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27 April 2011

Beth Jacob Congregation Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

The history of the Jewish communities of Canada is one that can be closely tied to the fur trade and expansion. Beginning with members of the army of General Jeffrey Amherst, who would be the first Jews to settle in Canada when they settled in Montreal in the 1760's, the Jews took advantage of being unrestricted in their movements and began to settle throughout Canada. Such is the case of the Beth Jacob Congregation of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
In her book, The Beth Jacob Story (FHL book # 971.352/H1 K2c), Majorie Freeman Campbell recounts the history of that congregation. Beginning with the first Jewish residents, who were of German origin, she tells the stories of not only the founding of the congregation but also of those people who who would become its foundation.
From its early years, composed mostly of fur traders and peddlers, Majorie tells the history of the world as well as the congregation, which brings to life the struggles and heartache so many overcame to begin their new lives in Canada. The stories of the growth of the community complete with the history of the Synagogue and burial ground are fascinating reading, and the genealogical information on the families of the area brings the entire community to life. It is truly a wonderful book.
The information on some of the families has now been added to the Knowles Collection- Jews of the Americas.

19 April 2011

The Jewish Community of Cuba




I have written previously about my gggrandfather, Morris David Rosenbaum, a Jew from Poland, who made his way from Fordon in Poland to the United States. In his writings, which have survived to this day he writes of his travels that took him from New York down the coast to New Orleans and eventually around the Cape and on to San Francisco. It has always fascinated me to read of these travels wondering what it would have been like to make such a great journey during the mid 1800's.

While on his travels, even though he was not in any one location very long, probably just long enough for the ship to restock food and supplies, I have always been curious of his stay in what we now call Cuba. Even though some identify one of the men with Christopher Columbus as being Jewish, and thus being the first Jew to arrive in Cuba, the Jewish Community was probably not very large until the early 20th Century.
The early part of the 1900's saw many immigrants arrive in Cuba. The Jewish population of Cuba reached between 15,000 and 20,000 people by the time Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Prior to that time, the community was well established with most Jews living in Havana, which had 5 synagogues within the city.
Following the rise of power of Fidel Castro, the majority of Jews in Cuba fled to other countries, with a large group making their new home in the United States. Today, the Jewish population is probably around 1,500, most of those living in Havana.
Today, I am finding my heart and thoughts returning to the travels of my gggrandfather. As I read through the records of other Caribbean countries such as Suriname and Curacao, I am finding others who have also travelled to Cuba. Those people left their footprints all through the area and can be found in the records of their new homelands.

Those records are now being added to the Knowles Collection- Jews of the Caribbean and will be available after the next update.

12 April 2011

The Jews of Luxembourg

The history of Luxembourg dates back to the 10th Century, when in 963 CE it was first established by Count Siegfried. A beautiful country, located between Belgium, Germany and France, Luxembourg first welcomed Jewish residents in the late 13th Century with even more arriving into the early part of the 14th Century. This small Jewish community was for the most part eliminated in 1349. At that time Luxembourg went through the Black Death when most Jews were expelled or killed. What Jews remained were completely expelled by 1391. Amazingly, between 1400 and 1410, some Jews had already started moving back. However about 75 years later, in the 1478 Uprising, the homes of the Jewish families were pillaged and destroyed, forcing almost all families to leave. The history of Luxembourg after this time continued to be filled with uncertainly. In 1515 there were small communities in Luxembourg, Echternach and Arlon. These communities once again were expelled, this time in 1530. After this expulsion, Jewish families stayed away. The first major immigrants didn't return till the early 1800's. The next 130 years was a time of growth for the Jews of Luxembourg. The country gained Independence in 1815. This led to growth in the Jews as well. Some of those events included;

  • In 1823 they built their first synagogue.

  • Samuel Hirsch was appointed Chief Rabbi in 1843.

  • By 1880 there were about 150 families spread all over the land.

  • A new synagogue in the city of Luxembourg was built in 1894.

  • A new synagogue was built in Esch-sur-Alzette in 1899.

  • By the early 1920's the Jewish population was almost 1200 people, many of these refugees from Germany.

On May 10, 1940, Luxembourg a country of Neutrality was invaded by Germany. Of the approximately 4500 Jews of that time about 1000 were able to escape to places such as France and Portugal. Later in the year about 700 fled to America, settling in New York City. The leader of this group was Rabbi Serebrenik. Another thousand escaped to France. Most of those who fled to France, were later deported from there as the Nazi's continued to expand.


