Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Jewish Side of Jolson

More on Al Jolson (Asa Yoelson).

There is much to be said about Jolson's Judaism. It was, in many ways, so much a part of his identity. Though he was never an observant Jew, he would assault--verbally or otherwise--anyone who made an anti-Semitic crack.

Jolson was, as his biographer Herb Goldman wrote, the first Jewish-American entertainer who did not hide his roots. There are many references to Yiddish and Jewish tradition in his films and radio shows.

Yiddish was a second language to him, of course. The greatest influence on his Jewishness was his father, Moshe Reuben Yoelson. Moshe was a rabbi, a cantor and a mohel.

It should also be noted that Jolson recorded the songs "Israel" and "Hatikvah" with Decca Records in May 1948 and donated all the royalties to the United Jewish Appeal.

Two days after recording the songs, he sent a master copy to Israel's new president, Chaim Weizmann (who at the time was visiting President Truman at the White House.) The story made the front page of "Variety."

Jolson also did radio shows for the United Jewish Appeal in 1947 and 1948 and paid for a two-page ad in "Variety," urging funds for Jews in Europe.


It should be noted that an estimate of Al Jolson's estate, in 1950, was some four million dollars. That would be equivalent, in 2007 currency, of about $35 Million.
Al Jolson took to heart the essential Jewish mandate of tikun olam, perfecting the world. It is a belief rooted in Jewish liturgy and practice to leave this world a better place than when you entered it, and from the variety of causes helped by Jolson's wealth, I think he helped significantly in completing this task. Here is a listing of the charities which benefited from bequests in Jolson's will. Wherever possible, I have provided web links to sites maintained by those charities or successors. --according to the
International Al Jolson Society

Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York
Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies of New York
Free Synagogue Child Adoption Committee
Hebrew National Orphan Home
Society of St. Vincent de Paul
Orphans Home and Asylum of Protestant Episcopal Church
Home for Aged and Infirm Hebrews of New York
New York Association for the Blind
Palestine Light House
Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society
American Red Cross
Memorial Hospital
Actors Fund of America
Columbia University
New York University
City College of New York


The "Immortal Al Jolson" exhibition can be found at .

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The International Al Jolson Society Presents

When I was just a couple years from becoming a bar mitzvah, I became enamored with the singing of the immortal Al Jolson. I used to tell everyone who'd listen that I watched the first Jolson bio pic "The Jolson Story" twenty-nine times on television. These were the days when "Million Dollar Movie" showed a film two or three times a day. After attending today's 13th annual Jolson festival on Long Island, New York (attended by more than 180 Jolson devotees), I don't think I was the only one.

Also there was a great Jolson sound alike named Tony Babino who did a wonderful Jolson. He regailed us with many a Jolson song.

I'd also like to remind those of you who haven't yet visited the "Immortal Al Jolson" exhibition at the Museum of Family History, to do so. There are nearly thirty web pages to this large online exhibition, which is replete with dozens of photos of Jolson, seventeen video clips and more than forty sound clips from all aspects of Jolson's personal and professional life. There's even a page entitled "The Jewish Side of Jolson" where you can hear Jolson sing "Hatikvah," "Kol Nidre," "Cantor on the Sabbath," and "Israel."

In gathering material for my Jolson exhibition, I first heard Jolson sing the aformentioned Jewish songs. Had I heard Jolson's version of "Kol Nidre" during those immediate years before I became a Bar Mitzvah, I wonder whether my Haftorah reading might have had a Jolson "lilt" to it...

"Cantor on the Sabbath" ("a chazend'l ofn shabbos"), sung in Yiddish by Jolson and mimed by Jolson portrayer Larry Parks, was originally to be part of the first Jolson bio pic "The Jolson Story," but the powers-that-be decided it was too ethnic and cut it from the film. And they say "the rest his history."

The Jolson exhibition can be found at .
The Jolson society website can be found at .

Thursday, August 27, 2009

New Exhibition: "HIAS: The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society"

More for you at the ever-expanding Museum of Family History.

Many Jewish immigrants who entered countries such as the United States sought assistance upon their immigration, e.g. food, housing, etc. Aid societies, such as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, founded by Russian Jewish immigrants in New York City in 1881, often had a representative stationed at the major ports of entry, waiting to help each and every immigrant they could. The founding of HIAS was in response to the huge wave of immigration that occurred following the assassination of the Russian Czar Alexander II in 1881 and the subsequent pogroms. Many Jews were forced to flee Russia and immigrate to the United States, the majority entering via the port of New York. There, HIAS would provide food and shelter to the new immigrant, and try to find them a job. In 1911, HIAS even provided a kosher kitchen at Ellis Island and fed more than half a million meals between 1925 and 1952.


I am the immigrant.
Since the dawn of creation my restless feet have beaten new paths across the earth.

My uneasy bark has tossed on all seas.
My wanderlust was born of the craving for more liberty and a better wage for the sweat of my face.
I looked towards the United States with eyes kindled by the fire of ambition and heart quickened with newborn hope....

-- from the book "The Immigrant: An Asset and a Liability," by Frederick J. Haskin, an excerpt from the poem "The Immigrant."


In this exhibition you can read about HIAS cir 1913, its objectives and its accomplishments. You can also read some of the content that appeared in a full-page advertisement in the New York Times on December 28, 1913, as it appealed to the public for financial support.

You will also find an example of a HIAS immigration card which was filled out by HIAS officers and the immigrant when they first arrived in the United States. In this page from the Museum of Family History's ERC (Education and Research Center), you can learn what information can be gleaned from such cards.

To access this exhibition, please visit and follow the "next" links at the bottom of each web page.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Take a Virtual Tour of the Museum's "World Jewish Communities"

Some months back, the Museum of Family History created its very own, unique "World Jewish Communities" exhibition. The purpose of this permanent exhibition is not merely to create a page about a shtetl, town or city, but to "paint a picture" of the town--not how it is today of course, but how it might have been when once there existed a strong and vibrant Jewish population.

The one requirement for becoming one of the Museum's "World Jewish Communities" had been the inclusion of some multimedia aspect, i.e. some audio or video, as opposed to just text and photographs. However, with the availability of so much more material, e.g. that which exists in such resources as the Yizkor book and other books and memoirs, much more is possible and required.

