Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Spain: Toledo cemetery work halted

Both Tracing the Tribe and this blog reported on the medieval Jewish cemetery discovered during a construction project in Toledo, Spain.

According to JTA, the Spanish government ordered a freeze on the school building project on December 19, following meetings at the Spanish Foreign Ministry with representatives of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, the Conference of Spanish Rabbis, the Conference of European Rabbis and the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE).

More than 100 graves have been exhumed from the building site, an expansion of a nearby state school, according to Rabbi Abraham Ginsburg, executive director of the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe.

Toledo regional authorities are currently storing more than 100 skeletons in separate boxes, Ginsburg told JTA Thursday.

‘At present our main aim is to ensure that no further desecration is taking place and we are committed by Jewish law and tradition to ensure that those graves are being preserved in their sanctified and dignified manner in perpetuity,’ Ginsburg said.

The freeze will last until January 15, 2009, although a scheduled January 12 meeting in Toledo will see Jewish organizations requesting that the freeze be extended until the matter is resolved.

A rabbinic board is consulting with international rabbinic courts to determine what can be done according to Jewish law. There are many intact graves inside the 13th century cemetery.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Barcelona: Museum hosts Jewish cemetery seminar, January 15-16

The City History Museum of Barcelona will host a two-day conference - Archaelogical Intervention on Historical Necropolises: Jewish Cemeteries - on January 15-16, 2009.

Considering the current controversy about the medieval Jewish cemetery in Toledo, this is a timely topic.

The museum's mission "is the reassessment of the historic heritage of Barcelona, whether the items are movable or immovable. In other words, the museum is responsible for the conservation, research, and dissemination of the objects and buildings that are significant for our collective history and that exemplify the city's past... the best city museum is the city itself, and that it is in its streets, squares, and buildings where we can interpret the passage of time and the interaction of the men and women that have made, throughout the centuries, today's Barcelona possible"

The seminar has been organized because artistic, historical and cultural heritage forms an asset which, following its institutional recognition and classification, is safeguarded by the public administrations.

This heritage, formed by elements and ensembles which the successive historical legacies have left in a territory,consists of very different types of cultural goods in which the respective collectives as a whole recognise themselves. In the case of the medieval Jewish legacy, Barcelona has recently opened the Barcelona Jewish Quarter Information Centre and the city also possesses an important Jewish necropolis on Montjuic hill. These are historical expressions of a period in the city's past when the Jewish community played a highly significant role.

The Jewish inheritance is a valuable legacy of Barcelona which is being added progressively to the city's visible heritage. For this reason, before acting on the necropolis of Monjuic, it is appropriate to sediment [sic] the legal and scientific arguments which will allow action to be taken there will all due rigour and the necessary sensitivity. This conference, which is open to all interested persons and which will be welcoming experts and professionals from different places in the world, proposes to analyze the vicissitudes experienced in other actions on Jewish necropolises, and then to approach the case of Barcelona from the legal and scientific standpoints.

While there is a need for such forums throughout Spain to discuss issues related to documentation, protection, preservation and presentation of Jewish heritage, I fear, however, that the views expressed by the invited experts may not reflect a representative sample of opinion. The very wording of the statement of purpose of the seminar, which sets out to examine the question of the Barcelona Jewish cemetery from a "legal and scientific" standpoints suggests that others approaches - religious, ethical, moral, historical and cultural - may get short shrift. I hope not. These approaches need to be considered as part of archaeology, too.

The seminar will prsent distinguished speakers, although the majority are by archaelogists - some of whom are on record as being dissatisfied with resolutions where human remains from medieval cemeteries have been re-interred, or those in the field of heritage site management. There is no presentation of Jewish law or tradition from a scholar or authority on Jewish burial practices to provide appropriate balance.

To read much more about the conference, my views and concerns covering religious aspects and other related Jewish cemetery issues, click here.

Georgia: Savannah Jewish burial marker

The Historical Marker Database provides images of markers concerning the Jewish cemetery in Savannah, Georgia.

This marker was erected by the Georgia Historical Marker group, and the inscription reads:

Established by Mordecai Sheftall on August 2, 1773 from lands granted him in 1762 by King George III as a parcel of land that "shall be, and "forever remain, to and for the use and purpose of a Place of Burial for all persons whatever professing the Jewish Religion.

During the ill fated attempt of the French forces under Admiral Charles Henri, Comte d'Estaing, and the American forces under General Benjamin Lincoln, to recapture Savannah from the British, General Lincoln's Orders of the Day of October 8, 1779 stated that "The second place of rallying, or the first if the redoubt should not be carried, will be at the Jew's burying ground, where the reserve will be placed."

