Thursday, April 15, 2021

Dr. Egon Riss, My Father's Half Second Cousin

On the seventy-third anniversary of the founding of our modern state, let me introduce you to a family hero.

The following is my translation of a Hebrew-language Facebook post by Eviatar Lichtman. Dr. Egon Riss is a Pikholz descendant, my father's half second cousin. I have been in contact with his widow Jona for twenty years and even visited with her once, and am Facebook friends with two of their three children, but I never heard any of this before. Nor did I know that he had a wife who was killed during the War of Independence. (More about her in a separate post.)

The 1989 grave of Egon Riss in Haifa. His Jewish name is Noah.

Eviatar is not a family member, but a tour guide to whom Israel's history is important. Coincidentally (if you believe in coincidence), I met him in shul last week!

How many of you have heard the name Egon Riss? Dr. Egon Riss. And how many of you knew of this hero?

Seventy-two years ago today, the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem fell. The State had already been established. But its heart was detached. The Old City and the holy places. No longer in our hands. Curiously, it is a cardiologist who, to me, symbolizes not only the loss of the city and its heart, but the victory of the people.

Dr. Egon Riss, who married Hava Jezmer-Riss.

Egon and Hava, who worked together as doctor and nurse as part of the Haganah militia, Egon who was wounded by a bullet on his way to the hospital on Mt. Scopus, the same Egon who nonetheless resumed going up to the mountaintop hospital several weeks later. In the same convoy where seventy-eight of his colleagues were murdered and burned alive.

Dr. Egon Riss, who was not a Jerusalem resident himself, but his heart could not accept that his brethren were there alone, a Jewish minority, against an Arab throng hungry for their blood and their homes. So he went. There.

Dr. Riss who said "I knew that no one would relieve our shift because the Arab attacks were intensifying and we were the last ones to enter the [Jewish] Quarter," he said, understanding the significance of his words for his own life.

Egon, whose wife remained outside [the city walls], continuing to work on behalf of the Haganah, until she was struck by a shell. And Egon, who tried to raise a Red Cross flag above the hospital so it wouldn't be shelled. Which of course drew increased fire.

Egon and his colleagues, the doctors and nurses, kept apologizing for being relatively secure while the Quarter's defenders had to fight. (They said this as the hospital absorbed constant shelling.)

And when the Jewish Quarter fell, Egon volunteered again. The Red Cross called on him over and over to evacuate to the western part of the City. And Dr. Riss said "How can I leave the wounded to remain alone in captivity?" And he went with them. This was after everyone knew what had happened in Kefar Etzion, and what "going into captivity" might well mean.

Fortunately, he returned alive from captivity and was involved in developing cardiology in Israel, becoming a pioneer in his field in the north. He married again, to Jona Itzkowitz, with whom he had a family.

During this period [the corona virus], when we are so grateful to all the medical personnel and in this period between Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim, it is an appropriate time to remember the modest Dr. Egon Riss, who rarely granted interviews so few of us know of his actions.

Everyone should remember him and the defenders of the Jewish Quarter, where the few stood against the many, in defense of the heart of the City.


Incidentally, there are three Riss cousins named Egon, all born within a sixteen-year period.  You can see their places in the family here, about a quarter of the way down the page.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Two GEDmatch Tools Plus More About Testing Siblings

Some weeks ago, a woman named Sherri contacted me via Ancestry.com. Ancestry said we were a very small match - 25 cM across six segments - and Sherri wanted to see if we could follow it up. She was already on GEDmatch, so I had a look.

GEDmatch showed a slightly larger match - nearly 32 cM over four segments, but still not much. Her mother's sister is also on GEDmatch, but she matched me even less, but with only a single segment of 11.8 cM on chromosome 12, where Sherri does not match me even at 3 cM.

I ran Sherri's kit against my families on the GEDmatch Multiple Kit Analysis, using a program called Short Keys to fill in my own kits.

The GEDmatch Tier1 tools


 

Sherri matches a few of my family members on my mother's side on three <12 cM segments, but all of these are matches with various cousins, none with me or my siblings. Sherri's aunt shares one of those three matching segments.

Then there was this, on my father's side. A nice segment of ~25 cM on chromosome 19, with eight of my family, not including me.






We have my brother and three of my sisters, my father's sister, two double second cousins (brothers) and my second cousin Susan. Susan nails this onto my grandmother's side, the one from Slovakia and Hungary. This is geography that Sherri didn't recognize from her own family. It is definitely Sherri's mother's side, as her aunt has this segment as well, although only ~11 cM.

And our match with Sherri is recent enough that a 25 cM segment has been preserved, despite that my Hungarian and Slovakian ancestors were in place at least since the mid-1700s.