Much of what has been put together to date has been for three Jewish communities: Czernowitz, Ukraine; Ozarow, Poland; and Zambrow, Poland.

Visit any of these World Jewish Communities at the Museum and take a "virtual tour." When you do, just imagine that each web page is a station or stop along the tour if you were taking this audio walking tour on your own within a "real" museum, while you're wearing a headset and carrying around some sort of IPod or infrared device.

You will be sent from room to room or station to station, and as you go, you will be learning as about each town. As you do, a picture will be painted of the town.

This exhibition is ongoing and ever evolving; more content will be added to each Community in the near future, and more communities will be added.

All the town links can be found at .

Sunday, August 23, 2009

New exhibition: "Anti-Semitism in Europe: The Pogroms Against the Jews"

A pogrom is a riot that is perpretrated against a particular group; the term is used most often when talking about the history of the Jewish people. Pogroms are usually characterized by acts of violence, whether they be killings or other types of assault; also destruction of homes, businesses or synagogues.

Sometimes pogroms happen spontaneously; other times they are planned. What role governments played in pogroms has not always been clear. What is clear, however, is how often these governments did little to prevent or stop such wanton acts.

The Museum of Family History has created a small exhibition that it hopes will evolve and grow over time as more material becomes available. At present, within the aforementioned exhibition, you may read about the pogroms that occurred in Kishinev, Bialystok, Siedlce and Kielce.

The exhibition, "Anti-Semitism in Europe: The Pogroms Against the Jews" can be found at

Friday, August 21, 2009

Q & A: Interview with a Cemetery Manager

For the last twenty-four years, Todd Ivler has been the General Manager of Mount Judah Cemetery, located in Ridgewood, Queens, New York. He is a man who is very dedicated to his work. He is affable and extremely helpful to those who need his assistance. In essence, he is the model of what a cemetery manager should be.

Todd sat down for an interview with the Museum of Family History last summer and most graciously answered every question put to him . You can read the entire interview online within the Museum's "Q & A: Interview with a Cemetery Manager."

It is important to note from the outset that every cemetery is different. Each has its own policies (although their policies may be similar or the same), whether it has to do with how they care for their grounds, how they might number a grave or row or grave in a particular plot, or even how their searchable database (if they have one) may be structured, etc.


The Museum asked Todd about the procedure that takes place once someone who has a plot at Mt. Judah passes on, from the moment the family or funeral director calls his cemetery office:

"... A lot of times we get a call directly from the family, saying that my mother died or my father died, for instance. We’ll take some information from them, but ideally we only really take funeral information from a funeral home. Once we get the phone call, we take down some information; there are a certain number of questions that we ask. Once we have the answers to those questions, if they give us the name of the society or a family plot where the person's going to be buried, we’ll go pull out that card or that map...

Basically the only information we need at that point is name of the deceased, and if they know where—or the funeral home knows where—they’re going to be buried. If they don’t know where the deceased is going to be buried, then we go from there. Then we start asking more questions, e.g. family name, next-of-kin name. We might be able to trace it that way. Did the person buy the grave directly from the cemetery? There are a lot of ways of going about finding out where the problem is.

Well, if the information is good information, it makes things very easy for us. A lot of times funeral homes are already pre-prepared, if the family had gone in to see them first, which is something that I highly recommend people doing. At that point, we get out our maps, I send the foreman or the superintendent out to the grounds, he double-checks to make sure the grave is empty, to make sure it is the grave it’s supposed to be. If it’s next to a spouse under a double headstone, the grave is a little easier to find, easier then if it was a single grave in the middle of literally nowhere on a vacant line. When we find the grave, at that point we determine that it’s going to be a good burial. We call the funeral home back and make what we call “final arrangements." We get the next-of-kin’s name and set up the day and the date of the funeral."


To read more about this and learn more about the inner workings of a typical Jewish cemetery, please read the interview in full at

"Annie's Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret"

At this year’s conference of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, held recently in Philadelphia, I met Steve Luxenberg, an associate editor of The Washington Post and the author of a fascinating new book, Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey Into a Family Secret.

Reviewers have raved about the book, which is a compelling narrative, an exploration of family history and a genealogy how-to lesson all at once. Walter Isaacson, biographer of Albert Einstein, described it as “a gripping detective story and a haunting memoir.” Jan Alpert, president of the National Genealogical Society, wrote that the book “is a great non-fiction read for genealogists . . . I believe Annie’s Ghosts will provide you with different ways to look at some of your research problems.”

Employing his skills as a journalist while struggling to maintain his empathy as a son, Steve pieces together the story of his mother’s motivations for hiding her sister’s existence, his aunt’s unknown life, and the times in which they lived. His search takes him to imperial Russia, Depression-era Detroit and the Holocaust in Ukraine.

I asked Steve to provide an excerpt of Annie’s Ghosts for the Museum. You can read an excerpt of his book within the Museum’s virtual Yiddish Vinkl Bookstore by clicking here.

You can also see what other books are featured at the Bookstore by clicking here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Great Artists Series: Max Weber" exhibition now in Polish!

In preparation for my online participation in a Bialystok, Poland exhibition beginning September 4, I have completed a Polish language version of the exhibition.

The English language version of the exhibition has been part of the Museum's content for some time now as part of its "Great Artists Series," which is designed to honor those Jewish artists "whose contributions to the world were extraordinary in terms of both the scope and quality of their work." Max Weber, a native of Bialystok, was one such artist.

Now for some background on Max Weber.

Max Weber (1881-1961) is one of America’s most important twentieth century artists. The first American cubist, Weber translated the modern European aesthetic into a truly American style that evolved during the roughly sixty years of his career. He developed a personal expressionism in his mature phase that was influential for the development of Abstract Expressionism.

Weber was raised in an Orthodox home. In 1891 when he was ten years old, he immigrated to the United States with his mother and elder brother. In New York they were reunited with his father, who was a tailor. The Webers settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, which was at the time, a haven for Eastern European Jewish immigrants.

After the death of his parents in 1918 at the end of World War I, Weber briefly turned away from modern art as so many artists were doing. During the twenties he returned to more familiar imagery and began his exploration of Judaic themes. During the thirties Weber’s political views compelled him to address more socially conscious themes. At the end of his career, he returned to the abstraction that had dominated his initial mature work.


