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Genealogy Meeting Next Sunday

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  • SusanneLevitsky@aol.com
    Our Meeting Next Sunday: The Musical “Chicago” and All That Genealogical Jazz Sunday, May 17, 2009, 10 a.m. You may not realize it, but the Broadway
    Message 1 of 6 , May 11, 2009

      Our Meeting Next Sunday:

      The Musical “Chicago” and All That Genealogical Jazz

      Sunday, May 17, 2009, 10 a.m.


      You may not realize it, but the Broadway musical / movie 'Chicago' was based on the lives of two real-life women, Belva Gaertner and Beulah Annan, who lived in Chicago in 1924.  In this presentation, Bay Area genealogist and author Ron Arons pieces back together the fascinating life of Belva, using a variety of documents. Come learn the backstory and sequel to the musical/movie!


      Ron’s program is part of a presentation originally given at the 2008 International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies -- in Chicago.

      Join us on Sunday morning to learn more. 

      Preserving Jewish Cemeteries

      The Heritage Foundation for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries has a Web site that lists the status of 402 Jewish cemeteries primarily in Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary.  Visit the site at www.hfpjc.org.

      36 Hours in Philadelphia

      From Sunday’s New York Times travel section, a “36 Hours in…” article on Philadelphia, site of this year’s international conference.   For a look at the Times’ recommendations for the city, go to http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/05/10/travel/10hours.html?scp=1&sq=philadelphia&st=cse

      A few articles that may be of interest..


      Correct format saves genealogical work

      By Stefani Evans,  West Valley News, Clark County, Nevada  Thu, Apr 30, 2009

      Stefani Evans

      We are not immortal, and each of us will someday become the ancestor on the wall. I write about mortality because most genealogists collect paper. Lots of paper.

      By the time we prove our final ancestor we will accumulate boxes and binders full of paper. Where will our work go? Some few genealogists have family members who are willing to receive their collections. But most genealogists do not, and they must seek other custodians for their materials. The two largest genealogical libraries emphasize that organization matters. If you would like to preserve your work and make it available to future researchers, they say, assemble it into a format that researchers can use.

      The world's largest genealogical library, Salt Lake City's Family History Library (FHL), does not accept genealogical collections in file boxes or loose unorganized papers. The FHL is not a repository, such as a state archives, and it does not have space to store every type of personal genealogical work product. The FHL gladly accepts electronic GEDCOM files (Genealogical Data Communication), a standard format that all family tree programs can read and produce; the library will incorporate donated GEDCOM files into the FamilySearch Pedigree Resource File database (www.familysearch.org). The library accepts written, indexed, family histories with title page and table of contents. With the author's permission, the FHL will digitize family histories for access through the Brigham Young University (BYU) Family History Archives Web site, and will bind a copy for patron use in the FHL. Carolyn Bellamy in the Donations unit emphasizes that compiled family histories must be "camera-ready" as staff cannot organize and edit donated materials.

      One library will take your genealogical collection. The Allen County Public Library (ACPL) in Fort Wayne, Ind., houses the second-largest genealogical collection in the United States, and seeks such collections. However, Steve Myers in the genealogy center points out that the better you organize your collection, the quicker the library can process it and get it on the shelves. The ACPL will not index your collection; volunteers will broadly organize volumes behind cover sheets. You will make your collection more user friendly if you include a table of contents for each binder or file.

      Genealogist Richard A. Pence of Fairfax, Va., exemplifies the proactive stance we should emulate if we wish our work to outlive us. Pence, charter inductee into the Genealogy Technology Hall of Fame, co-authored the first book on using computer technology in genealogy, "Computer Genealogy." Pence's heirs did not want to take custody of his research, and he offered his collection to the ACPL. The ACPL recently accepted Pence's collections. His database, "Pence Descendants," holds Pence's one-name study representing more than 40 years of research. His main database contains nearly 18,000 Pences and serves to index narrative files on each individual. This database and associated text files will shortly be online and available to researchers everywhere. Pence's collection also includes some 12 linear feet of correspondence, research notes, documents, etc. (mostly predating 1995) and thousands of electronic files.

      Both libraries urge genealogists to organize their papers. Thank you, Richard Pence, for demonstrating how we might allow others to benefit from our work..

      Stefani Evans is a board-certified genealogist and a volunteer at the Regional Family History Center. She can be reached c/o the Home News, 2275 Corporate Circle, Third Floor, Henderson, NV 89074, or TheNews@....


      The Big Baby-Naming Battle

      BS Top - Satran Baby NamesAs "Cohen" climbs the rankings of popular first names for babies, naming expert Pamela Redmond Satran discovers a holy war being waged over the classic Jewish surname.

      by Pamela Redmond Satran

      Pamela Redmond Satran

      Pamela Redmond Satran is the coauthor with Linda Rosenkrantz of nine best-selling baby-name guides, including Beyond Jennifer & Jason and Cool Names for Babies, and a developer of the new baby-naming site Nameberry. A former fashion editor for Glamour, she is also a columnist for that magazine, writes for the New York Times, and is the author of five novels.  Her children are named Rory, Joe, and Owen.

      It started out innocently enough. Which name sounds better, a mom-to-be asked on nameberry’s message boards. “Nathaniel Cohen or Cohen Grey?”

      The first few responses tiptoed around the issue: What about Nathaniel Grey? How about Ezra, Gideon, or Levi instead of Cohen?

      And then the gloves came off.

      “All these hillbillies are sitting around drinking their Mountain Dew and eating their Ho Hos and naming their babies Cohen.”

      “A Cohen is a Jewish priest and a religious name, so… it would pretty much be like a non-Christian person naming their child Jesus, a non-Muslim person naming their child Mohammed, or a non-Catholic person wearing a rosary as jewelry simply because it looks cool,” one poster wrote. “If you're not Jewish, please be aware that many Jewish people may be understandably offended by a non-Jewish Cohen.

      “I am not even religious so I couldn't care less what the religious fanatics think,” the Cohen-loving mom fired back. “I’m not going to not name my baby something just because it might offend someone.”

      If you haven’t spent any time lately in the wild world of baby-naming, you may be surprised to learn that Cohen is one of the hottest new names for boys, rising from No. 650 in 2004, when it debuted on the Social Security’s most popular names list, to No. 393 last year, when 761 baby boys received the name. It’s in Canada’s Top 100, and has gained a following in the U.K. as well.

      The initial inspiration: The character on television’s The O.C., Seth Cohen—typically called just plain Cohen—with a little pop-culture help from fellow Cohens, Sacha Baron and Leonard, along with the filmmaking Coen Brothers.

      All Jews, of course, Cohen being the most common Jewish surname in the United States. But the problem is it’s not just any Jewish surname. Call your sons Greenblatt or Rosenberg, the objectors say. But the name Cohen is reserved for the priestly caste descended directly from the biblical Aaron. Cohens are accorded certain privileges in the Jewish religion and are subject to certain restrictions: They’re not allowed to marry a widow, a divorcee, or a non-Jew, for instance, which has kept the Cohen bloodline exceptionally pure.

      There’s even a Kohen gene, identified as a marker on the Y chromosome shared by over 90 percent of Kohanim and about 5 percent of all Jewish males. Not to mention the positioning of the kohen’s hands during a priestly blessing, adopted as Mr. Spock’s Vulcan salute by Leonard Nimoy, who was raised an Orthodox Jew.

      What’s especially ironic, and to some galling, about the rising popularity of Cohen as a first name is that the people who love it seem to be just about as un-Jewish as you can get. Google “Cohen is my favorite name” and you’ll find family pictures featuring toy guns and rebel flags. On being assured on one name board that using the name Cohen would not necessarily offend Jews, one mom-to-be wrote, “That's great to hear!! We live in a small town in the Midwest and I've never met a Jewish person IRL.”

      In Real Life.

      “This is exactly why Orthodox Jews stay in Brooklyn, in their own communities, and don’t have anything to do with outsiders,” says my friend Diane, who spent six years in Brooklyn as an Orthodox Jew and now calls herself “a Christian believer who feels guilty on Jewish holidays.” “Once you leave Brooklyn, you go to Hollywood and become a television writer who puts a Jewish character on TV and names him Cohen, and then people in Iowa copy you and those little Cohens grow up and move to New York and marry real Jews and ruin everything.”

      Most parents choosing the name Cohen seem unaware of the name’s quintessential Jewishness—or are actively in denial of it. Some posters equate Cohen with such Biblical names as Sarah and David or choose to identify it with the Irish Cohan or Coen, a patronymic related to Coyne; the Scottish Cowen or Cowan; the Dutch Koen or Coen, which means "daring,” and the German Kohn, a short form of Konrad.

      “You needn't feel guilty about using Cohen, because the name has been percieved [sic] in so many different ways by many different faiths,” writes one online Cohen-lover to another, “much like the Bible itself.”

      “All these hillbillies are sitting around drinking their Mountain Dew and eating their Ho Hos and naming their babies Cohen,” says Anne, a New York teacher who hasn’t been to temple since her bat mitzvah but finds the use of Cohen to be akin to “taking a name in vain.” “They’re ignorant that they’re stealing a sacred name from a religion to which they don’t belong, and even if they find out, they don’t care who it offends.”

      But the real reason people love the name Cohen is not because of any religious connection or lack thereof, but because they see it as a “unique” spin on the two-syllable, n-ending, surname-y names so popular for boys today: Colton, Rohan, Logan. One online poll pitted Cohen against Coby (Cohen won, 67 percent to 33 percent), while another debated the merits of Cohen Ray versus Desmond Reeve. And a downmarket baby-name site lists Cohen as an American form of Cody.

      “No. 1, it’s just such a cool name, we fell in love with it,” says Hector Cervantes, the guitarist for the Christian rock group Casting Crowns who lives in Rome, Georgia, and has a two-month-old son named Isaiah Cohen, called simply Cohen. “It felt right to me because of its connection with Aaron and the Levites, which is meaningful because I’m a firm Bible believer. It wasn’t until afterward that we learned some people might find Cohen as a first name offensive.”

      Cervantes’ experience playing Christian rock convinced him to stick with the name despite potential objections. “Ninety percent of people are positive but 10 percent say how dare you throw stones at the church. If we worried about what other people were saying, who knows what kind of life we’d live.”

      Not every Jew, or even every Cohen, is offended by the growing use of Cohen as a first name. If she were called upon to preside at the bris of a baby boy named Cohen, says Jamie Korngold, “The Adventure Rabbi” of Boulder, her reaction would be “Mazel tov.”

      “I don’t find it offensive at all,” says Benyamin Cohen, the son and brother of Orthodox rabbis and the author of My Jesus Year, which recounts the tale of his tour through the world of Christianity. “If you’re not Jewish, I have no reason to expect you to follow my laws. I’d rather if people name their kid Cohen than if they name it Britney. At least Cohen means something.”

      Those who do find the use of Cohen as a first name offensive are every bit as vociferous as those who don’t.

      “Calling someone Cohen is NOT the same as calling someone priest,” wrote one message-board poster. “It's more in the same category as calling your kid "Jesus is dead"—it’s like making a statement that you don't respect the religion.”

      On the other side, someone wrote, “I'm not naming my child Hitler, or Saddam, I think that those names may evoke bad feelings from others... but Cohen? Really?”

      The bottom line: No matter what anyone says, the name Cohen is unlikely to go away any time soon and is expected to leap even higher up the list when the 2008 name statistics are announced Friday. Even the most eloquent objections often fall on deaf ears.

      When a new post appeared on what I’ve come to think of as Nameberry’s Cohen Debate Board this afternoon, I held my breath, expecting another heated volley. Here’s what it said:

      “I like the name Cohen for a first name but not too fond of Grey. Maybe Cohen Nathaniel?”

      Pamela Redmond Satran is a developer of the baby-naming site nameberry.com and the coauthor of 10 books on names, including Beyond Ava & Aiden, due out next month.


      See you next Sunday....

    • SusanneLevitsky@aol.com
      Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento Sunday, October 18, 2009, 10 a.m. -- Jewish Genealogical Research in South Africa --Albert Einstein Residence
      Message 2 of 6 , Oct 11, 2009

        Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento

        Sunday, October 18, 2009, 10 a.m.  -- Jewish Genealogical Research in South

        Africa  --Albert Einstein Residence Center, 1935 Wright Street, Sacramento


        Roy Ogus will be the October speaker for the Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento. 

        Roy is vice-president of the Southern African Jewish Genealogical SIG (Special Interest Group) on the JewishGen Web site.  He was born in South Africa and has lived in the Bay Area since the 1970s.


        The South African Jewish community is a large one, and while we may not know it, many of us may have South African connections through ancestors who may have emigrated there.  During the great wave of emigration from Eastern Europe (1881-1930s), many Jews, especially Lithuanians, left for the economic opportunity and freedom of South Africa .  Following the recent emigration of many South African Jews during periods of political unrest in the country, the end of apartheid in 1994 has revitalized our cousins’ homeland.
        Roy ’s presentation will summarize key sources of documentation and genealogical information of genealogical value in South Africa , and how these materials can be accessed and researched.  He’ll also provide an overview of South African history as a backdrop for the discussion of Jewish migration to that remote area.


        All are welcome to attend the Sunday, October 18, 10 a.m. meeting.  It's also an opportunity to make use of our extensive genealogy library.


        After the meeting, you may want to take advantage of Congregation Beth Shalom’s Food Faire.  The location is 4746 El Camino Ave, Carmichael.


        And from today’s Washington Post ..  where Al Franken, Tom Friedman and the Coen Brothers grew up…


        My Dad Takes The Coen Bros. Back to Shul

        By Neal Karlen
        Special to The
        Washington Post
        Sunday, October 11, 2009


        Fyvush Finkel, a venerable star of Yiddish theatrical melodrama, was expecting Joel and Ethan Coen to feed him nothing but juicy lines for their new film, "A Serious Man." Yet he felt they'd given him dreck. So Finkel, 86, did the heretofore unthinkable: He kibitzed the Coens on-set, and then, unbidden, rewrote 10 pages of the latest of their always-inviolable scripts.


        It was 2008, and the brothers were filming in their home town of St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb that would serve as the backdrop for "A Serious Man," their latest cinematic ode to tragicomic weirdness, this time grounded in their Jewish upbringing. As Joel later explained, it's a picture "filmed in the context our own youth in St. Louis Park, but with a made-up story."


        Personally, however, nothing in their brilliant oeuvre could top the weirdness of Joel Coen phoning my 83-year-old father at home for a reason also never before thought possible: The sibling auteurs wanted an outsider's opinion on one of their scripts, specifically the 10 pages Finkel found so noxious.


        Joel heard through the St. Louis Park grapevine that my father, Markle, was the most vital and fluent member of the local Jewish Community Center's Yiddish club. Dad, a widower, had recently hooked up with an 84-year-old friend, Roz Baker, who'd invested $500 in "Blood Simple," the Coens' first film, and was still receiving small royalty checks. Her son, David Amdur, one of the Coens' best friends since junior high school, told Joel that the most proficient local source was my father. Roz agreed.


        If you're getting the sense that it's a small world in the Coens' home town, you'd be right. And such a prolific town it is in terms of Jewish achievers: Among St. Louis Park's roughly 10,000 Jews circa 1967 (when the new film is set) were near or actual teenagers Allen Franken, who went from "Saturday Night Live" to the U.S. Senate; Tommie Friedman, who alchemized into the celebrated New York Times columnist and author; Norm Ornstein, perhaps Washington's smartest political polymath; and of course "Joe" and "Eth" Coen, who vow to spend the rest of their lives collaborating, because, as Ethan said the other day, "two heads are better than none."


        Oh, and now my father, the brothers' octogenarian script adviser. When Joel Coen gave my pop a call, he politely asked if Dad would compare for accuracy, tone and narrative flow their own 10-page prologue, written in Yiddish with English subtitles, against Fyvush's scribbled rewrite. Joel and my father talked for about 10 minutes about linguistic nuance; the essence of 19th century Jewish Eastern Europe; and Fyvush vs. the Coens. Joel immediately dispatched two versions of the script for exegesis.


        In "A Serious Man," Finkel plays Reb Groshkover, a mysterious sage. During the film's opening scene -- which has no linear connection to the rest of the movie -- he wanders inside a rickety, 19th-century shtetl lean-to, inhabited by a peasant couple. Some crazy stuff ensues. Turns out the Reb may or may not be a dybbuk, a mischievous Jewish specter.


        Two days later, Dad dialed one of filmdom's most guarded private numbers. "Joel, the first version wasn't bad," he said, "but the second one was pure dreck." My father waved his hand in the universal language of "Feh!" (The brothers' script was the first version, though my father was unaware of which was whose.)


        And the story?


        "Ach," Pop said, "It's the usual shtetl shtick. A woodchopper. A poor old woman. A dybbuk. Who needs it."


        Hey, what about me? The Coens were my favorite local heroes. I'd seen their films more than 100 times (granted, 36 viewings were "The Big Lebowski"), while my father had never seen a single one, and even turned down a chance to invest a few hundred bucks in "Blood Simple" back in the mid-1980s. ("Meshugas," he still says.)


        I was the guy in the family who made a living sweating out narrative arcs. Before he retired from medical practice, Markle Karlen had been a people doctor, not a script doctor. But at that point, unlike virtually everyone I've ever known from St. Louis Park, I had never laid eyes on the Coen brothers in my entire 48 years. I was a few years younger (Ethan is 52; Joel 54), but we'd all gone through the same public and Hebrew school systems, had our bar mitzvahs at the same synagogue, and had recently spent time quizzing my father.


        Watching the movie the day it opened in Minneapolis -- there were lines around the block -- was a lot like going home (then again, I live seven minutes away from St. Louis Park). It tells the tale of beleaguered and a cuckolded physics professor named Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), who attempts to divine the existential meaning of his disintegrating life in St. Louis Park from three incomprehensible rabbis.


        Gopnik lives with his family -- adulterous wife Judith, pot-smoking son Danny and bohemian daughter Sarah -- on a street called Fern Hill. That was the name of my elementary school.


        "Mr. Turchick," the Hebrew School principal Danny Gopnik was sent to after listening to his transistor radio with an earplug during his lessons, was the same Mr. Turchick I was condemned to see after I'd committed the exact same crime.


        My first girlfriend was seventh-grade femme fatale Kori Samsky, who introduced me to the French kiss; Professor Gopnik's femme fatale next-door neighbor is Mrs. Samsky, who introduced him to infidelity. (The Coens were friends with Kori Samsky's older brother. You follow?)


        Built-In Irony


        The Coens didn't need to inject their usual surreal sense of character and space into this paean to their youth: Jews on the prairie is seemingly enough of a bizarre incongruity. Growing up in St. Louis Park, however, is not an exercise in Lake Wobegon-goes-to-Hebrew School.


        Although roughly 20 percent of the suburb's residents are actually Jewish, the image of a gilded ghetto remains indelible in a state where only 42,000 Jews (29,000 in Minneapolis) dwell amid 5.2 million people. And despite Minnesota's progressive tradition, Midwest populism has historically carried a troublesome whiff of anti-Semitism. (In 1946, Carey McWilliams, editor of the Nation, wrote, "Minneapolis is the capitol of anti-Semitism in the United States.") As late as the 1990s, bagels were being thrown onto the rink when St. Louis Park's high school hockey team took the ice at away games.


        Though anti-Semitism has eased over the years, a unique kind of Jew evolved in this atmosphere. This fact was of supreme importance to the Coens when casting their film. "Jews in the Midwest just sounds abnormal," Ethan says. "We were determined to use as many local Jews as we could instead of resorting to the usual Hollywood ethnic type. We wanted to communicate that there are Jews on the Plains. It is a subculture, and a feeling, that is different from Jewish communities in New York or Los Angeles."


        That unique "feeling" is perhaps one reason St. Louis Park's most famous natives almost always come back. Al Franken came home to Minnesota to challenge a coreligionist, Brooklyn-bred Republican incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman. During the campaign, Franken liked to point out that "I'm the Jew who was actually raised in Minnesota."


        Days after Franken announced his candidacy in 2007, his first large rally was held in the gym of St. Louis Park Junior High School. Dave Griffin, Franken's close friend since they met in the school's halls in 1963, introduced him with details of his old pal's run for seventh-grade class president. Franken won in a walk, with posters of him wearing a beard and a stovepipe hat atop the words "Vote for Honest Al."

        Decades later, during the bruising Franken-Coleman battle, one of the only genuinely sweet moments was a commercial featuring Val Molin, Franken's fourth-grade teacher at St. Louis Park's Cedar Manor Elementary School.


        Mrs. Molin filmed a spot for "Allen" in her natural "yer darn tootin' " accent, seemingly imported straight from the Coen brothers' "Fargo." The popular ad helped make the point that Franken was no New York carpetbagger.


        Today, from his Senate office, he can tick off all his elementary school teachers with the rapidity of a Henny Youngman routine, minus any jokes. "Miss Jackson, first grade. Mrs. Morrison, second grade. Miss Bullock, third. Mrs. Molin, fourth. Mrs. Lungabaugh, fifth. Mr. Knudsen, sixth."


        Thomas L. Friedman's timbre, meantime, turns from sober triple Pulitzer Prize winner to chairman of the St. Louis Park Chamber of Commerce when asked about his memories. "You can never go home again," he says, "unless you're from St. Louis Park."


        His first bylines came as a junior on the high school newspaper. Among those stories was an interview with Ariel Sharon, who'd given a speech in Minneapolis. "My whole identity is St. Louis Park," he says, adding that the death of high school classmate Judy Bernstein on American Airlines Flight 11 on Sept. 11 "has partially informed my opinions of terrorism."


        Friedman thinks there is a sui generis atmosphere to his home town that resulted in such an eruption of talent. "It was the mystery of a moment," he says. "It was this stew of a cosmopolitan community that had the tremendous stability of 'Leave It to Beaver.' We had a creative Jewish community mixed together during a progressive moment in politics when Minnesota meant Walter Mondale, Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey."


        Friedman, who commands five figures per lecture on the Chautauqua circuit, has spoken gratis in St. Louis Park several times, helping to raise $350,000 for a local Jewish nursing home and $1 million for combatant casualties in Minnesota, among other causes.


        He also spent his 50th birthday in Las Vegas with his best friends -- the same guys with whom he played cards during junior high school. Norman Ornstein, the political quote machine based at the American Enterprise Institute, also says he still considers St. Louis Park his home. The suburb's fame quotient might stem from its "warm environment for creativity," he speculates. "Conformity isn't valued in St. Louis Park. Great value was put on education, an offbeat sense of humor, and looking outside of ourselves to the rest of the world."


        Interconnections to home often seem to entail zero degrees of separation. Ornstein once went on a date with Friedman's sister, and he gave Franken his guest bedroom while the neonatal senator looked for Washington lodgings. Friedman, Franken and Ornstein all angled for parts in the picture, but the scheduling didn't work out. The Coens, meantime, owe their career to contacts and introductions made in St. Louis Park with several dozen friends and acquaintances; friends of friends; and acquaintances of acquaintances of their parents and neighbors from childhood.


        In junior high school, Joel made enough money mowing neighbors' lawns to buy a Vivitar Super 8 camera. The brothers' first movie was a remake of Cornell Wilde's "The Naked Prey," which they renamed "Zeimers in Zambezi." Later, although still not shaving regularly, the Coens were soon making three-to-five-minute films with titles like "Henry Kissinger -- Man on the Go." "Ed . . . a Dog" was their remake of "Lassie Come Home."


        "Blood Simple" was financed via Joel giving a story pitch in hundreds of St. Louis Park living rooms, showing a two-minute film clip to shake loose $500 to $5,000 from potential investors.


        For a quarter-century, the Coens were my Loch Ness Monsters, my Moby-Dicks. The only bumper sticker I'd ever put on my car bore the keynote line of "The Big Lebowski": "The Dude Abides." So, last year, I decided, the time to cross paths had finally come. I would try out to be an extra in "A Serious Man," and somehow meet the men who'd long served as living proof that just because you came from Minnesota didn't mean you had to end up as a citizen of Garrison Keillor's state-of-mind, which is apparently composed entirely of village idiots.


        The casting company instructions: "PHYSICAL LOOK: Specific characteristics represent 1967 . . . ASM is not a 'glamorous' film. WE LOVE INTERESTING FACES. The dorkier, the better!"

        I could do this. I could do "dorkier." Tryouts were held in a nondescript building west of St. Louis Park. I went into a small room filled with nine other hopefuls, and a woman with a Polaroid took a group shot. I faced forward, snap. I turned to the side, snap. I turned to the door, please leave.


        Rejected, I drove home, passing St. Louis Park High School. Despite my geographic pedigree, I would never be a Franken, an Ornstein, a Thomas L. Friedman, or even see from afar the Coen brothers. They would remain as ethereal and frightening as dybbuks, a pair of ghosts.


        Then I got this assignment, and weaseled my way into an evening with the Coens at Minneapolis's Walker Art Center a couple of weeks ago. It was a fundraising event reserved for the museums' best-heeled patrons. Most major donors seemed to have given their tickets to their Richie Rich children; the audience seemed filled with postmodern cinema hipsters straight out of "Sprockets," Mike Myers's "Saturday Night Live" bit.


        Over the years, the Coens had blown me off at the last second for two interviews. I'd been treated like dog-dirt at tryouts for extras. And now, as their talk concluded, I was being warned by a supercilious film company minion to stay far away. (Evidently he'd been tasked with protecting the Coens from human beings unworthy to grasp at their jacket sleeves.)


        Panicking, I performed a one-man Green Bay Packers-style sweep, and came within inches of running into Ethan's rear-end. Ethan, unperturbed, turned toward me, and I began babbling names we both knew at the speed of one of their favorite actors, Steve Buscemi.


        Ethan shook my hand, apologized about the missed interview, and amiably chatted about life, movies, home. He also asked me to pass along greetings to mutual friends he wouldn't have time to call during this brief trip.


        "Go say hi to Joel," he said, as the studio nabob looked on as if he needed a Valium the size of a pizza.

        The elder Coen laughed, remembering my father's career as his script doctor. He too chatted warmly. "Say hi to your pop and Roz," he said.


        "Did I do something terrible talking to you?" I asked Ethan, who'd circled back, seemingly trying to avoid the "Sprockets" crowd.


        "No!" he exclaimed. "It's nice just to talk. And can you tell David [Amdur, Roz's son] I'm sorry we can't come over for dinner this trip?"


        Dybbuks? Feh. Turns out they were just a couple of mensches from the old neighborhood.


        Neal Karlen's most recent book is "The Story of Yiddish: How a Mish-Mosh of Languages Saved the Jews."

      • SusanneLevitsky@aol.com
        Jewish Genealogy Society of Sacramento Sunday, January 17, 2010, 10 a.m. “Everyone Has a Story to Tell…” Joann Weiser will focus on the importance of
        Message 3 of 6 , Jan 10 12:25 PM

          Jewish Genealogy Society of Sacramento


          Sunday, January 17, 2010, 10 a.m.


          “Everyone Has a Story to Tell…”


          Joann Weiser will focus on the importance of preserving stories of family members and ancestors. Memories not recorded are soon forgotten. How often have you heard someone say, “I wish I would have asked my mother or father more about their lives?”


          Joann is originally from Sacramento, where she met her Israeli husband while earning a teaching credential at CSUS. They moved to Israel, where they spent 28 years before returning to this area. The idea of becoming a personal historian came about on one of her visits back to Israel, where preserving the personal histories of Holocaust survivors and Israeli pioneers has become a national priority.


          Joann is a member of the Association of Personal Historians and helps people write their life stories.


