Sunday, July 28, 2013


Half-a-century and more ago, they used to tell us in Hebrew school about the pioneers who went to the Holy Land and made the desert bloom, wiped out malaria and established and defended the first Jewish state in two thousand years. They made it sound so pure, so unifying.

It was not exactly that - and I am not talking about Jew vs. non-Jew.

The Labour Zionist yishuv was a rough-and-tumble place and the new Jewish establishment was the roughest. They knew what they wanted and how to manipulate, co-opt or destroy those who stood in their way. They knew how to reward those who did things their way and how to make life difficult for those who dared to think differently.

I have alluded to this before in this blog, but this week I want to bring a specific example straight from the heart of the establishment of those days.

Chaya Pickholz was a well-known high school English teacher in Tel Aviv. She hobnobbed with the likes of the poet Haim Nachman Bialik and taught English to people who would go on to positions of leadership. I have heard it said, for instance, that Zalman Shoval - formerly the ambassador to the US - called her a great influence on him, a tough and effective teacher.

Chaya was born in Rozdol on 20 September 1902, the tenth child of David Samuel Pickholz and Pesa Roza Lucaczer, who died in childbirth. Three of the ten died in childhood. The family of the eldest brother went to Buenos Aires and one sister came here, but the others were lost in the Holocaust.

David Samuel married again and had three more children. One of those went to New York and the others were killed in Stryj. (The second wife was from Stryj and they lived there.)

Chaya came to Palestine in the 1920s, but went to England for a time, which is apparently where she became proficient in English. In 1927, she was back in Stryj.making arrangements to return here.
The file also contains a typed version.

Quite a few years ago, when someone mistakenly let me look at actual files at the Central Zionist Archives, I found one featuring this letter of 21 April 1927, written by a representative of the Labour Zionist Party in Stryj, and sent to the Aliyah Department in Jerusalem.

The young woman Chaya Pickholz from here, who returned after a year in Eretz Israel, is now attempting to return. As she has been telling libelous stories and lies about the Yishuv [the Jewish community in Palestine] in general and its leadership in particular,  and has been spreading anti-Zionist propaganda, we therefore think it necessary not to allow her aliyah and not to issue any permission or positive recommendation.

With the blessings of Zion and Labour,

In other words, (horrors!) she was not following the prevalent socialist line. A veritable Revisionist! Perhaps even a follower of Jabotinsky!

There is nothing further in the file, but we know she did return. Perhaps someone she met when she was here earlier vouched for her. Chaya Pickholz received citizenship from the Mandatory Government  about 1934 or 1935.  (There is an index reference, but the actual citizenship file is lost.) Citizenship required her being here at least five years previous.

Chaya Pickholz lived in Tel Aviv  until her death in August 1984, just shy of her eighty-second birthday, on 26 Av which falls this Friday. She never married. She is buried in Kiryat Shaul Cemetery in Tel Aviv.
Noble of spirit, educator, poet
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Housekeeping issues:
The IAJGS 33rd International Conference on Jewish Genealogy which takes place next week in Boston will be live-streaming some of their meetings and lectures. (Mine is not one of them.)
See details at

I am supposed to be participating in a Q&A panel on archives, which it turns out is being live-streamed. However I do not feel comfortable being broadcast saying things I have not prepared in advance, so I'll be withdrawing from that panel.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


Another year and another day of mourning for our lost Temple and sovereignty. This is not just history. It's not only mostly history. This is now.

The Talmud teaches "Any generation in which the Temple is not built, it is as if it had been destroyed in their times" (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1a)

But it is even more than that.