Weber’s inspiration for one of his more well-known Judaic works, "The Talmudists," was recorded in the 1935 article, Max Weber: Hasidic Painter, in Judaism, a quarterly journal published by the American Jewish Congress:

"I was prompted to paint this picture after a pilgrimage to one of the oldest synagogues of New York's East Side. I find a living spiritual beauty emanates from, and over and about a group of patriarchal types when they congregate in search of wisdom in the teaching of the great Talmudists of the past. The discussion of the Talmud is at times impassioned, inspired, ecstatic, and at other moments serene and contemplative…to witness a group of such elders bent on and intent upon nothing but the eternal quest and interpretation of the ethical, significant, and religious content of the great Jewish legacy--the Torah--is for me an unforgettable experience.”


To see the entire exhibition (in English), which is entitled "Max Weber: Reflections of Jewish Memory in Modern American Art," use

If you're a Polish speaker or are just curious and would like to compare both versions, feel free to do so. You can find the Polish language version at

New exhibition: "Jews in Small Towns: Legends and Legacies"

The Museum of Family History invites you to the "opening" of its latest exhibition entitled "Jews in Small Towns: Legends and Legacies." It is based on a 1997 book (of the same name) written by Howard V. Epstein, Ph.D. It is an interesting read as we get an intimate look into the lives of Jews who spent part or all of their lives within the small towns (less than 25,000 people) of the United States and Canada.

Epstein writes, "Each individual story reflects the life and times of the author as he or she experienced living as a small-town Jew. For some, this existence could be characterized as 'the best of times,' and for others it was 'the worst of times'.... Perhaps this will have some meaning for succeeding generations. I hope that as these stories are read, they will impart the flavor of a very special segment of the Jewish community of North America."

The book "Jews in Small Towns..." contains one hundred and forty personal experiences; this online exhibition presents to you twenty-nine of them, one from each of the states and provinces represented in this book.


"Our family emphasized education--especially for my father, who felt being an American was so very important. He taught himself to spell and often would add an extra letter to a word. When I asked why he did that, he replied that in America it's extra good, so I add an extra letter. I never understood how meaningful that phrase was until I read his acount of his miserable, impoverished, and scary childhood in the European Yeshivoth. He felt he had accomplished a great deal because his three children received university educations and higher degrees..."
--Ida R. Shreiber, Shawnee, Oklahoma


In his book's prologue, Epstein writes, "A knowledgeable rabbi once related that the story of the four sons in the Passover Haggadah referred actually to four generations, beginning with the European Jews who were deeply immersed in the traditions of Jewish life. With each succeeding generation there were fewer questions to ask, because there was greater distance between the tradition of family roots and the socialization into American society, which all too often resulted in cultural distancing and, ultimately, assimilation. Thus the fourth son had no questions to ask because he had no Jewish background on which to base any questions about the significance of the Pesach seder."


"The event in the Jewish calendar that gives me the fondest memories of Cumberland (Maryland) is Passover. B'Er Chayim strongly believed in organizing the whole congregation into a community seder, always in the vestry room. The sisterhood cooked and served the supper. (My mother, who was always on this committee, saw to it that her brood was served first.) The rabbi and many of the pillars of the congregation read from the Haggadah. Everyone sang the traditional songs, which we kids had practiced for weeks ahead of time in the religious school, while the rebbitzin Hadassah Lefkowitz played the piano. The top Hebrew pupils got their chance to shine in reciting the Four Questions. "Who knows one?" was always comical with the rabbi choosing some of the "characters" in the congregation to answer."
--Perry Peskin, Cumberland, Maryland


I hope you find reading these personal stories as interesting as I have. "Jews in Small Towns: Legends and Legacies" can be found at .

The Museum of Family History welcomes more such stories, not just about life in small towns, but also about life as a Jew in bigger towns or cities; not only from the United States or Canada, but from throughout the world. If you have a story, either in form of a written text , or as an audio or video file, and you wish to share it with others who might visit the Museum, please contact me at

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Museum of Family History on the Radio

I was both surprised and delighted to learn that the Museum of Family History was mentioned on a radio program during the morning of July 12th. The program, "The Radio Rabbi," is on every Sunday morning from 9 to 10 a.m. and is hosted by Rabbi Barbara Aiello.

Rabbi Aiello, who hosts the morning radio program in the Tampa-Sarasota, Florida area, somehow found my website on the Internet and spoke about it (by herself) on her program for more than three minutes. She directly quoted parts of the introduction I wrote for the Yiddish World segment of the Museum (

I must admit that hearing someone on the radio speak glowingly about my own work felt very strange. After all, someone was reading directly from my website, reading my sentiments, on the radio yet, for more than three minutes! This was quite a compliment. It goes to show you that with the Internet, word can spread quite quickly (hopefully always in a good way).

I hope, of course, that as many people as possible learn about the Museum of Family History, not just in the United States but all over the world. This can happen in a number of ways: on the radio, in the print media, and most often by word-of-mouth, email and the Internet.

Interestingly enough, Rabbi Barbara is the rabbi of the first active synagogue in Calabria, Italy, in over 500 years, and she is director of the Italian Jewish Cultural Center of Calabria (IjCCC), She is also the first woman rabbi and first modern liberal rabbi in Italy.

Here is a transcript of what Rabbi Aiello said about the Museum on Sunday A.M. July 12, 2009:

“Let me tell you a little bit about a wonderful website that I found called 'The Museum of Family History,’ and it is a virtual click on the website and you take a look at what’s in the museum virtually. And the museum itself is dedicated to keep the Yiddish language and culture alive, and [it is written]:

'As a second-generation Jewish-American growing up in New York, I had relatively little exposure to the Yiddish language. I heard Yiddish spoken at my grandparents' apartment in Brooklyn (especially when they didn't want me to know what they were saying), when they played the occasional recording of Yiddish music on the Victorola, and perhaps some Yiddish conversation in the shul. I have never taken a class in Yiddish, so I do try to study it a bit on my own from time to time.

