Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Hawaii - in the Purim Spirit

My father was born ninety-five years ago today, the thirteenth of Adar, the day before the holiday of Purim, on the Fast of Esther. (My grandmother used to cite his birthday as "Esther Taynis.")

Twenty years later, he found himself in Hawaii and points west, courtesy of the US Army Signal Corp.

Gen. Wainwright returning
 from Japanese captivity

My father was there for President Roosevelt's visit. I don't know if his photography appears anywhere, but his press pass is above.

"Points west" included the USS Enterprise and I remember him watching the old TV series "Victory at Sea" on Sunday afternoons and occasionally saying "I took that picture." but that is for another day.

This is about Hawaii where he was based, with a nod towards Purim. Even if the events depicted below have nothing to do with the actual Purim. The artifacts below are from a file folder of my mother's labelled "Lawry's army things."

First, for background regarding Purim, there is this.
Shpiel is a Yiddish word meaning “play" or "skit." Thus, the Purim shpiel (more accurately spelled Purim spiel, and, alternatively, Purim schpiel) is a special performance or presentation that takes place on Purim. 

This holiday takes place in the Spring and features joviality, shpiels, and the recitation of Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), which tells of the saving of the Israelite people from Haman, who was planning to murder them all.s festive activity started out as family, holiday entertainment and turned into professional performances — sometimes so vulgar that they were banned — for a paying public. In many cases, the Purim shpiel has become an outreach tool for American Jewish synagogues and communities.
And there is this:
A person is obligated to ‘spice’ himself on Purim until he cannot distinguish between “cursed is Haman” and “blessed is Mordechai” (Talmud Megillah 7b).

Drinking on Purim is such a peculiar anomaly. It seems to fly in the face of everything Judaism teaches us the entire rest of the year. Doesn’t drunkenness lead a person to reckless, uninhibited behavior – practically the antithesis of the ethical lifestyle outlined in the Torah? It almost seems as if the Sages decided to give us one day off – that after a year of reserved, moderate behavior we can loosen up and run wild, only to sober up right after and come back to our usual senses.
So what kind of non-Purim Purim spiels did my father see? There was the Honolulu Community Theater.
And they also presented these.

 And there were outside troupes.
Gertrude Lawrence and Werner Klemperer. I've heard of them!

Moss Hart, Dina Merrill and Robert Downey. I've heard of them too.

And these sound familiar too.

And there were the manly sports.

Hey look, there's my father playing for the Giants!
And they made some of their own entertainment.

Oh, and the classic Purim sport - drinking? Sure, but no straight shots.

Then it was over.

H A V E      A     J O Y O U S      P U R I M

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Cemetery on the Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives
From the English-language section of the Mount of Olives website:
The ancient and most important cemetery in Jerusalem is on the Mount of Olives. The Mount was used a burial ground of the Jews of Jerusalem from as far back as the days of the First Temple, and continues to fulfil this function to the present day. During the First and Second Temple Periods the Jews of Jerusalem were buried in burial caves scattered on the slopes of the Mount, and from the 16th century the cemetery began to take its present shape. Many famous names are buried in the cemetery such as the Ohr ha-Chaim, Rabbi Chaim Ibn Attar and Rabbi Yehuda Alcalay who were among the heralds of Zionism; Hassidic rebbes of various dynasties and Rabbis of "Hayeshuv Hayashan" (the old – pre-Zionist - Jewish settlement) together with Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Askenazi Chief Rabbi, and his circle; Henrietta Szold, the founder of the Hadassah Organization and the poetess, Elza Lasker-Schiller, Eliezer ben Yehudah, the father of Modern Hebrew, Sh. Y. Agnon, the Nobel Laureate for Literature, and Boris Schatz, the founder of the Bezalel School of Art; Israel's sixth Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, the victims of the 1929 and 1936-39 Arab riots, the fallen from the 1948 War of Independence, together with Jews of all generations in all their diversity.
The Jewish people lost all access to the cemetery during the nineteen years of Jordanian occupation and that period saw much destruction of the tombstones. Since its liberation in 1967, there have been sporadic efforts to restore order and many people replaced their relatives' stones. Although most Jerusalem burials are on the newer Har Hamenuhot, the Mount of Olives has become an option once again. But security and safety concerns continued and newly-smashed tombstones were all to common.

