Wednesday, December 30, 2009

JGSCV Meeting- How To Begin Your Genealogy Research

The Jewish Genealogical Society of the Conejo Valley and Ventura County (JGSCV) will hold a general meeting, co–sponsored with Temple Adat Elohim, on Sunday, January 10, 2010 1:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. at Temple Adat Elohim 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks, CA (USA).

Program: How To Begin Your Genealogy Research

Want to learn how to begin your genealogy research? Wondering how to fill in the gaps on your family tree? Want to learn how to use JewishGen.org--THE website for Jewish genealogy?

JGSCV Board members and founding members, Jan Meisels Allen and Debra Kay Blatt, both accomplished genealogists and presenters, will present and lead the discussions including: how to begin searching your family history including census and ships manifests, family hearsay, searching older newspapers for obituaries and articles on family businesses, and how to search what is on JewishGen.org including familiarization with search functions, databases (including the All-Country Database), use of the Family Finder and introduction to ShtetLinks pages.

While the program is directed for beginners, everyone can learn from the presentations.

There will be a schmoozing session starting 15 minutes before the
meeting, facilitated by JGSCV Board member Werner Frank..come and talk on your successes or problems.

Starting with this meeting we are adding a new feature to our monthly
meetings: a 5-7 minute "book report" on a genealogically-relevant book reported on by a member or friend of JGSCV. The January meeting will have JGSCV Member Diane Wainwood report on "The Mezuzah in the Madonna's Foot" Marranos and Other Secret Jews by Trudi Alexy.

Our rotating traveling library will have available Categories A and B. To see which
books are listed under which category, please go to our website, www.jgscv.org and look under traveling library. The books are available starting 30 minutes before the program to 30 minutes after the program.

The meeting is open to all and there is no charge.

For more information including directions to the meeting, see our website for directions and more information: www.jgscv.org

Jan Meisels Allen

President, JGSCV

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

'Exodus' captain Ike Aranne dies at 86


Ike Aranne, who was the captain of 'Exodus 1947', died in Hadera on Wednesday after a long illness, his daughter Ella said. He was 86 years old.

Aranne was born in Danzig, Poland, and came to the country at the age of 10. Formerly named Yitzhak Aronowicz, Aranne later worked with ships and always loved the sea, his daughter said.

Ahronovitch is survived by two daughters, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren. His funeral is scheduled for Friday in northern Israel.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post last November from his Zichron Ya'acov home, Aranne relayed his "accidental" path leading him to the helm of the famous World War II ship, which carried over 4,500 Jewish refugees, most of them Holocaust survivors, and was rammed and boarded by the British, who forced the ship to dock in France.

The passengers, however, refused to disembark there, and the British sent the ship to Germany, but following worldwide outcry at the cruelty inflicted upon the refugees, the passengers ended up in detention camps in Cyprus, thus bringing a change in the British policy.

Author Leon Uris popularized the story in 1958, and Paul Newman subsequently starred in its 1960 screen version. Aranne had told the Post that neither the novel nor the movie bears any resemblance to the actual facts.

Aranne's wife, Irene, died in 2001.



Click here for the entire article.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Board of Governors: Update

The JewishGen Board of Governors is pleased to announce the addition of two members. These individuals, Michael Goldstein and Dr. Rand Fishbein, add valuable skills to the team.

Michael Goldstein


Michael Goldstein is President of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). Born in Toronto, Ontario, Goldstein is a Jerusalem-based genealogist who researches, mentors, lectures, and conducts workshops. He carries out worldwide Jewish research and guides North Americans in locating and connecting with their Israeli family, facilitating the use of local Israeli research sources. In addition, he does extensive work on behalf of lawyers and estate search firms seeking out Israeli heirs.


Mr. Goldstein previously worked in both Montreal, Quebec and in Israel in Jewish communal services. His previous positions include Director of the Davis YMHA Montreal, Director of Program Management Jewish Family Services Social Centre in Montreal, and Executive Vice President of the Jewish National Fund of Canada.


Mr. Goldstein is President of the International Association of JewishGenealogical Societies (IAJGS), President of The Israel Genealogical Society, an incoming board member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, and a member of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Montreal.

Mr. Goldstein has a BA from Concordia University and an MSW from YeshivaUniversity.

Dr. Rand Fishbein

Dr. Rand Fishbein is President of Fishbein Associates, Inc., a public-policyconsulting firm based in Potomac, Maryland. He has long been a leader inJewish political life. Among his many efforts related to Jewish issues andcultural preservation, he initiated efforts in the U.S. Senate that saved the ancient Jewish Bassatine Cemetery in Cairo from destruction, and contributed to the rescue of Ethiopian Jews in 1991 as well as the rescue of the last 400 Jews in Iraq that same year. Following a fire that ravaged the ancient archival collection in Kamenets-Podolsk, Ukraine, in 2003, Dr. Fishbein successfully arranged for the U.S. Embassy in Kiev to provide emergency financial assistance for the salvage and conservation of the surviving documents.

Prior to entering the private sector, Dr. Fishbein was a Professional Staff Member (Majority) of the U.S. Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee. He also served as a Professional Staff Member (Majority) on the U.S. Senate Foreign Operations Appropriations subcommittee responsible for preparing the annual U.S. foreign assistance budget. Dr. Fishbein was one of two Foreign Policy/Intelligence Analysts on the 1987 U.S. Senate Iran-Contra investigating committee and co-authored a portion of its final report. Later, he served as the Special Assistant for National Security Affairs toSenator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI).

According to Fishbein: "JewishGen seeks to accomplish in our modern age what our great sages, academies and traditions of the past have sought to do. That is, to build a bridge between generations that is personal, profound, and enduring. The survival of the Jewish people is one of the great and ennobling stories of mankind. Its illumination is both the mission and the challenge of JewishGen. I am honored and privileged to be asked to join such a visionary team."


Dr. Fishbein earned his Ph.D., with distinction, in InternationalRelations/Middle East Studies from The Johns Hopkins School of AdvancedInternational Studies (SAIS) in Washington, D.C. He was a fellow in Brussels at the North Atlantic Assembly, the inter-parliamentary forum of NATO, and was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to St. Antony's College, Oxford University, and another Fulbright to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), at the University of London.


The Board of Governors announces with great regret the resignation of Anne Feder Lee, past president of the IAJGS.

Karen S. Franklin
Gary Mokotoff
Co-Chairs, JewishGen Board of Governors

Moroccan king donates fountain to synagogue

From the Canadian Jewish News

About 200 members of Toronto’s Moroccan Jewish community braved cold winter winds last week to attend the dedication ceremony of a traditional Moroccan fountain. The fountain was donated by the Moroccan King Mohammed VI to the Sephardic Kehila Centre.

Chief Sephardi Rabbi Amram Assayag, who immigrated to Toronto from Morocco when he was 15 years old, called the dedication a “historical event,” and said it “brings back the wonderful memories of our childhood as we walk into a building with such a majestic feature.”

Rabbi Assayag said that his community was “privileged” to live in Morocco.

“Our kings were full of understanding and mercy… Moroccan Jewry flourished in a way that very few Diasporas have flourished.”

Kehila Centre president Elias Toby said that while the Jewish community in Morocco has dwindled over the past 50 years, “Jewish synagogues and schools continue to receive government subsidies.”

He added that “after half a century of separation, the Jews of Morocco are finding their way home. Many of us have recently visited Morocco, and through those visits, we recall and better understand the culture and dimension of being a Sephardic Jew.

Click here to read the entire articles and here to visit JewishGen's Sephardic SIG

Monday, December 21, 2009

Updated IAJGS Latest_Alert Posted to IAJGS Website

An updated IAJGS Latest_Alert has been posted to the IAJGS
website (www.IAJGS.org) go to left hand button "legislation"
then click on Latest_Alert or click on Latest_ Alert next to newsboy
in middle of home page. When the Latest_Alert opens the updated
part about the US National Archives starts on page 3.

Included in the Latest_Alert are the statements for the IAJGS,
National Genealogical Society (NGS) and the Records Preservation
& Access Committee (RPAC) of which IAJGS is one of the three
voting members (along with the FGS and NGS). Also included
is the statement presented by US Archivist David S. Ferriero.
The NGS and Archivist's statements were made on December 16,
2009 during the hearing by the House Oversight and Government
Reform Committee Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census
and National Archives on: History Museum or Records Access
Agency? Defining and Fulfilling the Mission of the National Archives
and Records Administration. The IAJGS and RPAC statements
were submitted in advance of the hearing and were referenced
being on the NGS website during the NGS oral statement
making their locations also part of the record.

On December 17 the National Archives and Records Administration
held a public meeting/open forum- a legally different procedure
than a public hearing. IAJGS also submitted a statement for this
forum which may be accessed on the Latest_Alert.

Jan Meisels Allen
IAJGS Director-at-large, and
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Berlin's oldest Jewish cemetery renovated

Renovation work on Berlin's oldest Jewish cemetery has been finished with the reinstallation of 20 tombstones.

The cemetery was built in 1672 by Jews who had found refuge in Berlin after being chased from Vienna. The famous German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn was buried here in 1786.

After the cemetery's destruction during the Nazi era, gravestones were kept at a different cemetery for years. (AP)



Click here to read the entire article and here to visit JewishGen Worldwide Burial Registry (JOWBR)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Volunteer Profile: Ann Rabinowitz

Posted by Joanna Leefer

Ann Rabinowitz
Assistant Blog Coordinator


If you read the JewishGen blog, you are probably already a fan of Ann Rabinowitz’s writings and contribution to Jewish genealogy. Ann is the assistant coordinator for the JewishGen blog, frequently submitting articles that cover a vast array of topics that are interesting and helpful to those researching their Jewish family history. Ann has been personally responsible for connecting families across several continents as a result of her writing on the blog and elsewhere.

Many of her topics involve extensive research and a willingness to explore the complexity of her subject matter. Her latest project has been a profile of Harry Spanier, the only American Jew who fought in the Second Boer War on the side of the Boers and perished at the Battle of Surprise Hill on December 11, 1899. The profile was completed for the dedication of a plaque in his honor in commemoration of the 110th Anniversary of the battle in which he fell.

Ann also plays an important role in formulating strategic direction for the blog and increasing the number of contributors. As her posts generally receive a lot of feedback, she will often spend considerable amount of time answering queries that readers post in the comments section or via email.

In addition to her blog postings, Ann is on the Board of the Litvak SIG and is one of the American coordinators for the SA SIG as well as being a member of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Palm Beach County, Inc., and the JGS (NY). Apart from genealogy, she has authored many short stories, works of poetry, and articles on food anthropology or ethnic foods and is an avid gardener.

Ann is a native of Manchester, England, where her mother’s family from Boryslaw and Drohobycz, Ukraine settled. She is a graduate of Florida State University and did further course work there as well as at Emory University and the University of Maryland. Currently, she lives in South Florida and works as an office manager in a local government information technology department. JewishGen is grateful to have such a prolific and talented member as part of its roster of volunteers. Thanks for all your great contributions, Ann.

If you would like to nominate a JewishGen volunteer to be spotlighted, please email us by clicking here. If you would like to join JewishGen as a volunteer, please click here.

Update: Hungarian Database


Posted by Sam Schleman

I am pleased to announce an update to the JewishGen Hungarian Database.

We have added approximately 15,000 birth, marriage and death records.

We have added records from Ajak; Anarcs; Apagy; Balkany; Beregszasz, including records from Mezö-Vári and Mezö-Kászony; Bonyhad, both Neolog and Orthodox communities; Miskolc; Orasvar; Rajka; and Stropkov.

I would like to particularly point out that with the addition of these records, we have completedtranscribing all Miskolc birth records.


In addition, the Beregszasz records are the first records available from Sub-carpathian Ukraine.


These accomplishments do not occur by themselves. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the volunteers who made this happen. They are Arie Beck, Mary Blumenstein, Gary Deutsch, Imre Grosz, Sam Guncler, Karen Katz, Diane Lazaar, Moshe Lorber, Sandy Malek, Zvika Oren, Judy Petersen, Al Silberman, Roberta Solit, Roslynn Snow, Michael Taub, Henry Wellisch, Amos Israel Zezmer, and Marelynn Zipser.


I would particularly like to mention that Roberta Solit and Marelynn Zipser are really the ones who made Beregszasz "happen." And without Gary Deutsch's persistence and leadership in transcribing Miskolc, having all the births online would still be a dream.


We continue in our quest to preserve our heritage and make all these records available to everyone.


Click here to visit JewishGen's Hungarian Database.


Sam Schleman
Project Coordinator
Hungarian Vital Records Project

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Jews Recall, Record Memories of Iran

From the Jewish Journal

Mahmomir Cohen, a proud 80-year-old Iranian Jewish grandmother, clutched a notebook that included a Persian love poem she penned for her late husband. Her hands trembled as she recited the hand-written rhyming poem in front of a video camera on Sunday at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills.

Cohen was among nearly 100 local Iranian Jews participating in Our Legacy Project, an initiative sponsored by the Los Angeles-based Iranian Jewish organization 30 Years After to record the community’s memories of life in Iran, from fond to painful.

Click here to read the entire article. For more information about Our Legacy Project, visit http://www.ourlegacyproject.org.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holocaust memorial institutions commemorate Tunisian Jews

Holocaust memorial institutions in France and Israel commemorated the round-up 67 years ago of Tunisian Jews.

Ceremonies Wednesday at Yad Vashem and Sunday and at the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris marked the Dec. 9 1942 round-up of Tunisian Jews as part of an effort to raise awareness of Jewish suffering in Nazi-occupied North Africa during the Holocaust.


Jews in Tunisia were forced to wear yellow stars and work in labor camps; some were deported to Auschwitz. Jews in other Vichy France colonies in Algeria and Morocco as well as in Italian occupied Libya suffered similar fates.


Martin Gilbert, the preeminent Holocaust historian, also marked the anniversary with a statement.

"In my historical work over the past fifty years, I have been struck by the neglect of the story of the Jews of North Africa and the dangers facing them under Vichy French and Italian Fascist rule," Gilbert said in his statement, released Wednesday.


"The story of the persecution of the Jews in North Africa during the Second World War is an integral part of the history of the Holocaust in France; the fate of the Jews living in French North Africa was directly connected to the fate of the Jews living in Metropolitan France. The collaborationist Vichy France extended its anti-Jewish laws -- passed in France -- to its three North African colonies. Thousands of Jews were sent to camps for slave labor between 1940 and 1943," Gilbert added. (JTA)


Click here to read the entire article.