So for most of my life then, I have had no true Yiddish speakers in my family. All I ever heard during this time from Yiddish and non-Yiddish speakers alike is how sad it was that there were so few Yiddish speakers left, that the language would eventually die out. Some did take pride in the fact that they could speak a few phrases in Yiddish or could understand a little when it was spoken. Others would have a sentimental connection to Yiddish, especially when they heard songs like "My Yiddishe Mame." Certainly, once their Yiddish-speaking parents passed on and the number of Yiddish speakers that they were exposed to diminished, their knowledge of Yiddish diminished too. Even in Eretz Israel, where there are still many Yiddish speakers, the preferred spoken language is Hebrew.

Now Yiddish as we know, is one of the few pan-European languages spoken before the Second World War. It imbued nearly every aspect of Jewish life and culture. And for this reason alone, such a loss of the language and culture would seem like a shanda (a shame) to anyone with a deep appreciation of Jewish history, and that the history of the wonderful world of Yiddish life is definitely worth saving…

Now one of the aims of the Museum of Family History is to keep the Yiddish language and culture alive; and how wonderful it would be to remind us in some small way many of those who were born into Yiddish-speaking families once again of the beauty of the Yiddish language and culture. Perhaps though, it is even more important to make newer generations aware of what role Yiddish played in Jewish life. Making people aware is perhaps all we can do as individuals.” That’s quite a lot. “In the absence of a multitude of Jewish communities that still speak Yiddish, without the hard work of many who could talk about the Yiddish language to their children and grandchildren or speak publicly to Jewish groups about the importance of preserving Yiddish culture, the forecasters of the extinction of the Yiddish language might be right. All we can do however is try however, from the depth of our Jewish souls, each in our own unique and heartfelt way.'"

My thanks to Rabbi Barbara Aiello for thinking enough of my work to mention it "on the air."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How to Become a Citizen of the United States, circa 1916

May I suggest you take a look at one the Museum's newest exhibitions? As part of its "Living in America: The Jewish Experience" collection, you can now read from a book published by the "Immigrant Publication Society," just as one of your immigrant family members might have done circa 1916, if they had entered the United States through a New York port.

Perhaps you'd like to read the book while imagining that you are this family member. Maybe your English is poor; you arrived at Ellis Island with little money and are hoping to quickly find a place to live and a job. You are also not very familiar with the differences between life in the European town in which you lived, and the large metropolis which seems very strange and alien to you. You are concerned, but are nevertheless eager to acclimate to your new surroundings and eventually become a U.S. citizen.

Here is one small section from the publication "Guide to the United States for the Jewish Immigrant":


"Immediately after your arrival in the United States you should go to a Federal court and make your declaration under oath that you intend to become a citizen. You do not need to be able to speak English to do this. Any immigrant over eighteen years of age may at any time make such declaration. In making this declaration you must give the same name as that on your certificate of landing, and you must remember the name of the ship on which you came, and the exact date of your arrival. To obtain the necessary certificate of this declaration of intention ("the first paper") you must pay a court fee of one dollar.

In many cities of the United States there are societies that help immigrants in the formalities necessary to become a citizen. In New York the Educational Alliance at East Broadway and Jefferson Street gives lectures on this subject and supplies all necessary information. And the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society, at 229 East Broadway, gives lectures to newly arrived immigrants on this subject, assists in securing first papers, gives all needed physical help, assisting in filling out blanks and accompanying the applicant to court, when necessary. If you live in another city, and can obtain help in no other way, you may write for advice to any Yiddish paper that is published in the United States.

After five years of continuous residence in the United States, and after at least two years, and not more than seven years, from the granting of your first paper, you may apply to the court for full citizenship. Producing your first paper, you must then prove by the oath of two citizens who know you that you have lived in this country without returning to Europe at least five years, continuously--the last one of which you must have lived in the state in which you made application for citizenship. You must produce a certificate of landing, which is obtained from the immigration officer in charge at the port where you landed. You must give your approval to our form of government and prove by your witnesses that you are a person of good morals and law abiding character. You must give up all claims of duty to the government of your land of origin and take oath to support the Constitution of the United States. You must be able to speak English. You must prove that you are capable of exercising the duties of citizenship. This means that you must be able to explain the organization of the government and know how the laws are made and administered. The chapters on the Government of the United States, and the State Governments in this book contain information sufficient to enable you to answer nearly all questions that judges usually ask on these subjects. Learn these chapters thoroughly. The list of questions and answers that are sold about the streets are misleading and are of little use. To register this application and for the following hearing, the court fee is four dollars.

Ninety days after this, accompanied by two witnesses, you must visit the court again and declare again under oath the truth of all the statements in your application. If you then prove to the satisfaction of the court that you are worthy to become a citizen, you are granted full citizenship papers. "

Over the many decades that immigrants have arrived at such ports as Castle Garden and Ellis Island, the rules that they encountered along the path to citizenship changed to one degree or another. But here at least, during this period of time, these were the rules that needed to be followed.

To learn more--to get more of a feel of what an immigrant was expected to know--please read through the pages of this exhibition.
The link is .

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Lilke Majzner's Yiddish Lifetime Achievement Award

In July 2009, Lilke Majzner, a Holocaust survivor from the ghetto of Lodz, Poland, passed away. Just nine months earlier, Lilke was given the third annual Lifetime Yiddish Achievement Award by the International Association of Yiddish Clubs. Her acceptance speech, given in Yiddish, was quite eloquent.

While living in Los Angeles, California, Lilke gave of herself quite willingly to works that were involved with the preservation of the Yiddish language. She served as the Director of the Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club and was a member of the Board of the California Institute for Yiddish Culture and Language and Yiddishkayt LA. She will be sorely missed by all who came to know her.

"Language is the instrument of creativity. Our creative treasure is collosal. It is not only the legacy, it is the wonderful metamorphosis of the wandering process of now. Our yesterdays must be historically woven into today. The road is hard, not easy. We live in a new technological world.Technology brings both good and bad. But Yiddish vitality and endurance will come to our aid. We must have faith and we must have great stubbornness. Together…together we will preserve our values and build new values. Our language and culture must be a component of our Jewish existence. May the words of our great writer Leivick, 'I rise up again and stride off farther,' become our motto." --Lilke Majzner


The Museum of Family History now offers you three ways to appreciate Lilke's words. You may either:
---watch the complete video of her speech. You will need the proper media player to watch this mp4 video file. Also if you rely on land lines/phone lines for Internet service, you might be waiting a while to see it as it slowly downloads. The video should begin playing on its own soon after the web page appears.
---if you wish instead to just hear her speech (remember the speech is entirely in Yiddish), you can click on the page's audio-only link.
---her speech has also been well-translated into English and can also be found on the aforementioned web page.

