Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ukraine: Czernowitz Cemetery's Ottawa Project

At the 2002 International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, Prof. Alti Rodal reported on a project to digitally photograph all tombstones in the Czernowitz Jewish Cemetery.

This project, sponsored by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Ottawa, Canada, was spearheaded by several members working with Dr. George Bolotenko of the Canadian National Archives (Ottawa). It goal is to produce a free, searchable, internet database of names linked to images of tombstones.

Obtain information about specific graves (photograph, approximate location according to the current cemetery map, burial register information), by writing to Bruce Reisch, the Czernowitz-L list moderator. He has been coordinating data transcription for the JGSO, which led the effort to photograph all the tombstones and to obtain copies of burial registers.

The exact location of individual graves is not known, as the current cemetery map does not correspond until 1946.

In August 2007, information on 4,293 burials were sent to JGS Ottawa, and subsequently posted on the JewishGen Online Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR) along with corresponding images. In May 2008, data on 3,992 additional burials were sent to JGS Ottawa but have not yet been forwarded to JOWBR. Altogether, information on 11,376 burials has been transcribed, including the two datasets above.

There are more than 28,000 tombstone photos in the collection (some are duplicates) so there's still quite a bit of work ahead before the project is complete. Prior to transcription of data from the tombstones, all burial registers prior to 1946 were transcribed into Excel spreadsheets.

Congratulations to the team of volunteers who have dedicated countless hours transcribing data and trying to read barely decipherable tombstones in multiple languages for this project!

Portugal: Faro's Jewish Cemetery

Samuel Amram, buried 1880, Faro Jewish Cemetery

Homem venerável, respeitava e considerava os Sábios, caridoso com os pobres, sustentava os orfãos e as viúvas, fortalecia os estudiosos da Lei na Diáspora e na Terra Santa, Samuel Amram. Faleceu domingo 17 de Ab do ano 5640. Seja a sua alma unida ao feixe dos vivos.

A venerable man, he respected and honored the Sages, charitable with the poor, he supported orphans and widows, extended help to the students of the Law in the Diaspora and the Holy Land, [such was] Samuel Amram. He passed away on Sunday, the 17th of Ab of the year 5640. May his soul be bound in the bundle of the living.

This site offers essential information for the Faro Jewish Cemetery. Its pages offer the site's history; the cemetery plot plan, the Portuguese and English translations of the inscriptions, whose images also appear (stones and inscriptions can be viewed either alphabetically or by grave number); along with additional information on the cemetery and community.

In Sephardic tradition, stones are not placed upright but are rather laid horizontally.

The land for the Cemetery in Faro was purchased in December 1851, however there are graves dating back to 1838. The Faro Jewish Cemetery is now listed in the Cemeteries classification as a Place of Public Interest in the Portuguese's National Register of National Historical Monuments. The return of Jews to Faro took place in the early 1830s. Most of these returning Jews came from Gibraltar and Morocco.

Our personal thanks to Ralf Pinto who was most kind and generous of his time and knowledge of the Cemetery. We are also thankful for Mr. Pinto's untiring efforts to assure that dignity and preservation of this Cemetery is maintained for future generations.

From 1838-1932, the cemetery was the resting place for the Comunidade Israelita de Faro - The Jewish community of Faro. Rabbi Josef Toldeano was the first to be buried there.

Members of the community were Retornados (returnees) from Gibraltar and North Africa who had fled the Inquisition centuries earlier. Although the community thrived, it became inactive in the 1930s and the cemetery abandoned.

In the mid-1980s, the late Isaac "Ike" Bitton raised funds enabling Ralf and Judith Pinto to restore the site in 1992-3. The cemetery museum is named for Bitton. In 1978, the site was officialy listed as an IIP (National Monument) and has been visited by thousands of visitors.

In 1993, 18 (the number means "life" in Hebrew) cypress trees were planted in honor of Portuguese humanitarian Aristides de Sousa Mendes; they are now taller than the cemetery's 12-foot walls.

The Synagogue Museum at the cemetery contains original furniture from the 1820 Rua Castilho synagogue demolished around 1960. A chupah (Jewish wedding canopy) is also depicted. There is a memorial to Samuel Gacon, whose Faro workshop printed the first book in Portugal - a Hebrew edition of the Pentateuch, according to the website. The front lawn displays a replica of the 1315 gravestone of Josef de Tomar, found in the 1930s and removed to the Tomar Synagogue Museum.

The site has been renamed the Centro Hisórico Judaico de Faro or “The Faro Historic Jewish Heritage Centre"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Spain: Toledo Jewish cemetery threatened

The Baltimore Jewish Times carried the JTA story about how a school expansion project is threatening 85 ancient Jewish graves in Toledo, Spain.

