Sunday, November 25, 2012


Salomon Mensz
יהודית מנש בנארי, ממשפחת פיקהולץ מרוזדול

Twelve and a half years ago, I found a Page of Testimony for Salomon Shemuel (Klar) Mensz of Lwow, born 1865. The Page was submitted by his daughter Yehudit Mensz Benari of Petah Tiqva, in 1957. Salomon's wife was identified as Sara Rivka Pickholz, age 77.

Sara Rivka Pickholz Mensz

I pressed the link for other pages submitted by the same person (complicated by the fact that sometimes Yehudit's name was transcribed "Benari" and sometimes "Ben Ari) and found the Page for Sara Rivka, which did not mention her maiden name Pickholz.

It did tell us that she had been born in Rozdol in 1864 and that her parents were Aharon and Gittel. Sara Rivka is, as I have mentioned before, the name of the matriarch of the Rozdol Pikholz families and the dates are such that this new Sara Rivka could have been a granddaughter, but was more likely a great-granddaughter.

Although we have the Rozdol birth records for that period, I do not see a birth record for Sara Rivka. Nor do I see any other references to her parents Aron and Gittel or to any brothers and sisters she may have had.

The Page also said that Sara Rivka had five children and Yehudit submitted Pages of Testimony for the other four - Arnold (Aron) and his wife Ella, Jetty Roza/Rachel and her husband Natan Lew, Marek (Mordecai) and his wife Sara and Pawel (Pinchas). She also submitted a page for an undefined cousin, Fanka Pikholz-Kranter, who had been born about 1900, supposedly in Lwow, though I have not found a birth record in Lwow or anywhere else.

I continued to search the Yad Vashem website and found that additional pages had been submitted in 1997 by Uriella Eran, apparently Yehudit's daughter. (Here too, many of the Pages had been transcribed as Ariella, which complicated the search.) I located Uriella and her husband in a retirement home and went to see them. Her brother Amos and his wife joined us.

None of them had ever heard the name Pickholz and they could not tell me anything about Sara Rivka's family, neither her parents nor her siblings (if she had any).

Uriella told me that she had a younger brother Rafi who had been killed the day before Pesach 1948, in the War of Independence at age twenty-one. Rafi is buried in Kiryat Anavim, near Jerusalem.

Yehudit died 11 Kislev 5732 and I am posting this exactly forty years later. She is buried on Kibbutz Ein Harod, where she had lived for most of her adult life.

It turns out that one of the three sons of Yehudit's eldest brother Arnold survived the Holocaust and he has three children living in Poland.

In the meantime, I have acquired the birth records for all five of Sara Rivka's children. They were all born in Lwow, which is good, because Lwow birth records list not just the mother's parents, but also the mother's mother's maiden name.
28 July 1901 birth record from Lwow - Josefa, daughter of Salomon Mensch and Sara (Sali) Pikholz
Here is the birth record for Yehudit, using her birth name Josefa. Her children did not know that given name, but did know that she was sometimes called Pepi, which can be a nickname for Josefa. Her mother is Sara Pikholz, daughter of Gittel Pikholz and the late Aron Kranter. No mention of Rozdol.

The birth record for Aron (Arnold) from 1890 lists his mother as Sara Kranter, daughter of Aron Kranter and Gittel Kranter of Rozdol.

The birth record for Jetty Roza (Jente Rachel) from 1892 shows Sara Kranter, daughter of Aron Kranter and Gittel Pickholz of Rozdol.

The birth record for Marek from 1894 says "Sara Krater (Grater)" daughter of Aron Krater (Grater) of Rozdol and Gittel Pikholz.

Finally, the birth for the youngest brother Pawel from 1904 says Sara Kranter, daughter of Aron Kranter of Rozdol and Gittel Pikholz.

So despite the variations in the records, we know that Sara Rivka's parents are Aron Kranter and Gittel Pikholz. Fanka, the undefined cousin whom I mentioned above seems to be a niece of Sara Rivka, as she uses both of those surnames.

This is the only Rozdol family where the top couple is a Pikholz woman and a non-Pikholz man. It is clear from the names that they are descendants of the known couple Pinchas and Sara Rivka, but how they might be connected is anyone's guess. We may never know.

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Housekeeping announcements:
I am scheduled to speak for the Israel Genealogical Society on 20 December in Raanana and 9 January in Haifa, both in Hebrew. The topic will be:
Check times and addresses at

We are working on a December date for a Jerusalem talk on:
Details to follow.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


First a word of prayer for our people in the south, for those who fight to protect them and for wisdom.for those making the decisions.

Click to enlarge.

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There are two people in the Bible who are called - in the singular, by direct address - Beruch Hashem, Blessed of the L-rd. (In fact, the word "beruch" appears only in that context.)

The first was Avraham's servant (traditionally identified as Eliezer) who was called Beruch Hashem by Lavan the Aramean in the Torah portion which we read the Shabbat before last.

The second was Yitzhak, who was called Beruch Hashem by the Philistine king Avimelech in the Torah portion which we read just this past week.