According to the account of Captain Antoine-Francoise Terance O'Conner, a military engineer serving with the French forces, on October 9, 1779, shortly after 4:00 A. M. "The reserve corps, commanded by M. le Vicomte de Noailles, advanced as far as an old Jewish cemetery, and we placed on its right and a little to the rear the four 4-pounders."

See the link above for other markers and more information.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Massachusetts: Jewish Cemetery Association

The Jewish Cemetery Association of Massachusetts now has a blog, begun in November. The site does not appear to be very active (10 postings in November, only 1 in December), but there are some interesting items there.

Are your ancestors resting at a Massachusetts Jewish cemetery? What does that cemetery mean to you? What are some of your memories about those resting there?

This category is intended to introduce you an important contribution related to our Jewish presence in Massachusetts—Jewish cemeteries. Many people are not aware of the significant role that Jewish cemeteries played and still plays in the formation of our vibrant Jewish communities in Massachusetts today.

For instance, did you know that the first Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts was established in 1844 in East Boston (Ohabei Shalom Cemetery, see above picture). Did you also know that prior to 1844 Jews were not allowed to be buried in Massachusetts?

Click on the above link to read the postings. Click here for the JCAM site with news and announcements pertaining to the state's Jewish cemeteries. Learn about the JCAM's newest edition of "History & Guide: Massachusetts Jewish Cemeteries" as part of their 25th anniversary commemoration. It includes maps and directions to all 209 state Jewish cemeteries and history from 1844.

Berlin: Prenzlauer Berg cemetery photos

Two young people - Emily and Joe - living in Berlin write the new blog, Briefe und Zeitungen.

The first post I discovered was dated December 14. In Berlin itself of course is the largest Jüdischer Friedhof (Jewish cemetery) in Europe, in the northern Weissensee neighborhood.

However, Emily and Joe visited the smaller cemetery in Prenzlauer Berg, south of Weissensee, which was in use until the early 20th century. Their photographs are beautiful.

The cemetery had reached capacity well before the war, and was no longer used in part due to a statewide effort to move all burial grounds away from densely populated areas. It is in some ways, therefore, primordial: moss is growing on many of the headstones, some of which are so faded and weathered as to resemble soft, permeable sandstone. Reading the once careful, condensed inscriptions on these stones is no longer possible. The trees are starting to sag, their bark cracking and peeling, their roots reaching up through the ordered cobblestones. Ivy dominates all natural surfaces. In this way it resembles many other ancient, overflowing cemeteries scattered across all of Europe and the western world. At the same time, however, this natural decay was once savagely disrupted. Headstones and other markers, columns and pillars, have been knocked over, and some remain neatly but unapologetically stacked in adjoining pathways. One can only imagine their untimely and violent overthrow. ...

The text also mentions some restoration work that appears to have been done.

Scrolling down, in the entry dated Friday, December 12, I also found their visit to the Maybachufer Turkish Market recorded in text and colorful photos. This market takes place from 11am-7pm on Tuesdays and Fridays, on the Landwehrkanal between Kottbusser Damm and Hobrechtstrasse.

Sarajevo's Jewish cemetery

Sarajevo Jewish Cemetery, c1900

Sarajevo's long and important Jewish history is addressed in this article in the online Balkan Insight.

The story concerns the war in Bosnia and the Jewish community, but for this blog, the important focus is the information on the famous Sarajevo cemetery.

The author, Denis Dzidic, quotes USHMM researcher Aleksandra Cholewa who is working on a project in Bosnia documenting crimes against Jews during WWII. The Commission for Preservation of National Monuments in Bosnia and Herzegovina reported that five of the eight most significant Jewish monuments were damaged during the three-year seige, 1992-1995.

The Sarajevo cemetery on Mount Trebevic in Kovacici is a very famous Sephardic burial site, and was established in 1630 when the land was rented by Rabbi Samuel Baruch. His gravestone existed until the fighting in the 1990s. Unfortunately, the site took direct hits during the fighting. The unusually shaped tombstones (see below) are inscribed in Hebrew and Ladino (Judeo-Spanish).

The chief glory of the cemetery was the gravestones, erected in a style found nowhere else expect Spain – the land from which many Bosnian Jews's ancestors came, after being expelled by the ultra-Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella.

