Events 2012

Jan 22
Flyer in Russian
“Jews and Revolution in Russia and the Soviet Union” Rochelle Ruthchild

Rochelle Ruthchild

For two centuries, the majority of the world’s Jewish population was centered in the Russian Empire. Why were Jews among the leaders of the revolutionary movements of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? Leon Trotsky (Lev Bronstein), Lev Kamenev (Rozenfeld), and Grigorii Zinoviev (Gershon Apfelbaum) were prominent Bolsheviks, serving alongside Lenin in the early days of Soviet power. Yet by the end of the Soviet Union, Jews had abandoned revolutionary dreams and emigrated in large numbers. What factors explain these population shifts and changes?

Rochelle Goldberg Ruthchild is a Research Associate at the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University. She writes on women, gender, and Jewish history in Russia and the Soviet Union. Her book, Equality and Revolution: Women’s Rights in the Russian Empire, 1905-1917 (University of Pittsburgh Press, June 2010) won  Honorable Mention for the Reginald Zelnik Prize of the American Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian History (ASEEES), for an outstanding monograph published on Russia, Eastern Europe or Eurasia in the field of history, and Honorable Mention for the Heldt Prize of the Association for Women in Slavic Studies (AWSS), for the best book in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian women’s studies.

Spotlight – Muriel Gillick on “Taking Family History Public: The Research Behind Her Published Family Story”. Muriel Gillick has written a book entitled “Once They Had a Country”.  It is the account of her parents’ experiences as Kindertransport children from Germany.   They were sent to a country in continental Europe.

Muriel R. Gillick is a geriatrician, palliative care physician, and writer. She sees patients at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, a multi-specialty group practice in Boston and surrounding communities, and she is also a Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School. Her scholarly work focuses on ethical issues near the end of life and is conducted at the Department of Population Medicine, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute/Harvard Medical School.

As an undergraduate history major at Swarthmore College, she developed what would prove to be a life-long interest in German history, World War II, and the refugee experience. Her forte is writing stories based on real people and putting the narrative into a broader context. She used the same technique in her four previous books on medical themes written for a general audience as in “Once They Had a Country.”

Feb 26
Flyer in Russian
“Internal Jewish Migration to Agricultural Colonies in the Russian Empire” with Alan Shuchat, and Spotlight with Paul Adams on Preserving Oral History Recordings and Audio Files

Alan Shuchat

Alan will describe the Jewish agricultural colonies that were founded in the Russian Empire in the 18th century, mostly in what is now Ukraine. He will discuss the reasons that the tsarist government had for establishing these colonies and resettling Jews there, how he discovered that his family came from one of the colonies, and the fate of the colonies. He will include maps and photos, and some sources where you can learn more about the colonies.

Alan Shuchat has been researching his family’s history for several decades and has been able to trace his father’s family back to around 1800. He has been active in several genealogy SIGs and helped with transliterations of three databases that are available through JewishGen. He participates in JGSGB’s annual February meeting, helping attendees with Ukraine research and translations. His father’s family (SHUKHAT, VINOKUR) came from Talnoye (Talne), Balta, Pogrebishche, and Simferopol in Ukraine. His mother’s family (KURIS, ZILBERMAN) came from Mogilev-Podolskiy, Kremenets, and Berdichev in Ukraine, and Soroki in Moldova. Alan is professor of mathematics at Wellesley College and lives with his wife Alix Ginsburg in Newton.

Spotlight: “Preserving Your Audio and Visual Family History”, with Paul Adams.

Paul Adams

Paul Adams is an audio & video preservation engineer from Boston. His company, Mass Productions, specializes in restoring and converting antiquated sound and video recordings to modern digital formats (

Paul is a descendant of John Adams, 2nd president of the United States. Born and raised on Cape Cod, he began his career with music and audio as a professional disc jockey and radio broadcaster at WQRC FM.   He moved to Boston to pursue a career in Information Technology and digital media duplication. Paul combined his skills to preserve his own family and friends’ recorded histories, which eventually led him to establish his business serving Boston residents as well as prestigious institutions.

Paul has rescued and restored audio recordings for the Boston Conservatory as well as the taped performances of renowned violinist Roman Totenberg held by the Longy School of Music. Over the next year, Paul will be very busy preserving audiotapes over 50 years old for the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, MA and the Jewish Public Library in Montreal.