Eliezer Yitzhak is my father's name and his yahrzeit follows those two readings, falling on Monday this week - 5 Kislev. It has been thirty-two years; he was in his fifty-eighth year.

He was named for the younger brother of his maternal grandmother, Lajos Bauer, who was a high-level government official and almost certainly still alive at the time. It is quite possible that only the "Eliezer" came from Lajos Bauer, whose birth record has only the one name. If that is the case, the "Yitzhak" may be from Isak Fischel Pikholz, my father's great-grandfather. But I am speculating.

When my father was in his early forties, my parents began speaking of aliya, though they had never even spoken to us of wanting to visit Israel. Nothing came of it at the time and a few years later, at forty-six, he had his first heart attack.

Two years after that, they made the move, together with the five girls. (I was planning on coming a year later, but it ended up being two. My brother stayed in the US.) He got a good job with Motorola in Tel-Aviv, working in English, but he never felt he fit in among the Israelis. In particular he struggled with the language, especially at work, where his co-workers insisted on practicing their English when speaking to him.

After three years, they took the two younger girls and went back. My parents rented out their apartment and continued paying their Israeli medical insurance, figuring that after my father retired, they'd come back.

They lived in Skokie Illinois and my father went to work for Motorola, at their headquarters in Schaumberg, eventually becoming a liaison between Schaumberg and the Tel-Aviv office. So we would see him a few times a year, whenever he came to accompany someone from Motorola Israel on a visit to an African or Iranian customer. And there were a couple of additional heart attacks.

At Amy & Ron's wedding, Skokie
During his recuperation from one of them, he grew a beard.

One summer he was here, in order to go to Africa with someone from Motorola, but he spent the time in hospital in Petah-Tikva. I visited him there and took the opportunity to pin him down on the matter of cemeteries, a subject he had refused to discuss before.

He insisted on going back to Pittsburgh for Rosh Hashanah that year. He knew the end was coming. They were to be in Pittsburgh in November for my cousin Ellen's wedding and he decided to make a kiddush in our shul - no reason, just because. Then he died. My mother called to cancel the kiddush and to arrange for a memorial service there instead.

It was Wednesday night when my father died and the logistics were such that the burial in Petah-Tikva would not be until early afternoon Monday. There was a service in Pittsburgh on Sunday and those in the US sat shiva from then. We sat here after the funeral Monday.

My mother asked that my army friend Rabbi Chaim Tabasky do the funeral. He spoke of Yaakov Avinu who came and then left and was brought back by his children. Thirty days later, R' Simon Kantarof did the unveiling. There may be a tape recording of that someplace.

Nana visited Israel twice after that. On one of those two visits, she asked me to say kaddish for my grandfather, and eventually for her when the time came. My grandmother outlived my father by fifteen years.

She died 28 Heshvan - that was Tuesday of last week. It was her ninety-second birthday. They got up from shiva on my father's yahrzeit.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Machsike Hadas Cemetery, Pittsburgh
My father's paternal grandmother, Jutte Lea Kwoczka, was born in Zalosce (east Galicia) about 1855 to Mordecai Meir Kwoczka and his wife Basie Pollak of nearby Jezierna. Basie died in 1889 and Mordecai Meir probably died during the period 1862-1876, for which there are no death records available.

Jutte Lea and her husband Hersch Pickholz named their first son Mordecai Mayer. That was 1877. He died a year later and the name Mordecai was reused for their second son.

Hersch and Jutte Lea went to the US in 1903-1904 and four of their children travelled with them. The other three children went a bit earlier, on their own. The whole family lived in Pittsburgh.

Jutte Lea had a brother who apparently never left Zalosce and two of his daughters settled in Pittsburgh. In the course of my research, I learned that the brother's name was Pinkas and that he named his first son Mayer - or perhaps Mordecai Mayer. This son died in his second year, about the same time as Jutte Lea's son.

One of Pinkas' two daughters in Pittsburgh also had a son Mordecai Meir, known as Max.

When limited Zalosce records became available on JRI-Poland, I made an inventory of the Kwoczkas. There was not enough information to put all of them into a tree, but it appeared that the initial couple was Josel (~1794-1849) and Jutte Leah (~1795-1855). Since we have just that one couple in that period and since my great-grandmother Jutte Leah was born the same year that the older Jutte Lea died, I have been assuming that my great-great-grandfather Mordecai Meir is a son of the older couple Josel and Jutte Leah.

In the course of my inquiries and research, I found a Rachmiel Kwoczka of Zalosce, born about 1864. He and his wife Feige Franzos had seven children 1889-1907, some in Zalosce and some in New York. I met a few of their descendants, but none knew much about the family history. My natural assumption was that Rachmiel was another brother of my great-grandmother Jutte Lea.

When I did a round of New York cemetery visits with my son Eliezer, six years ago, I saw the grave of Rachmiel Kwoczka in Mt. Hebron Cemetery. His father's name appears as Mordecai, without the Meir.

