from the status of immigrant, they went to the Jewish Agency emissary in Chicago - a friend of mine since we were both teenagers -  to do the paperwork. That included giving him whatever form the rabbi filled out at the wedding ceremony, to ensure that the Israeli authorities recorded the marriage. They didn't bother getting it back in order to report the actual marriage to Cook County within the required sixty days, but that really didn't matter because they planned to live in Israel.

Eleven and a half months later, their daughter Rachel Miriam Brand (called Miriam) was born in Jerusalem.

A few months later, the three of them set off on a two-year adventure in Amsterdam, where Aharon Zvi had been invited to participate in a small kollel, maintained by the local Jewish community, so that this former center of Torah study would continue to have a yeshiva-type presence.

The main feature of the second half of their first year in Amsterdam was the difficult pregnancy. The problem began Pesach when they were in Antwerp, staying with a cousin of Aharon Zvi's. Merav was taken care of then, but it was a few weeks before she was able to return to Amsterdam.

Then she was back in the hospital again and this time they said it would be for the duration - which turned out to be forty-five days. At least it was in Amsterdam. But I was not in a position to go see her - not that there would have been much point in that. Nor was her mother, in Chicago.

Ury Link, whom I knew from the JewishGen Discussion Group, went to visit her in the hospital. (Ury and I never actually met until several years later, but such was the camaraderie of JewishGen, especially back when the group was smaller.)

The baby was born Friday, the eighteenth of Tammuz.

He was very small and jaundiced, so the mohel put off the brit. It must have been a strange feeling, with alomost no family there - even Aharon Zvi's Antwerp family were away. The only family member in attendance was my second cousin Judy Jaffe, whom I hadn't seen in forty years and who was living in Holland at the time. (It was only last summer when we finally visited in suburban DC.) Ury Link was also there.

The baby was named Moshe, after Aharon Zvi's mother's paternal grandfather. They called him Moishie.

Then they went to register the birth with the city. The clerk wanted to see a marriage certificate. Oops. So the birth of Moshe Pickholtz to his unwed mother was duly registered.

A visit to a Justice of the Peace in Chicago a year or so later allowed them to get new documents, but the original birth certificate is still there - waiting perhaps to be discovered by a genealogist working for a matchmaker or a prospective father-in-law. Oy.

Now he is a man, sort of
They returned here after their two years and settled in a neighborhood of Upper Modiin called Ahuzzat Brachfeld. When Moishie was two, Merav survived a bout of cancer and they have since had three more boys.

The bar mitzvah was last week. Frances and I were there for Shabbat, but no one else. In keeping with the custom of their particular community, it was a low-key affair. Shabbat - which was actually the day before his birthday - he read the maftir and haftarah in shul and they made a small kiddush. the kids threw candy.

Moishie's suit made him look grown up. His hat was a good size - he didn't look like a little boy wearing his father's hat. Moishie really wanted it to look right. (Eight year old Menahem made a reference to Moishie's concern with "his holy suit and his holy hat.") I brought him the set of Humash with commentaries that he wanted. The air conditioning worked and it was a lovely day.

Moishie and Menahem
with Cousin Ari

Miriam and Shloimie

Merav on the women's side
with Ari's fiance Bobbi
Wednesday evening they had an open house is a hall not far away. Earlier in the evening there was something for the boys in his class and Moishie spoke there. With the adults it was just meet and greet, though Moishie made a half-hearted effort to speak again, giving up the first time he was interrupted by singing.
Moishie with the microphone and
Aharon Zvi standing behind the waiter

Since we were after the Seventeenth of Tammuz, there wasn't any music or dancing. Behind the head table, there was a growing pile of wrapped packages that looked like books. And there were the inevitable envelopes. Merav tells me he got six copies of Sefer HaHinuch and  a number of different editions of Mishna Berurah. It's challenging to be original.

