Nu? What's New?
The E-zine of Jewish Genealogy From Avotaynu

Gary Mokotoff, Editor

Volume 10, Number 26 | November 30, 2009

This edition is going to 8,517 subscribers

Every government puts value on preserving its history. That is why we have national archives. Genealogy preserves history; the history of a family. It cannot be done without access to records, just as historians cannot preserve a nation's history without access to records. It is a greater good than the right to privacy. It is a greater good than the risk of identity theft.
Not much matters genealogical in the past two weeks, but still some interesting material.

Documenting History
Of all the articles I have written, the one I consider most important was published in AVOTAYNU in 1995 titled “The Mormon/Jewish Controversy: What Really Happened.” It is reproduced at When the news media found out in 1994 that the Mormon Church had posthumously baptized hundreds of thousands of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, they stated that this was discovered by the Holocaust survivor community. This was historically inaccurate. The controversy started two years earlier when the Jewish genealogical community discovered the baptisms, and they went public with the information in 1994 when the Church said they were going to do nothing about it.

Now another important event—how the archives of the International Tracing Service was opened to the public—has been properly documented by Paul Shapiro, the man who is given credit for making it happen. Shapiro has written a lengthy article in Reform Judaism where he describes the years of effort and obstacles thrown in the path. It can be read at It becomes clear from the article that one of the major obstacles was the International Committee of the Red Cross, whose sole role was to operate ITS, not make policy decisions.

Now word is trickling back from current users of ITS that they may be returning to the old days when obstacles were placed in the path of people trying to determine the fate of loved ones. The villain again seems to be the ICRC. Evelyne Haendel, who was recently appointed Director of Family Tracing Services for the Hidden Child Foundation, was told by ICRC that they will not process her inquiries unless she produced a document from the family she is trying to help authorizing Haendel; to act on their behalf. They also wanted their inquiry form signed by a family member, not Haendel. Israel Pickholz of Jerusalem posted a statement on JewishGen that he ran into a similar obstacle. He concluded, “I had thought those days were behind us. Has anyone else entered this time machine? Does anyone know what buttons to push to get them back on track?” There now are rumors that German privacy laws will be the norm for determining who can have access to what.

The fact is that ITS is shooting themselves in the foot. With copies of the files now in the hands of institutions in Belgium, Israel, Poland and the United States, people will turn to these facilities for answers. Haendel has already turned to the U.S. Holocaust Museum for help finding family for Hidden Children to avoid the ITS red tape.

When I visited ITS in May 2008, some of the employees confided that they were a bit concerned about losing their jobs because the files were now available elsewhere and, therefore, the number of inquiries to ITS would decline. Placing obstacles in the path of inquirers will guarantee that ITS will be abandoned as a resource for Holocaust-related information.

Historic Jewish Press Internet Site
Articles from the Palestine Post, predecessor to the world-famous Jerusalem Post, have been available on the Internet for a number of years. Now other Jewish publications have been digitized and indexed and are available at a “Historic Jewish Press” site. To date there are 11 publications including the Palestine Post 1932–1950, Bulletin of the Alliance Israélite Universelle (1860–1913) and Ha-Magid 1856–1903. A complete list, as well as links, to each publication can be found at

Dick Eastman, who publishes Eastman’s Online Genealogy Newsletter, made his readers aware of an amazing piece of software called Dropbox that solves two very important considerations in proper computer data management: backup and access to data on multiple computers. Eastman commented in his column, “It is hard for me to think of using any computer without this program.” He is right.

If you have both a laptop and a desktop computer, it is almost certain you have transferred data between the two. Dropbox will do it automatically. How many have been burned by a computer crash without backup, or even if you do judiciously backup every day, as I do, you still lose all activity from the overnight backup until the time of day that the computer crashed. Dropbox solves the problem by keeping your two (or more) computers in sync so that if one fails, that file you just updated and saved only 60 seconds ago is now mirrored in your other computer.

Do you keep your genealogical data on your home computer but find it useful to have it on the laptop when you go to a research facility or a genealogical conference? After having previously set up Dropbox properly, turn on your laptop and Dropbox will automatically update it to the contents of your home computer. Update the files on the laptop with what was accomplished at the research site, and when you get home, Dropbox will have already updated your files on the home computer.

Here is how it works. When you install Dropbox, it creates a new directory called “My Dropbox.” The installer foolishly places in some remote spot. Instead, when installing, place the directory in your root directory (normally C:\). Once installed, copy any files you want to share with other computers into the My Dropbox directory. Set up subfolders if you want to store these files by type. Do the same with a second computer, and Dropbox will initially synchronize the two My Dropbox directories.

Dropbox gives you, at no charge, 2GB of space on their servers. For only $99 per year, you can have 50GB of space. I do not have 50GB of data files on my computers. All the back issues of AVOTAYNU, all the back issues of FGS FORUM, all the files for the 58 books Avotaynu has published to date, plus all my other word processing documents, only take about 20GB of space. I now can have all this data backed up external to my computers and accessible on any of my computers. I don’t have the courage to do it, but properly I should put all my data files under the My Dropbox directory. This would keep my home and office computers in sync.

I tried to fool Dropbox but couldn’t. I renamed a file on my office computer. When I got home, my home computer also had the file renamed. I moved a file to a different directory. It also did it on my other computer. I have not rigorously tried all possible ways of fooling the system, but it appears the system is well thought out.

Oh yes, to add icing to the cake, Dropbox saves your changed files on its server for 30 days. This means if you get into a situation where you want to undo the saving of a file, you can retrieve an earlier edition from the Dropbox server.

You can download Dropbox at

Survey on American Jewish Language Use
How do American Jews speak English? Who uses Hebrew and Yiddish words and New York regional features? When using Hebrew words, who prefers Israeli pronunciations and who prefers the Ashkenazic ones? Which Yiddish-origin features do some non-Jews use?

Two researchers from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion, linguist Sarah Bunin Benor and sociologist Steven M. Cohen, have released the results of a large-scale survey of Jews and non-Jews in the United States that addresses these questions. The online survey began in the summer of 2008 with an e-mail invitation to about 600 people, and within 6 weeks, over 40,000 people had participated.

Benor and Cohen found that American Jews use many Yiddish words and constructions within their English speech (such as heimish, bashert, “staying by them,” and “she has what to say”) and that many non-Jews use selected Yiddishisms (especially klutz, shpiel, and “money shmoney”). Most Yiddish words are more common in the older generations, but some (including bentsh, leyn, and shul) are increasing among younger Jews who attend synagogue frequently. American Jews, especially those who have spent time in Israel or are highly engaged in religious life, also pepper their English with Hebrew and Aramaic words (including yofi, balagan, davka, and kal vachomer). Jews with different social networks have different understandings of the meanings of certain words (such as whether schmooze means ‘chat’ or ‘kiss up’). Outside of New York, Jews are more likely than non-Jews to use certain New York regional pronunciations, such as pronouncing “orange” as “AH-range.” And Jews are somewhat more likely than non-Jews to report that they have been told that they interrupt too much.

A summary of the survey results can be found at A more detailed description of the project can be found at

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