The Commission for Preservation of National Monuments in Bosnia estimates that “about 95 per cent of the stones” were damaged in the war. The Cemetery was also mined, and was not cleared until 1998.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was home to some 14,000 Jews before WWII and most of them lived in Sarajevo. Only 4,000 survived and half of them moved to Israel.

Today, Sarajevo has about 800 Jewish residents, with smaller numbers in Tuzla, Mostar and Zenica. In the Serbian republic (Republika Srpska), there are some 200 Jews, half in Doboj, the rest in Banja Luka.

Since November 2005, Cholewa has collected the oral histories of some 200 Jews in former Yugoslavia. The article also interviewed former residents and detailed their history and escape from the city, how international organizations organized convoys and where the Jewish refugees went.

Here's the link to more detailed information about the cemetery from the 2003 report made by the International Survey of Jewish Monuments.

For more information on former Yugoslav Jewish cemeteries, see JewishGen's International Cemetery Project here. Click here for more on the Jewish history of Sarajevo.

The history of the Jews in Sarajevo can be traced back over 400 years ago when the first Jews arrived in Sarajevo as early as 1541 via Salonika. They were mostly artisans, merchants, pharmacists, and doctors. They built their own quarter, dubbed El Cortijo (the courtyard), in 1577 with permission from the pasha Siavush. The community built a synagogue in El Cortijo in 1580 with the help of a Turkish benefactor, in a building called Velika Avlija. By the end of the 16th century, the building where Velika Avlija stood became known as old Jewish Cathedral, Sarajevo’s first synagogue.

Click here for an excellent newsletter article and photos from Hebrew University's Center of Jewish Art's newsletter on former Yugoslav Jewish cemeteries and synagogues titled "Bosnia/Herzegovina and Croatia: Documenting Jewish Art and Architecture."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

South Carolina: Historic cemetery data

Terry Thornton, creator of the Association of Graveyard Rabbits, and thus the impetus to the founding of the International Jewish Graveyard Rabbit, pointed me to a booklet by Dr. Barnett A. Elzas, rabbi (in 1903) of K.K. Beth Elohim, in Charleston, South Carolina.

In a private edition of 250 copies, Elzas published the transcriptions found in three old Charleston Jewish cemeteries. Find the downloadable book here.

Here's an excerpt from the introduction to "Old Jewish Cemeteries at Charleston, SC: A Transcript of the Inscriptions on Their Tombstones." I have bolded the family names.

The cemetery at Coming Street is the oldest Jewish cemetery in South Carolina. It was originally purchased by Isaac Da Costa, the first Hazan of Beth Elohim, for a private burying place for his own family. "Finding that it would be a convenient place for the Burial Ground of the Jews' Congregation in general," he, "out of regard for the said congregation became willing and desirous, and did afterwards intend that the same should be conveyed in trust to the congregation."

Carrying out his original intention. Isaac Da Costa, conveyed this burial ground in 1764, for a consideration of seventy pounds lawful money of the province, in trust to certain trustees" for a place of burial for the use of the Jews residing in Charles Town or elsewhere within the Province of South Carolina, who do and shall conform to the Jewish rites and ceremonies in general, and who do and shall conform to and observe the rules, orders and regulations of the Jews congregation in Charles Town named Beth Eloim."

The following are the trustees mentioned in the deed: Joshua Hart, Immanuel Cortissos, Joseph Da Costa and Samuel Da Costa, of Charles Town, and members of the Jews congregation in Charles Town known by the name of Beth Eloim.

Benjamin Mendes Da Costa, Joseph Salvador, Esq., Solomon Da Costa, Moses Franco and Joshua Mendes Da Costa, of the city of London, and members of the Portuguese Jews congregation in the said city known by the name of Sahar Ashamaim.

Jacob Lopes Torres, Isaac Mendes Furtado. Benjamin Dias Fernandes, Isaac Henriquez and Abraham Aguilar, of the Island of Jamaica, and members of the Jews congregation in King's Town in the said Island, known by the name of Sahar Ashamaim.

Isaac Piza, Benjamin Messias, David Castello, David Lindo and Isaac Pinheiro, of the Island of Barbadoes, and members of the Jews congregation in Bridge Town in said Island, by the name of Nidhe Israel.

Jacob Franks, Daniel Gomes, Benjamin Gomes, Isaac Mendes Seixas and Heyman Levy, of the city of New York, and members of the Jews congregation in that city known by the name of Schorit Israel.

