Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Part III: One Ancestor and Israel's Independence

First hut from Magdiel (restored).
Continued from Part I and Part II: One Ancestor and Israel's Independence

This story, is not how my grandfather's sense of humor, and how he laughed at himself for wearing  glasses which clung to his nose by a piece of tape. It's not about how he drove "a Mercedes" around the Kibbutz. After suffering heart failure, my grandfather was awarded a golf cart. He truly enjoyed the luxury of driving it around the narrow pathways and dubbed it his Mercedes. It's not how he wore his khaki colored shorts high above his belly button of his bulging belly and displaying his skinny legs. It's also not about how he kept his false teeth in a cup of water in the bathroom, the water magnifying the dentures and scaring the hell out of young grandchildren. It's not about any of those things, because those things I witnessed myself. They are my memories of my grandfather. This post is a continuation of the series of stories I learned from digging up the past, the pieces of the puzzle I discovered as I researched my grandfather's life.

In 1934 when my grandfather arrived in Palestine, he was part of a core group of Hanoar Hatzioni members who formed an independent settlement in Magdiel, called Magdiel beit. Magdiel, was a small agricultural community in the heart of Israel (now part of Hod Hasharon). This fall, my son will be spending three months studying in Hod Hasharon. Of all the places in Israel, his program is located in the exact same location where his great-grandfather landed in Israel almost eighty years ago. He will find not find the sand dunes and swamps his great-grandfather encountered there, but maybe he can visit the first hut of the settlement, now restored and nestled among the modern apartment buildings.

From its inception the Hanoar Hatzioni group, envisioned an independent Kibbutz belonging to their youth movement and not affiliated to the Histadrut Organization, the General Federation of Laborers in the land of Israel (Israel's Labor Unions Organizations, in charge of workers activities among them settlements). This was to be the first Kibbutz of the Hanoar Haztzioni and a source of pride for the passionate movement members. Remember those youth group summer camps my grandfather headed as part of the youth movement? (See Part I). The youth group was everything to them. The idea that a group of young people can actually have their own Kibbutz was revolutionary and they didn't want to give that up to the control of a the fast growing and powerful labor union. While awaiting a permanent location for their kibbutz, they worked and received support from the more established agricultural settlement of Magdiel. The intense preparations abroad, did not quite prepare these young, pale, urban intellectuals, for the hard physical labor involved in farming the land. When hunger plagued, they searched for supplemental jobs outside Magdiel. My grandfather to enlisted to dig trenches in Cfar Etzion, a settlement planned for newly acquired lands of Gush Etzion.

Baruch Lavi top left with
a group of fellow Magdiel settlers. 
Gush Etzion, nestled between hostile Arab lands of Bethlehem and Hebron, failed to establish Jewish settlements in many years. In 1929 a group of Orthodox and Yemenite Jewish settlers were forced to flee their settlement, Migdal Eder, after only two years. A wealthy Jewish businessman, Samuel Yoshef Holtzmann, purchased the land for Cfar Etzion in 1932 and helped finance the construction which began its in 1935. The laborers were paid seven Palestinian pounds for each hole they excavated. They were laying down the infrastructure and foundation for the planned settlement. According to my grandfather's writing, they were paid for digging seven holes daily. The workers faced the harsh elements during the day. At night they retreated to the nearby Russian monastery for refuge from the belligerent Arab villages which surrounded them. The members of Magdiel Beit, performed this backbreaking work, twice, for several month each time, sending much needed income to Magdiel. In 1935, after the second enlistment, they treated themselves with a field-trip to Hebron. They were amongst the first Jews to step on the biblical lands of Gush Etzion and visit the city of Hebron. Sadly, Kfar Etzion’s fate was not dissimilar to its predecessor Migdal Eder. By 1937, the Arabs, destroyed much of what the philanthropist Holtzman paid for. The next attempts to establish Kfar Etzion, lasted from 1943-1947 and met with one of the bloodiest and painful events in Jewish history. The small religious settlement, found itself on the Arab side of the partition plan. As British forces pulled out, it was placed under a heavy blockade. When the remaining residents tried to surrender to the Arabs, they were massacred. Controversial settlements in what is known today as the West Bank territory, did not resume until after the Six Day War of 1967, and continue to be a sore issue in the Palestinian Israeli peace process today. It is not my intention to get into a complicated discussion of the current political situation in Israel. I do however want to say, that my grandfather was a big proponent of peace. In his lifetime, he got to see his dream of establishing a Jewish state fulfilled. He always hoped that Arabs and Jews could coexist in peace.