Seeking tales of Jews fleeing from Arab countries

From the Jewish Chronicle

Joseph Samuels, born Yosef Sasson in Baghdad, was 18 years old when he fled Iraq for the new state of Israel. It was 1949, and life was becoming increasingly difficult for Jews in Iraq, as it was throughout the Arab world. Yosef’s parents urged him to leave, promising they would follow.


He took a train to the coast with his younger brother, where they crammed into a smuggler’s boat with 16 other Jewish youths. They rowed secretly to Iran, where the Sasson boys were airlifted to Israel.

Like many Holocaust survivors, Samuels, who Anglicised his name when he moved to Los Angeles, only shared bits and pieces of his story with his children.

Unlike Holocaust survivors, however, his story, and that of more than 800,000 other Jewish refugees from North Africa and the Middle East, is not widely known.

These Jews, part of large, ancient communities in nine Arab countries, were victimised and persecuted, stripped of their rights and property, and in some cases forcibly expelled from the lands of their birth from the 1940s through to the 1970s. Finding refuge mainly in Israel, France and North America, they became the forgotten refugees of the Middle East conflict.

An international consortium of Mizrahi organisations in Britain, Israel and the United States is trying to change that.

Led by Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the University of Miami in Florida, a visual history project is under way to interview the aging survivors of this mass exodus and preserve their stories.

“We’re trying to do what [Steven] Spielberg did,” said Prof Henry Green of the University of Miami, referring to Mr Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation Institute, which has more than 50,000 videotaped interviews with European Holocaust survivors.


Click here to read the entire article.

Dr. Mengele's Victim: Why One Auschwitz Survivor Avoided Doctors for 65 Years

From Spiegel Online International

Yitzhak Ganon survived Auschwitz SS doctor Josef Mengele's medical experiments -- and swore never to set foot in a hospital again.

Sixty-five years ago, infamous Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele removed Yitzhak Ganon's kidney without anesthesia. The Greek-born Jew swore never to see a doctor again -- until a heart attack last month brought his horrific tale into the open.

A month ago he came back from his morning walk and lay down. "Are you sick, Papa?" Iris asked. "No, just a little tired," Yitzhak Ganon answered, before going to sleep. But after a few hours he was still tired. "I don't need a doctor," he told his daughter.

The next morning things were even worse. Ganon's wife and daughter called a doctor, who diagnosed a viral infection and told him to go to the hospital. Ganon resisted, but finally realized his life was in danger. At some point he stopped fighting the doctor's orders.

His family brought him to the hospital in his home town of Petach Tikva near Tel Aviv. He had hardly been admitted when he lost consciousness. Heart attack, the doctor said. The blood clots were cleared with the help of tiny balloons, and the doctors put five stents in him. "We thought he wouldn't survive the operation," said Eli Lev, the doctor. "Especially since he had just one kidney."

When Yitzhak Ganon came to, he told the doctors where he lost the other kidney -- and why he had avoided doctors for 65 years. A reporter from the Israeli paper Maariv heard about the story. And now, weeks after the operation, Ganon is ready to tell his story to a German reporter for the first time.


Click here to read the entire article.

Eulogies, Funerals and Obits

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz


As I get older, there are more occasions to attend and be made aware of the lives of one’s family and friends when they pass on. This past week, my first cousin Eric Glanger passed away in Australia. It was a sad occasion as our family started out with my thirteen maternal first cousins and now, with Eric’s passing, there are only five of us left. We all felt our mortality at his passing.

Eric had been born in Manchester, England, to my mother’s sister Ada and her troubled husband Hymie. Eventually, they split, but not before they moved to Australia in 1949. Eric left home at an early age and managed to gain employment as a civil servant, marry and raise his daughter as a single parent after his young wife died.

His mother and sister left Australia and lived with my family for a short while before returning to England in 1956. This left Eric alone in Australia to build a life for himself and his daughter. It took a lot of pluck and courage to overcome these obstacles and Eric had it aplenty.

His passing reminded me that there are so many things beyond what we search for as genealogists that give us the depth of a person’s life. These are things which may come up at the funeral in eulogies and afterwards in printed obits. It is quite important to try and collect information on these things and to perhaps quiz relatives about the person who has passed away at the time of their passing.

Recently, quite a number of people have been sending me the eulogies given at funerals and the obits published for my relatives and friends in addition to the usual letters and e-mails of a person’s passing. My cousin Eric’s eulogy, for instance, was given by his daughter Maxine. It reflected so many aspects of his character that I was not aware of as I had not grown up with him and had not known him on a daily basis.

There were tales of his naughty behavior as a child which were recounted by his younger sister Laura which were things that were legendary in the family. I remembered hearing my mother’s sisters joking about them when I was in their company.

In addition, there were mentions of his personal characteristics which made him seem so much more human. He became not at all a cardboard memory based on the regulation records and other such data we genealogists are prone to focus on. I found that he enjoyed music and was a backyard vegetable gardener. He had a dry wit and cared deeply about his family.

Further, he enjoyed fixing things, as had his Glanger grandfather who was a tinkerer and creative inventor. This reminded me too of all the little things he had done around the house for my parents on a visit he made to them.

He realized the importance of education and had encouraged his daughter Maxine to be the best that she could be in school. As a result, she graduated near the top of her medical school class, one of the few women to do so.

I learned how he met his third and last wife, Inez, and that he had been attracted not only by her looks, but by her brains and personality. They had made a happy pair who shared these last few years together.

Had it not been for the eulogy, a copy of which was sent to me, my knowledge of Eric would have been limited to stories told to me by my mother and other relatives, two visits he made some years ago and correspondence between us over the years. It would certainly not have included hints of the day-to-day minutiae of his everyday life or his interests in so many things.

Doing such a loving thing as a eulogy or writing a descriptive obituary and sending it out to relatives is a wonderful way to bridge the distance gap we all have in today’s world. Very often, families are located so many miles or even continents away from each other and this gap means that members cannot participate in the last rites of a relative’s life.

I will cherish Eric’s eulogy as a fond remembrance of a life well-lived and a person who was well-loved by his family no matter where they lived or how intimately they knew him. It reminded me too that, sometimes, it is the person’s life itself and not only their death and other written records that we should be looking for when we are working on our family trees.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The American Jew Who Fought for the Boers During the Second Boer War (1899-1902)

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz




Harry Spanier
Lancaster, Ohio



This story ends on December 11, 1899, with an American, the first Jewish casualty on the Boer side, killed needlessly on the field of battle during a night attack of Surprise Hill, at the siege of Ladysmith, South Africa. However, it begins fortuitously enough with a German Jewish boy, Harry Spanier, who came to America with his siblings Joseph and Pauline as part of the mid-19th Century German Jewish migration to America.

The Spanier siblings were barely teenagers when they arrived and strove to integrate into the American melting pot. Siblings, Joseph and Pauline, settled in post Gold Rush era San Francisco, California, and Harry took to the east coast, New York, and then Columbus in mid-western Ohio.

According to Harry’s passport application, he was the son of Abraham Spanier of Wandsbek, Germany. He had two passports with varying birth dates, one in 1840 and one in 1853. Records are never accurate it seems, even on important documents such as a passport.