The boys have school through the summer, until Tish'a beAv, but Merav let them go a bit late the next morning.

Menahem is going on nine, so their next event is probably his bar mitzvah. Or maybe Miriam's wedding. G-d willing. We should only have semahot.

PS - Some day I may learn how to get things lined up on these pages the way I want. Or not.

And here is the birth record.

Sunday, July 8, 2012


My father's mother is not from Budapest. She was born in the United States. In fact, none of my ancestors were born in Budapest. But my great-grandparents lived there for the first ten years of their marriage and my great-grandfather and his first wife had lived there as well. In fact, of his six children, the first five were born there and only Nana was born after their 1900 emigration.

But somehow things Hungarian (including pre-WWI Slovakia) always seem to lead to Budapest sooner or later.

I wrote abit about Nana's mother's family a couple of weeks ago and today's story begins with her father's family.

Moritz (Moshe) Rosenzweig was born in a town called Domanis, in Trencin County Slovakia in 1858. His parents were Ignac (Yitzhak Yehudah) Rosenzweig and Mali (Miriam) Zelinka.

Trencin County is in northwest Slovakia, bordering on Poland and what is now the Czech Republic.

We knew that he had two brothers - Arnold and Simon. Each had a couple of children. Arnold had a daughter Charlotte who spent some time in the US, but eventually returned to Europe. That's what we knew and my research efforts were going in different directions. There quite a few Hungarian records that were microfilmed by the Mormons, but here in Israel, we have no access to any of that.

About eight years ago, a researcher in the US named Bob Hanscom wrote telling me that he was doing research on his Wilhelm family from Trencin County and since he had a Fani Wilhelm (1785-1864) who had married Nathan Joseph Rosenzweig and a Julianna (b. ~1813) who had married Moritz Zelinka, he offered to send me extracts of any Rosenzweig and Zelinka records he came across in his own Trencin County research.

I accepted gratefully and eventually I was able to add quite a bit of information on these two families during the 1800s.

This is what I was able to put together for the Rosenzweigs, down to my great-grandfather (in red). The Zelinka information is about three times that.
So that gave me two more generations of Rosenzweig ancestors and three of Zelinkas. Further, I learned that my great-grandfather had another older brother - Schandor (Salomon) - who had a family - as well as a sister Sali who had died in childhood.

I put both the Rosenzweig information and the Zelinka information online and sat back waiting to see if anything would happen. Nothing did.

As you can see, the family appears in more than just Domanis, so here is a small map of the immediate area, with our towns of interest in red.
And here is the general area within the context of Slovakia and it's near neighbors.

Eight years later...
About five months ago, I get an email from a fellow in Budapest. (I have blanked out some of the names, for reasons of privacy.)
I write you as unknown, but I'm sure you will understand why.

However some decades ago my mother and her father made number of searches
to find their relatives their always failed to find anyone. So you can
imagine the excitement of all the family when my sister found our
grandfathers name on your site.... Since date, ort [sic] and name is the same, I think it should be my grandfather.

I'm sure you worked really lot to collect and arrange all the information
published on your website, I admire your enthusiastic work.

My grandfather is Alfred Rosenzweig b. 3 Jan 1891, Vágbesztercze SLOVAKIA
(on that date the area belonged to Hungary). He is my mother's father.
Alfred moved to Budapest in the 1920s, married M____ (my grandmother) and
died in Budapest in 1958. He had one daughter, my mother E_____, born in 1933. As difficult times came Alfred altered his surname (Rozenzweig) to R_____ that sound more Hungarian.

I don't know how much information do you know about Alfred and his family,
but happy to share with you if interested. Even more I made a very amateur
family tree as well.

As you can see, this Alfred is the son of my great-grandfather's brother Schandor and a first cousin of my American-born grandmother. That makes the writer my third cousin, really a rather close relative.

Turns out he is an architect, about fifty years old, living in Budapest. His mother is still living and he has a sister. He and the sister each has two children. We exchanged a few emails and photographs, but I have not heard from him since that first burst.