"A Jew does not expel a Jew" - so we thought
And I am not even talking about the fact that our own government used our own Jewish soldiers and police to evict some 8600 Jews from their legally-held homes, destroyed synagogues and uprooted a cemetery - only eight years ago a few days after we had mourned our earlier destructions.
The Temple remains destroyed and our own authorities are ensuring that it remains inaccessible, even though it is permissible by law
Jewish worshippers hoping to ascend the Temple Mount in commemoration of Tisha B'Av were bitterly disappointed as, once again, police prevented them from ascending.
The hundreds of Jewish worshippers who waited Tuesday morning to enter the Temple Mount were turned away by the Jerusalem Police, who informed them that the district commander had ruled that entry to the Mount is forbidden to Jews.
The group included Members of Knesset Shuli Mualem-Rafaeli (Bayit Yehudi) and Deputy Foreign Minister Ze'ev Elkin (Likud). Several yeshivot (religious academies) were present as well.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said in a statement that after "security assessments" the decision was made "to close the Temple Mount to all visitors, in order to prevent disturbances."
However, it appeared that only non-Muslim visitors were included in that decision.
And as far as sovereignty is concerned, on this very day we hear,
[The European Union directive] also requires that any contracts between EU member countries and Israel henceforth include a clause stating that East Jerusalem and the West Bank are not part of the State of Israel, a senior Israeli official told Haaretz
So we have no Temple and our own government will not let us visit the place because they have been threatened with mob violence.

And the Europeans who failed to kill us seventy years ago threaten us again, this time with demands on our sovereignty., We have much to mourn. Today.


This trip divides into three - the genealogy conference in Boston, seeing family in several; different places and the bar mitzvah of my grandson in Chicago. That is similar to the structure of my trip two years ago, which also began with a conference and featured a Chicago-area bar mitzvah.

A few bits are still vague, but for those who are interested, here is the plan, laid out in one place.

33rd IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy
Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers, 4-9 August

I arrive in Boston the Thursday afternoon before the conference and will be staying in Brookline until Sunday morning. (A neighbor of mine who used to live in Boston set me up with a family in Brookline for Shabbat.)

During the conference, I'll be staying at the conference hotel, sharing a room with a third cousin of my wife's whom I have only met online. He lives in Monument Colorado. He is on my wife's father's mother's father's mother's side, from Obertyn in east Galicia. The ancestral surname is BUCHHALTER.

The conference program has as many as eight lectures going on at once from Sunday morning until Friday noon. I am speaking Tuesday at five and will be on a panel Wednesday at three-thirty.

My lecture "A DNA Skeptic Turns His Family On Its Head - And Remains A Skeptic" is not my first at one of these conferences, but it's the first that is scheduled after the conference has actually begun. (The others were early Sunday, when most people hadn't yet arrived.) It may make for a bigger crowd.

The lecture description is thus: 
As a genealogy research tool, DNA is very tempting because it tests the scientific genealogical makeup of possible family members, but at the same time uses analysis based on statistics and probability that can lead to incorrect or unfounded conclusions. The experts' explanations often confuse more than they illuminate, especially when you consider that some of these experts are the ones selling the testing services. So what is the lay researcher to do?

This talk will tell the story of one researcher, strictly a layman, who – despite his skepticism – used DNA testing to turn his basic family structure on its head, with more plans on the way. And despite his intentions to continue with this kind of research, remains something of a skeptic.

I'll be introduced by Barbara Stern Mannlein, a member of the Wachs family to whom I once thought we were closely related. The lecture is an hour plus fifteen minutes for questions.

As readers of this blog know, DNA has become an important part of my research tool-kit and we have quite a few Pikholz family members who are now testing. In fact, there are several DNA lectures planned and I hope to learn how to more fully use the results of these tests.

The sessions I certainly intend to attend are
  • Understanding, Interpretation and Use of DNA Results
  • Haplogroups - What They Are and What They Mean for Jews 
  • DNA Project Administrators BOF
  • Computer Workshop (PC): Genetic Genealogy Demystified: A Hands-On Guide to myFTDNA and Understanding Your Family Tree DNA Results
All of these are sponsored by the testing company we use, family Tree DNA and the first two will be presented by their president.

On Wednesday I will be one of eight panel members for "Ask the International Archival Experts," each prepared to answer questions about archives in different countries.