Later, as he became acclimated, Harry Spanier became a grocer, a fish market owner, and a speculator in America. He was someone who looked for the main chance, a good idea, a way to make his mark. He was eager to make his first million like he had heard it was possible to do in America, the land of opportunity. The streets were paved with gold were they not?

To others, he appeared to be a fine figure of a man, attractive with blue eyes and light hair, hardly with the look of a Jew about him. He fit in everywhere. He must have been a persuasive talker as he gained the attention of many a prominent businessman, belonged to civic organizations and lodges, and he had many devoted friends.

At some point, he met the lively, ebullient and social Frances Emma Vagnier, the daughter of Bartholomew and Frances Vagnier, who were French Catholics and early settlers of Lancaster, Ohio, a small town not too far from Columbus, Ohio. It was not known how “Emma” met Harry Spanier. She was young, much younger than he was, and eager to see the world and he was a worldly man intent on making things happen. She was smitten despite the difference in their ages and their religions. However, she took her religion seriously, seriously enough to require that their forthcoming children would be brought up Catholic.



Frances Emma Spanier

Columbus, OH



So, they were married in approximately 1884, although no records remain of their joining and whether it was done civilly or in a church. Intermarriage or marrying out whilst frowned upon, occurred frequently in those days where Jews were located in areas where there were few other Jews. The fact, too, was that many of these early German Jewish settlers were of the reform persuasion and also may have become much less observant in the less restrictive confines of America.

The Spanier’s had their first child, Joseph, immediately, and two more, Clara Belle and Lewis J., followed. However, their first son Joseph died in 1890 as did Harry’s brother Joseph. It was a terrible year, but Harry carried on.

It was difficult trying to make something of ones self and raise a family too. However, Harry was a hustler and always eager to find his niche. He kept up with current affairs and what was going on in the world. Eventually, he concocted the idea that he should become involved in South African-related commerce. South Africa was teeming with possibilities as they had much in the way of natural resources such as diamonds, gold and other things, but little in the way of standardized or commercially mass-produced products such as carriages, railroad cars, mining machinery, explosives, etc.

His first successful venture was to represent a combine of New Yorkers in the shipping of mules to South Africa. Since mules were not naturally raised in South Africa and were stronger and more long-lasting than horses, there was a great desire for them, especially in mining where twenty mule teams pulled ore from the mines as well as equipment. They were essential ingredients in the mining industry. In addition, they were most important in military operations such as carting food, guns, and equipment, as had been found in the First Boer War (1880-1881).

As it so happened, the major companies in Columbus, OH, The Columbus Buggy Company, Inc. and Kilbourne and Jacobs Manufacturing Company were intent on providing items related to mining, transportation, and other similar areas. Harry established connections for selling their products overseas in far-off South Africa. A group of the companies hired Harry to go directly to South Africa and negotiate contracts with the government for many diverse items. This was his chance at making it rich. His ambitious plan was to spend a year or two in South Africa, make his fortune and bring his family out to join him.

It was now 1896, and he got his passport and packed his bags and bid good-bye to his devoted wife and two young children and away he went on a ship to South Africa. As he left the coast of America for a daunting and unknown foreign shore, like all adventurers, he penned a letter to his wife of which only the first page remains:

“On board ship, Saturday, Oct.17, 1896

My own dear wife and children,

This is a great moment for me. It almost breaks my heart, but we will trust in God to land us safe and may God keep you and the children until my return. I have set my teeth together to keep from almost breaking down not because I am a coward, but because I miss you so much my darlings. We are just leaving the shore of our country behind and with a heavy heart I am looking at the………………”

And so, Harry sailed across the seas and arrived in South Africa and immediately set about making connections, so he could consummate some deals. He was widely accepted in the halls of government in Pretoria where many other speculators competed with him for the lucrative government contracts. His friends were other Americans, who hung out at certain social clubs, but also the Boers officials who he had to deal with. He was a fresh face who represented companies that had a worldwide reputation which boded well for his future success in closing some deals.

He began to have some successes and American products from Columbus, Ohio, flowed to the Boer Republic in significant amounts. Despite this, he recognized that the big money was going to come from the provision of the railroad cars and lines for new main and branch rail lines being constructed as well as other related machinery for the mines.

In 1898, he represented a group of companies in the following undertaking:

“News by Wire
Transvaal
The New Branch Lines
A Syndicate Offer
Undertaking the Work
At Eight Thousand a Mile

Pretoria, 3rd (Central News Agency)

An American syndicate, which has practically secured the contract for the Vryheid-Dundee line, has submitted a proposal to the Government offering to construct all the new branch lines at an average rate of £8,000 per mile, to be paid in State debentures bearing four percent interest. The proposal will have to be submitted to the Volksraad.”


This was an important arterial rail line which was scheduled to connect the Richards Bay coal line with the Durban-Gauteng main line. The initial section of 11km was built in 1896 from Glencoe to Talana. Due to the onset of the Second Boer War, the line was not extended to Vryheid until 1903.

The South Africa Harry saw was wild and full of possibilities. He continued to write glowing letters to his wife about what he could accomplish. Meanwhile, his letters added that he was terribly homesick and missed his family. The time flew by and it was now three years later, 1899, and Harry had not managed to go home yet. Things were still on the cusp of succeeding for him.

He wrote to his wife that if things did not work out he would come home, but he wanted to stay until he had tried every means of succeeding on a special project he was working on. He told his wife that if he did succeed he would be a millionaire many times over. She wrote back and agreed that he should stay until he reached his goal or his opportunities ran out.

At some point, Harry became a burgher of the ZAR and joined the Boer commandos. He, along with many others from Pretoria, left to defend Ladysmith. It is quite strange that Harry, a man who was considered elderly by most accounts as he was about 59-60, should have done so. It is true that there were older men who joined, but many took non-combatant roles. In addition, he had a wife and two young children who needed his support in America.

What prompted him to take this life-changing and subsequently fatal move which risked everything he had or hoped to accomplish?

  • Did he suddenly become idealistic and join a foreign army, despite the fact that he had only been in the ZAR for only three short years? There is no documentation that has survived of his feelings along these lines.
  • Was he influenced by his friends? Americans speculators, for the most part, who were in South Africa, supported the British and not the Boers. He was also in the minority as a Jew, although there were those who did join the Boer cause, but they were significantly smaller in number than those who fought for the British. However, he did have some close American friends who did join the Boers and this may have accounted for his decision.
  • Was he caught up in something that has not been documented perhaps such as spying for the American government? There were many Americans who were in the same position as he was who just left and went home when the War was declared. They did not stick around. Several descriptions of his activities during the War led one to believe that he was watching and observing the proceedings from the sidelines and not actually participating.
  • Or, did he feel that his participation and support would guarantee his success after the War was over and the Boers won? This may be the final answer as he had told his wife he was in it for the long haul until he reached the success he had struggled to get.
This is the missing link in Harry’s story. There is nothing to tell us either in his correspondence or, those things which have up to now have been uncovered, as to what caused him to end up on a battlefield at Surprise Hill in the dark early hours of December 11, 1899.

One of the unique bits of necrology following Harry’s death was the letter written to Harry’s wife by a Catholic priest, the Rev. Father A. Baudry, who had shared a tent with him on the battlefield.