Building Magdiel
Baruch Lavi, bottom row, second from the left (with the cap).
Making construction bricks at Magdiel
Baruch Lavi, bottom left.
Despite the difficult conditions at Magdiel, my grandfather was very happy. He enjoyed the company of his ideological and intellectual friends, he loved the camaraderie and the support they gave each other. There was much emphasis on the Hebrew language and its revival, as well as cultural life. There were constant lectures and shows. The men and women worked hard during the day, and took turns guarding at night. As plans continued for breaking grounds, Keren Kayemet, the Jewish National fund sent a representative to Magdiel Beit to discuss among other things, the name of their future Kibbutz. Though the members prepared a banquette for their distinguished guest and impressed him with a tour of their settlement, the visit did not go as well as planned. They wanted to name the Kibbutz, Tel-Yitzchak after of their beloved spiritual leader Yitzchak Steiger. Steiger was a visionary, founding member and leader of Hanoar Hatzioni back in Poland. When he died prematurely in 1936, his friends and colleges were determined to never forget his sacrifice. The general strike which was part of the Arab Revolt, strangled many Jewish communities among them the small community of Haifa. The arabs were not purchasing Jewish products, not selling anything. Basic services such as garbage collection, mostly done by Arab laborers were severely disrupted. At the time, Steiger was part of the Kibbutz Usha's group preparing at Cfar Ata. He was one of the first to volunteer for the dirty job of collecting trash and founded the Jewish trash brigade, infusing his enthusiasm and embodying his solidarity to help the Jews of Haifa. Within a few short days at the job, he contracted typhus and died. The perpetually hungry youths, cleanup every last crumb of food from the unusually elegant banquet. Before departing, Mr. Oshoskin (the Keren Kayemet representative) relented and instructed them to submit the name Tel-Yitzchak to the naming committee. Their request was met with further resistance and they were asked to reconsidered a more historically significant Jewish figure for the name. Exhibiting youthful stubbornness, they  refused to budge and returned to the naming committee several times with only one option, Tel-Yitzchak. History is witness to their eventual success.
To be continued in Part IV and Part V

Friday, May 11, 2012

Guest Blog on Who Should Write Our Story?

Guest Blog on

Today I had the honor to guest blog on once again! is one of my favorite Family Tree websites. It's interactive nature is very conducive to connecting and collaborating with distant relatives. They are great at making genealogy fun! The Geni Tree has 62,000,000 profiles!!! Almost 40,000 people follow Geni on Facebook. Today, I shared with this large following my passion for recording personal stories. Have you ever thought about writing your own story? Is something holding you back? Maybe you should think again?

Check out my post: Who Should Write Our Story and join my Memoir writing challenge! Inspired by my a great group of women in my book club and Lisa Genova's book Still Alice. 

See other guest blogs I've written: 
10DayBookclub February 15th, 2012: Playing with the Memories of Time blog   March  30th, 2012:    How I Met the Bloomfields

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

So, Is My Mitochondria Doing Anything for Me? (Part II)

Continuation from Part I: So, Is My Mitochondria Doing Anything for Me?

In Part I of my series on the progress of my DNA testing, I may have sounding a bit discouraged. In a way, I am, and I think that reflects the experience of many of those who have ventured into the testing. What holds me engaged and determined to continue is my passion for genealogy together with the idea of supporting a relatively young, rapidly expanding field.

As I explain in Part I, my first goal, uncovering Sephardic roots, is now on the back burner, as I let project manager, proceed in their work. My next goal, breaking brick walls is front center. I realize, brick walls are not easy to bringdown, and this one may take time. So far, I have not made much of a dent.