I may or may not catch the first Friday lecture, as I am flying to Miami after the conference.

Travelling and Visiting
I will be in Miami from Friday afternoon until early Tuesday, spending Shabbat in Boca Raton. (I was in Florida only once before and then only as far south as Gainesville.) The purpose of this part of the trip is two-fold - I want to visit with some of the Pikholz descendants and to visit some Pikholz graves. 

The cemeteries are Lakeside (Miami), Palm Memorial (Sarasota, Eternal Light (Boynton Beach) and Menorah Gardens (North Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Weston). That's twenty-four graves altogether and I hope I get to them all. (I'll be with a rental car.)

Thus far, I am meeting with a Skalat Pikholz Sunday morning and one of the Rozdol Pikholz is trying to put together a group of cousins for Monday morning. Then another Skalater Monday late afternoon.

The most important part of the visit will be to see my father's cousin Herb, with whom I have been in correspondence the last few years. he is the oldest left of my father's family and our only previous meeting was when I was fourteen.

The two boys, two years ago.
Next stop is Baltimore, again picking up a rental car. My grandsons Yaakov Meir and Avrohom are in yeshiva, one in Philadelphia and one in Baltimore, and they will already have started the new term by the time I get to Chicago, so I decided to see them in school. I plan to see Avrohom Tuesday and Yaakov Meir Wednesday.

I am staying both nights with Uncle Bob and Ro in their house in the woods and will see my cousin Beverly Wednesday morning and my cousin Chevy Thursday morning. I look forward to seeing Jerry & Marcia and the kids and anyone else who comes to the house Tuesday evening.

Thursday ends at Greyhound where I take a bus to Pittsburgh, arriving Thursday evening.

That weekend I'll be with Aunt Betty and Uncle Ken. I may be reading the Torah Shabbat at the Poale Zedeck.

Sunday I have an overnight bus to Indianapolis, but with an important stop in Columbus. It's at 10:30 PM and less than an hour, but my young cousin Merissa and I plan to get together at Greyhound. Merissa is critical to all my genealogy research, because she is the one who pushed my into doing it twenty years ago at Nana's ninetieth birthday party. Actually, that is the one and only time Merissa and I have met. She was not ten years old at the time.

The bus trip ends at 2:30 AM in Indianapolis and my son Eliezer will pick me up there for a day with him, Naomi and Noga in Bloomington.

More than a year ago.
From there it is back to Indianapolis Tuesday morning and a bus to Chicago, where my son Yerachmiel will pick me up at Greyhound downtown. They have just moved from Buffalo Grove to West Rogers Park, which among other things means they are no longer a ten minute walk from my sister Amy. I am leaving it to all of them to figure out the logistics of seeing everyone.

Shlomo Zalman's birthday is that week and they'll be having some kind of a Shabbat bar mitzvah, though the official bar mitzvah will be during the holidays so the older boys can be there.

Monday afternoon I fly home, arriving Tuesday afternoon. These trips get harder every year.

If anyone is looking for me, I will have a US cell phone - 812-327-6621.

I hope to continue blogging during my trip, but perhaps in a shorter format.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


When I first met Rita, back at the beginning of the Pikholz Project fifteen years ago, the central character in her family history was her great-grandfather Arie Leib Pikholz. Based on the ages of his children, he was probably born in the early 1850s. There doesn't seem to be anyone named for him and he doesn't appear in any death records, so we have no idea when he died.

He lived in Proszoma and or Kosowka, a bit south of Skalat. His wife was Risie Epstein from Grzymalow.

Rita had a pretty good grasp of Arie Leib's descendants - aside from several who died young and one son who made aliyah in maybe the 1920s and left no trace that we could find. One of her first cousins is the granddaughter of a first-cousin marriage - Sophie being a daughter of Ari Leib, but we don't know the parents of her husband Solomon.

Rita also knew (or knew of) several of her grandmother's first cousins: Bassie, the daughter of Arie Leib's brother Jacob, and Morris (Moshe Hersch) and Nathan, probably the sons of Arie Leib's brother Josef. (There is some doubt and debate about Josef, but that is another topic for another time.)