But his last message included this:

My grandfather was deported to working camp during the war, he managed to
escape, first went to Kunszentmiklos, where a family hid him until the war
ended, and than he could come back safe to his family in safe. Interesting
to see on your list, that some of his cousins maybe lived Kunszentmiklos,
even in that time. My mother do not remember of those relatives, but she
thought it strange why Alfred went there from Kápolnásnyék lager, which is
in another part of the country. So possibly those relatives helped him to
survived the war, or someone else who was known trough those cousins.
If you have been following this blog over the weeks, you will recall that my grandmother's mother - that is Alfred's uncle's wife - was Regina Bauer from Kunszentmiklos. So it is entirely possible that it was the Bauers who were behind Alfred's Kunszentmiklos period.

As it happens, Regina Bauer's brother Sigmund died in Budapest in 1938 and his children had been born there. I would not be surprised if the two families knew each other, either in Budapest or in Kunszentmiklos.

As it happens, Sigmund's older son Istvan came to Israel after the war with his wife and three Budapest-born children. Istvan's elder son - who lives quite near me - was born in 1933, the same year as Alfred's daughter. This cousin has not been interested in contact from me since our original contact, but I suggested to my newfound third cousin that perhaps he would respond to someone whose family seems to have a shared Holocaust-era experience.

My grandmother would find all this highly implausible. All she knew was that "everyone is gone."

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Three years ago this week, we marked the completion of the annual Torah cycle from the time we moved to Jerusalem one year earlier. And for the first time since we moved, we went away for Shabbat. To Tel-Aviv. A hotel near the beach. It was part of the conditions that had come with my early retirement package.

There was nothing memorable about that Shabbat, except that the knee problem I had been having for six months seemed to have worked itself out. And of course the story I am about to tell.

There was a minyan in the hotel, but after I went Friday night, I decided to go elsewhere in the morning. We were quite near a large shul on Ben Yehudah Street, so I decided that would be my best bet. It is a large, well-kept building with a full program of services and classes, but as far as numbers of people, it had clearly seen better days. They had two minyanim and I went to the later one.

There were maybe thirty or thirty-five men but the very large space looked empty. I sat in one of the back rows. There was one older man in the row in front of me, a larger group near the front and others scattered about. Not much in the way of young people, but there were a couple of fathers with sons.

The man in front of me had a thick accent and at the end of the services, I asked him where he came from.

HIM: New York

Me: Where are you from before New York."

HIM: Slovakia.

Me: Where in Slovakia

HIM: Some little place you never heard of.

Me: Try me.

HIM: Medzilaborce.

Me: My wife had family in Vidrany. [Used to be a separate municipalityy, but now part of Medzilaborce.]

HIM: What was their name?

Me: Baum.

HIM (eyes wide): Schmiel Baum?

Me: Her grandfather was Mendel Baum. Schmiel Baum was his younger brother.

HIM: Schmiel Baum was a friend of my father. He used to cut through our yard on his way to shul, then stop for kiddush on the way home.
He spoke of being a teenager and of having known the Baum family, at least those of them who had not previously left for the US.

(In fact, Schmiel Baum had gone to the US himself in 1901 at age twenty-five, probably intending to bring his wife and three children later. When he was there he saw how his brother Solomon had "adopted American ways" and, horrified, Schmiel returned to Europe. Three of his eight children went to the US before WWII and one went afterwards as a refugee, but he and his wife Chana and their other four children were killed.)

Schmiel and Chana, at the bride's right.
He and I spoke a bit longer and each of us went back to his own hotel.

That evening, we went over to visit with him. He had gone to the US, raised a family, done very well financially and written a book about his life. He visits Israel often and in this particular instance, was here to see his grandson complete his officers' course.

Every once in awhile, someone says "some little place you never heard of." I love it.