I have been there many times and have helped several people find their relatives' graves and on several occasions assisted in setting new tombstones. I described two of those projects here and here.

Looking west from the top of the Mount of Olives
In recent years, the various Jerusalem burial societies, The City of David and Ir David Foundation and other bodies have led to something of a rebirth of the cemetery. Repairs to the tombstones and pathways, a bit of signage, increased security, an Information Center and a growing website, database and search engine have made the ancient cemetery more friendly. Someone not familiar with the area will still have to do his best to find the right section and then phone the Information Center or the relevant burial society to get specific directions.

A view towards the east from maybe half way up
David's great-grandfather
My high school class set up a website a few years ago in preparation for our xxx-ieth reunion and from time to time people still post about their doings. Sunday of last week, Jacquelin Bazell Majek - whom I did not really know though we were in  the same homeroom - posted something about finding her family in census records. I put in my two cents and soon David Slavkin joined the conversation. He and I had a few classes together and I mentioned that I had seen several of his family members' graves in Anshe Labovitz cemetery when I was there looking for some family from Schedrin three and a half years ago.

One thing led to another and he told me that his great-grandfather Yitzhak Hillel Slawkin left Pittsburgh for Jerusalem and was buried on the Mount of Olives sometime in 1936. Monday morning I found the grave in the Mt. of Olives database and was able to tell David his great-grandfather's father's name and date of death. He had died on 26 Shevat which fell in 1936 on 19 February - the same date I found the information.

At first, I had found only a Dora Slavkin but when I looked at alternate spellings, I found him as the Hebrew equivalent of Slawkin. The database included a map which showed Yitzhak Hillel's grave in a section I know well, one which caters largely to Americans who either lived in Jerusalem or were brought to Israel for burial.

I told David that I would visit the grave the following Monday, which was today.

Max' great-geat-grandfather
In the course of mentioning this discovery on Facebook, Max Heffler, a genealogy colleague who, like me, has family from Galicia, said that he too has a great-grandfather buried on the Mt of Olives - one that he had not been able to find. He wrote:
Joel Zlot died bf 1927 in Jerusalem (Eliezer haLevi) son of Gelman.

That is about all I know except for a few aliases: Yael Slot, Slote, Ivel, Iovel, Evel, Yechiel, Refoel Jeiel, Rfoel Jeiel, Josel, Yoel, Yosef, Rfoel Jesel, Yovel & Yale

My cousin ... has not been successful in locating the grave
I searched the database and found nothing, so emailed the Information Center and asked
for help. The person on the other end turned out to be Aharon Epstein, the son of my friend and fellow Pittsburgher Varda Epstein. Aharon did some more exotic searches and came up with "Rafael Yoel the son of Shemuel Helman who died in 1916." They had "Helman" as the surname, where Max was using the Russian equivalent Gelman as a given name.  No mention of "Zlot."

(NOTE: some of the information that Aharon gave me was based on information provided by MyHeritage.)

Visiting the graves
This morning, I ignored the light rain and went up to the cemetery. I did not find the Slawkin grave right away so I phoned Aharon. During the ten minutes it took him to return my call, I found the grave, right up against the wall next to the largest landmark in the area.

The database had described the grave as "neglected" but it looked pretty good to me.

P"N (Here is buried)
This great man
Prominent and venerable
R' Yitzhak Hillel
ben R' Zalman Moshe z"l
Shohet and inspector from Pittsburgh
PA America
died 26 Shevat 5696
Aged his 72nd year
May his soul be bound in life

Max' great-great-grandfather took me around and up towards the Intercontinental Hotel at the top of the mountain. Here I needed Aharon to get me into the correct section, but I worked my way down and found the grave itself even before he gave me the specific directions.

The grave has been repaired but the stone seems to be the original. 

Purim is coming later this week. As the old joke goes, they tried to kill us, G-d saved us, let's eat.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Bernsteins, Kaczors / Katchers and Aberbachs of Skalat

A guest blog by Stephen Pickholtz

As a family historian, for whom most of my family is gone, along with many of the answers they would have had the answers to, the brick wall has shown it face.