The link to the Majzner page is

Do You Know of Any Active Landsmanshaftn?

First, some definition of terms. A landsman is typically someone who comes from one's hometown, most often a town or city somewhere in Europe. A landsmanshaft (pl: landsmanshaftn) society is usually defined as a mutual aid society, formed by landsleit (plural, non-gender specific form of landsman) when they came over to the United States, Canada and elsewhere. They would often help any landsleit that would immigrate, sometimes finding them a place to stay and a job, offering them a way of meeting their landsleit socially or within their own synagogue. Sometimes they would even have a society doctor who would tend to their health needs--this was in the days before Medicare and Social Security, so the landsmanshaft played many important roles during these years. Perhaps the function that the landsmanshaft society is most known for today is that of offering its members a plot in a burial ground that the society owned. This is often the last remaining function of a landsmanshaft society.

While there were very many landsmanshaftn that were active from before the turn of the twentieth century to the 1950s, there are a relatively small amount left. Most of those societies who become "inactive" send out the deeds of burial plots to their remaining members before the society liquidates. The society's papers are then sent to the New York State Liquidation Bureau and the society becomes defunct. The final role then of a landsmanshaft is most often that of a "burial society."

Saying that, there are still some societies that are still quite active; one such society is the one which I belong to. I am First Vice-President and Cemetery Liaison for the United Zembrower Society (Zambrow, Poland). Because my paternal grandfather Michael Laski--who was born in Zambrow--passed away before I was born, I know nothing of his life there. However, I wish to know more about the town in which he was born and lived at least part of his life before his immigration to the United States in 1902.

Our Zembrover society still exists and is "going strong." Our society today has more than one hundred and thirty paid members. Those who can attend our meetings do so once or twice a year when we may lunch together, listen to the occasional speaker, and conduct society business. Though our membership is comprised of few landsleit per se, the descendants of Zembrovers genuinely seek the comraderie that their parents and grandparents once found in large numbers decades before, e.g. in Eretz Israel or on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They seek to learn more about their "ancestral" town and wish to work to preserve the memory of not only their own family's life in Europe, but the history of the town and its Jewish population as well.

In this vein, the Museum is actively gathering information about whatever landsmanshaftn remain, everywhere in the world. This list will be put online within the Museum's website at some point in the near future, in the hope that it will spur some to join a society of interest to them.

If you know of such a landsmanshaft society, please write to me at . Please answer the following questions:

--name of society, name of contact person, address/email address, phone number (this is not necessary if privacy is a concern)
--year society was established
--number of current members
--range of activities/functions
--how often do the members meet?
--do they have a website? do they publish a newsletter?
--do they own one or more society burial plots? Where are they located?
--any other pertinent information

Hopefully this list will be ever-evolving. When the list is put online, an announcement will be made on this blog.

Lastly, if you have any landsmanshaft material that you believe would be of interest to others, that can be put online within the Museum's website, please contact me at the above email address.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Coming Soon: "Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays"

In this upcoming exhibition, simple explanations of Shabbat and the major Jewish holidays will be given; photographs of Judaica associated with these holidays will be displayed; and when available, stories will be told--by those who once lived in Europe before the Second World War--about Shabbat and the way they celebrated the Jewish holidays in their hometown. More such stories are welcome, so if you have any you wish to submit, or have any questions as to what is being requested, please contact .

Thursday, August 13, 2009

1826-1863 Ostrow Mazowiecka Marriage (Alegata) extracts now on JRI-Poland

Posted by Stanley Diamond, Coordinator, Ostrow Mazowiecka Research Family:

On behalf of the Ostrow Mazowiecka Research Family and volunteer Judie Ostroff Goldstein, I am pleased to announce that full extracts of the 1827-1865 marriage alegata records are now online in the Jewish Records Indexing - Poland (JRI-Poland) database.

These indices were created from the alegata rather than the marriage records themselves. Alegata (also known as Marriage Supplements or Annexes) are a group of documents that form a more detailed record of the betrothal than the marriage record alone. In addition to the marriage registration, Alegata files typically include at least the birth records for the bride and groom. Other documents relating to the bride and groom or their parents may also form part ofthe Alegata file, such as the marriage banns, a record of divorce or army record. The marriage banns were typically issued in the town of residence of the groom. When a birth record could not be produced by the bride or groom, a protocol (sworn statement from witnesses with details of the birth) was created. The search results include include the following information for both the bride and groom:

*Type, Year, Akt (record)#
*Surname and Given Name(s)
*Father and Mother'sName(s)
*Father's Father's Name(s) for most entries
*Indication if father is deceased.
*Age, Year and Place of Birth and Birth Akt # in the town of birth
*Current place of Residents
*Remarks (often the name and date of death of previous spouse).

Since marriages were often between individuals not residing in Ostrow Mazowiecka, the information in these records provide invaluable pointers to further research in the records of other towns. For a full description of the Marriage Alegata records extracting project, please go to the home page of the Ostrow Mazowiecka Research Family at

Thanks again to Judie Ostroff Goldstein for providing us with this invaluable database.

Subscribing to the Museum of Family History Blog

You can subscribe to this blog by email if you wish. By doing so you will be receiving an automatic email daily with all the new postings from the day before (assuming, of course, that a posting has been made during the day).
Here's what you do:
On the right side of the blog you will see "Subscribe Via Email" and there will be a blank field where you need to enter the complete email address that you wish to use to receive Museum updates.

After entering your email address, click on the "subscribe" button. You will then see one or perhaps two screens, one with verification letters which you'll need to fill out (sorry, we want to make sure you are who you say you are), and then "Feedburner" will send you an email to confirm that you indeed wish to subscribe. Click then on the email to confirm that you want to subscribe, and then you'll be set. You must remember to answer the confirmation email, otherwise you won't receive Museum updates.

