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252October Genealogy Update

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  • SusanneLevitsky@aol.com
    Oct 25, 2011

    Jewish Genealogical Society
    of Sacramento
    October 25, 2011
    Upcoming 2011 Meetings:
    Sunday, November 20, 10 a.m. -- Jim Rader, Surname or One-Name Study
    Sunday, December 18, 10 a.m. -- Mark Heckman, Genealogy Jeopardy
    October 16, 2011 Meeting Notes
    President Victoria Fisch called the meeting to order and shared some of the handouts picked up at yesterday's Family History Day at the State Archives. A number of members staffed our booth and were able to talk with visitors about the JGSS.
    On November 5, Ancestry will hold a day-long seminar in San Francisco; the price is $40.  Victoria will represent our organization.  The same day, the Family History Center on Eastern Avenue in Sacramento will hold 30 different classes.  For details, go  to www.FamilyHistoryCenter.info
    Victoria noted that December is renewal month for JGSS dues --you may want to bring your $25 dues check to the December meeting.
    Burt Hecht talked about the flash drives we have, courtesy of Teven Laxer, from the Washington, D.C. conference.  You can download a list of titles and we have a copy in our library.  Ann Kanton said at the conference, she bought a film about life in Galicia before World War II.  Art Yates talked about and recommended "Everything Is Illuminated," a 2005 film that shows some of present-day Ukraine.
    Reflecting on the D.C. conference, Mort Rumberg said he found the ability to use the computer room set up for attendees to be very valuable -- he went early in the morning and could access multiple databases for free.  He said he was able to eliminate Israel as a place where his family was, thanks to the resource room.
    One of the perks of JGSS membership is being able to check books out of our library -- see Bob Wascou or Mark Heckman to check out a book.
    Susanne Levitsky noted that member Gerry Ross is currently hospitalized -- we send her our best wishes for a speedy recovery.
    October Program
    Yael Numark, a native of Bombay, gave a wonderful, personal presentation about the Jews of India.  Jews have been in India for more than 2,000 years.
    She showed a map of the country and the three main places where Jews were found:
    1) Bombay -- called  Bene Israel
    2) Cochin Jews, in southern India
    3) Baghdadis, from Iran, who settled near Calcutta -- "not many left."
    Bene Israel -- Yael said at the time of the destruction of the second temple in Israel, a number of Jews left, and planned to follow the spice trade route. They got caught in a monsoon and shipwrecked near a small town.  The dead were buried in two large mounds -- still a tourist site today -- and as the history was told, there were seven men and seven women who survived, who formed the nucleus of the Jewish community there.
    Yael said there was no anti-semitism, as India is a country with about 33,000 different gods, and what is one more.  So the Jews blended in for about 1500 years.
    "Because they had no books, they were limited to knowing a few prayers, including the first words of the Shema," Yael said. "So we would say that."
    She said the Jews knew not to eat fish without fins or scales, circumsize their sons and not work on Saturdays.  They took up a common profession, oil-pressing, and were known as the Saturday oil pressers.
    Yael said when the British came a lot of these Jews moved north to Bombay to get jobs.
    Yael herself does not read Hebrew, "but I know all the prayers, because we heard it over and over again."   They have oil lamps, rather than candles.
    There are perhaps one or two rabbis for the whole country, so locally people rely on the chazans.
    The Cochin Jews -- many spent six months of the year in the Middle East, as part of the spice trade, and did have access to books.   Scottish missionaries established schools that taught the Bible in Hebrew, with the hopes of converting them, but they still stuck to Judaism.
    The local rajah gave them land next to the palace and the King presented them with a gold crown for the torah.  "This has something to say about accepting them for who they were."
    There are very few of the Cochin Jews left in India, but an estimated 100,000 or more now in Israel.
    Baghdadis --  The Jews in Iran were facing persecution and many moved to Calcutta to be textile traders.  They were fair-skinned, rich, more westernized, built beautiful synagogues.  A lot emigrated to England, Australia and Hong Kong.  One of the Baghdadi family names is Sassoon.  David Sassoon is one of the seven founders of Bombay -- Vidal may or may not be related.
    Yael said the Bene Israels took anglicized names based on the region where they came from in India.
    The first book on the Jews of India was "The History of the Bene Israel" by Haeem Samuel Kehimkar.  Historian Mitchell Numark mentioned this to Yael when they first met -- she said she knew of the book, surprising him.  "Kehimkar is my great-grandfather," she said.   (Her husband is now a history professor at Sacramento State.)
    Yael talked a bit about growing up in India -- she attended an all-girls Catholic school, but observed Jewish traditions with an Indian flavor at home.
    "We are neither Sephardic or Ashkenazi," she said, but follow some Sephardic traditions, such as eating rice during Pesach.
    A unique tradition is Malida, a dish in honor of the Prophet Elijah.  It includes fruits, including coconut, nuts , sweet-smelling flour, sweetened flattened rice,nutmeg and is used as an offering.
    "We have it at least six or seven times a year -- and by the end of the year, we're tired of it!"
    She said her mother used 11 different fruits in her version.  Everything is used in odd numbers -- "we're very superstitious."  She said the largest offering was done for Tu B'Shvat in January.
    They drink black currant wine and eat no beef or chicken, but goat, yes.
    After Indian (1947) and Israeli (1948) Independence, a lot of Indian Jews left for opportunities in Israel.  About 60,000 to 70,000 departed in the 1960s when the rabbis finally accepted them as Jews.
    Yael showed a photo of the first Jewish mayor of Bombay, in the 1960s -- she said the British trusted Jews over the local population.
    She showed a photo of a big rock where the Prophet Elijah is believed to have taken off in a fiery chariot.   The local Hindus revere and maintain the site.  They also maintain the site of the early shipwreck with the burial mounds.
    Yael commented on the attack on the Chabad House in Bombay in November 2008.  "it was heartbreaking, but any of the eight synagogues in the city would have been more populated," she said.  The people who attacked were from Pakistan, not locals.  Most of the synagogues are in Muslim neighborhoods where they are used to the Jews.
    In terms of traditions, there is no charge to attend the synagogue on Yom Kippur -- it is run on donations -- although people pay to carry the torah, read from it.  "You get married in the synagogue, no where else."
    There are still arranged marriages -- Yael's brother received a proposal and Yael, as her mother has passed away, would be involved in any arrangements.
    Yael said India has very good relations with Israel today, and El Al is one of the biggest recruiters of employees.
    Asked about other Indian Jews that may be in Northern California, Yael said there weren't many she knew of -- she has a cousin in Folsom and knows of two in San Francisco.
    From Avotaynu's October 16 E-Zine