I have previously written about this in Tracing the Tribe and here in Rabbit following direct communication with my friends, Zachor's directors/founders Dominique Tomasov Blinder and David Stoleru.

Representatives of The Center of Studies Zachor, which protects Jewish heritage in Spain, met at the site in Toledo with the archeologist in charge of the excavation, as well as the director of landmarks in the region, to explore options to protect the site.

The construction of the school in the 1980s destroyed a large portion of the cemetery, as well as part of the Jewish quarter dating back to before the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.

“Our intention is to find a solution for the site with respect for its meaning and to avoid irreversible damage,” said David Stoleru, a Zachor director.

Officials from Atra Kadisha, an Israeli organization, traveled to Madrid last week with a delegation of American rabbis to meet with U.S. embassy officials and representatives of the Spanish Department of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to convey the concerns of world Jewry and the special place that Toledo holds in Spanish Jewish history.

“We believe that there is another approach to handling ancient Jewish cemeteries with respect to the tradition and with appropriate research to find more about them,” Zachor said in a news release, “so that future generations can enjoy a common heritage, can understand its meaning and can integrate it in their identity.”

Russia: Oryol Jewish cemetery to be restored

The Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS reports that the Jewish cemetery in Oryol, located in the vicinity of a gypsum mill, plans to restore the site, including , a high fence to deter vandalism occurring over the past few years.

The Oryol region is located in the southwestern part of European Russia, bordering the Kaluga, Tula, Bryansk, Kursk and Lipetsk regions. Oryol means eagle in Russian.

Semyon Livshitz, chair of the local Shalom Center Jewish community, said this cemetery was used for Jewish burials from 1836-1960. Now closed, it is a constant vandalism target, including the knocking over and damaging of gravestones and even digging up graves.

The ‘Shalom Center’ Jewish community of Oryol was established September 13, 1999. That same year, it became a member of the expanding Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia and remains a member of this comprehensive country-wide organization through to this day. Livshitz was elected as chair and remains its leader.

Funding for the restoration and preservation will come from the Federation of Jewish Communities in Russia.

From Wikipedia:

While there are no historical records, archaeological evidence proves that a fortress settlement existed between the Oka and Orlik Rivers as early as the 12th century, when the land was a part of the Grand Principality of Chernigov. The name of the fortress is unknown; it may not have been called Oryol at the time. In the 13th century the fortress became a part of the Zvenigorod district of the Karachev Principality. In the early 15th century, the territory was conquered by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The city was soon abandoned by its population, after being sacked either by Lithuanians or the Golden Horde. The territory then became a part of Muscovy in the 16th century.

Moldova: Orhei Jewish Cemetery, photographs

Cassio Tolpolar of Los Angeles, writes the Moldova Impressions blog, which today focused on the Orhei Jewish Cemetery. In May 2008, Cassio's family travelled to Moldova. Each week, Cassio is posting a bit (commentary and photographs) about their 12-day trip.

The Orhei Jewish cemetery is one of the 10 oldest in Europe; it is 450 years old, whereas the city is 570 years-old. The cemetery is not totally abandoned. There’s a keeper, people also give donations and family relatives repair graves. There are a few Holocaust memorials there. One, from 1991, says: “To our compatriots, Jews, victims of the Holocaust”. 4,000 Jews were killed in Orhei, and their names are in the memorial.

View the photographs and read the complete post at the link above.

Poland: Lodz Jewish cemeteries, photoblog

Here's a photoblog I've just discovered. It offers a four-part series on the Lodz New Jewish Cemetery, here, here, here and here.

The Krystian Kozerawski Photoblog is written by a young man with an MA in Archaeology and field experience in Poland, Ireland, Scotland and Central Europe. He's a Polish press columnist in Ireland and Poland; a musician and an amateur photographer.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Israel: Tel Aviv cemeteries English website

The Greater Tel Aviv Chevra Kadisha's website now has English- and Russian-language versions.

Chevra Kadisha is the Hebrew name for the organization that handles Jewish burials in Jewish cemeteries. There are several cemeteries under the control of the Greater Tel Aviv group.

There is much information on the site's English version, including laws and customs of Jewish mourning, prayers said at home and at the cemetery (Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Yemenite versions), as well as basic information about each area cemetery, its history and maps.

I tried to find, in English, various Talalay/Talalai/Talali relatives whom I know are buried in the Tel Aviv area cemeteries, but the English search engine could not locate those individuals.

Maybe Steve Morse needs to help them out in this department?