Paul will discuss how film, video, and audio recordings have become historical documents as important as the written word.  While we have attempted to preserve human history for thousands of years with cave drawings, tablets, scrolls, books, and still photos, an audio or video recording provides a quite special form of immortality, particularly in preserving family histories. Over the last decade, however, methods and formats for capturing picture and sound have become antiquated so quickly that we now are left with an assorted collection of important recordings on multiple formats for which playback equipment is no longer sold, existing equipment breaks down, and the recording can become damaged or even thrown away due to the inability to play it back. Paul will provide insights into and examples of the growing field of digital restoration and preservation of such recordings, and tips on what you can do to preserve your oral and visual heritage.

March 25 Help Day: Research and Translation Assistance JGSGB Volunteers

Problem-solve with others who can help show you the way. Learn how to get started or get over that “brick wall” in your family research. Members will be able to consult with those more experienced for help with their family research.

A limited number of computer stations will be available, or bring your own laptops for online research.

Roundtables will be dedicated to topics such as:

  • Country and region-specific research (e.g., Polish, Lithuanian, Galician, Ukrainian, Belarussian, Romanian, Moldovan, Bessarabian, German)
  • Finding your ancestors using immigration, naturalization, and vital records
  • Getting started with Jewish genealogy (e.g., using the JewishGen and Steve Morse web sites)
  • Holocaust research (e.g., using the Internet, Yizkor books, Yad Vashem)
  • Translation of foreign-language documents (Yiddish, Russian, German, French, Polish, Hebrew, Hungarian, Romanian)

(Other topics may be added at a later date.)

Genealogical reference materials will be available for perusal.

Bring in your research questions and your foreign documents for translation.

April 22 “YIVO: History and Resources for Genealogy” Lyudmila Sholokhova

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is a world’s foremost center for academic research specializing in history, languages, literature, culture, folklore and religious traditions of Ashkenazi Jewry.  It is also well known for its extensive collections of materials documenting the history of destroyed Jewish communities from Eastern Europe, publications about the Jewish Holocaust, anti-Semitism and Jewish immigrant experience in the United States. YIVO’s archival collections and library constitute the single greatest resource for such study in the world, including approximately 24 million letters, manuscripts, photographs, films, sound recordings, art works, and artifacts; as well as the largest collection of Yiddish-language materials in the world. The YIVO Library collections include over 385 thousands volumes of books and periodicals in more than 30 languages, but mainly in Yiddish, Hebrew, English, Russian, German, French, and Polish etc.

The presentation will provide a glimpse into the marvelous history of this renown institution, its founders and scholars. It will also describe its major collections and focus on a wide range of genealogical resources available  at the YIVO Institute, such as landsmanshaftn (Jewish mutual-aid societies), various immigrant organizations, important bibliography on Jewish genealogy, etc.

Lyudmila Sholokhova, is head of the YIVO Library in New York City.

May 6
“Introducing Children to Jewish Genealogy” Arnon Hershkovitz

Dr. Hershkovitz will present some concepts and ideas for introducing children to Jewish genealogy, including how to engage your own younger generation in your genealogy research and their family heritage, how to spread the word of your genealogy research through your extended family, and how to promote genealogy to groups of children within your community.

Genealogy research today has two major advantages which make it easily communicable to children. First, it is a fascinating process from its very beginning (“I had no idea how to find my great-grandfather’s lost brother”), through its various steps (“And then I found a manifest from 1897 on the Internet!”), to its often surprising findings (“I’ve found a 3rd cousin of mine who lives just a few blocks from me!”). And much of it is done on the Internet, which is today’s younger generation’s playground.

Arnon Hershkovitz, Ph.D., is a passionate genealogist involved in genealogy since 1999. He founded in 2001 and has led the “Israeli Family Roots Forum” – the only online IAJGS member organization, initiated “Wikigenia” – a free online collaborative platform for Jewish Genealogy, and writes a genealogy blog (all of these in Hebrew). He has been involved in instructing genealogy (for both children and adults, including a full 13-week course for gifted children), has been publishing and presenting to various audiences, and organized academic genealogy events. He served as the Head Genealogy Consultant for the Israeli production of “Who Do You Think You Are?”. A native Israeli, he’s now a post-doc at WPI (Worcester, MA), hence living with his wife and 3 little children in Massachusetts; he holds a Ph.D. in Science Education, an MA in Applied Mathematics, and a BA in Mathematics and Computer Science. You can visit his genealogy website at:

May 20
“Organizing & preparing manuscripts for self-publishing – what to include & how to do it” Stephen Denker

The subject of this JGSGB workshop is how to design and construct a book for self-publishing, including aesthetic considerations and organization of subject matter. Stephen Denker will demonstrate ways to prepare, repair, and enhance documents and other research materials for publication. He will present specific examples to illustrate techniques and options.