Memorial Book for the Victims of National Socialism at the University of Vienna in 1938

This memorial book is accessible as an online database (, English version: It contains roughly 2,200 names and short biographies of victims who were persecuted, driven away and/or murdered - as Jews and/or for political reasons, professors, lecturers and students.

Besides the memorial function, the database (a 'work-in-progress') provides important biographical and genealogical information.

By announcing the presence of this database, those associated with this book and database hope to reach more persons concerned, or their affiliates, and then ask them to complete the contained information.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Multimedia Presentations at the Museum of Family History

One of the unique features of the virtual Museum of Family History is its multimedia aspect. Many sound and video clips can be found at the Museum which make a "day at the Museum" a most pleasant experience. Here is a sampling of what can be found within the Museum that contain audio and/or video:

  • Great Artists Series: "The Immortal Al Jolson" is an exhibition that could only have been created with the cooperation of the International Al Jolson Society, which has over one thousand members.
    Within this some thirty-page exhibition, you will find seventeen video clips and more than forty sound clips of Jolson, some where he's singing, others where he's being interviewed. You will also find video clips from his films, from newsreels, and even from a home movie (set to music, of course).
    You can also hear sound clips from a number of Jolson's old radio shows--even guest star Fannie Brice appears, singing "My Man." There is one webpage, entitled "The Jewish Side of Jolson," where you can hear Jolson sing four songs including "Hatikvah," "Kol Nidre" (beautiful) and "Chazzan Oyfn Shabbas" (in English, "Cantor on the Sabbath").
    You can also read about Jolson's personal (as well as his professional) life. This exhibition is highly recommended.
    The website of the International Al Jolson Society can be found at .

  • Also another exhibition found within the Museum's Great Artists Series is "The Great Richard Tucker," who many of us know as a fabulous tenor, but did you know he was also a Cantor too? Within this exhibition you can read about Tucker's family life as well as hear him sing two arias from "Tosca", the aria "Vesti la giubba" from "I, Pagliacci" and "Nessun Dorma" from "Turandot."

  • Screening Room: The Jewish documentary most often thematically deals with the many aspects, events and experiences of Jewish life that exists or existed within the Diaspora. These films attempt to honor and preserve these significant events that have become indelibly etched within the collective Jewish consciousness. It is for this reason that the Museum has created the "Screening Room." The Museum is honored to be able to share with you short previews of twenty such films, in the hope that you will want to see the film in its entirety somewhere, and when you do, consider what the filmmaker is trying to say; why he or she felt it was so important to make their film.
    Lastly, the Museum urges you to support the Jewish documentarian and the work they do in whatever way you can.

  • World War II and the Holocaust: If you have the stomach for it, you can watch a one-hour film produced by the U.S. Department of Defense as the U.S. Army liberated a number of camps at the end of the War. The camps include Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Leipzig, Penig (a subcamp of Buchenwald), Ohrdruf (another subcamp of Buchenwald), Ahlen, Arnstadt, Nordhausen; Breendonck (Belgium) and Mauthausen (Austria). Also included are scenes from Hadamar, the psychiatric hospital in Germany that was used by the Nazis to perform mass sterilizations and mass murder of 'undesirable' members of Nazi society, specifically the physically and mentally handicapped.

  • "Seeking Justice! The Nuremberg Trials": A film of one hour and a quarter about the Nuremberg trials.

  • There are many more video and sound clips that can be found within the virtual realm of the Museum of Family History. Just visit the Museum's Multimedia page which contains links to separate pages that list its audio and video collection.

You should be forewarned that, depending on the media player(s) you have on your computer, you may or may not be able to play some of the videos. Also depending on your Internet connection, your download time may be short or long. The Museum, of course, regrets any incovenience or dissapointment that this may cause you.

Look, Listen and Learn Classroom Exercises for Kids

Any good museum will make educational material available for both children and young adults. With that idea in mind, the Museum of Family History has now made available a second way for adults to interact with their children or grandchildren in an educative way.

Part of the process of increasing a young person's awareness of the importance of both family and history (and family history in general) is raising their consciousness, teaching them how to listen to stories told to them by their elders, and creating opportunities for them to think about history outside of their own classroom at school, especially as it relates to their own family's history.

In this vain, the Museum has made available a number of "thinking exercises" based on some of its current online exhibitions. Meant for kids, young adults and their families, this educational resource gives families opportunities to learn and share ideas with each other as they look together at one or more photographs presented to them. Some exercises are more simplistic and may good to use with children; others may require more critical thinking and might be better suited to young adults (some may say even older ones).

These "thinking exercises" may be used on their own, or they may be used in conjunction with other materials or exhibitions on the same or similar topic found elsewhere within the Museum. They may also be used as a basis for further discussions or study; how it's implemented will be up to you if you choose to use them.

These exercises allow children to employ their imagination, to empathize, and to place themselves in various situations in which their ancestors may have found themselves many decades ago. They may get to play the role of one or more people in a particular photograph and both ask and answer the questions that are posed to them by the Museum.

One example of an exercise has to do with immigration at Ellis Island where the young person must imagine that they just arrived at Ellis Island with their family after a long trans-Atlantic voyage, and they are waiting on line to be "inspected." What do they see around them? What languages do they hear? What are they thinking? What might their parents be saying to them? Who in their family now would they like to be waiting for them if and when the pass through the inspection process? These are just some of the questions posed in this particular exercise.

Of course, you and/or your children may wish to make up your own questions based on your own family history, as each family's history is unique. There are no answers supplied to the questions posed, as there are no right or wrong answers.

In these thinking exercises, one has the opportunity to do some creative thinking. Hopefully, the participant(s) in this exercise will find some relevance to their own life as they do these exercises. They may be important in understanding more about the history of their own family and of history in general.

In a similar vein as the Museum's newly featured book and PowerPoint presentation "Kiddish Yiddish" (see previous posting), the "Thinking Exercises" will give adults and opportunity to work closely with their children or grandchildren and it will enable the adult to talk about their life experiences too (or the life experiences of a parent, grandparent or ancestor) as it relates to the specific exercise. Anything to promote intergenerational communication, right?

More such exercises will be added to the Museum's "Look, Listen and Learn" classroom in the future, including audio and video components which will become an integral part of the exercise. This should be very interesting and hopefully give joy to those who participate in these exercises.