Krakow: Five burials, one tombstone

A Schamroth tombstone identified in Krakow’s Miodowa Street cemetery opens up a new family branch previously unknown.
The tombstone has three sections. The curved writing and first two lines in the upper section reads:

Here lies the betulah [young maiden] Rivka Judessa, daughter of Isaac Halevi Horowitz.
She died on 1 Adar 5691 [18 February 1931].
In this grave lie 3 generations

The rest of the inscription reads:

In eternal memory: Yitzhak Halevi Horowitz
And his grandson, Avraham Arie s/o Dov Ha’levi Ehrenstein
Killed by the Germans in the year 1942.
May Hashem avenge their blood

The middle section forms the main part of the tombstone. At the top is written:

Rivka Judessa, daughter of Ha’rav [the Rabbi],
Ha’Gaon [the great Torah scholar] Yitzhok Itsche Schamroth
Died on 5 Tamuz 5665 [8 July 1905]

Below that is a poetic description of Rivka Judessa’s attributes… each line beginning with an initial from her first name.
The lower section reads:

Here lies Doba Fradel
wife of Yitzhok Halevi Horowitz
daughter of Avraham Tzvi Klein
Died on 29 Tevet 5687 [3 January 1927]

In summary, there are actually five people buried beneath this tombstone, including a mother (Rivka Judessa Schamroth), her daughter (Doba Freidel Klein), and her granddaughter (Rivka Judessa Halevi Horowitz). Based on these inscriptions as well as other data, the family structure has been reconstructed below. (As an aside, the Halevi Horowitz family is one of the few well-established lineages that can trace their origins back to Rashi, and from there back to Adam and Eve).

Click image to enlarge

This information was writen by Julian Schamroth and published on the Horowitz Family Association website.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Austria: New Jewish cemetery exhibit to open

The Bezirksmuseum Währing in Vienna will hold an exhibit entitled Orte der Erinnerung. Die jüdischen Friedhöfe in Hamburg-Altona und Wien-Währing (Places of Remembrance: The Jewish cemeteries in Hamburg-Altona and Vienna-Währing), from November 27-December 12 and from January 8-25, 2009.

The opening ceremony is at 6.30pm, November 27, at the Museum, Währinger Strasse 124 - Amtshaus Währing, Martinstrasse 100 (entrance at the corner)

Speakers will include Dr. Ariel Muzicant, President of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde/IKG {Jewish Community} Vienna, and Frau Dr. Prammer, President of the Austrian Parliament. Hamburg will be represented by Frau Dr. von Jagow (Foundation for Historic Monuments Upkeep) and Herr Dr. Halévy (Institute for the History of German Jews of Hamburg), while. Herr Schreuder (Gemeinderat for Green Vienna) - who instituted the link between Hamburg and Vienna - will also speak.

Why is this exhibition taking place?

Both Hamburg Altona (1611-1869) and Vienna (1784-1879) have two historic Jewish cemeteries of similar size and dating roughly from similar periods. Both were neglected in WW2. The Vienna cemetery has barely recovered, but a Hamburg group has managed to restore the Altona cemetery and open it to the public. Währingerfriedhof remains closed. Here is a
link in German to the Altona cemetery which offers wonderful data and images when you explore it [I tried exploring *Indizes* first!].

here to see the location of the Vienna Währingerfriedhof here {marked with a circle]} - it is hemmed in between high walls and buildings which encroached on the cemetery grounds.

Hamburg-Altona has tombstones of the famous Warburg, Mendelssohn and Heine family members. In Währing, members of the Arnstein, Epstein, Königswarter and Hofmannsthal families are buried.

Both cemeteries have important Sephardic sections {Portuguese Jews in Hamburg} and members of the "Turkish" community of Vienna, who came from the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires.

Hopefully, this initiative will kick start the important restoration work in Vienna. Dedicated researchers in Vienna , notably Tina Walzer, have already done a lot of work in the cemetery and it should be available to the public. Click
here for a European Jewish Press article on the cemetery.

I am particularly keen that this restoration should take place as the Vienna cemetery should never have reached this stage of neglect. In addition, I have personal reasons for the restoration as many of my relatives are buried there.

Here are some evocative pictures when I visited, with special permission, a few years ago: I can be seen showing people the state of things - they are hardly better now.

Eastern Europe: Wooden Jewish tombstones

As I have often mentioned on Tracing the Tribe - The Jewish Genealogy Blog, the online Jewish Magazine offers excellent articles. The November issue has a story by Tomek Wisniewski on wooden tombstones from Eastern European Jewish Cemeteries.

The article is illustrated by photographs from Lokache 1915, Druzhkopola 1916, Kisielin 1917, Pinsk 1918, Wilkomir 1915, Ozdziutycze and Lokacze.

The introduction reads, "Tens of thousands of the most beautiful stone tombstones managed to survive in Poland, but not one single wooden one has been preserved."

With a few exceptions, small-town Jewish cemeteries in Poland 'exist' only on old maps and old photographs. Their rich artistic heritage has been lost, or survives only in fragmentary or merely symbolic form, e.g. walled cemeteries behind whose walls practically nothing is to be found. The most interesting and impressive tombstones (matzevot) have disappeared. They all met the same fate.