Israel Pickholtz, among others, has said when that happens, dig, dig and dig some more.  No matter how small, something may come from what is found.  Here is my story.

My family, the PICKHOLTZs, together with the BERNSTEINs, KACZERs and ABERBACHs (also ABERBUCH), all from Skalat, Austria, sailed from Hamburg on the SS Russia and arrived on in New York City May 9, 1890.  (This was during the Castle Garden period, before the opening of Ellis Island.) That arrival date is the last and only record I have found on the ABERBACH family of 5 members.  Any help with that family, would be greatly appreciated.

What I am going to deal with here is the remaining 3 families, which in itself is very interesting.

I am a PICKHOLTZ, or so I thought, until I discovered the TRUTH.  Let me start out with what I was told by my parents.

From left: Harry, his wife Clara (Klein),
their two daughters and a son-in-law
They told me that my grandfather, Harry Pickholtz, came to the USA as an orphan, alone, no age given  and he may have been adopted somewhere by a family called BERNSTEIN or something like that.  My father wasn't sure or he didn't want to tell me. That could be and being an orphan,  could be at an older age, just stating a fact.  He married, and my father Morris, and 2 sisters, Sadie and Cecelia were born.  My sister Helene's middle name was BLUMA, named after a "grandmother", but who?  With that bit of information and nothing to lose, I went into Phila. to check out the records at the Marriage Bureau.  To my surprise, I not only found my parents, but three aunts who I knew, but thought they were my grandmother sisters.  You see digging counts.

Then I came upon some information from Israel Pickholtz, that there is a Sara PICKHOLTZ buried in the Alliance Cemetery, in Pittsgrove, Salem County, New Jersey.  A trip down there, and sure enough, she was there, but who was she? There were no other PICKHOLTZ's there.  Well the tombstone said she died in 1892, so there was a starting point.

New York passenger lists seemed like a good starting point.  When I looked there, WHAT A SURPRISE.  Listed were the PICKHOLTZs-- a wife and 3 daughters. The 3 aunts I mentioned above were really my great grandfather daughters.

The 1890 passenger list
There were three BERNSTEINs there, as well, a mother BLUMA and 2 sons, HARRY my grandfather and DAVID.  There is no record of David other than his landing in the USA and to this day we have no idea what happened to him. Perhaps David was not part of this family but was being brought to the US for friend or family.

The KACZER (KATCHER) family was there too but who are they?  Every little bit of information counts.  

More digging.  The Alliance, New Jersey area was one of the first Jewish farming communities in the USA.  Okay.  So the families must have been farmers down there.  Not so far fetched.  My grandfather was always in the produce business as well as his wife's family.  Thanks to the New Jersey Archives Office, I obtained mortgage papers and  a deed for land in Pittsgrove, NJ.  These were date a few months after there arrival in NYC.  Interesting point-----------all three families are named on these papers.  Were they strangers or family or something in between?  I posted on JewishGen about the 3 families and learned a KATCHER member lived with my grandparents, while he went to college at the U of P.  Doesn't sound like they were strangers ----- but that doesn't mean they were family either.

Going back to my great grandfather BERNARD PICKHOLTZ.   When his first wife died in 1892 (buried as I said, in Alliance, but with no death certificate), he was left with 3 teen-aged daughters to raise.  BLUMA BERNSTEIN, Sara's sister had 1 known son living, my grand father HARRY.  Why not unite the two families?  The 1900 census show this happened and the new family is living in Philadelphia. Where this wedding took place is unknown. If there was one.

Now lets jump ahead to 1925.  As a member of Ancestry, MyHeritage, Gemi, I get many hits.  A groups of Pennsylvania hits dealt with a MORRIS PICKHOLTZ (that specific spelling), but there are two of them.  One is Israel Pickholtz's grandfather, so I deleted those (sorry Israel).
Reading Eagle, 25 January 1925
My PICKHOLTZ was mentioned in articles coming from Reading, Pa where both of my parents had relatives, so I looked.  Here is where the digging gets good.  This article describes the wedding of Sadie Tersuhow (whose mother is Bernard and Sara's daughter) and Benjamin Chaitt and there is a list of those in attendance. Curiosity said look who is there.  Well my entire family was there and guess who else.  A whole set of the KATCHERs.  I am sure now they are relatives.  Twenty five plus years after arriving in the USA, they aren't just friends----- THEY ARE FAMILY.   After passing this news on to a KATCHER relative,  she has informed me that family members feel the relationship is by way of BERNSTEIN line.
I guess I have to dig some more to prove it, but the wall has fallen.