Moses Lopes, Moses Levy, Naphtali Hart, Jacob Rods. Rivera and Aaron Lopes, of New Port, Rhode Island, and members of the Jews congregation in the said Island known by the name of Yeshuat Israel.

Benjamin Sheftal, Mordecai Sheftal, Minis Minis, Isaac De Lyon and Levy Sheftal, of the Town of Savannah in the Province of Georgia, and members of the Jews congregation in the said Town of Savannah, known by the name of Mikve Israel.

The deed is recorded in the office of Mesne Conveyance, Vol. C 3, p. 108 sq.

Those searching Sephardic families will find much information as most of the area's original Jewish settlers were indeed Sephardim. Ashkenazi Jews arrived later. There is a full name index.

Reading through the inscriptions, see individuals born in South Carolina, Massachusetts, New York and other current US locations or natives of Curacao, London, Dublin, Amsterdam, Gibraltar, Germany, France, Prussia, Bavaria, Italy, Poland and elsewhere. Tablets on cemetery walls are in memoriam to relatives who died elsewhere. The deceased died as infants, assassinated on a journey, of yellow fever, in swimming accidents, in shipwrecks, or as Civil War soldiers. Others enjoyed full long lives into their 80s.

The transcription booklet offers many details including origin of the deceased, dates, family relationships. Here is an example:

Sacred to the Memory of

A native of the State of New York and for the last sixty years a resident of this city, who departed this life on the 16th. day of the month Tammuz, in the year 5595 of the Creation, corresponding to the 13th. July 1835, aged 81 years, 11 months, and 14 days.

The deceased served as a Subaltern Officer in the militia of South Carolina during a great part of the Revolution, until made a prisoner of war in 1780. He was also attached to the Forlorn Hope when the line* of Savannah were attacked by the combined forces of Gen. Lincoln and Count de Estaing.

As the deceased was an example of patriotism, so in private life he was a model of the domestic virtues, of a sound judgment and well cultivated mind. His career through life was marked by the esteem and respect, and his end by the sincere regret of numerous friends and connexions.

Elzas wrote four additional booklets detailing other South Carolina Jewish cemeteries (names and links below). Find all of them, in a variety of downloadable formats, on the American Libraries site. Topics include the cemeteries at Georgetown, Orangeburg, Charleston (Brith Shalom and Beth Elohim), as well as the transcription edition.

Here are the links for each booklet and introductory remarks by Elzas:

Georgetown, SC:
"The Jewish cemetery at Georgetown is the second oldest Jewish cemetery in South Carolina, and contains a number of inscriptions of historical interest. I have not been able to trace its history owing to the fact that the records in Georgetown prior to the War are no longer in existence."

"This Cemetery, the property of the Hebrew Benevolent Society, of Orangeburg, was purchased in 1886."

"This [General] Cemetery, situated near Magnolia Cemetery, at Charleston, S. C, has been in use since 1856. The inscriptions on its tombstones will furnish the best guide to the various strata of Russian and Polish immigration of the Jewish element in the population of Charleston, S. C, which to-day numerically far outnumbers the remnants of the older elements.

"The cemetery at St. Andrew's Parish: This cemetery, now belonging to the Congregation Berith Shalome, formerly belonged to ''Hevry Bikur Holini," Amalgamated Aug. 27, 1897. It comprises "one acre on Sycamore Avenue, Hillsborough Plantation, in St. Andrew's Parish, Berkeley Coimty, originally conveyed to Hevry Bikur Holim by Deed dated Jan. 7, 1887, and recorded in the Mesne Conveyance Office for Berkeley County, Book A No. 3, p. 220."

"The New Jewish Cemetery of K.K. Beth Elohim, Charleston, SC: The modern cemetery of the Congregation Beth Elohim, situated on Huguenin Avenue, was purchased in 1887. It replaced an older cemetery at Rickersville, from which all the bodies were removed to the present site."

Note for international readers: I often learn about resources on Google Books. However, as my computer is identified as located outside the US, I am limited in what I can view due to certain restrictions. American Libraries is an excellent alternative and I generally have no problem downloading or viewing the same sources.

Why visit a Jewish cemetery?

For genealogists, the reason is obvious, but others may not understand why visiting cemeteries is a valuable experience. Here are some of the main reasons to visit a (Jewish) cemetery:

- It's free. No entrance fee (at least for the living).
- It's open 24-hours a day (except Shabbat and Holy Days).
- Residents are always at home.
- No appointment required.
- Talk all you want; no one will argue with you.
- Always meet new people and learn something new.
- Stories don’t change according to who tells them.
- It's quiet, calm, and if you talk, no one will shush you.
- Did I mention entrance is free?
- Addresses don’t change, people just get new neighbors.
- Every city has one (or more).
- No grandma is going to stuff you with food.
- Come empty-handed - no one will complain.