          The January 17 meeting will be held at 10 a.m. at the Albert Einstein Residence Center, 1935 Wright St., Sacramento



          Streep, Colbert set for PBS genealogy show

          Published: Jan. 1, 2010 at 9:28 PM

          Stephen Colbert speaks about his new book "I Am America (And So Can You!)" at George Washington University in Washington on October 19, 2007. (UPI Photo/Alexis C. Glenn) | Enlarge http://www.upi.com/enl-win/6afc0da394cb34b4e495977e643fc2df/

          NEW YORK, Jan. 1 (UPI) -- PBS says its new show "Faces of America" uses the latest tools in genealogy and genetics to explore the family histories of 11 renowned Americans.

          The series is to air Wednesdays from Feb. 10-March 3. Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. will be the show's host.

          "Looking to the wider immigrant experience, Professor Gates unravels the American tapestry, following the threads of his guests' lives back to their origins around the globe. Along the way, the many stories he uncovers -- of displacement and homecoming, of material success and dispossession, of assimilation and discrimination -- illuminate the American experience," PBS said in a release this week.

           “Professor Gates’s guests include poet Elizabeth Alexander, who composed and read the poem at President Barack Obama’s inauguration, chef Mario Batali, comedian Stephen Colbert, novelist Louise Erdrich, writer Malcolm Gladwell, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, film director Mike Nichols, Her Royal Highness Queen Noor, actress Eva Longoria, actress Meryl Streep and figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi.”


          Terre Haute, IN Tribune Star, January 2, 2010

           GENEALOGY: Marriage records among most sought documents

          By Tamie Dehler
          Special to the Tribune-Star   
          Terre Haute, IN Tribune Star, January 2, 2010

          Marriage records are among the most common of documents sought after by a genealogist. A marriage record is simply evidence or proof that a marriage took place. There are several different kinds of documents that can constitute a marriage record.

          Marriage Certificates: This is a document, often fancy or suitable for framing, that is given to a couple at the time they are married. It records the date of the ceremony, the names of the bride and groom, and is often signed by the person who performed the ceremony. The place may be noted. This is not a public record and would be found in the home, among the couple’s papers and mementos. It is absolute proof that the couple was married.

          Marriage Bonds: Marriage bonds aren’t used any more in this country, but they were common in previous centuries. A marriage bond is a legal agreement between the prospective groom and a male member of the bride’s family. The groom states his intention to marry the bride and posts a bond, in the form of money, to back up that intention. If the groom backs out of the wedding, the bond money is owed to the bride’s family. A bond is not in itself absolute proof that a wedding took place. However, if the couple is later found living together on a census, you can pretty safely assume that the marriage took place. The date on the bond is not the actual date of the marriage, but most researchers use this date if there is no other clue to when the marriage took place. Sometimes the marriage bond is the only existing evidence of the marriage.

          Consent Notes: A consent note is a letter written and signed by the bride’s or groom’s parent or guardian stating that the person has permission to marry. Consent notes were written only if the bride or groom was under the legal age to marry, often 21 years of age. Consent notes, like bonds, don’t absolutely prove that a wedding took place. They also don’t provide the actual date of the wedding. Consent notes are helpful in discovering the age of the bride or groom, and they reveal family relationships. If the father is not the author of a consent note, that could mean he was deceased at the time of the wedding and then the mother, an older brother, or even a friend or an appointed guardian would sign the note. Consent notes are often found together with marriage bonds.

          Marriage Licenses: A marriage license is what we are most familiar with today. A couple would go to the county clerk’s office and take out a license to marry. The date on the license is often used as the marriage date by genealogists, but the actual marriage usually took place on a later date. A marriage license stated the couple’s names, and could state their residence, age and/or date of birth, their place of birth, and their parents’ names and birthplaces. The older licenses don’t have all of this information.

          Marriage Returns: This is the gold standard and definitely proves that a couple was married. It also verifies the actual date of the marriage. A return is the minister’s record that he performed a marriage. It is a follow-up to the license and is often listed with the license. Older marriage returns are sometimes the records of circuit preachers, who traveled around and performed marriages and reported back to the county clerk’s office periodically with a list of people he had joined in marriage.

          Supplemental Marriage Transcripts:
          These records are a gold mine of information for the genealogist. They can include extensive information on the bride, the groom, and their families. Many of the
          Indiana counties had separate books for supplemental marriage transcripts during the 1880s to the 1910s. They were filled out separately at the time the couple applied for a license.


          See you next Sunday.

        • SusanneLevitsky@aol.com
          Sunday, April 17, 10 a.m. Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento French Connection -- Susanne Levitsky Susanne Levitsky is a third-generation Californian
          Message 4 of 6 , Apr 12, 2011

            Sunday, April 17, 10 a.m.
            Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento
            "French Connection"  -- Susanne Levitsky
            Susanne Levitsky is a third-generation Californian whose great-grandfather came to California from France in 1870 and settled in Yolo County.  Susanne will talk about her relatives’ emigration to California and trace their lives through World War II.  She'll also discuss the fate of many French Jews who remained in France during the war.
            Her presentation will include her trip to France last fall and offer some suggestions for the Jewish visitor to Paris.
            Susanne began writing to a French cousin in fourth grade and got interested in genealogy through the handwritten family trees done by French relatives. She spent a year in college at the University of Bordeaux and has returned to France numerous times to visit relatives and track down more details of her family's history.
            All are welcome to attend the April 17, 2011 meeting at the Albert Einstein Residence Center, 1935 Wright St., Sacramento.
            From Avotaynu's E-Zine:
            Multiple Searches of Surname

            A website in The Netherlands will search simultaneously a number of sites that are surname oriented. It is called Surname Navigator and is located at  
            http://www.geneaservice.nl/navigator/index.html .   [I tested it with several family surnames and found links to census records, Soc. Security Death Index, etc. -- Susanne]
          • SusanneLevitsky@...
            June 4, 2016 Upcoming Meetings: Sunday June 12, 10 a.m., Ron Arons, Critical and Creative Thinking for Genealogy A lot of fuss has been made over the
            Message 5 of 6 , Jun 4, 2016

              June 4, 2016
              Upcoming Meetings:
              Sunday June 12, 10 a.m., Ron Arons, "Critical and Creative Thinking for Genealogy"

              A lot of fuss has been made over the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS for short), introduced years ago by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. The goal of the GPS is to raise the level of work performed by not only professional genealogists and hobbyists alike. But does the GPS discuss anything about HOW to THINK? Not really.
              In this presentation, Ron Arons returns to brings together the best ideas from the leading thinkers in the fields of critical thinking and creativity. By using various strategies and tactics, you can expand and improve your thinking abilities not just for solving genealogical problems, but also for dealing with many other aspects of your life.