(My guess is that Sherri matches my Hungarian great-grandmother rather than my Slovakian great-grandfather due to some other smallish matches she has with one specific cousin on each side, but I am way too conservative to jump to any conclusions here.)

Sherri's match with *G
So I asked Sherri about other family members who have tested and she mentioned a man we shall call *G, whom she has determined is her second cousin once removed. The relevant surname is Feldman from Belarus. Sherri's match with *G includes 37.4 cM on the segment we share on chromosome 19. That match is larger than even what Sherri shares with her aunt (31.4 cM).

My next step was to look at the Segment Search tool on GEDmatch. Like the Multiple Kit Analysis, this is a Tier1 tool, which requires a small payment. (I use GEDmatch enough that I generally pay for Tier1 12-18 months in advance.)

After removing the matches that are (or appear to be) from Sherri's father's side, these are Sherri's other matches on this segment. I removed the emails and kit numbers for privacy and coded the names for the same reason.

The four marked in red match Sherri's family members, but not my family - but they might if they were a bit longer. The seven marked in purple match Sherri's family and mine. The email for *G in the top row is one I recognized. It belongs to Leonid, whom I have mentioned here before. Our great-grandmothers have essentially the same given name and our maternal haplogroups are a perfect match. But that is a different part of our two families.

I wrote to the four people in Group 1 and the seven in Group 2, on the off chance that one of them may know something that can help connect the Belarus Feldmans to my Hungarian (or Slovakian) family. And of course I touched base with Leonid. 

Thus far (after a week) I have heard back from the first two people in Group 1 and the first two in Group 2. None of them has been able to shed much light, but I see that they are more Sherri's Belarus/Lithuania, rather than my Hungary/Slovakia. It looks like my family is the outlier.

Besides telling the story, I am writing about this for two reasons. One is to give a bit more detail on the use of the GEDmatch tools Multiple Kit Analysis and Segment Search. The other is to bang the drum yet again for testing siblings. This inquiry began with a match between Sherri and me. But I do not share the interesting segment on chromosome 19. For that we needed my brother and some of my sisters. Without them, we don't find this.

Furthermore, although we usually place an emphasis on the older generations, had we only had Sherri's aunt and not Sherri herself, this segment would have been only 11 cM and I probably wouldn't have paid it any attention. But clearly Sherri's mother got a larger segment here than did her sister (Sherri's aunt). So once again, testing first and second cousins is of primary importance, but test the siblings too. Why? Who knows! There might be a difference in some segments that matter.

Monday, March 22, 2021

BENZION - A Wild Wild Ancestral Theory


Benzion. בֶּן צִיוֹן or בֶּנְצִיוֹן. Son of Zion.

Could there possibly be a better name?

One of my regrets is not giving it to Devir as a middle name.

 

With his second son, Phil
My maternal grandmother's brother, was named Chaim Benzion. Hymen Benjamin in the United States. He was born in Borisov Belarus in 1894 and had four older sisters, born about 1879, 1886, 1887, 1889. The spacing is odd, with long breaks after the first and the last of the girls.

I knew Uncle Hymen and the way he told the story, his parents had other sons who either died young or were stillborn. (I don't recall how specific his knowledge was.) So when he was born, the rabbi said to use the name Chaim (=life) for good luck.There is a Jewish tradition of playing with names to fool the Angel of Death. At least, that's the way Uncle Hymen told me the story.

So I have always assumed that Benzion was one of Uncle Hymen's ancestral names, hence one of mine. And I was pleased as punch to have a Benzion among my ancestors.

Uncle Hymen's parents - my great-grandparents - are my namesake Israel David (aka Srul) Rosenbloom, the son of Yaakov and Shayna Liba, and Etta-Bryna the daughter of Yehudah the Levite, surname and mother's name unknown. So Benzion was not Uncle Hymen's grandfather, but could have been any of his four great-grandfathers. Or perhaps an uncle, though that seems much less likely.

The Belarus database on JewishGen shows a number of Benzian Rosenbloom references, but much younger, so I always thought there was a good chance Uncle Hymen's namesake was his father's paternal grandfather. Not so good a chance as to actually write it that way in my database, but slightly more likely that any of the others.

Yesterday that changed. A woman named Michelle Sandler posted in several Facebook groups:


In the course of signing on to this project, I took another look at the JewishGen Belarus Database, which I'd not seen in some time. It had a surprise for me, in the 1858 revision lists.

There is no doubt in my mind that these are the parents of my great-grandfather Israel David Rosenbloom, together with two sisters I had not seen before. I had never seen any evidence of siblings, though I assume he had some. For both of his parents, the fathers' names were listed. New names for me. Srul's paternal grandfather is Itska (Yitzhak) and his maternal grandfather is Khaim (Chaim). No Benzion.