Do you have your own reasons?
We'd love to hear from Rabbit's readers - so just write a comment!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Israel: Rachel's Tomb

1910 view

This week, we read the Torah portion וישלך Vayishlach, Genesis 32:4-36:43 throughout the Jewish world.

In this text, we read about the death and burial of our Biblical Matriarch Rachel. She dies while giving birth to Benjamin, and is buried by her grieving husband Jacob. In Genesis 35:20, Jacob buries her and sets up a pillar over her grave. It is located on the northern entrance of Bethlehem, adjacent to the neighborhood of Gilo.

Rachel’s tomb has been mentioned by Jewish travelers since about 1300 CE. The actual tomb consists of a rock with 11 stones; one for each of the sons of Jacob. Over the centuries, the rock was covered by a dome supported by four arches. In 1841, Sir Moses Montefiore was granted permission by the occupying Ottoman Turkish empire to restore the tomb. He funded the construction of the large two room building seen today.

This Biblical cairn or pile of stones was a precursor of today’s more familiar markers. It continues to be the Jewish custom to mark a grave with a monument.

The dedication or unveiling of a grave stone is a custom that can be held anytime after the Shloshim (30 day mourning period). Sephardi Jews commonly dedicate the stone soon after the conclusion of the Shloshim, which is also the custom of many Ashkenazi Jews in Israel.

Ashkenazim in the Diaspora (outside the Land of Israel) often dedicate the monument near the first Yahrtzeit (Yiddish, the anniversary of death.)

Rabbi Gary M. Gans

Netherlands: New rabbi makes cemeteries a priority

The European Jewish Press reported on the newly appointed Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands, Rabbi Binyamin Jacobs.

Jacobs detailed his two main priorities in the article. The first is to seek out Jews who were adopted by Christians during WWII (read more on this issue at Tracing the Tribe) and the second concerns Jewish cemeteries:

Another issue Rabbi Jacobs wants to raise is the restoration and maintenance of Jewish cemeteries dispersed throughout Holland.

These cemeteries were first created as early as in the 17th century when Jews settled in Holland, mostly escaping oppression and inquisition from the Iberian Peninsula.

The rabbi believes that the Dutch government ought to participate in the funding of the preservation and maintenance of these cemeteries because of their special historical value.

Rabbi Jacobs is one of the Netherlands' veteran rabbis and a member of the Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), the prominent rabbinical body. He's the first to serve in this position since 1986.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Curacao: Beit Haim Blenheim Jewish cemetery

Philadelphia's Jewish Exponent mentioned Curacao's Jewish cemeteries (and photographs) in its latest travel article by Rita Charleston.

Jewish heritage is evident in Curaçao, home of the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western hemisphere. Founded in 1651, Sephardic Congregation Mikve Israel is now called Mikve Israel-Emanuel after a 1964 merger.

The beautifully constructed, two-story, yellow-colored building is particularly inviting. Step inside and onto a soft white-sand floor. Our tour guide said the sand symbolizes the 40 years the Jewish people spent wandering in the Sinai Desert after they fled from Egypt. Other people say the tradition dates from the Inquisition, when synagogues in Spain and Portugal were covered with sand to muffle the footsteps of Jews worshipping in secret.

If you visit the island, see the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum. In the courtyard are replicas of some of the beautiful headstones from the cemetery, Beit Haim Blenheim, which includes as many as 5,500 burials. The Jewish Quarter of "Scharloo" may also be of interest.

Read the complete article for more information at the link above.

Guess who's buried in a Jewish cemetery?

In this series of life’s surprises, I will begin to offer an intriguing array of celebrities and the infamous who are buried in Jewish cemeteries!

Along the way, I also hope to teach a bit about Jewish burial customs - as my grandfather would say, “for the same price.”

Who can forget where they were on November 22, 1963 when Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy? A more difficult task may be trying to remember who you were with two days later when Lee Harvey Oswald himself was killed by Jack Ruby.

I was at a Philadelphia Eagles football game standing on line to enter the old Franklin Field when we heard the news. I remember the first comments I heard from my father, “Are you kidding, someone killed Oswald?” and “I hope he’s not Jewish!”