Luxembourg was liberated on 9 September 1944. Of that Jewish population prior to the war only about 1500 survived. After the Holocaust about 1500 Jews returned to Luxembourg, many of them merchants coming back in an attempt to rebuild what they once had. In 1953 a new synagogue was built to replace the one destroyed in the war. Today, people disagree on the total number of Jews still living in Luxembourg, however some feel that it may be the only European country to have increased it's Jewish population since the end of the war.

05 April 2011

Be carefull about your "Slavinsky's"

So often as we begin to research our families we hit brick walls when our ancestors have a common name. It can be very frustrating to try and find your Abraham family in the census amongst the 500 or so other Abraham's. A little originality with names can be a beautiful thing. With that in mind, I was so happy to see the following headstone at the Willesden Cemetery.



Rev. Aaron Slavinsky


Reader of North London Synagogue for 35 years. Formerly Reader of the Plymouth


Congregation. Born Vilna - Died London aged 81


And his dearly beloved wife Rachel (nee Maccoby) aged 76


At first look, it would appear that finding Aaron Slavinsky in the records of the British Isles would be simple and documenting his family tree would be easy. How hard can it be to research Slavinsky? Well, looks can be deceiving.


In an attempt to find Aaron and Rachel, I checked the 1911 Census of England (http://www.findmypast.co.uk/), hoping they were living there. Sure enough living at 111 Commercial Road in Mile End Old Town was Aaron Slavinsky aged 32 and his wife Rachael who was aged 26 (see below).


That was easy enough, except for one problem. Aaron is listed as a Cap Maker, not a Synagogue Reader. Worried that it was not the right Aaron and Rachel, I checked the census to see if there were any other families that would fit with the information on the headstone,(http://www.findmypast.co.uk/. Sure enough, living at 45 King Gardens in Plymouth, Devon, England was Aaron Slavinsky aged 32, and his wife Rachel aged 26 (see below). This Aaron is listed as a Jewish Minister.

As it turns out, these two families are the only Slavinsky families listed in the 1911 English Census. According to that source, both families have a Aaron as the head, aged 32 and born in Russia. The wives are both named Rachel, aged 26 and also born in Russia. One is living in Plymouth, the other in London. Both of these places correspond to the information provided on the tombstone. Now that we have a good idea of which one is the Aaron listed on the headstone in Willesden, I want to verify that Rachel his wife has the maiden surname Maccoby. A quick check of the website http://www.freebmd.org.uk/ lists no marriage entries for an Aaron Slavinsky. Hoping that it may just be a misspelling I also check under the name of Rachel Maccoby. There in the June Quarter of 1904 is listed the marriage of Rachel Maccoby to Harris Slavinsky. The actual marriage certificate (shown below) verifies this to be our couple.

However the question of the marriage of the other Aaron Slavinsky remains to be answered. As there were no listings in the index for any Aaron Slavinsky, is our second man also listed under another name. We know from the 1911 census that they had been married for 6 years, which would be either 1904 or 1905. A search of the indexes for a Slavinsky to a Rachael yielded only one possibility. That entry showed Harry Slavinsky married to Rachael Cohen in the September Quarter of 1906. That certificate (see below) seems to verify the information that this Aaron was a cap maker living in London.




We now appear to have separated the two men named Aaron Slavinsky and identified their wives. However, in almost every aspect they could have been easily mistaken for one another. They even had their marriages recorded under different variations of the same name. How easily this search could have taken a wrong step.


This is why when researching any family, always remember to "be careful of your Slavinsky's'.


04 April 2011

Jews of Bolivia

The history of the Jewish community of Bolivia dates back as far as the 16th century. At that time Jews fleeing the Inquisition arrived from Spain to the area then controlled by Peru. Most of these early Jews were miners working the silver mines. A few however were the earliest settlers into the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, which they helped establish in 1557. The Inquisition came to the area in the 1570's which began to lead to the destruction of this once vibrant community. In was not until the 20th century that Jews returned to Bolivia in any numbers. That first group were Jews from Russia, followed by some from Argentina and then Sephardic Jews from Turkey and the Near East. Even with these immigrants into Bolivia, the community never achieved great numbers, probably not more that a hundred or so. The first large group of Jews to arrive into Bolivia did so in the early 1930's, when about 7,500 arrived from Germany. They were followed at the end of the decade, by a group of Polish Jews fleeing their adopted hometown of Shanghai. These immigrants settled in places such as La Paz and Cochabamba. In fact the Circulo Israelita de Bolivia Synagogue is the highest synagogue in the world. It is located in La Paz, and is located at over 12,000 feet above sea level. At the close of World War II, the Jewish population of Bolivia began to decrease, many immigrating to the United States and Israel. This continues today, as many view the leaders of the government as not friendly toward the Jews. As of the beginning of the 21st century, population of the Jewish community in Bolivia is under 1,000 with the majority in La Paz, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz.