Sunday, November 24, 2013


It was not my intention to write a full blog every time a relative dies, but we lost two this week, two who are intertwined in my childhood and my young adulthood. One on my father's side and one on my mother's side, they both lived in Silver Spring Maryland.

Our family is diminished by their deaths.

Marjorie Pickholtz Spector
Margie, July 2008
My father's first cousin. Double cousin, actually. Their fathers are brothers and their mothers are sisters. Margie was an only child, born in the twentieth year of Aunt Helen and Uncle Joe's marriage. She was born eighty-one years ago (a week short in the Gregorian calendar, but a couple of weeks after in the Jewish calendar) in Pittsburgh and was named Masha Zviyya for her two grandfathers, Moritz Rosenzweig and Hersch Pickholtz. She married Harry Spector in June 1954 (I remember the occasion, even though I was not in attendance) and raised a daughter and two sons in Silver Spring Maryland. Cousin Margie and Cousin Harry moved to Portland a few years ago, which is where the two sons live. Cousin Harry died three years ago. I last saw them almost exactly twenty years ago at my grandmother's ninetieth birthday party.

Ethel Beatrice Rosenbloom Klavan
Between Stanley and Maurice's wife Ruth, Oxon Hill MD
The last of my mother's first cousins and the one she was closest with, the last of the three children of my grandmother's brother Hymen Rosenbloom and his wife, Becky. She was born eighty-six years ago, a week and change before Pesach, seven months after my mother. She carried the name of my great-grandmother Etta Bryna, as did several other family members, including my mother's sister. The three Rosenblooms grew up in Washington DC, where Uncle Hymen had a grocery store and eventually each of them moved to Silver Spring. My mother spent a few teen-age summers with them. Cousin Ethel married Stanley Klavan in June 1954 and they raised one son. I last saw them two years ago at the unveiling for her brother Maurice, who had died the previous Hanukkah..

One of the things I thought to say at my mother's funeral, but didn't, was this.
Let me warn you that when you get where you are going, you will find two family members and a friend you won't expect, because we didn't tell you everything these past few months. The family members are Cousins Harry Spector and Maurice Rosenbloom.

So now we have Cousin Margie and Cousin Ethel the same week.

As a child
Note: I am writing from my childhood recollections. The facts may be imprecise. I wasn't taking notes.
My first childhood memories of visiting my mother's Washington relatives were of multiple night-time drives down Georgia Avenue into the District, noting the alphabetized cross streets. At some point we would cut across to MacArthur Boulevard, where my mother's eldest cousin Anna and her husband had a grocery store. They lived in the same building as the store. Cousin Anna was twenty-two years older than Mother.

That was headquarters  for any visits we paid to the rest of mother's family - Aunt Rose at 13th and Missouri, Uncle Hymen and Aunt Mollie in their grocery store (they lived upstairs) near Griffith Stadium and others.

With their kids, A Helen & Sarajoy
Then things changed. Cousin Margie and Cousin Harry moved into the area. My father's cousin.(1)  So that's where we started our visits, at 1612 Cody Drive in Silver Spring.

My first real memory was when they were visiting in Pittsburgh one summer and my parents announced that they were taking my younger brother and me back with them to Silver Spring for a visit. It was about a week and a half and we had no notice. We drove with them and baby Sharon and they would be sending us home on a train by ourselves. I was eleven.

Somewhere on that trip, it must have been at a rest stop on the way from Pittsburgh, I had my first taste of beer. (Didn't like it then and didn't like it the second time either.) My parents trusted them.

Cousin Margie was different from all my other relatives in one particular thing. She always spoke to me like an adult. Maybe It's a silly example, but it's one I try to follow - where as all other adults would say "your grandmother," she would say "Aunt Margaret," speaking from her own perspective and trusting me to get it right. As they say in Hebrew, she spoke to me at eye level.

Klavans Aug 1968 (2)
So for about ten days we lived in their house and shared experiences with them, went to shul with them Shabbes, etc etc. Cousin Margie put on a large yarmulke when she lit candles, which we thought was pretty funny. I got a bee sting near my eye, in their back yard, which required some kind of medical attention - not funny at all.

And they made sure we saw my mother's relatives. We spent at least one day with Cousin Ethel Klavan and her son Ross at a fancy swimming pool. Ross was about four and wanted us to be very impressed that they had recently bought a Renault Dauphine.

We spent an overnight with Cousin Tootsie Brenner, Aunt Rose's middle daughter. 

And Cousin Margie took us to visit Uncle Hymen and Aunt Mollie who had recently retired and moved to Carmody Drive. It took ages to find the street, but it was a house I learned to enjoy visiting over the years. Uncle Hymen was in a battle with Social Security, who claimed he was only sixty-four.

