Friday, August 12, 2016

A Month Abroad: Part One - IBERIA

This is the first of what I hope will be a fairly rapid fire series of reports on my four weeks in the US.
If there is one word that covers much of the four weeks I just spent in the US, It is "Iberia," and not because that's the airline that carried me across the ocean in both directions.

The flights themselves were excellent. From home, I was on an Iberia flight operated by El Al to Madrid and from there to Chicago. The return was American from Seattle to O'Hare, then Iberia from there.

The flights were uneventful and there was plenty of room on the long trans-Atlantic legs. Chicago to Madrid was particularly good as I had the three-seat middle section to myself, so I moved to the center seat where there was no one leaning back.

There were some glitches with seat selection and check in, but the seats they assigned me were fine.

The forty minute layover in Chicago was plenty of time, though as I write this in flight, I don't know if forty minutes was enough for my suitcase. At the beginning of my trip, my suitcase was not loaded onto the MAD-ORD flight. (That made three out of my last four international flights!) That necessitated a small shopping trip to Walmart, as they did not deliver my bag for thirty-two hours. I filed a claim.

Unfortunately I seem to have left my "immediate to-do list" on the last plane.

Heritage Sub-Carpathia
But this chapter is titled "IBERIA" for more important reasons.

As I have written here several times, I have been looking at the possibility that before Galicia, our Pikholz line was in Visk (now Vyshkovo) in what was then Maramaros County in Sub-Carpathian Hungary and is now Ukraine. There has never been any evidence and no real possibility of finding any, so it has remained pure speculation for the last dozen years.

A few months ago, Lara Diamond (the new coordinator of the Sub-Carpathia SIG) told me that in two of her towns - Vajnag and Talaborfalva, now known as Vonihove and Tereblya -  she has records of families named Pikkel (or Pikel) and these towns are less than ten miles from Vyshkovo. I did some work on the extracts that Lara had created and found a living male-line descendant in north suburban Chicago. I wanted his Y-DNA to compare it to our own. It took a couple of months to make contact, but days before I left for the US, the man's wife emailed me, very interested in the whole thing. She said they would come to my talk in Buffalo Grove Illinois later that week.

She came. He said he'd be along later, but didn't show up. He told his wife on the phone "I know who I am." Fortunately his son is interested and came with his mother to hear me. He did the test. Family Tree DNA estimates results in mid-September. If he matches us, it appears to place us in Sub-Carpathian Hungary in the 1700s.

In the meantime, there is another Pikkel I am talking to on Facebook and I want him to test as well. And I spent $410 to get another set of records which Lara Diamond is working on
and which may add to this picture. (Any family members who wish to participate in that expense, let me know privately.)

Rachel Unkefer
Rachel Unkefer is the lead author of an article in the Spring Issue of Avotaynu, which discusses the Y-DNA of a number of Ashkenazic families in the R-M269 haplogroup. Her husband is one of these. So are we. Rachel's team believes that these families came from Iberia – either Spain or Portugal – some hundreds of years ago. Whether they left Iberia as a result of the Inquisitions in 1391 or 1492 or perhaps earlier due to garden variety anti-Semitism, is not clear yet.

This work is based on something called SNPs, which is different from the STRs that FTDNA looks at when assigning matches to Y-DNA results. This is not something I knew much about, so I asked Rachel if she would mind having me at her house for a couple of days for some personal mentoring.

There are some statistical models which purport to assign approximate times to the various SNP mutations. My own instincts are that the pace is faster than the models suggest.

Rachel and her husband Dan – my whatever-cousin – were wonderfully gracious hosts and we spent hours on the specific issue and on other aspects of genetic genealogy. Dan and I are fairly close on the chart, but it's probably still a few hundred years to our most recent common ancestor.

The thing is, due to the geography of some of the other subjects in the project, our being in Vyshkovo makes much more sense than our being in Skalat and Rozdol, so the pending Pikkel test results become that much more important.