Live on TV that Sunday morning in a Dallas police station, Jack Ruby certainly killed the presidential assassin - and, yes, he was in fact a member of our tribe.

Ruby died in prison of lung cancer on January 3, 1967. All Jews are equal in death and he was no exception. He is buried at Chicago's Westlawn Cemetery. Below is his traditional tombstone with the inscription “Beloved Son and Brother JACK RUBY April 25, 1911- January 3, 1967.”

At the bottom of the marker is the Hebrew acronym found on many Jewish graves, TAV NUN TZADI BET HEY, translated as, “May His Soul be Bound into the Bonds of Life Eternal.” Even a convicted murderer is given a blessing at his death!

The fine folks at http://www.findagrave.com/ will even show you the plot number and gps coordinates.

If you have suggestions of unusual Jews and their grave sites to analyze, please contact me at firstrabbiinrabbitworld@gmail.com

Rabbi Gary M. Gans

Netherlands: 1639-48 Jewish burial register online

The Municipal Archives of Amsterdam has published the "Burial Register of the Portuguese-Israelite-Municipality Talmud Torah in Amsterdam, 1639-1648" (Comessado em Pesah do Anno 5399 em Amsterdam, in Portuguese). Introduction, text and index: Lydia Hagoort, with W.Chr. Pieterse.

This transcription is the first both printed and digital book by Amsterdam's Municipal Archives. The download is free.

The website is in Dutch, as is the information about the register. With a smattering of languages, I got through a quick overview, but I know missed many important details. However, as in most genealogical books, lists of names are not dependent on language. A name is a name, and this register is a goldmine if you are searching Sephardic names.

The homepage links to an article about the register, and in the article is the download link for the book, which text is mostly in Portuguese with some Hebrew. Other portions are in Dutch.

Entries offer data concerning each burial: name, family relation, burial date and a list of people attending the burial with indications of the amount they paid - I am not sure if these figures were as contributions to a particular burial or as general donations to the cemetery. Sometimes the family relationship is mentioned: son, grandson or uncle of the deceased. Data includes Jewish and/or secular dates.

There are also lists of people who paid for burials or for gravestones. Annual expense accountings are included.

An earlier burial register over the years 1615-1630, was published previously: Livro de Bet Haim do Kahal Kados de bet Yahacob (1970, original text), by Wilhelmina C. Pieterse. The next register, beginning in 1680, has not yet been published.

On page 8, find a note on names and variants, including changes in initial, middle or endings of certain names. I have added some others not in that note:

Barrasa, Baraza, Barazza, Barassa, Barraza, Barasa
Curiel, Corial
Paache, Palache, Pahache, Payache
Bivas, Bibas
Palasios, Palacios
Mendes, Mendez
Anar, Nar, Naar
Valerio, Valeirio
Barbanel, Abarbanel
Yessurun, Yezurun, Ysarun, Ysurun, Yisurun, Juzurun, Esarun

First names also offer variations. For example, Jacob may be listed as Yahacob, Yacob, Jacob, Jaquo, Yaquo and others.

There is a glossary of Hebrew terms, with explanations in Dutch. A bibliography of useful texts is on page 10, and the cross-referenced Name Register starts on page 198. The introduction reveals there are some 165 hand-written pages in the original.

For a very detailed article (in Dutch) about the 1614-1943 Jewish community archives, click here. The book is available free for download at the links above.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Poland: Przemysl's Jewish cemetery project

David Semmel writes the Jewish Prezemysl Blog, which is devoted to the descendants who are researching and remembering 700 years of Jewish life in the town.

A recent post details work on the cemetery project, and a plea for funds to continue preservation and restoration work at the Slowackiego Street Cemetery, spearheaded by Dr. John Hartman, who leads The Remembrance & Reconciliation Foundation.

Anyone who has been to the site ten years ago and recently can testify as to the progress - and the amount of work that remains.

We wage a constant battle against the elements in the form of yearly maintenance and repair. In general, the winters in Przemysl are harsh and combined with the hilly topography of the site, there is constant and serious erosion in many places.

In addition, there was a windstorm recently that downed several trees, requiring an unplanned, emergency clean-up.

We are lucky to employ one of the very few Jews left in the town, Mr. Jocaim Glettner, a mason by trade, as the general contractor/overseer. Paying him, and just keeping up with maintenance usually costs $5,000/year – but over $8,000 this year as the dollar tanked.

Hartman and Semmel together raise about two-thirds of the funds which are mostly used for current upkeep with no funds for restoration or other projects.