12.12.1899
Hoofdlager

Madam,

It is my sad duty to ----to you news which will grieve you very much. As you know your husband joined the Boers forces here near Ladysmith. For a couple of weeks he shared the tent where I was. We soon became very friendly and he talked much to me of you and your two children, gave me your address and told me that if anything happened to him to inform you. Though not a R. Catholic he attended mass which I celebrated in the camp on Sunday. We parted about a week hence; he was going to join the Pretoria Commando.

Our eyes were full of tears when we last shook hands to see each other no more. Yesterday morning at about two o’cl his picket was attacked by the English; heavy firing commenced and continued for about an hour.

The English were repulsed, but not until they had blown up one gun with a charge of dynamite. On the Boers side there were 2 killed and 14 wounded. Your husband was among the last. He was mortally shot in the stomach. As soon as I heard of it I went to the ambulance, but he had not yet been brought there.

I went again in the afternoon, but to learn that he had succumbed to his wound. He died in the ambulance wagon on his way to the ambulance train, which was to carry him to Johannesburg.

I need not tell you how much I sympathiese (sic) with your loss. I pray almighty God that He sends you grace and strength to bear your bereavement with the proper Christian resignation and submission to God’s will. Any further information I may gather I shall carefully take down by writing and send to you later on.

Anything I can do for you on my return to Johannesburg I will do with much pleasure. Your husband told me he sent you £400 just before this breaking out of hostilities. He also mentioned something about his affairs in Johannesburg but entered into no details. Your husband was well acquainted with the American Consul in Pretoria and Acting Consul in Johannesburg. They must know the state of his affairs.

If you answer this letter be kind enough to address it to The Rev. Father A. Baudry(sp?),R. C. Priest, Box 430 Johannesburg. The letter will be sent to me, if I am not back in J. H. Burg by that time.
(-------)again my heart felt sympathy and the promise of my humble prayers,

I remain Dear Madam
Yours very truly in J & M

Baudry, R. C. P.” (Roman Catholic Priest)

The unusual nature of Harry’s passing whereby he had been shot by his own side, the Boers, and then bayoneted by the other side, the British, and the fact that he was a foreign soldier, a Jew, at that, and was a person well-known in the halls of power in the Boer Republic, caused his funeral to gain a magnitude that might not have been felt for a regular soldier.

The following is a government report of what took place in Pretoria on December 13, 1899, with President Paul Kruger in attendance:





The certified burial certificate for Harry was attested to by S. [Sigmund] Wolfson, of The Pretoria Jewish Helping Hand and Burial Society, on January 1, 1901. It states that Harry was buried in the Jewish Burial Ground, Block B, Grave #3, Pretoria, SA, on December 10, 1899. It was slightly off a few days from the correct date of December 13, 1899, but still of interest.







As a closing remark, it appears that poor Harry Spanier not only was killed twice, but according to the above letter, he was buried before his death!!!! In addition, he was never able to consummate any of the deals that were in the works before his death which had kept him in South Africa for three long years, away from his beloved family. On top of it, he joined the losing side in the War and got himself killed almost as soon as he was deployed in battle.

All I can say is that unlike the popular Yiddish song “Wie Nemt Men A Bissele Mazel, Harry, poor fellow, had no mazel whatsoever!



Previously published in "Jewish Affairs", Volume 64, No. 3, December, 2009, Johannesburg, South Africa, with permission of the author.



NOTE: Members of the public are invited to attend the ceremony to rededicate the monument for the British killed at Surprise HiIl and a new monument to commemorate the Boer burghers who fought and died there with a special plaque in Hebrew in honor of Harry Spanier.

The function will start at 11:00 a.m. on the December 11, 2009. Lunch will be served to be followed by short talks on various aspects of the night attack on Surprise Hill. Venue: Moth Hall, 17 Egerton Road, Ladysmith, 12:30 p.m. A hike to the gun-emplacement on the summit will take place on Saturday morning, December 12, 2009, and may also be arranged for Friday afternoon. Options for visits to nearby battlefields, regional game reserves and Ingula archeological site over the weekend are open. More information can be obtained from the Siege Museum Trust, (camphere@telkomsa.net), 082 801 6524 or Ladysmith Historical Society (jhuman@telkomsa.net), 083 627 8446.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Syrian Sephardic Community in America

(hat tip: Ann Rabinowitz)

Image Magazine has an interesting article about the the Syrian Sephardic community.


Click here to access the site and the entire article.

Ancestry's Expert Connect

Posted By Ann Rabinowitz

One of the interesting features which Ancestry.com now provides is called Expert Connect (www.expertconnect.ancestry.com/Home). It is cleverly set up and bills itself as a means to call in reinforcements for genealogy research that the average researcher is not able to handle by themselves. It is quite easy to use and allows members to obtain the following seven services:
  • Ask an Expert
  • Custom Research
  • Language Translation
  • Local Photo
  • Personal History
  • Record Lookup
  • Record Pickup
Ancestry.com handles obtaining the researcher, provides a venue for the member to obtain a fair price and have it handled through Ancestry.com’s secure payment environment. The funds for the work are paid in advance and held by Ancestry.com until the work is completed.

A graphic depicting how the system works is provided below from the Ancestry.com site:


How it Works

The experts are found in a database which covers the following information: Provider Name, Feedback Rating, City of Residence, State/Province, and Country. You can also find them by their specialty such as by Geography, Heritage/Religion, Era, and Archive. At present, there are thirty-one experts who have registered to do Jewish research, one of which is the President of the Utah JGS.

So far, Expert Connect covers work in the following states in America:
Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Countries outside the United States which are covered are the following:
Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

As the service grows, there are sure to be more states and countries included within its parameters.

For experts who want to belong to this service, they can view the following area on the site: http://expertconnect.ancestry.com/ProviderHome.aspx . By expert, the service also encourages regular researchers who are familiar with their local archives or resources to register too. They can be most helpful for picking up records or taking photographs.

So, if you are not able to do certain research chores yourself, you might want to consider the Expert Connect service. It makes it easier to find and connect with the appropriate researcher for the tasks you need to have done.

*REMINDER: JewishGen receives a commission for users who access Ancestry through our website. Please visit www.JewishGen.org and use the "search ancestry" box to get started.

Suspect in Nazi trial admits killings

A former member of the Nazi SS being tried for murder admitted in court Tuesday that he killed three Dutch civilians during World War II, but insisted he was following orders.

Heinrich Boere told the Aachen state court in a statement read by attorney Gordon Christiansen that he had killed a bicycle-shop owner, a pharmacist and another civilian in 1944 as a member of a Waffen SS hit squad.

The 88-year-old faces a possible life prison sentence if convicted of three counts of murder.

The prosecution has painted Boere as a willing member of the fanatical Waffen SS, which he joined shortly after the Nazis had overrun his hometown of Maastricht and the rest of the Netherlands in 1940.

After volunteering for the SS, he fought on the Russian front, and then ended up back in the Netherlands as part of "Silbertanne" - a unit of largely Dutch SS volunteers responsible for reprisal killings of their countrymen.

Boere told the court that his superiors said his victims were to be killed in revenge for attacks by the Dutch resistance.

Boere already admitted the three killings to Dutch authorities when he was in captivity after the war but managed to escape from his POW camp and eventually return to Germany.

He was sentenced to death in absentia in the Netherlands in 1949 - later commuted to life imprisonment - but has managed to avoid jail so far.

In another development Tuesday, the court rejected a defense motion arguing that the trial should be halted because it constitutes double jeopardy under a new European Union charter.