What I have learned through the Autosomal DNA test, which FamilyTreeDNA calls FamilyFinder, is that I'm genetically linked to LOTS of people. Based exclusively on this test, there is no way to determine which branch of the family these DNA connections come from. They come from both maternal and paternal branches. Let me explain: According to my family tree—the one I have painstakingly constructed—I have 1,312 blood relatives, 1,050 are alive and most are distant cousin (third cousins and beyond). The FamilyFinder connected me to 1,070 people, all of whom are most likely distantly related and none of whom are on my family tree. Cross checking manually all one thousand possible connections will take a while. I began with the "closer" connections, 3rd-5th cousins, with no success. On the other hand, I have one cousin and two uncles who have done the y-DNA test (not the Family Finder test) and there is no way to link them to me. Why? Because, they don't appear on my list of possible relatives and I don't appear on theirs (the Y-DNA test, is only for men). Despite the fact that I know they are close relations of mine, I won't be able to mark them as relatives until they purchase more tests. The program can only link according to scientifically proven DNA connections. When people test different markers, essentially comparing apples to oranges, they are creating huge gaps. Not being able to bridge the gap between the different tests, by cross-linking with known relatives doesn't help. At the moment the system only allows to link suspected or known relatives if they preformed the same type of DNA test. It's a programming glitch, but one that if fixed could assit tremendously in this huge maze.

To remove a brick or two, I now understand that it will requires a lot of time, extensive detective work and additional funds to figure out how I'm related to those I share DNA. For me, it's worth the investment of both time and money. I believe prices will need to go down further and the system needs to be more user friendly before the general population will submit to the extensive amount of testing needed to make this all work. The consumer should understand upfront that the more comprehensive teting they do, the better. Go for the most extensive testing you can afford! 

I remain bullish on genealogy DNA testing. For Genetic Genealogy to work, we need as many people to test as much of their DNA as possible. I also believe the testing is pricey, and I'm not sure we are getting our money's worth in the short term. I think consumers should be warned upfront, that even with the most extensive testing, they should think about this as a long term investment. Getting an incomplete set of markers is almost useless. To workout, complicated relationships with potential distant relatives, the more members of your known family are tested, the more likely you will be able to decipher the relationship maze. As a group you will spend thousands of dollars. Budget about six hundred dollars a person for a fairly complete test, or it won't be very useful. Rather than sleek marketing promises, companies should offer deeper discount as incentives for the full sequence studies as well as volume discounts for family groups.

Do you have a DNA testing success story? Do share!

Also see My Mitochondria and Me

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Is My Mitochondria Doing Anything for Me? (Part I)

I know many of you have been anxiously waiting for my mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) test results. My Mitochondria post is one of my top three all-time posts—quickly gaining in popularity on A Photo Worth A Thousand Words and Are You on The Fence? Top 10 Reasons to Jump Into Family History! As you may recall, in My Mitochondria I discussed my reasons for taking the leap into Genetic Genealogy. In the past few months, since I've submitted myself and my great-grandmother's elderly nephew (Herb) to a cheek swab, I've received many inquiries from curious family member. My post continues to receive recognition from many reputable on-line genealogy papers such as: The Ancestor Dig Daily, Genealogy-Bloggers, The GeneaBloggers Daily.

What is all the fuss about? Why we so fascinated with this tiny organelle and DNA testing for genealogy? Our modern society is clearly fascinated with science and technology. For so long, the field of genealogy was a study of everything old: old documents, history books, newspapers, tombstones and photos etc. Today, propelled by fast-pace advances in the technology, the science of genealogy is benefitting from the internet and the availability of millions of databases  instantaneously. More recently, genealogist taken a giant leap into the human genome. Our DNA code is promising to reveal so much about where we come from and connect us to relatives we didn't know we had. Sounds familiar? It's what genealogy is all about isn't it? Genealogy DNA is such a hot area, everyone including me is jumping onto the band-wagon. Last February, MyHeritage, the most popular family tree on-line network with over 62 million members, launched a partnership with FamilyTreeDNA, the global leader in genealogy DNA. The competition for leadership in the field is fierce. Just today, in my inbox was an announcement from about their new DNA testing feature. They even included a well polished video promising genetic genealogy will take your family history to another level.

At the risk of alienating my friends at some of these esteemed companies, as well, as discouraging my relatives from participating—in what I believe to be an important part of our family history research—I decided it's time to share with my readers the progress I've made in the world of DNA testing and report on whether it lives up to all the hipe.