The last night of our visit we went to an ice cream place called Gifford's. Cousin Margie and Cousin Harry had a ritual of going there once a month, diets or no.

Then we went home. On the train. By ourselves. It was an important week - more in the fact than the details.

As an adult
Before my aliya, I made a few trips to Silver Spring, one in 1967 for some reason I cannot recall. I stayed with the Spectors, who had moved to Coleridge Drive. 

With U Hymen, Chicago 1971
And I was there for the weekend after my grandfather died - the funeral was on a short winter Friday. My parents were already in Israel, so I was their representative. We stayed with the Spectors. (3) But I also went with Cousin Ethel to visit Uncle Hymen, who brought out some old pictures that I had never seen.

During the period before my aliyah, I carried on extensive correspondence with Cousin Ethel about our family history. My grandmother had died without telling anyone much of anything, so Uncle Hymen is all we had. He didn't know much. His mother died when he was two years old and he left Russia when he was twenty. But he told us what he could - like the fact that they had lived in Borisov - and it was Cousin Ethel who kept after him.

In the ensuing years, there were a few visits. In 1982 and again in 1986 and 1989, and these two cousins became my "go to" people on these visits. Some of the time we stayed with the Spectors and some of the time with the Klavans, who would have other cousins over to see us - from both sides of my mother's family.. (Uncle Hymen was by this time in a nursing home and Cousin Ethel took me to see him there.) The Klavans were the first people I ever knew to have a five digit street address.

With A. Mary and Cousin Clara in Miami. 1970s?
The Spectors visited here a few times.And Cousin Ethel and I had a few very long phone conversations, at her initiative.

We are diminished by the loss of each person from the older generation. Doubly so this week. May their souls be bound in life.

I am saying kaddish for Cousin Ethel. She is buried at Oxon Hill, near her parents, brother, Maurice, my grandparents and my grandfather's brother and sister and their spouses.

Condolences to both famiies and best wishes for good health to Cousin Stanley.
המק-ם ינחם אתכם בתוך אבלי ציון וירושלים.

(1) Confession: I was certain about Cody Drive and knew it was the third right off August. I was less sure about the number. I knew that the first and third digits were 1, that the second and fourth were even and that the second was larger than the fourth, but I had to look it up to get it exactly right - 1612.

(2) The Klavans were in Jerusalem for Ross' bar mitzvah. The picture was taken in the King David Hotel.

(3) That Saturday night, I went to my grandfather's second cousin Sig Fritz - whom I had met at the funeral and whose mother is buried next to my grandmother. Sig was the one "who knew everything" about the Gordon family (my mother's father's side) and we spent the evening on the floor with a long roll of paper which eventually was the basis of my subsequent work. Today, his daughter lives ten-fifteen minutes walk from us.

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Housekeeping notes
I have mentioned before that I wrote a response to two articles in AVOTAYNU on online collaborative genealogy. They think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread and I beg to differ. The Fall issue, with my article, has gone to the printer and should be out soon. Meantime the buzz has been sufficient that  the author of one of the original articles is preparing a rebuttal for the Winter issue. I am hoping that someone will step up so that I am not on my own with a response to that.
I plan to make my article available here, together with some bits that were edited out and some additional thoughts, after publication.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


(as appears in the most recent issue of AVOTAYNU - Summer 2013)

The Fall 2013 issue of AVOTAYNU has gone to the printer,
which includes my article
Concerns about Geni and Other “Collaborative Genealogy” Websites
That article will be posted here after publication,
together with some bits that were edited out
or which I only thought of afterwards.
Click on the images to enlarge

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Housekeeping notes

Family Tree Dna, the company we have been using for DNA testing, is having a "holiday sale." 
Here are some of the more common tests. The full list is here. Prices for upgrades are available through your own kit site.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013


(Based on an article that appeared in The Galitzianer, May 2008)

I arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport for the New York Conference, late Wednesday afternoon, intending to spend a few days with my son, Eliezer, who is studying in the US and to visit several cemeteries in the area, to add to my collection of family graves.  Our first stop was to be at Mt Lebanon Cemetery in Iselin, where we would be meeting Robert, a third cousin of
One of the Alexander graves in Iselin
my wife, who was going to take us to the Alexander family graves there and at Beth Israel in nearby
Woodbridge.  But Eliezer and I wasted an hour trying to find each other at the airport and another hour so so getting lost in New Jersey, eventually meeting Robert at Mt Lebanon, at close to eight thirty in the evening.