Boere's attorneys had argued that, since their client had already been tried in Holland in 1949, he could not be tried again in Germany for the same crimes. (WP)


Click here to read the entire article

Friday, December 4, 2009

Vignettes From Africa - Extended Post

Posted by Ann Rabinowitz

The South African influence has been immense on the growth of other Jewish communities throughout the African continent including Kenya, Namibia (formerly German South West Africa), Zaire, Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia), and Zimbabwe (formerly Southern Rhodesia. In fact, many immigrants came to South Africa only to pass through to these other places where they built strong and energetic communities.

Various African countries such as Angola, Botswana (formerly Bechuanaland), Cabo Verde, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Lesotho (formerly Basutoland), Madeira, Malawi (formerly Nyasaland), Mauritius, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanganyika (formerly German East Africa), Tanzania (formerly a combination of Tanganyika and Zanzibar), and Uganda, survived colonial rule with perhaps no remnant of Jewish influence or small or now extinct Jewish communities.


Basically, present day African Jews are struggling to maintain whatever communities they have managed to retain with some so much on the decline that they will or have totally disappeared; whilst others have gained a revitalized shot in the arm from new internationally-based businessmen, entrepreneurs and government officials who have been drawn to these countries by the vagaries of economics or war. Whatever their size or status, the African countries represent a colorful hybrid of Jewish life and are well worth noting.


What follows are a series of vignettes featuring a selection of these countries that deal with some of the events and people of long ago illustrating the connectivity of the African Jewish communities.


THE MUSIC OF EXILE – Cape Verde Islands

A barren place which was uninhabited until 1456, it was settled primarily by the Portuguese as a way station for provisioning vessels on their way to voyages of discovery in the New World and as a slavery outpost. The islands which number about ten, are three hundred miles off the coast of Africa, a two-hour flight from Dakar. They sit isolated, but serene, an idyllic footnote in the history of the Jews who fled the Inquisition and those who came afterwards from Morocco and Europe. Their cemeteries of Boa Vista, Ponto do Sol, Praia, Santiago, and Santo Antao, abound with names of Portuguese exiles and their presence is little seen now except for the rhythmic lull of the music of the islands.

The Portuguese brought with them their music, the fado; the beautifully evocative strains which were taken from the streets of Lisbon and with what some think have Jewish Sephardic roots. Listen carefully to this exquisitely beautiful music, so popularized by Amalia Rodrigues, and you will hear it.

When you have listened, then you realize that its legacy is also to be found in the Cape Verde music of today, the mourna, which resonates with the themes of nostalgia for home, immigration, and loss . . . all those things which the Portuguese Jews and others felt. At a recent concert given by Cape Verde’s most popular chanteuse, Casaria Evora, these themes were most evident and, I felt, the connection to that far-off time when Jews were despised and dispersed to the far corners of the world, even to Cape Verde in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.


SOLOMON’S CHILDREN – Ethiopia
One day, not too long ago, I was given a small photograph of several people, all in either World War II Army kit or civilian clothes which was taken in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1942. What marked the photograph for me was the slender exotic dark man at the far left of the photograph, a poignant reminder of a culture that began with a Jewish king.

Who was this mighty king? Solomon, of course, and the story of his visit from the Queen of Sheba is well-known and the events that followed this meeting have brought much trauma and excitement even into our own 21th Century.



Wartime in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, 1942

The man at the far left in the photograph above was most probably Israel Jacob, the President of the Dire Dawa Congregation, a leader of the Ethiopian Jewish community. He is shown with several Jewish men, all who had come to Ethiopia from either Europe or South Africa. Amongst them, from left to right was M. Ben Ari, who had been born in Palestine and came to Wynberg, South Africa in 1925 at the age of 18, and thence went to live in Cape Town; an unknown Polish Jew who came in 1932; Simie Weinstein from Oudtshoorn; an unknown German Jew who came in 1933; and Percy Berger, who was born in Kupiskis, Lithuania, and came to Cape Town. Such a polyglot of nationalities was represented, all in wartime Ethiopia.

It so happened that another Berger whose family was from Kupiskis changed the course of Israel Jacob’s people. He was Graenum Berger, who first met Ethiopian Jewish students at Kfar Batya, Israel, in 1955. He became so entranced by their history and culture that he spent the rest of his life in efforts such as Operation Solomon to bring them out of Ethiopia to Israel. His book Rescue the Ethiopian Jews! A Memoir, 1955-1995, tells of that struggle and its success.



Graenum Berger, Yona Bogale and Kessim (priests) at the Synagogue, Ambober, Ethiopia, 1965.

Now, in this decade and century, I find a cousin in Addis Ababa too. A British-born adventurer, Simon Winetroube, is a lawyer, educational administrator, and cultural disseminator, with a Bosnian-born wife, who is raising a baby in the steamy latitudes of a worn and fascinating ancient place. He is one of many Jewish newcomers intent on teaching, training and trading in this wild country and no less successful than those before him. I admire his grit and fortitude, his intelligence and knowledge of the people that permits him to live amongst them in harmony and respect.

OUT OF AFRICA – Kenya
Famed for the many books written and movies produced about her, Kenya has been in the forefront of African thought for generations. The Jews played an intimate role in her development and the Bloch family from Nairobi was one of these families. Owners of well-known hotels, a widespread occupation for Jews even in der heim, they were involved thoroughly in the local economy and social life.

Unfortunately, the family gained international attention when Dora Bloch, the 73-year-old widowed grandmother of the family was killed in 1976 after being dragged from a Kampala hospital in Uganda after Israeli commandoes raided Entebbe Airport. The rescue of 100 other Israelis came after they had been taken as hostages from a hijacked Air France plane.

In another place, in a room filled with books, we sat sipping cappuccino and chatting about Africa and our common relatives. Elliot Sachar mentioned his uncle and he told me the story of how he was involved with the famous incident at Gilgil, Kenya.


Gilgil, a sleepy village in the Great Rift Valley of Kenya, located between Naivasha and Nikuru, and eighty-two miles north of Nairobi, was the internment camp setup for Jewish prisoners of war, mostly Irgun’s top leadership, who had been arrested in Palestine for anti-British activities.



As I listened attentively, the story seemed to take on familiar dimensions and I felt the tug of memory. Then it hit me, it was the selfsame story as told to me by my cousin Ralph Yodaiken. As we sat at the table, I called Ralph on my mobile and asked him if he knew Bernard Wolf, Elliot’s erstwhile uncle.



Gilgil Camp, 1948

Yes, he did. He remembered that South African’s, including himself, had participated in the liberation of the Gilgil camp on March 28, 1948, and that Bernard had been instrumental in this effort. Bernard had been a pilot, but had acted as the driver called “Wilson” to help the escapees, Reuven Franco, Nathan Germant, Yaacov Hillel, Yaacov Meridor, Shlomo ben Shlomo, and David Yanai, leave the camp.

They had departed from Gilgil overland in a rented car and went onto Uganda where they crossed the border using five South African and one South American passport. From Uganda, they were then taken onto the Belgian Congo and from there to Brussels.

For both Bernard and Ralph, other wartime feats engrossed their energies. Their participation in the bricha to rescue some of the surviving Jews of Europe and bring them to Palestine was followed by service as South African machalniks during the 1948 Israeli War for Independence.