              Ron is the author of "The Jews of Sing Sing," which included one of his ancestors, and appeared on the PBS series, "The Jewish Americans" as the expert of Jewish criminals of New York City's Lower East Side.
              July 17, Richard Wilson, "Making a Family Album"
              No August meeting
              May 22, 2016 Meeting Notes
              President Victoria Fisch called the meeting to order. She noted the upcoming International JGS conference to be held August 5-12 in Seattle.
              Judy Persin kindly volunteered to step in as treasurer after the passing of Bob Wascou, but she would like to be replaced, if someone can assist in that capacity.
              See upcoming meetings above. The September 18 meeting will focus on the California State Archives and what is contained there. We also hope to have a private tour organized for us.
              The slate for the upcoming year was presented: President, Victoria Fisch; Vice President/Programming Director: Sherri Venezia; Secretary: Susanne Levitsky; and Treasurer: Judy Persin. 
              Mark Heckman asked if there were any objections to the slate, hearing none, slate approved.
              Teven Laxer noted that one of the top 10 Jewish films of the year, "The Kindergarten Teacher," was being shown at 1 p.m. today at KOH Library/Mosaic Law.
              May 2016 Presentation
              Emperor Norton's Fantastic San Francisco Time Machine
              Joseph Amster, AKA Emperor Norton, appeared in uniform as Joshua Abraham Norton, who was born Jewish in London in 1818 He went on to describe his life. After a time in South Africa where he inherited $40,000, he made his way to San Francisco and founded Joshua Norton and Company at Jackson and Montgomery streets.
              He increased his nest egg to $250,000 -- about $10 million in today's money -- but lost his fortune in purchasing a boatload of rice (a second boatload arrived at the same time). By 1857, he was broke and largely forgotten.
              In 1859, he proclaimed himself emperor, and for 21 years lived in that capacity, even printing bonds with his likeness. He wore a uniform of a Presidio Army officer and a beaver hat.
              Ahead of his time in many things, he called, in 1872, for the spanning of San Francisco Bay by a great bridge. He also proposed a League of Nations and a Christmas tree in Union Square, all of which would later come to pass.
              The 1870 census recorded him as "Norton, Joshua, Emperor." There is no record of him in the 1860 census.
              While he was not given a Jewish burial at the time of his death, the Court of Historic Review in 1979 ruled that he should, which happened on the centennial of his death in 1980.
              The emperor spent his days with his two dogs, Bummer and Lazarus, immortalized in a drawing and well-fed, like their owner, at various bars and restaurants. Norton also frequented the Mechanics Institute where he liked to play chess.
              "One of my proudest achievements occurred in Chinatown, where I spoke up for the Chinese."
              He said he did have a widow, Jose, playing, in drag, the widow Norton. There were also love letters to a woman that ended up in the Bancroft Library.
              The San Francisco Board of Supervisors offered him a yearly stipend to ensure he was properly attired, and he said that Mark Twain even made him a character in Huckleberry Finn, "although the portrait of the King was not flattering."
              On January 8, 1880, he stumbled and fell, one month shy of his 62nd birthday and eight days after the treasury bonds he offered came due for payment.
              10,000 people viewed his remains .. an obituary read Le Roi est Mort (the King is dead). Money was raised for his funeral and coffin and there was a funeral cortege two miles long.
              In 1934, all San Francisco cemeteries were moved to Colma and he was reinterred in the Woodlawn Cemetery, with a remembrance ceremony by E. Clampus Vitus each year at Empire Park, where he lived.  A plaque was put up in his memory at the Home of Eternity Ceremony -- he had attended Shabbat services at Temple Emanuel, (as well as numerous churches.)
              There had been an Emperor Norton sundae named in his honor at Ghirardelli Square, and his website contains a link to a petition to bring back this sundae. "Please sign the petition!"
              There is a campaign to name the new Bay Bridge in his honor -- the western span is named after former Mayor Willie Brown.
              The San Francisco Chronicle for years ran an "Emperor Norton Treasure Hunt" and there was also an episode of Death Valley Days that featured him, the Emperor said.  He was also in an episode of Bonanza, played by Sam Jaffe.
              The Emperor (Joseph Amster) offers historic San Francisco Walking Tours twice a week -- Time Machine Tours -- and a waterfront tour on Sunday. All the tours are $20, last about three hours, and no need to sign up in advance. He once did a tour of "The Jews of San Francisco."
              Amster himself was born and raised in Southern California, has had "seven or eight" careers, including working as a chef at Salamagundis -- "I made the soup -- recipes on my website."  http://emperornortontour.com/index.html