The main page for this can be found at

The Museum welcomes anyone to create appropriate "thinking exercises," though they should contact the Museum first at .

Searching the NYC Area Cemetery Databases

Within the last few years seven searchable databases have been created for Jewish cemeteries within the New York-New Jersey metro area. Since the Museum wishes that everyone has the greatest success when searching these databases, suggestions have been offered on how best to use them. You can find these suggestions and more at .

The first searchable database was created for Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Fairview, New Jersey. Their site can be found at Then the creation of a series of six databases began: Mt. Hebron Cemetery ( in Flushing, New York; Mt. Carmel Cemetery ( in Ridgewood, New York; Mt. Zion Cemetery (; Mt. Ararat Cemetery in Lindenhurst, New York ( Then a database for Mt. Judah Cemetery in Ridgewood, New York ( was created. The latest database was created for Mt. Lebanon Cemetery (, in Glendale, New York. The database of Mt. Carmel increased in 2007 when they took over the management of the nearby Hungarian Cemetery. Subsequently, Mt. Carmel Cemetery took over management of nearby Knollwood Park Cemetery. Hopefully at some time in 2009 the data from Knollwood Park will be online (as part of the Mt. Carmel database.)

In all, there are at least 700,000 burials within the combined databases. Though there are many more area cemeteries that don't have searchable databases than do, they are nevertheless a great tool for finding the location of a loved one's "final resting place."

Please visit the Museum's Cemetery Project at where you'll find a cemetery directory, cemetery maps and more.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Coming Soon: "Jews in Small Towns: Legends and Legacies"

Just a note on a future exhibition that should be ready for viewing online by the first week in September. It is entitled "Jews in Small Towns: Legends and Legacies."

In 1997, Dr. Howard V. Epstein, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker from Georgia published a book of short stories or histories written by Jews who lived in small towns throughout the United States and Canada. They are all very enlightening and interesting.

The book itself is a collection of 140 personal experiences. Dr. Epstein discovered that such personal accounts couldn't be found in sociological literature, so he decided to create this project.

These accounts represent Jewish lives in twenty-six states and three Canadian provinces. Each participant was asked to write his or her own story and submit it to Dr. Epstein. At least one story per state or province will be represented in this exhibition, so there should be plenty of good stories for you to read.

When the exhibition has been readied and uploaded to the Internet, an announcement will be made on the Museum's blog.

Search Over 10,258,000 Old New York State Historical Newspaper Pages

The Fulton History website is a great source of newspaper articles (from 1817 to 2007) if you're interested in finding material from New York State newspapers--not just the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, but also newspapers from many towns and cities located in upstate New York.

You can see a list of newspapers that are accessible via their database, as well as find answers to frequently asked questions, by using their FAQ Help Index link. The articles will appear in a PDF format, so you need to be able to read PDF on your computer.

Your blogmaster, with great surprise and delight, found a short article about his paternal grandmother (whom he never knew) in a 1929 Utica newspaper, even though his grandmother always lived in Brooklyn. This means one never knows. It's best to conduct a search and hope for the best, as always.

Such newspapers as the Brooklyn Daily Eagle even listed school graduates, at least for the graduating classes of the late twenties and thirties. This didn't just include high school classes, but also middle school.

The key to searching in this database, as well as other such databases, is how you input your search words. If you're looking for information about a Max Cohen from Brooklyn, search as follows: "Max Cohen" "Brooklyn", making sure you use the quotation marks where appropriate, so that all mentions of Max and all mentions of Cohens and all mentions of Brooklyn don't appear with your search results.

Many researchers use ProQuest to search the New York Times archives, and this Fulton History database is almost as good--plus you can use this from the comfort of your own home (and it's free).

The link is

Brooklyn High School One-Step Searchable Databases Now Available

For those of you whose family settled in Brooklyn, New York, the Museum of Family History offers you a searchable database of nearly 46,000 graduates of Brooklyn’s Thomas Jefferson High School, covering the years between 1927 and 1987. More will become available as the Museum acquires more yearbooks to scan.

You can either search for an individual photograph of a graduate, or you can simply browse any particular yearbook from cover to cover. Many of these yearbooks also include the home address of each Senior; this can be a useful piece of genealogical information, especially when used in conjunction with a city or federal census report.

If , for instance, you know an ancestor of yours settled in the New York City area or Brooklyn but don’t know where--and you can’t find them on a Census report--why not conduct a search using the Museum's database? Steve Morse also has a similar database for Samuel J. Tilden High School also in Brooklyn--in East Flatbush. Between the Jefferson and Tilden databases, there are nearly 90,000 Seniors listed on the combined databases.

Remember that Federal Census reports came out every ten years, but two classes graduated from Jefferson and Tilden most every year--in January and June--so the addresses might help locate some previously unknown family addresses.

Thomas Jefferson High School: .

Samuel J. Tilden High School: .

If any readers of this blog possess any yearbooks not currently featured on either the Jefferson or Tilden database, please contact the museum at .

ERC Map Room of Interwar Poland

Displayed on five web pages within the Museum's Education and Research Center are more than one hundred topographic maps of various regions in Poland, along with some from Belarus and the Ukraine. Most of these maps have been divided into a right half and left half with the Map Room in order to reduce download time. All of the maps were drawn and produced between World Wars I and II.

It is interesting to note the names of the various towns and villages in the surrounding areas as they appeared before World War II, as well as the varying topography within each region. What kind of region did our ancestors live in? Was it hilly or mountainous? Were there rivers near the town? What were the names of the towns surrounding our "ancestral" town?

Each of the maps are arranged first by latitude, then by longitude. Just click on any of the thumbnail images to see the larger version.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Lost Synagogues of Europe

Imagine that the Museum of Family History was made of "brick and mortar" (as opposed to existing solely in cyberspace, which it does). A "promenade" exists on its upper floor through which you can take a stroll while viewing various artwork exhibitions, both created by Jewish artists and pertaining to Jewish themes.