We have three Y-DNA tests for Pikholz lines from Skalat. Each line goes back 200-220  years and the results are identical, as identified by FTDNA using STRs. But we also have a non-Pikholz who matches us. This is a man named Spira. His test was initiated by  Ellen Zyroff, the mother of his daughter-in-law, and at the conference in Seattle Ellen and I had a chance to chat.

Rachel Unkefer's project has him as an immediate "neighbor" to us.

The Friday before I left for the US, I received a note from Dr. Jeffrey Paull, who does work on rabbinic Y-DNA lines, that another Spira had tested with results that matched ours perfectly on 37 markers. (Our tests are 67 markers.) This new Spira, who had tested at Jeff's request, claims descendancy from the Megalleh Amukot, Rabbi Natan Neta Spira who was born in Cracow in 1583 and claimed a Sephardic heritage. The paper trail for this man is being verified. He is also in Rachel's project.

One of the sessions I attended at the IAJGS conference in Seattle included a presentation by Janet Billstein Akaha on her Speyer/Spira/Shapiro project. Perhaps the Pikholz line was a version of Shapiro four hundred years ago.

I attended one of Jeff Paull's Seattle talks Monday morning

Tuesday  evening, I attended a presentation on "Converso Genealogy Project; Tracking the Diaspora of the Iberian Forced Converts." The extract describes it as follows:
The objective of this multi-tiered project is to consolidate the works that have been done on the large segments of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were converted to Catholicism during the 15th century. Some fled and joined Jewish communities in the East and others established communities in Western Europe and in the New World, many were lost to recorded history. The project will  garner information on their Diasporas as well as the genealogical information required to match up contemporary descendants of those forced converts to their ancestors.
The project intends to gather in one place, information that has been scattered in multiple sources, languages and countries throughout the world for centuries. We will find a home for all the work that historians, researchers and serious genealogists have done. Aside from the obvious contribution to Jewish genealogy, this will equip historians with data enabling them to rewrite entire chapters of Jewish history.
I am not going to say more, because as we say in Hebrew, he who adds only detracts.

The star of this show as far as I was concerned was Genie Milgrom, but she was joined by Professor Avrum Gross, Brooke Shreier Ganz and Sallyann Sack-Pikus, each bringing a different talent to the project. The importance of this project cannot be overstated and we will surely read and hear more of it in the near future.

Genie did point out that next Sunday we mark Tisha BeAv (postponed from Shabbat), a day of fasting and mourning for the Temples, but also the day which marked the Inquisition in 1492. It is also the reason I left the conference early - I have a problem doing Tisha BeAv abroad.

Non Como Muestro Dyo
I spent the Shabbat before the conference in the Seward Park neighborhood of Seattle. This was arranged by Varda Epstein's friend Michael Behar, from picking me up at the airport after my Thursday midnight arrival to taking me to the conference hotel at six Sunday morning. I have long known that the Seattle community was Sephardic, but I didn't really know what that meant in practice. My own familiarity with Sephardic services is based on Moroccans, Kurds and what they call "Yerushalmim." The community in Seattle is more from Rhodes and Turkey - Michael being from both communities. His father's Turkish side says the name comes from the Spanish town Bachar, which is how their name is spelled in Hebrew.

The services were very much like what I am familiar with, though some of the melodies are similar but not identical and others are completely different. They do not use the heavy wooden case for the Torah that I am used to here, but an Ashkenazi-type scroll with special cloth wrapping. They include some Ladino translations within the standard prayers and they sell some of the honors according to a Ladino ritual. Their Hebrew is precise in terms of accented syllables and shewa na and that carries over into their English speech, which we Ashkenazim generally don't. And it was unusual to my ears to hear the proper Sephardic Hebrew with American accents.

And I wondered how much of this was shared by my own probably-Sephardic ancestors. 

Here is Part Two.. And Part Three. And Part Four. And Part Five.

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