They had not seen each other since.


Now, fifty years later, following on the lead I’d given him, Ralph contacted Bernard in Cape Town and they enjoyed a pleasant reunion of mates, reminiscing about those old times and the adventures of their youth when Jews were fearless in their fight to defend their homeland of Palestine even in a faraway place called Gilgil, Kenya.


A REFUGE FROM HARM – Mocambique
The graves of the one hundred or so Jews in the Cemeterjo Comunal Israelita in Maputo speak to the early settlement (1880-1940) in this distant Portuguese outpost by those fleeing the Inquisition and other forces. They were followed by Eastern Europeans who could not get into South Africa, those fleeing the Nazis, or those who came later from South Africa, some fleeing the apartheid regime.

Most well-known of the South Africa anti-apartheid exiles who found a refuge in Mocambique was Albie (Albert Louis) Sachs who was born in Johannesburg on January 30, 1935. An attorney, civil rights activist and leading member of the ANC, he was twice detained without trial by the Security Police before departing for exile in England. Returning to Africa in 1977, he chose Mozambique as his safe harbor.

Taking a position as Professor of Law at the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo and subsequently, from 1983 to 1988, as Director of Research in the Mozambique Ministry of Justice, he fit in well until this idyllic existence was shattered by his near death experience in a car bombing. After an interlude in England and several other venues, he returned to the new South Africa, now serving as a Justice of the South African Constitutional Court.


Albie Sachs

In addition to Albie Sachs, there were Franny Rabkin and her two children; a couple who fled the dictatorship in Chile; and Jews who came from Europe and North America to work towards the reconstruction of Mocambique. While nominally Jewish, none of these actually became involved in forming a cohesive Jewish community.


Renewed interest in Jewish communal activities has surfaced in the past several years as Jewish tourists have visited this unique spot and others have settled in Mocambique for business purposes. There have even been non-Jews such as Alkis Macropolous who assisted in 1989 with the return to the Jewish community of the main synagogue in Maputo which was built in 1926. Its dramatic and extensive reconstruction has sparked further activity in the community. Despite this, it remains a transient place, a fading, yet flickering memory in the Jewish lexicon of the diaspora.


HANGING BY A THREAD - Namibia
One of the most fascinating stories I heard as a child was from my uncle Max Hillman about his older brother Louis. The Hillman family came from a long line of rabbis stretching back to the 1400’s in Metz, France, and they belonged to the well-known Heilprin rabbinical dynasty which traced its lineage to Rashi and even to King David.

The Hillman family consisted of seven brothers and one sister. The oldest, Louis, became involved as a young man in activities which led to the 1905 Student Revolution which swept through Russia and was the harbinger of the later 1917 Russian Revolution. Hearing he was a marked man and also knowing that he was going to be conscripted, he fled his home in Bauska, Latvia, for the warmer and more hospitable climes of Johannesburg where he had Hillman and Tankelowitz relatives waiting for him.


A “greener”, Louis struggled to make his mark. He became a smous and rag dealer and came to know the towns and villages surrounding Johannesburg quite well. Seeing the difficulties of making a living in Johannesburg, he heard of better opportunities in Southwest Africa which was then a protectorate of the Germans. He spoke German fluently as Bauska, his home town in der heim, was also under the protection of the Germans and he had been schooled in that language. Seemed a good match.


By this time, Louis had inveigled some of his other brothers to join him in Africa as they too were eligible for the dreaded conscription and off they went to Windhoek.

Windhoek seemed quite an amenable place to them, a bit of wild and open, but being enterprising young men, they went about seeing what they could develop in terms of work. However, as they were just getting their bearings, for some reason, the German authorities became aware of Louis’ activities in Latvia. They grabbed him and he was taken off to jail posthaste. The Germans then decided to hang him summarily as he was considered a dangerous spy and draft evader.

As Louis stood upon the scaffold, he felt his life hanging by a thread. His brothers seeing his dilemma, conceived of a dramatic diversion and like the three musketeers of old, managed to drag him from the scaffold and spirited him away. Since it was a hurried escape with no prior planning, the four brothers never knew if they would make it back to Johannesburg alive, but after much travail, they did.

Upon their return to Johannesburg, they decided that they had enough of Africa. Their relatives helped them with passage and they left immediately for Panama where they heard there were good jobs to be had in the tanneries owned by Jews. It was possible then to save up enough capital to go onto America, the goldene medina or land of riches.

Finding jobs in Panama, they soon realized that the tanneries were held by despots who ruled the tanneries like slave plantations with the intention of never releasing their employees, no matter how much they earned. The system was abusive and the conditions worse than those in the sweatshops in New York. After much struggle, the Hillman brothers managed to save enough money to leave Panama and came to America in 1907, all the wiser for their aborted chance at riches in Africa and Latin America.


FROM A TAPESTRY OF LIFE – Zaire
Chief Rabbi Moise Meir Levy, born in Athalya, Turkey, on August 12, 1915, lived a long and distinguished life, passing away in Brussels on September 29, 2003. Called “my rabbi” by King Baudouin of Belgium, he was first and foremost a Sephardic Jew whose family left Turkey following the Armistice in World War I for the Island of Rhodes where he studied for the rabbinate.

Rhodes, that little pinprick in the Mediterranean, was the cradle of a Jewish community stretching back many centuries. Jews from there came to South Africa in the 1920’s and slowly wandered northward to what was then the Belgian Congo and is today’s Zaire. Others from Eastern Europe had preceded them and the community then grew to approximately 2,500 Jews scattered about in eight small communities, the largest of which was Elizabethville (now Lumbasha).


Rabbi Levy was such a traveler to the Congo and he arrived there in 1937 to become rabbi of the congregation in Katanga which was made up primarily of Jews from Rhodes. He stayed and became the Chief Rabbi of the Congo and Rwanda-Burundi from 1937 to 1991. He was forced to leave Katanga in 1991, but remained the Chief Rabbi, an expatriate governing his community from his seat of exile in Belgium; a community that was now drawn back to South Africa, and onto America, Israel, and Belgium.


The Rabbi and wife Felicia Levy-Piha on their 65th wedding anniversary

When the Rhodean Jews came to the Congo, opportunities abounded with the natural resources a predominant feature of the economy. A comfortable niche was created for small traders and factors who could move easily along the trade routes and provide the necessary supplies to the newly emerging towns and villages. The Rhodean Jews settled in quite nicely and thrived and continued to bring in their relatives and friends. Others became attracted by the same opportunities and joined them.

The life they created was not to last, but they left with their memories intact of a time and place of special meaning among the riches of Central Africa.

A MAN AS OLD AS TIME - Zimbabwe
He was born on the brink of the new century on April 2, 1899, a willing and eager participant in the great events to come. Leizer Abrahamson, the son of Abraham and Chaya Sheina Abrahamson, the youngest of ten Kasperowski siblings from Sczuczyn, a shtetl not too far from Bialystok, Poland, lived to see the great empire of Rhodesia fall and two new and energetic countries command the world stage in the form of Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Arriving in 1926, he has seen the growth and vibrancy of a Jewish community in Bulawayo that at one stage numbered approximately 3,000, and has now dwindled to less than 300 souls and which lost their oldest shul in a fire on October 4, 2003, of the past year, a shul he faithfully attended and assisted in leading the services of. What haven’t those eyes seen?