    History of Brooklyn Jewry Has Numerous Names

    Google books has placed History of Brooklyn Jewry published in 1937 online at http://tinyurl.com/3vy36xb. The book has a name index but it does not come close to identifying the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people named in the book. There is a full-word search engine at the site. Use it to do search within the book. For those with Brooklyn roots, the history itself may be of value.

    IIJG Announces Two New Research Grants

    The International institute for Jewish Genealogy in Jerusalem has announced two research grants to scholars who responded to its 2011 “Call for Research Proposals.” The grants are awarded to Dr. Louse Hecht of the Kurt and Ursula Schubert Center for Jewish Studies at the Palacky University in Olomouc, Czech Republic; and the other to Prof. Roger Martinez of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, Colorado.

    Dr. Hecht’s proposal on “Jewish families and the tobacco monopoly in the Habsburg Monarchy” will collect and analyze genealogical data on Jewish tobacco leasers, subcontractors and traders in the Habsburg Monarchy between the mid-18th and mid-19th century. By providing a solid material basis and by being well integrated into society, these Jews secured the upward-mobility of future generations, which in turn produced an impressive number of Jewish intellectuals in various fields.

    Prof. Martinez’s research on “Sephardic Origins and Familial Transformations in the Spanish Extremadura region” will use manuscripts and records in Spanish cathedral and municipal archives to reconstruct and compile the lineages of Sephardic Jews and converso families who filtered into Portugal and across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World during the late 15th through early 16th centuries. Within that, he will investigate the varied survival strategies utilized by these Jews and conversos and also explore the nature of their communal and personal identities during this period of intense stress for Sephardic Jews.

    When a ‘Turkish Passport’ saved thousands of lives
    Sunday, October 23, 2011
    ISTANBUL- Hürriyet Daily News
    The recent documentary movie ‘Turkish Passport’ is the unlikely story of Turkish diplomats who helped save tens of thousands of lives by issuing passports to Jews during World War II. The new documentary contains extensive research and an impressive production, which hits the right nerves, especially in these trying times.

    The Holocaust might have been an accurate indicator of how low humanity could go and of the atrocities humans were capable of. Great tragedies make good stories, and the Holocaust has been an unfaltering source for storytellers for decades.
    Jewish and non-Jewish filmmakers alike have turned to World War II for real stories that were more often than not more gruesome than the sickest mind could imagine. First came the stories of war. Then came the human stories of tragedies of families fallen and families forced to break apart, none spared for the sickest game the modern world has seen.
    “Schindler’s List,” Spielberg’s magnum opus to many, was one of the first in exercising hope and praise for unsung heroes of WW II. It was the story of one powerful man who had clung to his humanity and saved over a thousand Jewish lives.
    Just when one thinks that every story about the Holocaust has already been told, an unlikely tale of hope, optimism and heroism, or “the only Holocaust story with a happy ending,” enters our lives.
    “Turkish Passport” is an unusual story about the Holocaust; it is unusual simply by having the word “Turkish” in its title, since Turkey was a neutral country during WW II. The documentary, directed by former advertisement director Burak Cem Arlıel and written by Deniz Yeşilgün and Gökhan Zincir, is a surprising recount of Turkish diplomats in France and other European countries who had saved the lives of tens of thousands of Jews by issuing them Turkish passports.
    ‘Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world’
    Based on extensive research of four years, “Turkish Passport” tells the story of Turkish diplomats and those saved by them through interviews with the survivors, the relatives of the survivors and the relatives of the Turkish diplomats, as well as re-enactments. It was definitely a period when Turkish bureaucracy was not as stalled, and when a Turkish passport was literally a lifesaver.
    The film recounts stories of Turkish diplomats like Behiç Erkin, Turkey’s ambassador to France, who issued passports to French Jews of Turkish ancestry and helped ship them off to Turkey in rescue trains. The diplomats issued passports to anyone who could utter a few sentences in Turkish, an ironic reminder of Kurds who sought asylum in Europe in the 1990s through uttering sentences in Kurdish.
    Director Arlıel is well aware that the interviews he managed to capture on film are valuable, yet are repetitive after a certain point. That was when some of the re-enactments came to the rescue. These scenes work very much like a feature film, rich in detail and meticulous in production. They are not your run-of-the-mill re-enactments of the History Channel variety that are designed to work as fillers.
    The director and the production team are also aware of the extent of their research, making sure that no one goes without credit, even though not all the research was included in the film. The web site acts like a companion piece to the film. Choosing English as its language, the site features details on research, documents, and survivor testimonials, some not seen in the documentary. Words of one of the eye witnesses in the web site perhaps best summarizes the backbone of the film: “My father was arrested by the Germans and sent to the Drancy internment camp. My mother immediately went to the Turkish Embassy and asked for help rescuing my father. Thanks to the letters written by the Ambassador, my father was rescued from the camp.”
    “Turkish Passport” was screened in the recent Adana Golden Boll Film Festival and in Cannes Film Festival last May, creating a word-of-mouth buzz for both its subject matter and its impressive execution. The tag line “Whoever saves one life, saves the entire world” might seem like a cliché, but it truly captures the film’s essence, and rings even more powerful in these trying times.
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