In the course of our research we found additional births to some of the older couples, without knowing what happened to the children who survived childhood.

We also found that Arie Leib had a brother Simon, who had four children by each of two wives. Simon may also be the father of Solomon, whom I mentioned above.

All these families lived in smaller towns around Skalat - Mikulince, Tarnoruda, Kosowka, Proszoma - though Jacob lived for a time in Tarnopol.

Bassie died 30 December 1875
At some point, even before JRI-Poland came into play, I found a Skalat death record from 1875 for fifty-eight year old Bassie Pikholz of Kozowka, who appeared to be the mother of Arie Leib and the others. This even though Jacob seems to be the only one with a descendant named Bassie.

That same batch of Skalat death records included forty year old Getzel Pikholz in 1866. He too was from Kozowka and it appeared to me that he would have been Bassie's husband, even though he was eight or nine years her junior. This fit well from another standpoint. Rita's family had some Nachmans and the other two Skalat-area family with Nachmans also had a Getzel.

Of course, I did not record either of these as fact. I just noted that they may have been a married couple and may have been the parents of Arie Leib and his cohort.

That is more or less where we stood for eight or ten years. Until this showed up in the newest batch of records. A death record from Mikulince.
Simon Pikholz of Kozowka, son of Moses Hersch and Basie, died 19 Nov 1906. Buried in Mikulince. Age 58.
So I was right about Bassie's being the mother, but the father was not Getzel, but Moshe Hersch. And I am certain enough to have recorded them in my database.

That sent me back to a table that I had begun preparing a few years ago, listing every known Moshe Hersch in the Skalat Pikholz families. I am still fiddling with it, but here it is today.
The third entry on the list is Rita's great-great-grandfather.

The most senior of the Nachman-Getzel families begins with Nachman Pikholz (1795-1865), the great-great-great-grandfather of Jacob Laor and my guess is that Rita's Moshe Hersch is his son. That would make Rita and Jacob fourth cousins. Fourth cousins is well-within the capability of an autosomal DNA test, though it depends on exactly how the DNA has been passed down the generations. Jacob and another of his branch have ordered tests as has Rita. I have asked a couple of Rita's cousins to test as well, including the one with the cousin-grandparents. They have not yet replied to that request.

(I have asked descendants of the third Nachman-Getzel family as well, but here too I do not yet have any replies.)

The thirteen Moshe Hersch in the chart above include Rita's ancestor (#3) and three of his descendants (#s 10, 11, 13).

Entry number seven is the head of a family with no known living descendants, but Jacob has long been convinced that they are part of his family, based largely on the proximity of Kaczanowka, where they lived, and Klimkowce, where Jacob's great-grandfather lived.

It is possible that the first entry on the list is the same person as Rita's ancestor. A couple of DNA tests from Steve's family would be helpful here, but that family is complicated by an adoption and I have no real connection with the biological descendants. (Steve's great-grandfather is here on the right.)

The second entry is the father of a girl who died in 1842 at age three and he is almost certainly the same as #1 or #3.

Entry number four is named, with his wife Jente, on the birth records of some of his grandchildren. The first we know of was born about 1869, so his 1825 birth year is a guess based on that. He could be the same as Rita or Steve's ancestor, though if Rita's we would have  an issue of multiple wives. This Moshe Hersch has living descendants but testing them might be a hopeless task as there are several cousin-marriages muddying up the water.

Number five died in 1872 at age thirty. We know nothing else about him. He is too old to be the grandson of any of the others, but he could be a nephew.

Numbers six and twelve are the sons of Pikholz mothers. We do not know who the grandparents are, but I'd really like to.

Number eight was born in 1877 to Leib Pikholz, whose parents are not known. But they could include one of the Moshe Hersch listed above.

And that's about where we are for now. Other than the DNA, we have no plan for moving forward.