We had a night tour of the cemetery and then – still in the cemetery - spent some time looking at family photos by the light of Robert’s trunk light.  We decided to skip Beth Israel.  Eventually – after getting lost again – we reached the home of my newfound cousin Bruce, where we would be staying until Sunday morning.  Bruce is a second cousin of my father’s, a grandson of my great-grandmother’s brother Rachmiel Kwoczka, of Zalosce, in East Galicia, the same town where my Pickholtz grandfather was born.

Our plan for Thursday was to visit a small cemetery on the Newark-Elizabeth border, two cemeteries on Staten Island, then Beth David out towards Long Island, before coming back towards town to go to Mt Lebanon, Mt Hebron and Mt Zion in Queens.  Then we would end the day with an evening visit to Steve Pickholtz in Tabernacle NJ, towards Philadelphia.  The first stops took longer than we expected, so we decided to put off Beth David until Friday, when we planned to drive out to the far end of Long Island to visit a live Pickholz.

The Mt Hebron stop was all Kwoczka – eight graves in all.  We had addresses for six.  For Lillian we had only a 1925 date and for her husband Berisch (Bruce’;s father’s brother) we had only the SSDI record that he died about February 1965.  Bruce wasn’t old enough to have a clear recollection, himself.

So we stopped at the office, where they told us that they had no grave for either Berisch or Lillian, but when we gave them Lillian’s date, they found her with her name badly misspelled.  I was surprised to find that of all the Zalosce Kwoczkas, only Lillian, who was not from Zalosce herself, was buried in the Zalosce section.  I figured Berisch should be there as well, and after combing the area and coming up empty, I called out “Berisch ben Yerachmiel!”  (Eliezer was horrified.)  Berisch didn’t answer.  I tried this a few more times, but still nothing from Berisch.

We moved on to the other Kwoczka graves in several other sections, and here too I looked for Berisch and continued calling “Berisch ben Yerachmiel!” to no avail.  Berisch didn’t answer, didn’t signal us, didn’t give us a clue.  “He isn’t here,” I told Eliezer.  “If he were, he would have helped us find him.”

It must have been after eleven by the time we arrived back at Bruce’s house, where I duly reported that Berisch isn’t at Mt Hebron.  He asked how I could be so sure and I told him the story.  Bruce - who wears a black kippa – nodded his assent, but was clearly unconvinced.

The next morning, we set off early for Long Island, figuring we could spend an hour or so, visiting a list of graves at Beth David.  We have nearly fifty graves at Beth David, all Galizianers and mostly Pikholz descendants, but most of them had already been photographed, so we took the time to check out the dozen we needed, plus those I needed to fulfill some barter obligations.  On our way out, we stopped at the office to wash our hands, as is customary.

But for some reason, Eliezer drove a bit past the office, so we got out and used the bottle of water in his trunk.  As I washed, I saw a large wall opposite, with the name BRUMER and a number of small stones with individual names.  And there was Kopel Brumer – Yaakov Kopel ben Yehiel Michel Halevi – and his wife Dora Brumer – Devorah Gittel bat Chaim Halevi.  Nearby were Isidor Brumer “Beloved Brother” and Florence Atlas “Beloved Aunt,” both the children of Yaakov Kopel Halevi.  Eliezer,” I said, “this is our family.”

We have a Devorah bat Chaim Halevi Pikholz from Skalat, who married Kopel Brumer.  They had an unmarried son and a married daughter with no children.  They went to America a hundred years ago and no one knew anything further about them.  This is a perfect fit.

And we realized that we shouldn’t have found them.  Not only had we stopped to wash at the wrong place, but had we come the day before as planned, we wouldn’t have stopped to wash at all, for when I do several cemeteries in succession, I wash only after the last one, and Beth David was on the schedule before the three in Queens.

“These people wanted us to find them,” I explained.  “Now do you understand that Berisch is definitely not in Mt Hebron?”

Bruce understood.  Eliezer took my word for it.

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Housekeeping notes

You might want to have a look at this. Debbie is a friend of mine, who has DNA matches with a significant number of Pikholz testers.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


(A representation of what I said during services last Friday night.)

My father's yahrzeit is coming up this Friday, 5 Kislev. My father was not much for speaking in shul. In fact, I can only remember one occasion from my childhood when he did so and then I only remember the way he opened. But it must have been this week.

"I want to speak in defense of Esau," he began. I don't recall any of the specifics, but I know that opening was just a rhetorical device, for after he went through the "poor victim, he loved his father" bit, it became clear that my father knew perfectly well that Yaakov Avinu was the good guy in the story.