Prezemysl descendants may be interested in remembering their ancestors by contributing to star plaques commemorating mass-murder victims ($100 each); Jewish historical plaques for the cemetery wall ($500 each); construction of a walkway between the two mass-murder monuments ($7,500); and the clearing of walks and access paths in the cemetery's older sections ($1,000) .

The Foundation is a tax-exempt, non-profit 501(c)3 organization and contributions are used only for projects in Poland. See the Foundation link above to make donations, or obtain more information.

Contact Semmel through his blog and Hartman through the Foundation.

Wales: Jewish cemetery in Merthyr Tydfil

On a photo site, I found an image of the old Jewish cemetery in Merthyr Tydfil. According to the photographer, it is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in South Wales. Here's the entrance to the cemetery.

The site was purchased in the 1860s, with the first burial in 1867 and others in 1872. there is a poem recited by Grahame Davies, with a link to the full text and recording.

Hungary: Jewish cemetery of Tinnye

The English-language Budapest Times posted an article and photographs about the Jewish cemetery in Tinnye, some 35 km northwest of Budapest.

The village of Tinnye, located around 35 km northwest of Budapest, has just 1,350 residents. Earlier Tinnye was a popular trading spot: roads from Buda, Esztergom and Székesfehérvár intersected here, and there were wealthy noble families as well as a bustling marketplace. The livelier a place has been, the more present death is. Tinnye has eight cemeteries.

The story, by Astrid Stangl, focuses on Eszter Toth, a German school teacher in Piliscsaba, who has been researching the area's history, including Tinnye's cemeteries. Her work is now on display at Budapest's Museum of Ethnography.

It mentions burial sites for the town's nobility, upper middle class and the Roman Catholic majority population, although Toth says that, in the old reformed Dióstemető (Walnut) cemetery, it was the custom to place gravestones at the foot of the grave instead of the head, as is common today. The Roman Catholics placed simple wooden crosses, and metal ones produced in the adjacent village of Piliscsaba are also seen.

In 1820, a synagogue was built, but is today used for storage. The Jewish cemetery has some 100 graves, some with Hebrew inscriptions. A cholera epidemic hit the town between 1837-47:

People were forbidden from entering the cemetery of the cholera victims to stop the disease from spreading. The cemetery was surrounded by dense lilac bushes and acacia trees.

Melancholy poems and inscriptions can be read on the 35 gravestones that remain. Next to the inscriptions broken off twigs can be seen as symbols of lives that ended far too young.

Tóth’s photographs of Tinnye’s cemeteries are on display through February 22, 2009 at the Musueum of Ethnography. The site is in Hungarian. I found some photos of some of the cemeteries, but none of the Jewish one.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Washington DC: Arlington National Cemetery

Marlene Bishow of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington (JGSGW) has provided information on new records added to the group's website for the "Ken Poch Index of Jews Buried in Arlington National Cemetery."

Bishow is the group's immediate past president, current ANC project manager, and will co-chair the 31st IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Washington, DC.

Self-proclaimed historian of Jews buried in ANC, Kenneth Poch began the project more than 10 years before his 2003 death. His family donated 12 boxes of his work to the JGSGW.

Based on that research, webmaster Ernie Fine developed the website with a Steve Morse-model search engine. Currently, there are more than 2,600 entries; an additional 600 will go online in January 2009. More than 2,000 gravemarkers photos (taken by Poch) have been scanned by volunteers and will be added with links to view them online, and new photos will also be added.

Genealogical data is being added to the database using Poch's data and that of the group's volunteers. Visitors to the website are encouraged to submit names and additional information about Jews buried in ANC. For the present, the search is limited to the names of the interred.

Here (above) is the monument for sculptor Moses J. Ezekiel.

For more information, click here. To submit information, follow contact page directions.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

UK: Skull and crossbones, Sephardic graves

Although I am certainly no expert on Jewish tombstone symbols, I must comment on the caption in the Jamaica cemetery section of this blog which implies that the skull and crossbones are symbols for a Jewish pirate's grave.

I recently was lucky enough to visit the site of the oldest Jewish cemetery in England in the grounds of Queen Mary's College, Mile End in the East End of London. Here are some photographs I took on my visit.

It is now hemmed in by buildings on two sides and has little to show of its former status as the graves were horizontal and are mostly now completely covered by turf and unreadable (left below).

There are a few other remains stacked by the perimeter wall, all having skull and crossbones on them (see below). The cemetery still has a very special feel and is very peaceful - a haven in the bustling and rather delapidated Mile End.

