Monday, April 19, 2010

Jewish Genealogy as a Spiritual Pursuit

Interesting interview with Arthur Kurzweil from the Jewish Ledger. Excerpts below: 

Q: How does an absolute beginner start to research his or her family's genealogy? What are some useful resources?

A: The first step is to talk to relatives. That's always the first step. The documents will wait. The people don't wait. Talk to every relative you can find. Talking to relatives is the most important thing to do. After that, I'd say you should explore www.jewishgen.org. This is cyberspace headquarters for Jewish genealogy. If you are interested in Jewish genealogy and you go to this website, we won't see you again for months!

Q: How does your Jewish spiritual life mesh with your genealogical research?

A: It seems to me that every step of the way when we pursue our genealogical research, we are involved in mitzvahs. Who more than we honor the elderly? Who more than we reach out to the elderly people in our family and our communities and make them feel like we need them - because we do. And what is that but a mitzvah, to honor the elderly. Who more than we ask questions? The Talmud consists of questions, thousands of ways of asking different questions. Did you ever ask the question, "Where did you get that information from?" Well, there is a little code word in the Talmud for the question, "Where did you get that question from?" And who has perfected the art of asking questions more than we have?

Who like we genealogists performs the mitzvah of ahavat Yisrael, the love of the people of Israel, which really means tolerance. What Jews in the world are more tolerant than Jewish genealogists? Why are we tolerant? We are tolerant because we learn that on this branch of the family there are Galicianers, and on this branch there are Litvaks, and on this branch there are assimilated Jews and on this branch there were intermarriages! And we see that each of our families really is everybody, and in the process we become tolerant.

The fact of six million Jews being killed during the Holocaust is unfathomable to us, but when we have the specific names of the people in our families.... I don't know what to do with the Holocaust. Most people in the world don't know quite what to do with the Holocaust. But I think we genealogists have found out what to do with the Holocaust. We remember names. When the Nazis rounded us up, they took away our names and they gave us numbers. What we are involved with doing is taking away the numbers and giving them back their names.

I believe that in the same way that the Talmud says that when the Temple was destroyed, they rebuilt by doing their family trees, in our generation we have the same task. As a rebuilding generation, we are doing our family trees to rebuild, to put the pieces back together again, to take that shattered people and to bring them back together again. Our work is mitzvah work. I think we are doing a good job.

Click here for the entire article and don't forget that Arthur Kurzweil will the "Genealogist-in-Residence" athe 2010 Jewish Genealogy conference. Click here to learn more.

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