In the course of the past thirty-three years, I have had more than my share of maftir this week, bringing with it the reading of the haftarah – the final prophet Malachi, from the beginning through the first seven verses of chapter two.  (To be clear, I know that because of Rosh Hodesh we do not actually read this haftara this year…)

The general assumption seems to be that the portion and the haftarah is contained in the opening verses:

The burden of the word of the L-rd to Israel by Malachi.
I have loved you, says the L-rd. Yet you say: 'In what way have You loved us?' Was not Esau Yaakov's brother? says the L-rd; yet I loved Yaakov;
But Esau I hated, and made his mountains  desolate, and gave his heritage to the jackals of the wilderness.
ForEdom says: 'We are devastated, but we shall return and rebuild the desolate places';[But] thus saith the L-rd of hosts: They shall build, but I will throw down; and they shall be called "the border of wickedness, and the people whom the L-rd finds offensive, forever."

OK. But there are simpler, more colorful ways to make the same point, as we will do in two weeks. Ovadiah verse 18 writes:

And it will be that the House of Yaakov is fire, and the House of Yosef is flame, and the house of Esau is straw, and they shall kindle them and devour them and there will be no remnant of the House of Esau, as the L-rd has spoken.

That is memorable. And trust me, it's even better in Hebrew.

So last year, I had maftir and read Malachi and I said to Rabbi David Shapiro, a relative newcomer to our shul who recently made aliyah from Boston, that after all these years, this particular haftarah really doesn't speak to me and that I should probably learn it more thoroughly. A couple of days later, he brought me two pages of notes from things that his rebbe – Rabbi Yitzhak Asher Twersky, the Tolner Rebbe – said twenty-four, twenty-one and eighteen years ago and those notes are the basis for what I want to say now. An approach that takes a more comprehensive view of Esau.

Despite the "to Israel" of the opening verse, malachi's words are directed specifically to the kohanim, the priests in the Temple. The Establishment.

Verse 6 (and I shall be using the Koren translation from here on, though not always their punctuation):
A son honors his father and a servant his master; if then, I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the L-rd of hosts, O priests who despise my name.

And he gets specific in verses 7-8:
You offer disgusting bread upon my altar; and you say "In what have we polluted thee?" In THAT you say "The table of the L-rd in contemptible." And if you offer the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil? Offer it now to thy governor – will he be pleased with thee or will he show you favor?

What is technically valid should should always be acceptable. Like the piece of meat that fell into the chamber pot – it may be kosher, but it stinks.

And it's even worse when presented in comparison, verses 11-12.
From the rising of the sun until it goes down, my name is great among the nations; and in every place incense is burnt and sacrifices are offered to my name, , and a pure offering. For my name is great among the nations, says the L-rd of hosts. But you profane it.
The nations understand but our own, who should know better, do not.

Followed by verse 13, which the Talmud uses to illustrate a mitzvah that is facilitated by a sin:
And you have brought [as a sacrifice] that which was [stolen] and the lame and the sick…should I accept this at your hand?

And in verse 14, he begins "Cursed be the deceiver," referring to claims to do the best he can but in truth is doing the bare minimum. And he completes that verse and the chapter by once again stating that G-d's name is feared among the nations, with the implication that not so among the kohanim in His own Temple.

R' Shapiro explains, as he quotes the Tolner:
The theme here is chilul Hashem. This always means "profaning the name – the reputation, the image – of the Ribbono shel Olam [Master of the Universe] as subjectively perceived by human beings. We cannot affect His objective essence." This chilul Hashem is a function of our disingenuous relationship to Him. We have here a full-blown characterization of [Esau].

The second chapter speaks of the consequences that await these tainted kohanim, including (verse 3):
Behold I will rebuke your seed, and spread dung upon your faces, even the dung of your [holidays].

The Tolner then brings several quotes from the Rambam (Maimonides).
Not everything that is not invalid may be brought intentionally. How is that? A person who is required to bring an offering should not bring a lean or disformed sheep and say "It has no blemish." For to him it is said "Cursed be the deceiver." [verse 14 above] But anything he brings for a sacrifice should be from the very best.
Things not fit for the altar, Ch. 7

Two quotes from the Rambam refer to the bit about spreading dung and "dung of your holidays." One refers to how a respectable person should conduct himself and one refers to a person whose holiday feasts are not shared with the poor.

Rabbi Shapiro concludes:
The upshot of these three passages in the Rambam is: A [sacrifice] can be defective, indeed despicable, although there is nothing formally wrong with it; the person's insensitivity can render his [sacrifice] revolting to the [Master of the Universe]. Similarly, one's observance of [holidays] can be defective, although on the surface he is complying fully with all halachic requirements. By extension, all out activities have to be pursued with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, and with a determination to avoid insincerity, cynicism and callousness.

This is the hallmark of Yaakov and stands in contrast to [our sages'] typology of [Esau]. This is the deeper connection between today's haftarah and parshah.

Oh, how my father hated hypocrites!