And the wheels began turning in my mind. Chaim was not just a good luck name to fool the Angel of Death. It was a full-fledged ancestral name. Surely Uncle Hymen hadn't made up the story of his naming from whole cloth. But maybe it was a real story with the details wrong.

There were sons who died young. Even if their names are important, we generally don't reuse them as is. That makes it too easy for the Angel of Death. My father's father's eldest brother was named Mordecai Meir after his grandfather, but he died at thirteen months. For the next son, they kept the Mordecai, but changed the second name to Shemuel and Uncle Max lived to age eighty-six.

It makes sense that the dead sons of Srul and Etta-Bryna were named for their own grandfathers. Perhaps one was Chaim Yitzhak for Srul's grandfathers. And he died young so you don't want to use it again. Maybe change the order of the names? Or maybe something more clever.

The numerical value of the four letters of name Yitzhak is 10 + 90 + 8 + 100. That's two hundred and eight. Maybe thought Srul, or Etta-Bryna, or the local rabbi - we can play with that. How about 2 + 50 + 90 + 10 + 6 + 50 = 208. BENZION! Chaim Yitzhak becomes Chaim Benzion and we fool the Angel of Death.

I love this beyond words. I love the idea that my great-grandfather and namesake might have thought of it himself, or at least adopted the idea. A solution after my own heart. I really really want this to be true. I suppose we shall never be able to prove it, but if we can find Etta-Bryna's  grandfathers' names, we can call it progress.

We cannot record it as fact, but we might accept it as our working assumption.

Rosenbloom cousins, what do you think?? 


Monday, February 15, 2021

Narrowing It Down Using The X

As I have mentioned before, every few months I review the newest autosomal matches on my many Family Tree DNA kits to see which are the best candidates to investigate further with GEDmatch. Maybe a third of those respond to my inquiries and of those perhaps one or two, maybe three, will show anything useful. On this last round, I sent out about eighty-five inquiries and was surprised how many people got back to me in the first forty-eight hours. This is the story of one of these.

The match is a woman named Donna who was adopted and is looking for information that might lead her to her birth parents. One of her two matches with my families was this, a quite ordinary segment of 16 cM with seven Pikholz descendants.

Jean, Sarajoy, Judith and Amy are my sisters. Uncle Bob is my father's brother. Roz is my second cousin on my grandfather's side. Marshal is my double second cousin - our grandfathers are brothers and our grandmothers are sisters. The seven matches triangulate; they all match one another. So this looks to be pretty straightforward. This segment comes from either my great-grandfather Hersch Pikholz or my great-grandmother Jutte Lea Kwoczka.

But this segment is from chromosome 23, the X.The chromosome that never passes from father to son.

Roz gets to our great-grandparents through her mother and grandmother, so both Kwoczka and Pikholz are viable sources for her segment. But the others are all from sons of our great-grandparents, so they would have no X from Hersch Pikholz. Which means this is a Kwoczka segment.

But that cannot be right either. Uncle Bob would have to have received the segment from his father, which is clearly impossible. Uncle Bob received this segment from his mother. That option works for my sisters and for Marshal, but Roz has nothing to do with my grandmother's Hungarians and Slovakians. The Pikholz and Kwoczka families lived in the Tarnopol area of east Galicia.

If this sounds familiar, it should. Three and a half years ago, I discovered a segment shared by two supposedly unconnected parts of my families, one being my grandmother's Hungarians and the other the Galicianers on the non-Pikholz/Kwoczka side of the family of my cousins Rhoda, Roz and Pinchas. 

I have since found about forty strangers who share this segment with matches of anywhere between twelve and twenty centiMorgans. I wrote all of them, but have not gotten any firm leads on how, when and where my two families connect. It is a good ways back, as the families have been in the same places since the mid or late 1700s, but it's recent enough to preserve this 20+ cM segment intact.

Wendy and Carolyn, at JGS Maryland, 2016,

my earliest cousins on this segment


I have also written about this segment of chromosome 21 here, here and most recently here.

My guess is that the same ancestor who gave us the segment on chromosome 21, gave us the newfound X segment, though I cannot prove it. Until now, I have had seven surnames to work with, five from the Hungarians and two from the Galicianers. Of course there was no reason to assume that the common ancestor actually used one of those seven names - if he (or she) used any at all. But they were starting points. 

Now, we know that two of those lines are completely irrelevant. The X cannot be from my third-great-grandfather Lasar Bauer or his wife Rosa Lowinger, because it could not have been passed to Cousin Shabtai Bauer. One of the forty "strangers" has a Bauer ancestor, so that was a candidate for chromosome 21. But it cannot be for the X.

The others are still possibilities simply because we do not have other known descendants of those families who might share the segments in question. We can neither confirm nor eliminate them. Here are the earliest known ancestors in each family.