Further, his family has played a vital role in the development of Zimbabwe with his nephew Abe Abrahamson, the son of his brother Morris, who was born in Bulawayo in 1922, achieving not only commercial success, but the high office of Rhodesian Minister of Treasury & Local Government in 1958, and serving in the Rhodesian Parliament, 1953-1965. Recently, this role has expanded to include an autobiography detailing his many other accomplishments including those in the Jewish community.

Another man of this time was Abraham Benjamin Kavonic. A quiet introspective man, he had been born in Sheffield, England, in 1883, studied engineering and had come out to Oudtshoorn, South Africa, to seek his fortune. There he had met and married sixteen year old Lithuanian-born Rebecca Isserman. They moved to the Salisbury South (now Harare) area of Northern Mashonaland in Rhodesia, and their life revolved around their large tobacco-rich farms, laden with a crop that was difficult to cultivate and that required intense knowledge and hard work. Abraham expanded his farming interests to three farms, two of which he gave to his sons, and one he reserved for himself.

They did well until the mid-1970’s when the troubles began during the eventual ousting of Prime Minister Ian Smith which was to take place in 1980. Kay Samuel Isserman remembers her brother, Jack Samuel, sent his family into the city and stayed at the farm and actually slept in the passageway in the middle of the house as it was the safest place to avoid the guerilla bombs and other activities. There were anti-grenade sirens on the roof, double-barbed wire fencing surrounding the property and, at least, nine fierce weimaraner dogs patrolling the perimeter. Eventually, the family had their property confiscated and they left for America in 1980, their farming days at an end.

Kay Samuel Isserman also remembers that her father, Sydney Samuel, a dentist and a most creative soul, used to make for his children, toy trains and other items for their board games out of his dental fillings.

The Samuel children carried on the legacy of the ostrich feather business that came into the family from their Isserman relatives, and today, in Florida, Darren Samuel, a fourth generation of the family, born in Rhodesia, but living in the America since he was thirteen, ships multitudes of feathers to glamorize the costumes of Las Vegas showgirls and the uniforms of band members worldwide.

To add a Sephardic twist to the mix of people who came to Zimbabwe, there was the Elkaim family, whose roots were originally from Morocco. They had been in Palestine for many generations and the majority of the family still resided there. Chanan Elkaim arrived in Africa in 1933 at the port of Beira in Mozambique, having traveled from Palestine down the east coast of Africa. His plan was to find a job in Southern Rhodesia where he knew of a family friend, Ephraim Cohen, who was already living and working in Bulawayo.

Unfortunately, the immigration authorities in Southern Rhodesia were not very welcoming to Jews and so did not grant him the clearance to remain there. He then decided to go North and try his luck there. He boarded a train and arrived at the platform of Livingstone railway station in 1933, tired and thirsty from his long trek. Refused permission to stay in the country, he sat forlornly on the platform trying to determine what to do.

Suddenly, he heard a loud voice boom out to him, Du bist a Yid? The person who called to him was a giant of a man, over 250 pounds, who looked at him kindly from the other end of the platform. He replied that he was and the man, a fellow Jew, then offered to use his good relations with the immigration officials to allow Chanan to continue on his way north to opportunities in Ndola in the Copperbelt.

As it turned out, the man was in the taxi business and was at the station daily. He had become very friendly with the immigration staff and others there too including Sir Roy Welensky, born a Jew, who was a fireman for Rhodesia Railways in those days, and later became the architect of the Rhodesia and Nyasaland Federation and its last Prime Minister from 1956 to 1963.

The man helped where he could and later was much assistance to the refugees who came through the station prior to World War II. On one occasion, an immigration official asked whether the man would stand guarantee for these immigrants. The man convinced the official that there was no need for any guarantees, because the Jewish communities of the various small towns in Northern Rhodesia would take care of each and every one of them until they were able to fend for themselves. And, this indeed, happened.


Chanan arrived in Ndola and thrived there and eventually became a successful road contractor among other things. He was responsible for constructing all of the intertown roads all over the Copperbelt. He married and brought up three very talented children. He donated very generously to deserving causes all over Northern Rhodesia/Zambia and was later awarded Zambia’s highest medal of distinction for his outstanding generosity and service to the community, by Dr. Kenneth Kaunda, the then President of Zambia.


In 1953, when he returned to Israel for his mother’s funeral, he suggested that his nephew Avner should join him in Africa to work and thereby help support his family financially. At the age of twenty-two, Avner arrived in Ndola in April, 1954.

Sometime later, at a social get-together held on July 16, 1954, at the home of Mrs. Kapulski whose husband was related to the famous Israeli bakers, Kapulski Brothers, Avner was to meet his beshert. She was a young woman who had been sent to Ndola for a two week stay to organize Zionist Youth/Habonim activities. Avner was of two minds whether to attend the get-together as it was Friday night. He had intended spending it with his aunt and uncle, until they decided to go to bed. Eventually, he did go and spent the evening chatting in Hebrew with the young woman.

When he returned home, he told his Uncle Chanan he had met a beautiful young woman who spoke Hebrew. Uncle Chanan was most pleased and asked who the girl was. “Oh, her name is Ronnie and she is the daughter of a Joe Furmanovsky”, he said. Joe Furmanovsky . . . that was the taxi driver that had met Uncle Chanan on the platform in Livingstone those many years ago and given him the first start towards his new life in Rhodesia. What a coincidence!!!


The Furmanovskys have also left a legacy of another sort as a granddaughter, Jill Furmanovsky, has spent her thirty year career jetting around the world photographing rock stars and other celebrities such as Blondie, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Mick Jagger, Oasis, Pink Floyd, The Police, and The Pretenders. Her intimate photographs have an intensity and insight into the souls of those pictured that enlighten and astound the viewer.



Jill Furmanovsky

Her father, Jack, son of Joe Furmanovsky, is a well-known architect who designed the new addition to the Shul in Bulawayo that burned to the ground in 2003. He now practices in London, his beautiful buildings left behind in the old Rhodesia. Who will maintain and love them now?


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
To the following individuals for their kind assistance and contributions to this article: Abe Abrahamson, Emma Berger, Michael Berger, Percy Berger, Linda Cantor, Ilan Elkaim, Ronnie Furmanovsky Elkaim, Mary Hillman, Kay Samuel Isserman, Dr. Saul Issroff, Roy Ogus, Rena Abrahamson Reiff, Elliot Sachar, Albie Sachs, Warren Winetroube, Bernard Wolf, and Dr. Ralph Yodaiken. And, to the memory of my uncle Max Hillman and my father William Samuel Rabinowitz, who first opened my eyes to the beauty of Africa and its people.

(Originally published in “Jewish Affairs”, Vol. 59, No. 2, Winter, 2004, Johannesburg, SA)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Your Vote

Posted by Avraham Groll

Chase Community Giving is donating $5 million to worthy non-profit organizations, and your vote will determine where the money is sent. The organization with the most votes at the end of the program will receive $1 million, the top five runners-up will each receive $100,000, and the top one hundred finalists will receive $25,000 each.

The first round of voting to determine the top one hundred finalists ends at midnight on December 11th. This is an incredible opportunity for you to help JewishGen receive urgently needed funds to support our crucial cause. Please follow the link below and vote for JewishGen right now!

http://apps.facebook.com/chasecommunitygiving/charities/127270?src=embed