Sunday, July 7, 2013


I spent a day at the National Library, on the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University, the week before last. The library staff, particularly Mrs. Elona Avinezer, the Head of the Judaica Reading Room, want to better serve visitors who come with genealogy questions, so they invited several genealogists to give talks to the staff about what we do and how we do it.

We had the whole morning, from about nine o'clock until nearly one. I was the last of the morning presenters and I did a case study of the family of Peretz Pikholz of Skalat. I wanted to touch briefly on a large number of sources, ending up with a non-document that moved our main question from "beyond a reasonable doubt" to "beyond a shadow of doubt." As time was running out, I tacked on a bonus conclusion about the next generation up, even though the supporting evidence is far from conclusive.

After a break to visit the cafeteria, we had several presentations by library staff about resources that they thought we may not have known about. We finished up at about a quarter past five.

The whole program was generally well-received by the forty-fifty participants. It was open to the public, though it did not get much publicity.

A few things that I learned. Irit Shem-Tov, of the Israel Genealogical Society, discussed the notion of family numbers. These numbers were assigned to a family unit and remained with it no matter where they went. Irit was mostly interested in Lwow, but this idea is relevant to Hungarian research as well.

Professor Yitzhak Kerem is a Sephardic researcher and it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that he seems to find Sephardim every place you look, even in Ashkenazic communities. I spoke with him afterwards about the Scharf family tradition that Shimshon Scharf (who married Bassie Ruchel, the daughter of Peretz Pikholz) was in fact a Turkish Jew named Arak. I gave our Scharf-Pikholz researcher his address and perhaps he'll be able to help out with that.

I also spoke to him about the theory that our Pikholz family might have come from Vyskovo (then Hungary, now sub-Carpathian Ukraine) where there were some minor Hungarian land-owning nobility named Pikholcz. The idea here is that our family were living on their land and when required to take surnames, too the name of the landowner - as happened with for instance many of the newly-freed slaves in the United States. Kerem thought that made perfectly good sense and as I type these words I realize that can solve another problem that has been nagging me for the last ten years and has been aggravated by our latest DNA results. Finding actual evidence, however, is another matter entirely.

Shalom Bronstein gave a better idea about what is actually going on with the Paul Jacobi Archives, a subject which until now has generated much talk.

Gil Weissblei of the library staff spoke about a number of lesser-known collections. I was intrigued by the David Tidhar collection. Tidhar published a nineteen-volume set (in Hebrew) called "The Encyclopedia of the Founders and Builders of Israel" which has some 6000 brief biographies of Israeli personalities in the years leading up to 1960. It turns out that Tidhar had sent questionnaires to all these people and those questionnaires are available for research at the National Library. I imagine that they contain information which was not included in the completed work. Tidhar was also a private detective and his files from that work are also in the Library's collection.

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Housekeeping notes:

I have an article in the next issue of Avotaynu. I have not seen the final version yet, but I assume the title "GETTING IT WRONG" will remain intact. The article is about being careful about possibly recording incorrect information and how such information is likely to cause damage later on. That has been a mantra of mine of late.

I sat down a few days ago to look at my presentation for the conference in Boston, four weeks from now. I knew it needed a bit of reworking and updating since I last gave the talk six months ago. What I had forgotten until now is that the entire Power Point presentation is in Hebrew, so I have to redo the whole thing.

Barbara Stern Mannlein has graciously agreed to introduce my talk at the conference.

I have approached a large number of Pikholz descendants about DNA testing lately, prompted by the company's $99 sale on Family Finder (autosomal) tests. Some ordered kits immediately. No one said "no." Most are either ignoring me or thinking about it. The sale lasts until 25 July.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about redoing my office. Here are some photos of the more-or-less finished product.

Jewish law requires leaving an unplastered piece of wall
as a rembrance of the Temple in Jerusalem.
I have incorporated twelve illustrations from an old Passover Haggaddah
so that the redemption of old will remind us of the redemption to come.
Curse you, Blogger, for not leaving these images where I put them!