On the Hungarian side:

Salomon/Yehoshua Selig STERN ~ 1805-1862, son of Izak Leib of Paks could have received this segment from his unknown mother.

Jakob GRUNWALD of Perkata whose daughter was born about 1806 could have received the segment from his unknown mother.

Fani/Feige HERCZ, Jakob Grunwald's wife, could have received the segment from either parent.

On the east Galician side:

Shimon Leib ZWIEBEL, ~1825-1910, son of Isak, from the Tarnopol area, could have received the segment from his unknown mother.

Ester Chava LEWINTER, ~1831-1907, from the Tarnopol area, could have received the segment from either parent. She is Shimon Leib Zwiebel's wife.

I would love to see some tests from any of these families. Zwiebel is probably the easiest place to start.

It feels like progress. I'll certainly notify the forty-odd strangers.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Playing The Role Of My Grandfather, With Stops Along The Way

(~8 years later)
My bar mitzvah
Sixty years ago yesterday, I celebrated my bar mitzvah. As was customary in that time and place, I did the Torah reading, the Haftarah (from the prophets), gave a speech in both Hebrew and English and conducted the musaf. The first two people who were called to the Torah - the Kohen and the Levi - would not have been members of my family. The other five surely were and would have included my father. But the only one I remember specifically is my maternal grandfather Raymond (Yerachmiel ben Zvi) Gordon, who was called up third. (My other grandfather died when I was nine.)

My grandfather was a very old man at the time. Nearly seventy-five. Well maybe not so "very old."

I wore a tallit (prayer shawl) bought for me by Aunt Ethel and Uncle Kenny, whose story appears here. It has long been lost.

I was taught by an Israeli teacher from my school and it was several years before I realized how substandard the teaching was.

The tape 

A few days later, Wednesday or Thursday, my father sat me down at his desk and recorded me doing the readings and the speech. I had hoped that the tape was lost years ago, during one of my parents' moves, like the tallit. It would have been really bad according to my present standards and I surely would have found it embarrassing.

No such luck. It turned up three years ago. During this very week! As a genealogist who could never throw out such a thing, much as I didn't want anything to do with it, I had someone make it into an mp3. Only one person has heard it - my son Eliezer. He said "It wasn't as bad as I expected."

Devorah
Thirty-four years ago in Arad, my sister Devorah walked over - maybe twenty minutes - to hear me read my bar mitzvah. That would have been typical for her. We spoke very briefly on that occasion. I never saw her alive again. She was killed three days later. Today is her yahrzeit. Her story is here.


Snow in Hevron
Then there was the Shabbat twenty-one years ago that my mother and I paid a surprise visit to my friend and one-time roommate Zvi Ofer (who died this past summer) and his wife Celia, in Kiryat Arba, near Hevron. It was my bar mitzvah week and I prevailed on Levi, who ran the service in Kiryat Arba and whom I have known for years, to let me read, which he did. I have seen him maybe fifteen times since and he always says 'You remember the last time I saw you, when it snowed and you read your bar mitzvah?

The story of that adventure is here.

There may be a few more memorable Shabbat Bar Mitzvah stories, but those are the ones that come to mind.

Shloimie
Yesterday was the bar mitzvah of my daughter Merav's third son Shelomo (aka Shloimie) Brand. My
With Yudi & Naomi
Torah reading. As is customary in his shul, he read only the Haftarah. He will be speaking at a small week-night affair this week.

(Before anyone asks, let me say that the masking was adequate.)

I quite like their shul, though I rather stick out in the crowd of black or round fur hats and big beards (mine is on hiatus). They always treat me respectfully and the rabbi makes a point of mentioning me by name when he has his mishebayrach. Some of them also know that I can teach them a thing or two about proper Torah reading.

I, the maternal grandfather, was called up third. And it was only at that moment that I realized that my own maternal grandfather was called up third for the exact same reading at my bar mitzvah sixty years ago.

Hasdei Ovos Synagogue, Upper Modiin
After the service there was a kiddush and just before the rabbi spoke, he told me that he would introduce me to say something. (I really dislike being put on the spot like that.)

So I spoke about the coincidence with the two maternal grandfathers doing the same thing sixty years apart and the significance of carrying on traditions, even unintentionally. We read the Ten Commandments yesterday and I referred to the first chapter in Ethics of the Fathers where it tells us that Moshe received Torah at Sinai, and passed it to Yehoshua, Yehoshua to the Elders and so on down the generations. But I pointed out that there are less formal traditions. It doesn't say anywhere that we are supposed to name our kids after our ancestors, but that has been a traditional Jewish practice for ages. etc etc. (Or - as an afterthought - like my sister walking across town to hear me read.)

Afterwards, the rabbi, the Torah reader and a few others hung around and we mixed it up discussing some intracacies of Torah reading. A great day all in all.