Sign up early by email and Stephen will send you copies of slides and other materials before the meeting.

Now formally retired, Stephen Denker is active doing technical and business writing. He and his wife Elayne have been collaboratively researching their family histories for the past ten years. They have published nearly 800 pages of their family histories and genealogy organized into four hard-cover books. They will be sharing their experience and techniques at this meeting.

June 10
“Archives of the Joint Distribution Committee: A Resource for Genealogists”
followed by Spotlight with Heidi Urich on HIAS Records
Linda Levi

Linda Levi

Since its inception in 1914, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC, popularly known as “the Joint”) has borne witness to the most pivotal events of 20th-century Jewish history. The holdings of the JDC Archives document the organization’s operations and serve as a record of life in Jewish communities around the worldincluding eyewitness accounts, correspondence, logs, passenger lists, emigration cards, photographs, and much more. Levi will present examples of rich genealogical records, show how to conduct research at the Archives, and illustrate the new archives website and the treasures that await researchers as the records become more widely available.

Linda Levi is Assistant Executive Vice President of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, where she directs the JDC Global Archives. Ms. Levi is a graduate of New York University and received her MA in Contemporary Jewish Studies from Brandeis University. She lectures extensively about the JDC Archives for Jewish groups around the world.

Spotlight Talk: The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, known as HIAS, has been helping Jewish immigrants and refugees since 1881. Learn what records are available and how to obtain them. Heidi Urich has been president of the JGSGB since 2007.

Sep 9 and Jewish Records Crista Cowan

Crista Cowan

The opening program of the 2012-2013 JGSGB season features Crista Cowan, professional genealogist from, who will present three sessions on and its Jewish Records. is a leading resource for online family history research and a valuable tool in any Jewish genealogist’s toolbox.

Morning session

11:00 am Getting Started With Whether you’re brand new to genealogy or a long-time subscriber to, there’s much to learn about this powerful website and what it can help you accomplish in your family history research. Cowan will provide an overview of the site, explain privacy settings for online trees, demonstrate the power of member profiles, and reveal a multitude of free content and tools.

Afternoon sessions

1:30 pm Jewish Records at has many resources and unique tools available for Jewish genealogy research. Cowan will survey’s Jewish record collections, show you how to search them efficiently, and demonstrate effective strategies for finding records from a specific location and time period.

2:45 pm Getting the Most Out of Cowan will demonstrate tips and tricks to help you realize the
full potential of your experience, show you how to search more effectively, and introduce you to’s content and collaboration tools. She’ll also be available to answer questions.

Crista Cowan has been interested in family history since childhood. She is a professional genealogist who specializes in descendancy research and Jewish immigration. She has been employed at since 2004, as European Content Acquisition Manager, Indexing Manager, and currently as Community Alliance Manager. As The Barefoot Genealogist, she broadcasts live on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 1:00 pm (Eastern) on

Oct 14
When General Grant Expelled the Jews Jonathan Sarna

Jonathan Sarna

How safe were Jews in their new home in the United States? Was European anti-Semitism to follow them to America? General Grant’s shocking order to expel the Jews, issued in the midst of the Civil War, galvanized the American Jewish community into action, reminding many who were refugees from European expulsions how insecure they were even in America.

Professor Jonathan Sarna’s study of this pivotal event in American Jewish history sheds light on the experience and treatment of Jews during the Civil War through the late nineteenth century. When General Grant later ran for President, his infamous order made Jews an issue in a presidential contest for the first time and publicly confronted Jews with the question of how to balance their American and Jewish loyalties.

Jonathan D. Sarna is an award-winning historian of American Jewish history. He is the Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History, and author or editor of over twenty books.