That's a problem. It is certainly a possibility that a father's name on a gravestone is incomplete. Rachmiel's wife Feige predeceased him, but one would think that his children would know his father's full name - at least from hearing him called to the Torah. Maybe it was just a space problem on the stone, but I'd think that unusual.

The other possibility, of course, is that Rachmiel's father Mordecai and Jutte Leah's father Mordecai Meir are two different people. But that would almost certainly necessitate another older couple alongside Josel and Jutte Lea.

So I decided to record Rachmiel as the brother of Jutte Lea (and Pinkas), with a very large asterisk.

Rachmiel's grandchildren would, therefore, be my father's second cousins. I have become quite close with the youngest of those (who lives in New Jersey) and I freely refer to him as my father's probably second cousin, though he is a few years younger than I. (I'll call him "B" here.)

About six months ago, I began doing some DNA testing, among the Pikholz families. Some of that testing - which I discussed a couple of months back - produced suggested relationships as results, without giving a clue about the direction of those relationships. In order to narrow it down, I asked my father's sister to test, figuring that people who matched me but not her would be on my mother's side. Then I asked my father's first cousin Herb, helping me figure who matched on my father's father's side and who on my father's mother's side.

More recently, I asked B if he would test, as well. I thought that might resolve the question of the two Mordecais and also hoped it might show us some additional Kwoczka or Pollak connections. It took me awhile to put this proposal to him in a convincing manner, but he did the tests and we now have preliminary results.

B shows up as a suggested second cousin for my aunt, for Cousin Herb and for me. In their cases, the range is "first cousin - third cousin" and in my case it is "second cousin - third cousin." I could not ask for more perfect results.

So now we know. There is one Mordecai and his name is Mordecai Meir - no asterisk needed. Rachmiel's stone is incomplete. B is indeed my second cousin once removed. (I really have to introduce him to Pinkas' descendants in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.) And I can point to a DNA victory.

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Housekeeping note:

Sunday, November 4, 2012


Under the heading on the right "WHO AM I AND WHY AM I HERE," I say "no partisan politics." That does not mean I cannot address a political question from time to time and indeed there are some Israel-related political blogs under the "OTHER PEOPLES' STUFF" heading further down the page.

The question of expatriate voting in US elections has been in the news both in Israel and in some US discussions during this election season and I have stated from time to time that - although I have the same right to vote as any other US citizen - I choose not to. Having been asked to explain that position, I have decided to do so here. And now.

Although I this is my fortieth year here in Israel, I remain very much attached to some aspects of the US experience and in particular I am a US-politics junkie. I read, watch and listen to much political content on the Internet and I am sure that I can name more US Senators than members of our own Knesset. (I used to follow Israeli politics closely, but  I pretty much tune it out until just before elections.)

My interest in US politics is not just because the US government has important interactions with Israel and not just because the US and Israel are both important parts of what we used to call "the free world," but also because the size, wealth and power of the US are all relevant to the general well-being of the rest of us. So it is in our interests for the US to be doing well.

The total population of US expatriates is small and in the case of those in Israel is diluted by the fact that most come from states like New York, New Jersey, California and Illinois which are not really competitive at the presidential level. (A person who is a citizen but has no operative address may only vote for president, not for Congress or local offices.)

But I ignore all this and take a pass on the right to vote.

Israel does not have absentee balloting. Well, it's not quite that absolute. There are mobile ballot boxes (we vote with a paper ballot here) that go around to army bases and they get to the most obscure places.  There is also a process for voting by Israelis who are abroad in government service - embassies, consulates etc. And for some class of sailors on merchant vessels. There may be some other categories I have forgotten, but all in all, it's a small number of people.

That is why we don't have summer elections - because certain parties worry that their voters are abroad on vacation. (Dates for early elections are traditionally negotiated among the parties, not set unilaterally by the government as in the UK, for instance.)

There are, however, huge numbers of Israelis living abroad. People who have been living abroad for years and who have no intention of returning. Our  system is proportional, with each party receiving Knesset seats according to its share of the vote.  (It isn't quite that simple, but that is the general idea.) There are enough Israelis abroad to account for probably ten or fifteen Knesset seats - maybe more - out of 120. Their interests are not our interests and their considerations are by and large not our considerations.

These expatriate Israelis could vote, of course, if they came here but they rarely do. At least not for the purpose of voting.

From time to time, some politician, often in concert with a media-type, tries to advance the idea that Israelis abroad should be allowed to vote. (They generally throw in "Like in normal countries.") It starts with the idea that they mean Israelis who live here but are away temporarily, but there is no controlling that once it gets started.

And the next thing you know, it will be done by email. What could possibly go wrong!

I am 100% against that kind of initiative, as I don't want to see large numbers of Israeli expatriates trying to affect our Knesset, for motives that have nothing to do with what is good for us.

It would be inconsistent of me to maintain that position while voting as an expatriate in US elections.
It's as simple as that.

Not everything you can do, should you do.