              Thanks to Allan Dolgow for passing this on: 
              Sacramento FamilySearch Library: Two Free Services - Call and reserve 487-2090
              Photo Scanner Machine - Put your old photos on a flash drive - 600 photos per hour
              Oral History Machine - A video will be taken as you answer 13 questions - there are different questions for different age groups.  The video will be e-mailed to you.
              From Avotaynu's E-Zine by Gary Mokotoff:
              New York State Death Index 1957–1966 Online
              Israel Pickholz notes that New York State Department of Health has placed a death index from 1957–1966 online at
              http://tinyurl.com/NYStateDeathIndex, some 866,000 records. It does not include New York City. Information includes (in this order) year of death, file number, name, age, gender, exact date of death and residence code. It is essentially an Excel file. Since the file is huge, a filter function allows the user to isolate entries by various fields, such as “name.” It is possible to download the file.
                                                      See you at our meeting next Sunday, June 12!
            • SusanneLevitsky@...
              October 9, 2017 Upcoming Meetings: Sunday, October 15, 10 a.m. – “Digging for Gelt on JewishGen.org,” Vivian Kahn Sunday, November 19, 10 a.m. –
              Message 6 of 6 , Oct 9, 2017

                October 9, 2017
                Upcoming Meetings:
                Sunday, October 15, 10 a.m. – “Digging for Gelt on JewishGen.org,” Vivian Kahn
                Sunday, November 19, 10 a.m. – “Finding Living People on the Internet,” Ron Arons
                Sunday, December 17, 10 a.m. “ Delving into Your Polish Past --JRI-Poland” Robinn Magid
                Next Sunday's meeting, with Vivian Kahn:
                Digging for Gelt on JewishGen
                JewishGen is the premier online resource for researching Jewish family history. Vivian Kahn will help explore the JewishGen website and answer questions about the databases and research tools the website offers. Even if you’ve already searched for your family in JewishGen’s vast database, uploaded your names and places to the JewishGen Family Finder, added your tree to the Family Tree of the Jewish People, and participated in one or more of JewishGen’s many discussion groups, you’ll likely learn something from this presentation to advance your research skills.  

                Vivian Kahn is JewishGen’s Vice President of SIG (Special Interest Group) Affairs and also serves as Hungarian SIG Coordinator.  She has presented workshops on Jewish genealogy and especially Hungarian Jewish family research at IAJGS annual conferences, for Jewish genealogy societies throughout California, and in Sighet, Romania.
                Since she began researching her own family from pre-Trianon Hungary, she has used a wide range of archival, print, and online resources and visited Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Israel to research her own and others’ Hungarian roots.  Vivian, who lives in Oakland, is an urban planning and development consultant and teaches planning classes for University of California extension programs.  
                This meeting (and the others this year) will all take place at the Einstein Residence Center, 1935 Wright Street, Sacramento.
                See you Sunday the 15th at 10 a.m. 
                Beginning Genealogy Workshops
                Our recent two-part workshops generated good attendance and nine new JGSS members. Welcome to our group!  Thanks to our presenters: Judy Persin and Teven Laxer (Part 1) and Tony Chakurian and Victoria Fisch (Part 2). And our appreciation to Iris Bachman for assisting with fees and handouts.
                From Avotaynu/Gary Mokotoff's "Nu? What's Nu?" October 8 edition:
                Genetic Testing Results Now Accepted as Proof of Being a Jew
                Various Jewish news agencies are reporting that the results of a specific DNA test are being accepted as proof that a person is, by Jewish law, a Jew. The ruling comes from Rabbi Yosef Carmel, who is both co-head of the Eretz Hemdah Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies and a senior rabbinical judge on the private Eretz Hemdah rabbinical court in south Jerusalem. It is expected that this ruling will help Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union who are having difficulty proving their Jewish status due to suppression of religious activity by the former Soviet regime. 

                The test being used is the mitochondrial DNA test which is inherited exclusively from a person’s mother. It has been determined that fully 40 percent of all Ashkenazi Jews are descended from just four Jewish women who left the Middle East more than 1,000 years ago and settled in Europe. Immigrants who can demonstrate through mitochondrial DNA testing that they are descended from one of these four women will be considered to have proven their Jewish ancestry. The remaining 60 percent will have to use other means. 

                Additional information can be found at 

                RootsTech 2018 Program Now Online
                http://avotaynu.com/Gifs/NWN/RootsTechLogo2016.jpgThe program schedule for RootsTech 2018 is now online athttps://www.rootstech.org/schedule. The conference runs from Wednesday, February 28 to Saturday, March 3, 2018 at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. Four sessions are explicitly on Jewish genealogy:
                   • Jewish Genealogy's Other Side: Sephardic Resources 
                   • The Nuts & Bolts of Jewish Genealogy for Beginners 
                   • JewishGen and the Challenges of Jewish Genealogy
                   • The DNA of the Jewish People

                To demonstrate how DNA-mania has taken over genealogical research, there will be 27 lectures/workshops on the subject.

                Additional information about the event can be found from its home page: 

                U.S. National Archives to Hold Virtual Genealogy Fair on October 25
                http://avotaynu.com/Gifs/NWN/NARA.jpgThe U.S. National Archives will host its fifth virtual Genealogy Fair via webcast. Viewers can participate with the presenters and other family historians during the live event on YouTube athttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu_tsR2VC00. All session videos and handouts will be available from this web page free of charge. You can watch the sessions and download the materials at your convenience. Topics will include:
                   • Taking Care of Your Family Heirlooms
                   • 19th Century Ancestors in Tax Assessment Records
                   • From the Cradle to the Grave: Birth, Childhood, and Death in the National Archives at St. Louis 
                   • A is for Archives, B is for Burn File: Accessing Burned Records at the National Archives at St. Louis 
                   • Locating the Relocated: Deciphering Electronic Records on Japanese Americans Interned During World War II
                   • Beyond the War Relocation Administration: Finding Japanese Relocatees in Other Records

                Information is at 
                Finding Your Roots: Bernie Sanders, Larry David
                If you didn't have a chance to view the PBS show last week, it was a good one.  Here's a link to the program:
                See you next Sunday, the 15th, at 10 a.m.
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