Now you can visit the Museum's "Art Gallery on the Promenade." Currently on exhibit are gouaches (on watercolor paper) of fourteen former European synagogues. The synagogues represented in this exhibition once stood in the following locations:

Germany: Aachen, Baden-Baden, Bielefeld, Bochum, Breslau (now Wroclaw), Bruchsal, Danzig (now Gdansk, Poland), Essen and Konigsberg (now Kalinigrad, Russia).

Netherlands: Amsterdam.

Poland: Katowice.

Slovakia: Bratislava.

Ukraine: Belz, Chernivtski (Czernowitz).

There is a plaque next to each gouache which gives information about the history of the particular synagogue.
The Museum thanks artist Andrea Strongwater for her willingness to display her attractive artwork on the Museum's "Promenade."
You can access this at Just click on the "enter" link on this page to see the full exhibition of her works.

Also please visit the Museum's other exhibition entitled "The Synagogues of Europe" where you can see photographs or postcards of dozens of former European synagogues from eighteen different countries. The photographs are organized first by country and then by town. The link for this exhibition is

ERC Pronunciation Guide of European Towns

To the non-native speaker, the proper pronunciation of words in a foreign language may be a daunting task. Many of us can remember traveling to a foreign country and trying unsuccessfully to communicate with others in their native tongue. Here, at the Museum's ERC (Education and Research Center), an effort has been made to aid those interested in learning the correct pronunciation of various town and city names, as spoken by those native to that particular country. Currently, pronunciation guides are available for Polish, Magyar (Hungarian), Lithuanian and Romanian. Perhaps a Russian language guide will be available at some time in the future.

Just as in a tape you might buy to practice phrases in a foreign language before taking a trip abroad, you can listen to each audio clip for a particular first letter from the beginning, but you may be able to pause, go forwards or backwards, or play it again, depending on your computer's media player. You can choose to repeat the town name each time after the speaker says the name.The particular towns and cities that appear in each guide have been chosen because their names appear within the museum's website. Left-click onto the head letters to begin each clip, e.g. the letter "A" to hear the pronunciation of the towns beginning with the letter "A."

Here are the links to the four pronunciation guides at the Museum of Family History:
Magyar (Hungarian)

Good luck!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Museum of Family History on Display in Bialystok, Poland

The Museum of Family History will be making a special appearance in Bialystok, Poland beginning September 4, 2009. At this time an exhibition will open, the first in a series entitled "Prominent Artists--Our Neighbors. Max Weber."

Max Weber was a well-known Jewish artist (born in Bialystok) who studied under Henris Matisse and Rousseau, who painted in a variety of styles, who at times painted wonderful works with a variety Jewish themes, usually religious.

Currently, the English version of this exhibition is available for viewing at the Museum of Family History as part of the "Great Artists Series," which is designed to honor "Jewish artists whose contribution to the world were extraordinary in terms of both the scope and quality of their work." Also, the Series features exhibitions about other Jewish "artists" such as the immortal Al Jolson (highly recommended), tenor and chazzan Richard Tucker (hear Tucker sing "Nessun Dorma" and "Vesti la giubba"), Yiddish playwright Dovid Pinski, and Yiddish acting great Maurice Schwartz.

What will be shown to those who attend the Bialystok exhibition will most likely be the same online exhibition currently available on the Museum's website, the only difference being that the text on each page will be in Polish and not in English.

It should also be noted that the current English version has sound clips on every page, i.e. you will have the option to either listen to the text on each of the exhibition's web pages, or read the text.

The Max Weber exhibition (entitled "Max Weber: Reflections of Jewish Memory in Modern American Art") can be found at

The Museum's Great Artists Series can be found at . From this link you can access the other aforementioned exhibitions in this series.

The Museum's ERC presents "Kiddish Yiddish: Jewish Traditions & Culture in Rhyme"

Those who appreciate the value of family history and Jewish traditions must always look for new ways to interest our children and grandchildren in these subjects. With permission of the author Barbara Feltquate, The MFH has put online a PowerPoint presentation of her book "Kiddish Yiddish: Jewish Traditions & Culture in Rhyme." Barbara's book contains a series of more than two dozen illustrations and rhymes that can be used not only to read to a child, but also to bring up a story or two about your own past, e.g. during a family gathering at a Passover seder, etc.
The MFH also supplies you with a link to a free PowerPoint Viewer download, just in case you need it.

The Museum's ERC, i.e. Education and Research Center, strives to provide not only educational materials such as the aforementioned book, but wishes to provide those who have an interest in family genealogy the tools and resources they need.

The link to "Kiddish Yiddish" is

New exhibition: "Guide to United States for the Immigrant Jew"

The Museum of Family History (MFH) would like to announce an online exhibition based on a small book put out by the Immigration Publication Society and translated from a Yiddish edition. It was first published in 1912 and then again in 1916.

Many of us have family members who immigrated to the United States around this time, so the Museum decided that it would be useful and educational to present a publication that might have been given away to immigrants when they first arrived in the United States. According to a NY Times Book Review from 1920 this book “is intended to benefit, dealing with the advantages derived from citizenship and the duties devolving upon those on whom it conferred. In this guide a résumé is given of the early history of the United States and the manner in which Independence was obtained. Immigrants are told of the freedom they enjoy in America, where all that is asked of them is obedience to humane laws. There are also many hints on naturalization and the means of obtaining it and a condensed compendium of laws affecting conduct in public, marriage, divorce, desertion, lotteries, &c.”

The URL for this exhibition is .

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Welcome to You from the Museum of Family History


Welcome to the blog for the Museum of Jewish History, a virtual (Internet-only) museum dedicated to preserving the memory of not only Jewish families, but the collective modern history and culture of the Jewish people.

I am currently at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies conference in Philadelphia, PA. I gave a talk about my museum entitled "A Day at the Museum: Navigating the Museum of Family History." Considering the early hour of the talk (8:15 a.m.), it was well attended and went well.

At my talk I introduced new and upcoming exhibitions as well as new interactive floor plans/maps. You can access these maps via the front page of the Museum's site at . Just look for the links in the right-hand column.

This the second way to navigate the Museum. You might also like to find your way around the museum by using the Site Map page which serves as a table of contents for the site.

If any of you would like to contribute to the Museum, e.g. family photos, text, audio or video, please contact me at .

Stay tuned for mention of upcoming online exhibitions.

Steve Lasky
Founder and Director
Museum of Family History