You too should dig and dig, something always turns up.

If you go back to the beginning of this article, I say I thought I was a PICKHOLTZ, but I am NOT.  My DNA line is BERNSTEIN.  For those of you who use Ancestry, MyHeritage, or other resources, you will find incorrect information which I have no intention of changing.  If I did, I am then not a PICKHOLTZ.  Let me explain.

MY great grandparents, Bernard and Sara, had three daughter and one son only, named Volodya (born 1886 in the Ukraine).  No other information on him.  This person is not my HARRY PICKHOLTZ - and in fact we know nothing about him beyond his birth record.

Harry's grave names Bernard (Berisch) as his father.
He isn't. He is his mother's second husband.
Bluma Bernstein's first husband was Juda Mendel WERFEL and they had Moses Hersch/Harry (now you are talking) and Zalman Hillel who died in infancy. David (whose only record is his arrival in 1890 with his mother) may or may not be another Werfel son. When Bernard married Bluma, somewhere in New Jersey (maybe) between 1892 and 1900, Harry (then at least fifteen years old) went from BERNSTEIN to PICKHOLTZ.  There is no record of this being done formally, but this was the accepted practice for carrying on the family name-- PICKHOLTZ. Now we know how my sister's middle name became BLUMA.  Digging uncovers a lot of secrets.

This is why, when you read and use my tree, siblings don't always go with the right PARENTS.  Hopefully, this should clear up some of the confusion when you look at my tree.  So what about DNA.  My relatives on my grandfather Harry's side have no PICKHOLTZ DNA.  What they have is BERNSTEIN DNA.  For my relatives of Bernard and Sara, they have both PICKHOLTZ and BERNSTEIN DNA.  This is how our two families are related-------- BERNSTEIN power of the DNA. 
Israel's notes: 
I have discussed this family previously, in two installments: here, continuing here.
The first column of the wedding announcement (including photos of the couple) is in the crease so we cannot really see it. The Reading Public Library's microfilm copy is no better than the one shown here, which is from MyHeritage.
There is a "Mrs. L. Pickholtz" among the wedding guests. I haven't a clue who this might be, but Steve's best guess is that this is his grandfather's sister Fannie and the "L" is a typo. He is probably right.
Steve and two other descendants of Harry Pickholtz are participating in our DNA project.  Four of Bernard and Sara's descendants, including the daughter and two grandchildren of the newlyweds have tested as well.  And two descendants of Bernard's sister.
Housekeeping notes
In my most recent post, I mentioned the aunt and uncle of my friend Mindy. Two days later, I happened across this photograph of my mother (right) with Mindy's aunt and uncle.

I shall be speaking for the Jewish SIG of the St. Louis Genealogical Society on the thirtieth of April. Details to follow.

I will be giving two presentations for the new Kansas City Jewish Genealogical Society on the second of May at the Johnson County Central Resource Library in Overland Park. The first will be at 4:45, the second at 6:30. Topics to be announced.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A New Torah Scroll in Arad

Yes, there are some bits of Pikholz and personal genealogy here.

I left the southern Israel city of Arad twenty-six years ago, having lived there for eleven years. I maintained contact with Arad for quite a few years after that - my mother lived there for fifteen years after I left, I had other friends and family there and it was on one of my routes home from work.

Moshe (seated left)
with the scribe,
completing the writing
And I maintained contact with others who had left either before or after me. One of these is Moshe Kalush, an electrician, now retired. He left a year or two before me and lives in Beer Sheva. He would often phone his old Arad friends before the holidays.

Moshe phoned me a couple of months ago to tell me that he was donating a Torah scroll to the Ulpana, a girls' religious high school in Arad and he really wanted me to come to the ceremony and celebration which was scheduled for last Wednesday.

He was never a man of great means, Moshe, and he financed this major donation by collecting bottle refunds and by taking apart and selling old motors.