The Old Velho Sephardi Cemetery, as it is known, was created just over 350 years ago on the orders of the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, who, overruling his own council, officially readmitted Jews to England for the first time since their expulsion in 1290. It was opened in 1657 and closed in 1742. It was the first Jewish cemetery to be opened following the readmission of Jews to this country under Oliver Cromwell.

A particular feature of Sephardi cemeteries are the flat tombstones which I am told symbolize that all are equal in death - rich or poor, high or low. Abraham Fernandez Carvajal, the founder of the modern Anglo-Jewish community, is buried in the old Velho cemetery as as well as Haham David Nieto, one of the greatest Sephardic spiritual leaders (born Venice 1654 - died London, January 10, 1728) and the physician Dr. Fernando Mendes. This interesting article discusses the background of Carvajal and the early Sephardim in London; read here about David Nieto.
Above right, see an image of the decaying wall plaque listing leaders of the community.

Surely the skull and cross bones in a universal symbol for death and fleeting nature of life and has nothing to do with pirates who could not have lived and flourished in Mile End in the 1600s?

These symbols from an early Scottish Christian cemetery look very similar to the ones in the old Velho cemetery:

Philly 2009: Website live, Call for Papers open!

The website - Philly2009.org - and the important Call for Papers for the 29th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is now up and running. More information is sure to be added rapidly.

Mark your calendars, check for plane and train tickets, for what will be an excellent conference hosted by the JGS of Greater Philadelphia and the IAJGS at Philly's Sheraton Center City Hotel from August 2-7, 2009.

The proposal submittal deadline is January 15, 2009, with acceptance notification by February 28, 2009. Program co-chairs are the well-known Mark Halpern and Mark Heckman.

Proposals are welcomed on all relevant topics, including workshops and panel discussions, and new presentations (not offered at the past three annual conferences). The committee is particularly interested in the following topics:

Research sources/methodology for beginning genealogists
Research sources/Jewish history: Philadelphia area
Genealogical research: Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware
Research resources/methodology: Ukraine, Eastern/Central Europe
South/Central America
Western Europe
Other locales (Australia, China, South Africa, India, etc.)
Jewish immigration/migration
Jewish surname adoption/naming patterns
Holocaust research
Genetics/DNA research Jewish history/culture
Jewish music/theater
Jewish food
Photographic/document preservation
Technology/Internet resources
Computer training workshops
Other training workshops (e.g. photo identification, document preservation)

Encouraged are presentations and workshops providing practical research methodologies that will help conference participants in their research. Highly original topics will be given special consideration.

Presentations and panel discussions are 75 minutes including 15 minutes Q&A; workshops are 2 hours long. Speakers may submit any number of proposals.

Sole speakers with at least one accepted proposal will receive complimentary conference registration. Speakers sharing accepted proposals will receive partial registration fee waivers.

All proposals must be submitted using the Conference website by clicking on the “Begin Submission” button. Proposals submitted by other means (e-mail or regular mail, etc.) will not be accepted. Before submitting online, prepare the following items:

Presenter/s full name, mail address, email and phone
Brief biographical sketch
Summary of recent presentation experience
Title of presentation
Program type (presentation, workshop, panel)
Brief description of the presentation
Audience skill level (beginner, intermediate, advanced)

Speakers are required to provide handout material for each presentation to be included in the syllabus distributed to all Conference registrants. All materials must be uploaded using the Conference website. Letters of acceptance will provide more details.

Ok, genners, time to get cracking on readying your programs.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Spain: Toledo cemetery photographs

The Jewish Graveyard Rabbit recently posted about the ancient Jewish Cemetery in Toledo, Spain that was threatened by a school expansion project.

Rabbit has learned that a demonstration was called today in Tel Aviv, Israel in front of the Embassy of Spain at 5 Dubnow Street.

Rabbit also received photographs of the Toledo site, which appear here. For more information, click here for the Zakhor Center of Studies in Barcelona which is spearheading the fight to save the site.

Late in September the expansion of a school in Toledo caused the excavation of the ancient Jewish cemetery prior construction starts. This school and the residential complex built in the 80's, already destroyed a great part of the cemetery.

Today, besides two synagogues (of the 10 that existed at the time) which can be visited today as Museums, the ancient cemetery is the only other landmark which remains of the Jewish community which once lived there.

This community certainly deserves respect for their tradition and beliefs.

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: http://savejewishgraves.org/index.htm 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.