The Germans used them to cobble roads and pavements, to reinforce escarpments and clad the beds and banks of rivers. They were used in the construction of flights of stairs and farmers used them as sandstone knife-sharpeners. Despite these years of destruction, tens of thousands of the most beautiful stone tombstones managed to survive in Poland, but not one single wooden one has been preserved.

The author comments that Jews erected wooden markers for centuries and were usually found in the poorest localities where it was hard to find stone. They were ordinary wood, painted with the name and dates. Those with a little more money would carve in the wood the names in Hebrew.

In Polesie and around Pinsk (today Belarus, then Poland before 1939), the Jews lived in wooden houses, prayed in wooden synagogues and wooden tombstones were an old tradition.

Wooden tombstones were also used in Volhynia, Mazowsze and Wielkopolska and by the poorest Jews in larger towns such as Bialystok, Wilno and Lublin. During the First World War wooden tombstones were often erected on the graves of Jewish soldiers of the Austrian army, especially in the Beskid Niski region. During the First World War several hundred wooden Jewish tombstones in the old cemetery in Lublin (founded in 1541) were also used by Russian soldiers for firewood.

The oldest Polish wooden markers date from the 18th century, around Miejsce. The Jewish cemetery there has photographs of markers from 1771-1805, which can be seen in the collection of the Jewish Museum in Frankfurt-am-Main.

The oldest carved inscription - February 19, 1771 - reads:

Here lies a brave and honorable woman, Mrs. Chajosen, daughter of the venerable Mr. Alexander, of blessed memory. She died on Tuesday, the fifth day of Adar in the year 5531" (19 February 1771).

Photos are rare traces of these wooden markers; there are fewer than 12 photos dating from before 1939. Following years of research, Wiesniewski writes about his collection:

....[he] managed to acquire several original photographs or postcards of wooden tombstones pre-1939 from Ozdziutycze, £okacze, Droshkopol and Kisielin in Volhynia, as well as of wooden ohels with inscriptions from Piñsk in Polesie and from Wilkomierz in Lithuania, and just one photograph from Radom, dated 1941, of a wooden matsevah in the ghetto.

He describes the markers:

Wooden Jewish tombstones were usually tall and after some years had passed and the wood had begun to rot, the lower part would be cut off and the tombstone buried deeper in the ground.

According to the article, the same tradition was followed in Christian cemeteries. Eventually, the wooden marker would be removed and replaced by stone.

In existing photos, the markers were similar: long narrow wooden planks of oak or pine with little ornamentation. The narrow wood meant inscriptions and dates were truncated, abbreviated or adjusted in other ways, such as spacing. The author gives very detailed examples of inscriptions.

In the 18th century marker from Miejsce, inscrptions are brief. There are three photos containing 15 legible and almost complete inscriptions (from 1895-1913). In Kiesielin, there are two complete and one partial legible inscription detailed by the author. In Lokacze, there are six readable inscriptions. In Ozdziutycz, there are seven inscriptions in a photo. There are translated inscriptions, such as

"Here lies a modest woman, the married Berkah(?) daughter of R. Szlomo. She died the 13th day in the month of Tevet year 5671 (1911) as the abbreviated era. May her soul be bound in the bond of everlasting life."

Women are described as "modest" or "proper;" men as "perfect" or "perfect and upright." and provide only the essential details such as the name of the person, father's name, death date and the abbreviation of 1 Sam 25:29 which "May his/her soul be bound in the bond of everlasting life." At the top is "peh nun," "here lies." There are no surnames.

Read the detailed complete story at the link above. the photographs are fascinating and are from the author's collection.

A book by the author, "A History of Lost Jewish Shtetl Cemeteries" will be published by Kreator later this year.

Morocco: Jewish cemeteries and more

I found an interesting blog - Jewish Morocco - by CB Silver, which describes travels in Morocco and Jewish interactions.

Here is a description of the Jewish cemetery at Igil Noro.

Here is a description of the grave of the Hacham of Tioute, in the village as far from Taroudant as is Arazan.

Here is the writer's description of the Jewish cemetery in the area of the Akka oasis near the Algerian border. On an ancient caravan route, it had an ancient Jewish settlement. The city is Akka and the area includes some seven villages. This is the description of the visit to the Jewish cemetery at Zawiya village.

The visit to Taroudant is here.

Do read the other blog postings about other towns, such as this one mentioning a project on mapping the Marrakech Jewish cemetery.

Romania: Jewish cemeteries

Alex Reed Westhoff is on a travelling fellowship researching the world's delta areas. Along the way, he visits some places of interest to the Jewish Graveyard Rabbit.

In spring 2008, he submitted a master's thesis for UCBerkeley concurrent degrees in Master of Landscape Architecture and Master of City Planning.