As it happened, the ceremony and celebration were scheduled three days before the thirty-first anniversary of my sister's death, about which I wrote at length here and in passing on other occasions. She had lived up the street from the Ulpana and for a time we had a fund in her memory to sponsor an Ulpana graduate for a year of nursing school.

So after the ninety-minute drive and before attending the ceremony, I stopped an my sister's grave and while I was there, paid my respects to four friends of mine who are buried in a group beginning one row from her grave. I had seen two of those new graves last year. The other two were more recent and in fact I had only heard about the passing of one of those later two. Had they lived a bit longer, they too would have likely participated in the day's activities. In fact, I saw the widows of two of them later in the day.

The day after I posted this blog,
I ran across this picture of Mindy's aunt and uncle with my mother.
On the way out of the cemetery, I ran into an old friend, Mindy Sherman whom I had known in my pre-Arad days when I lived in Yeroham. Mindy still lives there. She had an aunt and uncle, Chaya and Yitzhak Yaakov Bistritz who lived in Arad. I knew him back then; he died years ago. Chaya, Mindy's mother's sister, had been living in a nursing hme in Beer Sheva and had died that very day. Mindy was there for the funeral. Small world stuff.

From the cemetery, I went into Arad to the Hashahar synagogue where the final writing of the Tprah scroll was taking place. I had been a member of Hashahar for a number of years and even after leaving Arad I returned there maybe half a dozen times for Yom Kippur. That is also where my sister's body had lain overnight while we waited for the morning funeral thirty-one years earlier. The assembled crowd included several others who had left Arad many years ago - Moshe Kalush had done a good job in gathering up much of "the old gang." Some of those still live in Arad, as do some of their children - whom I know, of course.

The program was organized by Yishayahu Ungar and his wife Shifra. He called me up to write one of the letters in the final verse. The scribe asked my name and when I said "Pickholtz" he asked if I know the school by that name. That would have been the agricultural school in Petah Tiqva about which I wrote here a few years ago. It was often referred to as "The Pikholz School," but Eliezer Pikholz Haniel - the first known Pikholz to return home - has been dead for nearly forty-eight years so I was surprised that the scribe knew it. Eliezer was an agronomist who discovered oil in Kibbutz Hulda before the First World War, but I have told that story before.  

The scribe demonstrated one of my favorite family genealogy principles, that the name Pikholz is both uncommon and unusual, so anyone who has ever met one of us will undoubtedly remember when and where.

After the writing was completed (and the brief afternoon minha service) we went down towards the Ulpana and waited for the procession to begin. This took place right in front of my sister's house. (Remarkable how many connections there were between these two unconnected events.)

Many more people joined us, particularly young people. Those included my sister who still lives in Arad and probably the last of my mother's friends who still lives there.

We danced our way down the street and continued the dancing in the yard of the Ulpana itself as night fell.

We ended up in the Ulpana synagogue where there was more dancing, including with the other two scrolls in the ark.

The cover of the new scroll tells us
that it was donated in memory of
Moshe's parents and
the parents of his wife Etti.

Yeshayahu read from the new scroll and and there were a few very brief speeches (Nothing long-winded here. Moshe wouldn't have stood for it!), including Rabbi Mordecai Cohen of "the old gang," the mayor of Arad and Moshe himself. After a brief evening maariv service, we adjourned to the dining room for a festive meal.

It was getting late and I took my leave before the eating began.

Housekeeping notes
I shall be speaking for the Jewish SIG of the St. Louis Genealogical Society on the thirtieth of April and will be giving two presentations for the new Kansas City Jewish Genealogical Society on the second of May. Topics to be determined.

A couple of days ago, I found a reel of recording tape which, according to the label, is my bar mitzvah reading. I remember doing that for my father the Thursday before my bar mitzvah. It is undoubtedly embarrassingly bad, as I had no idea how to read properly back then but I have nonetheless given it to someone to have it digitized. So my grandchildren can laugh at me.

Lara Diamond has created something she calls Ashkenazic Jewish Shared DNA Survey, which shows how much DNA is shared by known Jewish relatives. This is new and I expect we shall see significant analysis in the not-too-distant future. This is different from Blaine Bettinger's Shared CM Project  which does not account for Jewish endogamy.