His acclaimed American Judaism: A History received the 2004 Jewish Book of the Year Award. His latest book, When General Grant Expelled the Jews, published by Schocken Books earlier this year, has received excellent reviews. Copies will be available for purchase and signing following the lecture.

Nov 4 Why Did Our Ancestors Leave a Nice Place like the Pale? Hal Bookbinder

Hal Bookbinder

Due to a death in his family, our speaker for this Sunday is unable to join us. We are fortunate that one of the preeminent genealogists in the country, Hal Bookbinder, will be in Boston and has offered to step in.

In 1880, fully 80% of our ancestors lived in Poland and the Pale of Jewish Settlement in western Russia. We all know of the pogroms (organized violence) and mass exodus of our ancestors to points west over the next generation. Hal Bookbinder will describe the 120 years of the Pale, from its formation in the late 18th century to its dissolution during the First World War, breaking the life of the Pale into six distinct periods which he designates as “Creation,” “Containment,” “Repression,” “Enlightenment,” “Pogroms,” and “Chaos.” This history will provide some context to our ancestors’ lives in the Pale and, of course, their decision to leave everything they had known to make new lives in the West.

Hal Bookbinder directs information technology for the UCLA Health System. He lectures at annual conferences and has published numerous articles on research techniques, Jewish history, and border changes. He has identified over 3,500 relatives in eight lines, primarily from the Ukraine and adjacent areas of Moldova, Belarus, Russia and Poland, and has taken two of these back to the mid-18th century. Bookbinder has served as president of the JGS Los Angeles (JGSLA) and the International Association of JGS’s (IAJGS). He currently serves on the JewishGen Board of Governors as chair of the Strategic Planning Committee and is advisor to the 2013 IAJGS conference in Boston and co-chair of the 2014 conference in Salt Lake City. In 2010, he was honored with the IAJGS Lifetime Achievement Award.

Download the handout from the lecture here. (pdf)

Dec 9

Jewish Experience of ‘Russification’ in Tsarist Russia 1825-1894
Jewish Life in Bessarabia Through the Lens of the Shtetl Koushany
Douglas Cohen
Yefim Kogan

The Tsarist regime inherited half a million Jews in the partitions of Poland in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, it set about trying to integrate this very different community into the Russian population. Using both carrots (education) and sticks (conscription) the regime tried to remake its Jews into Russians. Historians from Simon Dubnow to Michael Stanislawski have described and characterized these efforts. My paper looks at autobiographical literature to follow the lives of six individual Jews and understand how they saw the regime and its laws and how these rules impacted them. Their impressions often differ from the “historical” record.

Douglas M. Cohen is an independent consultant who acts as a chief financial officer, adding value to a series of smaller companies which need an experienced senior financial executive on a part-time basis. Mr. Cohen holds a Masters of Business Administration degree from Stanford University and an undergraduate degree from Harvard College.  He also received a Masters degree in Jewish Studies from Hebrew College.

Workshop Handout

Yefim Kogan

The shtetl Kaushany is a place where my parents and their parents lived for more than 200 years.  It is a typical ‘mestechko”, a small town in the Bessarabian province of the Russian Empire. Between the World Wars it was part of Romania; after World War II it was included in the Soviet Union and currently it is in the Republic of Moldova.  This paper includes historical and genealogical research as well as cultural, professional and political descriptions of Jewish life in Kaushany.  Before World War II, only 1,875 Jews lived in Kaushany, which represented 35% of the total population.  In 1924, 165 out of 175 businesses were owned by Jews. Most of the Jews struggled to make ends meet.  The town had all the traditional Jewish organizations: synagogues, a cemetery, Khevra-Kadisha and Talmud-Torah, Mikve and Heder, Zionist organizations, a nursing home, and a Jewish Women Society. Today there are no Jews left in Kaushany.

Who will remember all who perished during the Holocaust?

Who will put stones and flowers to a monument of

the Jewish residents of Kaushany?

I will.

Yefim and his family emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1989. During last 20 years he did extensive genealogical and historical research, received a Master’s of Jewish Liberal Studies in 2012 from Hebrew College in Boston.  Yefim participated and lectured at a number of Jewish Genealogical conferences, including this year in Paris.  In 2011, he organized Bessarabia Special Interest Group at, participated in numerous projects, and created websites.

Workshop Handout