In this posting on November 7 he describes his visit to Romania's delta and also his Romanian roots quest. Find the relevant section of the long post by scrolling down to the paragraph above the seventh photo (the synagogue), followed by photos of the two Jewish cemeteries.

Ukraine: Cemeteries and more

Travel writer Ruth Ellen Gruber's Jewish Heritage travel blog often comments on Jewish cemeteries visited during her travels. Here she writes about Dolina.

I wrote the other day about my visit to Bolekhiv and Stryj with Sergei Kravstov and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett.

After leaving Bolekhiv, we stopped briefly at a couple of other places en route back to L'viv.

At the village of Dolina, we looked at the synagogue...

Bolekhiv (Bolechow) of course, is the ancestral town of Daniel Mendelsohn, which he visited and described so vividly in his best-seller book, "The Lost."

She adds that from Dolina, they went to Galich (Halych), and what looked like a normal Jewish cemetery but was in reality that of the Karaite community. Ruth includes seven photos of the stones, most of which have very clear inscriptions.

Many writers confuse the origins of the Karaite movement, some call it Turkish or Iraqi in origin.

However, the truth is that the Karaite movement was founded in 9th-century Persia in the city of Nahavand and spread extensively across Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A large community existed in Cairo and other Middle Eastern countries, in the Russian Empire and in Iran.

A family friend back in Iran once tried to describe this group of people who lived in their small town. Our friend did not use the term Karaites or Karaim (Hebrew), but referred to them as Sabbateans or people who observed Shabbat strictly but were not really Jews, adding that there was complete separation between the traditional Jewish community and the Karaites.

The breakaway Jewish sect - there is a community in Israel and most of them came from Cairo - recognize the Torah and celebrate major holidays, modify other traditions, reject the Talmud and rabbinical Judaism. During the Holocaust, its members managed to convince the Nazis they were not Jews. Some Persian traditional Jews, caught in Europe at the wrong times, claimed they were Karaites and were saved in that way.

In Israel, the tradition exists that men and women marrying with traditional Jews must follow rabbinical Judaism. The Karaites, among other unusual customs, will not use fire (or electric), or eat warm food, etc. on Shabbat.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Jamaica: Jewish cemetery expedition, March 2009

In March 2009, Caribbean Volunteer Expeditions will continue its historic Jewish cemetery inventory in the Kingston, Jamaica area, surveying two smaller historic cemeteries and checking the work done last year at Jamaica's oldest Jewish cemetery, Hunt's Bay.

Hunt's Bay (below) includes 17th-19th century gravestones.

The 2009 project - March 22-28 - is again at the request of United Congregation of Israelites Shaare Shalom Synagogue of Jamaica. New York City architect and New World Jewish historic sites authority Rachel Frankel will lead fieldwork.

Here's a Kohen burial with two hands in the distinctive pattern indicating the deceased's priestly status:

Here's the grave of merchant Avraham Baruh Alvares:

And here's the skull and crossbones on a Jewish pirate's grave:

As early as 1530, Jews fleeing European persecution settled in Jamaica where they played important roles in business, trade and the sugar industry.

Volunteers will inventory, photograph, and map the Orange and Elliston sites and check work begun at Hunt's Bay last year.

Lodging is at the Alhambra Inn (about $90/night doubles). For more information about the program and costs, send an email to Anne Hersh here or here. Click here for the website.

Netherlands: Portuguese-Jewish Cemetery, Ouderkerk

Henk van Kampen of the Netherlands has just contributed to the blog about Utrecht's Jewish cemetery. I would like to follow on with our first artistic contribution.

My knowledge of the "Portuguese-Jewish Cemetery, Ouderkerk, near Amsterdam - founded about 1615 - is based entirely on Jacob van Ruisdael's famous 1655 picture from the Dresden Art Gallery which was exhibited in London two years ago.

There is a twin painting in Detroit, which I have not seen.

Unfortunately, the famous cemetery is now a shadow of its former self.

Goethe was so impressed, that he wrote an essay about the picture and Constable also regarded the picture highly. Ruisdael's painting is largely allegorical and includes an imaginary landscape.

Many famous people were buried in this Sephardic cemetery and the graves were documented by David Henriques de Castro.

This JewishGen site discusses the cemetery under "Amsterdam."

Note the impressive tomb in the centre of the picture. There is an amazing story behind it here.

It is that of Doctor Philotheus Eliahu de Luna MONTALTO [aka Felipe Rodrigues de Castelo Branco.] Maria de Medici in Florence, where Dr MONTALTO was a respected practising physician, arranged for his body to be embalmed after his death in 1616 and sent to Ouderkerk for burial:

It is so sad we have no photographs of the early cemeteries in London which have been destroyed for ever but we do have two glorious paintings of this historic Amsterdam Sephardic cemetery.

Thank you, Jacob van Ruisdael.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Warsaw: Jewish tombstone photo exhibit planned

Ruth Ellen Gruber posted on her Jewish Heritage Travel blog about an exhibition planned on misused Jewish tombstones.

The Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland has posted an announcement that it will be working with the Ethnography Museum in Warsaw to put together a photographic exhibition on a fascinating, little-examined (and rather uncomfortable) topic - the use of Jewish tombstones (mazzevot) after the Holocaust in improper, even deliberately desecratory ways.

See here for more, including photographs.

Romania: Bucharest Jewish cemetery vandalized

Ruth Ellen Gruber posted on her Jewish Heritage Travel blog (October 24) concerning the desecration of the Bucharest Jewish Cemetery.

Read the post here.

Jewish cemetery in Bucharest vandalized

Unknown vandals toppled or otherwise damaged as many as 200 grave markers in the largest Jewish cemetery in Bucharest. There is a slideshow of the damage on yahoo news.

From what I can tell from news reports, the cemetery is the vast 20th century cemetery, still in use by the Jewish community, in the far south of the city at Soseau Giurgiului 162. This is where my own great-uncle, Pinkas Gruber, who died in 1980 at the age of 98, is buried.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Philadelphia: Abandoned Jewish Dutch cemetery

I’m glad this week that I paid attention to my postal mail. I received a missive from Stanley Barer, president of the Association for the Preservation of Abandoned Jewish Cemeteries in Philadelphia. I had barely remembered the role of Dutch Jews in the early history of Philadelphia. According to the literature, Philadelphia Dutch Jews founded the Ashkenazi synagogue, B'nai Israel Congregation, or the Hollander Synagogue, in 1857.

In the same year, they founded The Hebrew Mutual Burial Society Cemetery in Southwest Philadelphia. The cemetery was abandoned in the 1970s due to the society’s lack of membership and funds, and taken over by the city. For years, residents living near the cemetery complained about the dilapidated conditions, but there were no means for caring for this piece of history.

Now there is a way to honor the memories of the 440 Jews buried at The Hebrew Mutual Burial Society Cemetery and celebrate the history of Dutch Jews in America. In conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and the VAAD, Board of Rabbis, there is now an organized effort to restore and preserve the cemetery.

I encourage you to go to: to learn more about Dutch Jewish Philadelphia, and the plans for rebuilding this historical landmark.
Rabbi Gary M. Gans

Below are some pictures from the web site:

Photos are by
Community Design Collaborative

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Spain: Toledo's ancient cemetery in danger

Barcelona friends Dominique Tomasov Blinder and David Stoleru head the Zakhor Center, whose complete name is the Center of Studies Zakhor for the Protection and Transmission of Jewish Heritage.

Tracing the Tribe has previously written about Zakhor's establishment here.

Last week, in a phone conversation with David, he told me about the excavation of the ancient Toledo Jewish cemetery in Toldeo and that he would be visiting the city soon. the following is information sent out by Zakhor. I am waiting for an update based on Zakhor's trip to Toledo.

Late in September we learned of the expansion of a school in Toledo, which caused the excavation of the ancient Jewish cemetery prior construction. This school, built in the 1980s, already destroyed a great part of that cemetery, as well as the surrounding neighborhood.

Center of Studies ZAKHOR visited the site to meet with the archaeologist in charge and with the Director of Landmarks of the region of Castille-La Mancha, to explain the importance of this issue in Judaism and discuss the options of protection. Our intention is to find a solution for the site with respect for its meaning and to avoid irreversible damage.

This week, Atra Kadishah (Israel) traveled to Madrid together with a delegation of American rabbis, whose agenda included meetings with:

- the American Embassy, to express that this matter involves American Jewish heritage abroad, and conveying the deepest concern among American Jewry,

- the Department of Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Justice, and

- the Ambassador for Relations with the Jewish Communities of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In Barcelona, the Montjuic Jewish cemetery was designated a landmark as it was a place with clear sacred character, an element evocative of the historic Jewish memory and the fact that Judaism is a living culture with its own criteria about funerary rituals and cemeteries.

Toledo is the city where the three cultures flourished in the Middle Ages reaching at times exemplary levels of convivencia, where the famous School of Translators produced great pieces which contributed to the intellectual development of the world, a city where very important Rabbis from Catalonia and from Germany chose to live.

Today, besides two synagogues (of 10 that existed in medieval times) that are today museums, the ancient cemetery is the only other landmark remaining of the Jewish community which once lived there. This community certainly deserves respect for their tradition and beliefs.

This cemetery transcends the city of Toledo, as the descendants of Jews from Toledo now live around the world. Urban growth during the last century has destroyed most of it. Today there is a small portion, with some 85 tombs (including children and babies) that is vulnerable to construction and will disappear forever if nothing is done to prevent it.

Zakhor believes that there is another approach to handle ancient Jewish cemeteries, with respect to the tradition and with appropriate research to find more about them, so that future generations can enjoy a common heritage, can understand its meaning and can integrate it in their identity.

As soon as additional information is available, this blog will report it.

New York: Cemetery research, Nov. 8

Readers in New York may be interested in this upcoming Westchester County Genealogical Society meeting at 10am, Saturday, November 8.

"Gravely Speaking: the Who, What, When, Where & Why of Effective Cemetery Research" is Jo Heffernan's program. While not focused on Jewish cemetery research, the session seems to offer methodology that can be transplanted to cemeteries of all religions and ethnicities.

She is the author of several articles for both Italian Genealogical Group (IGG) and the Hudson County Genealogical Society of New Jersey. A teacher, Heffernan also served on the IGG's board for 10 years.

The meeting is at Aldersgate Methodist Church, Dobbs Ferry.

Check the society's homepage for more details of the meeting as well as other interesting future programs on such topics as City Directories, Censuses, Immigration, and the New York 1890 Police Census.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

First Rabbi in Rabbit World

We'd like to welcome the first rabbi in Rabbit World:
Gary M. Gans has been the rabbi of Congregation Beth Tikvah in Marlton, New Jersey for 28 years.
The congregation hosts the South Jersey branch of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Philadelphia. Gary is the Group Administrator of the Gesher Galicia DNA Project at Family Tree DNA, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Crescent Memorial Park cemetery, Pennsauken, NJ.
Gary was ordained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Philadelphia, where he was also awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree. Looking for a new challenge, he also earned a Doctor of Ministry degree in counseling from the Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, a remarkable achievement for a rabbi!
Gary is board certified as a Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of New Jersey, specializing in family therapy.
He is now doing fieldwork on a cure for addiction to genealogy…NOT!
Gary has one of the least expected hobbies for a rabbi:
he's an amateur radio operator (kosher Ham!) with the call sign N2EEF.
He will be available on this blog to answer questions about Jewish burial and memorial customs and to discuss Hebrew translations and symbols on tombstones.

Occasionally, after performing a funeral, I stroll through the cemetery appreciating the variety of tombstones and wondering about the people they represent. Such an event took place this summer at Har Yehudah cemetery in the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Darby. I was curious about a small footstone less than 2 feet high.

Around the perimeter was the deceased’s name, Julius Ochitkovsky. On horizontal rows were CO.F. , then 1 D.C. followed by INF, and then SP. AM. WAR. Clearly this was a marker for a Jewish veteran of the Spanish-American War of 1898. But what else was going on here?

Researching military tombstones, I soon realized, Julius had been a member of the F. Company of the First District of Columbia infantry regiment that had fought in Cuba. No other information was available on the stone and my genealogy bug and curiosity took over.

Checking the 1 June 1900 Census for Military and Naval Population, I found a recuperating Julius in the Washington Barracks of the General Military Hospital (precursor of Walter Reed Army Medical Center) nearly two years after the conclusion of the war.

He was listed as 31 years old, from 617 American St., Philadelphia, PA. He was born Jan 1879 and was from Russia, as were his parents. Julius arrived in the US in 1892 and was naturalized in 1899. Thus, he fought on behalf of the US after only being in the country for six years and became a citizen while recovering from his wounds.

I found a fascinating link to a newspaper article in the Washington Post from Thursday, 17 November 1898 describing a gala event as President McKinley addressed soldiers from the D.C. regiment. Listed among the participants was Private Julius Ochitkovsky. Click here to read the article; scroll down to Company F to see his name.

Still not having satisfied the genealogy bug, I contacted the cemetery office. Having the title “Rabbi” does have some small benefits, and they responded to my query immediately! I discovered Julius died at Coatesville (Pennsylvania) Veterans Home on 21 October 1935. His father’s name was Isaac, and a Yetta Ochitkovsky was the next of kin.

One last task was now to be completed. I found Yetta Ochitkovsky in the California death records. Yetta, whose maiden name was Cobert, was born on 1 April 1877 and died 21 November 1954 in Los Angeles, CA. How did she end up in California? I have no idea!

Who knows how long it has been since someone visited this grave or remembered Julius had even lived? There were no stones on this tombstone (a topic for future blogging.) For a few moments I visited the lonely grave of a wounded Jewish veteran and revealed a few details of his life.

May His Memory be for a Blessing.

Rabbi Gary M. Gans

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Vienna: Spot errors on Herzl's memorial

Born in Vienna, Celia Male arrived in Alexandria, Egypt at three weeks of age, and came to London in 1953. Her British father, a bank manager in Egypt, has family roots in Plock, while her Viennese mother's family roots are in Bohemia and Moravia.
Celia's life in Alexandria influenced her greatly. From her earliest days she was exposed to many cultures, languages and religions (hence her Sephardic Jewish interests).
She was an industrial biotechnology consultant (Oxford, Biochemistry). For the past 10 years, she's been digging around in the Habsburg Empire, has helped many people find their families and solved many genealogical puzzles. Her maxim is that genealogy is a serious matter, but should be fun and accessible to all. Reading about it should be enjoyable too.

We have all heard of errors which have been indelibly carved into stone - and here is a very surprising one. I am starting my contribution to this blog with this because of the importance of Theodor HERZL in Jewish history.

The HERZL family tombstone/memorial is at the Döblinger Friedhof, Vienna, in the section once exclusively used for Jewish burials. I know the cemetery well as one set of my great-great-grandparents are buried here as well as one set of my great-grandparents and countless relatives - they are all very close to the HERZL tombstone.

The original tombstone had the simple family name inscriptions, now reproduced exactly on the new shiny tombstone/memorial. This remains at the same spot as the original grave after the HERZL family was exhumed and reburied on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Click here for the Vienna website for the non-Jewish cemeteries (the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde - IKG - sadly relinquished its control over the Jewish section of the cemetery in the 1950s and it is now controlled by the Vienna Municipality) . You will not now find the name of the Herzl family as they are no longer buried there.

However, in 1904, Döbling did have a section under the jurisdiction of the IKG and it was known as the Israelitische Abteilung. The location of the grave is Isr. Abteilung I/1 - Crypt 30.

Theodor died on July 3rd 1904. The official cause of death was pneumonia. He was buried with his father Jacob Herzl (14 April 1838 - 9 June 1902). His mother Jeanette née DIAMANT (28 July 1836- 20 Feb. 1911) was later buried in the same grave.

Strangely, the Herzl tombstone/memorial at Döbling has the following inscription: In diesen Grabe wurde am 3 Juli 1904 Dr Theodor Herzl zur letzen ruhe bestatet. In dem gleichen Grabe ruhten seine Eltern Jacob und Jeanette Herzl... It continues that their earthly remains were exhumed on 14 August 1949 and taken to Israel for reburial.


The translation: that on the 3 July 1904 Dr Theodor Herzl was laid to rest. In the same grave *lay* [past tense] his parents Jacob and Jeanette ... Herzl.

You can read here about the funeral in blazing heat, which was attended by an estimated 6,000, all walking from the Herzl home in the Hainzingergasse to the cemetery. A simple hearse was followed by the women of the family in a carriage. The mourners included leading literary and political figures, Zionist deputations from Vienna, from all the towns and cities of Austria, and from all countries of Europe. ....and behind these the countless masses of the unbidden, who came in no one's name, young and old, pietists and atheists, plain folk and "society". .... Never before had a Jew been accompanied thus to his grave.

No one has ever commented before on the erroneous inscription on the former tombstone / memorial grave which I have visited many times!

Have you spotted the two errors?

The funeral was on the 7th July 1904 and, furthermore, his mother did not predecease him: you can read his obituary notice here and that confirms these two facts:

Neue Freue Presse (NFP), Vienna, 5 July 1904, p. 19

How strange that such an important tombstone/memorial should have two such blatant errors. Readers of the Jewish Graveyard Rabbit are the first to be told officially.

The super bonus for me is that the obituary notice next to Herzl's - for Ludwig Treutch - has a vital link (TREUSCH NEUSTADTL GOLDSTEIN SCHOTTEK) to my family, the WOTTITZ from Pressburg - yes, the very great-grandparents buried next to Herzl's grave. I had been looking high and low for this and miraculously here it is!

Netherlands: Utrecht's Jewish cemetery

Henk van Kampen, of the Netherlands, is the author of The Graveyard Rabbit of Utrecht and Het Gooi, and he's recently posted about Utrecht's Jewish cemetery, with exterior photographs and a link to others.

Visit his site to see the photographs and other postings.
On my way to the first cemetery visit since I'm a graveyard rabbit, I passed the Jewish cemetery of Utrecht. I can't read the Hebrew (I assume) text above the door, but the Dutch text on the door is clear: Toegang verboden, no admission (litt. access forbidden).

Many Jewish cemeteries are walled in and inaccessible - probably the consequence of many centuries of European antisemitism. Maybe at a later date I will ask permission to visit and photograph, but for the time being I only have a few photos from the outside. Fortunately, there are also
several photos on the website of the Utrecht archive.

Henk's destination and the subject of his next post is the graveyard of Oud Zuilen.

We hope Henk asks for permission to visit and photograph the Jewish cemetery.

He's also the author of Trace your Dutch roots, a blog about Dutch genealogy.