So far, My Mitochondria is Not Doing Much for Me! Don't get me wrong. I AM NOT WRITING OFF DNA TESTING. I am still a firm believer and plan to do further testing myself. But before I recommend to my family and readers to shell out hundreds of dollars and get tested, I need to clarify things in the hopes of dispelling misinformation and preventing disappointments.

Back in February—when I ordered my famous mtDNA test and an autosomal test called Family Finder—I set out clear goals. First, find out if I had any sephardic roots, and second, search for clues to propel me past some brick walls in my family research. In today's post, I will tackel only the first of my two aims: Did my great-grandmother's family migrate from Spain to Belarus?

When I shared with my family that Minnie believed her ancestors were Sephardic, I received the following note from Ruthie, a cousin of my grandmother's, who is a concert pianist. Ruthie seemed to feel the Sephardic genes flowing through her veins:
"I am very excited about the information that our family may be connected to the Sephardic Jews that left Spain in 1492.  For many years, I have been seeking out and performing Sephardic songs in the Ladino language with several singers. All my life I wanted to go to Spain, and during the past decade, I was there twice performing the Sephardic song repertoire in Toledo and Alcala de Henares.  During one of these trips, I visited Barcelona and had terrible nightmares several nights in a row.  I jokingly told my colleagues that in a former lifetime, I must have been a Jew at the time of the terrible Barcelona pogrom in 1391 (but I was only half joking.)"
Before confirming Sephardiness, the DNA test needed to confirm Jewishness. Here is what my Family Finder test says about my Jewishness:

There is an 84.82% probability that I am Jewish (Sephardic or Ashkenazi), 15.18% chance I'm European (not Jewish). The margine of error is so high (18.58%), which could make me 100% Jewish or 30% likelihood that I'm not. The margine is so high because there was a lot of mixing between Jews and non jews over the centuries. I think this means I'm Jewish, a fact, I never doubted since I know for sure that I have Jewish ancestors for at least eight generations on both sides. Yet my basic question could not be answered from this population chart. If I understand it correctly, there is not enough population DNA data to distinguish between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. This is a great reason for more people of the tribe to get tested!

Another way FamilyTreeDNA attempts to respond to my question, is by looking at the origins of the families my mtDNA linked up with. Less than 3% of them were Sephardic. I mostly linked to self reported Ashkenazi families. This means that I'm still Ashkenazi, but the possibility that our ancestors have migrated from Spain has not been ruled out. Since I didn't purchase the highest level mtDNA test (I bought the combo pack), nothing has been ruled out. My great-grandmother's nephew Herb, took the Y-DNA tested for Minnie's paternal line (Kranowitz) and had similar non-conclusive results.

It took me a while to figure out what to do next until I join a few Sephardic projects, within FamilyTreeDNA. The projects are created to further study DNA of people who believe they share a certain origin. I was accepted into the Sephardic Heritage Project and here is what the head of the project wrote to me: "Your mtDNA is not surprising: 40% of today's Ashkenazi men are descendants from four Sephardi women who migrated to Eastern Europe from Rome". To's credit, even the president of the company weighed in on my mtDNA. Here is what he said: "I have now looked at your mtDNA. You are in a Semitic Haplogroup, N1b, that came form Judea!, however since it's in both Ashkenazim and Sephardim I do not think that at this time we can say with any confidence that it was originally Sephardic."

The is all very confusing, but the science is intense and in rapidly advancing. The on-line team is impressively responsive and helpful, so hang in there, and ask them questions if you feel lost. As far as my DNA, if forty percent of Ashkenazi Jews are of Sephardic origin, I have a 40/60 chance. I love my mitochondria, but so far, it's not sharing it's secrets with me, Ruthie or the world. The good news is: I am contributing to the study of genealogy DNA by participating in these projects!

Those of you out there who know more about this subject than me, do share! If your thinking about getting tested, DO IT! Just remember, you've been warned. Don't expect concrete answers any time soon.

To be continued: More about my DNA testing experience and breaking brick walls.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Writing Prompt: First Driving Lesson! Yikes!

This weekend I took my oldest son for his first driving lesson! He is sixteen and just got his Learner's Permit. Watching him reach this milestone has been both exciting and scary at the same time, as I'm sure many of you can appreciate. I'm very proud of the young man he has become, and while part of me would like him to stay my little boy, the other is honored to accompany him on this very important step towards independence. Luckily, the RMV now publishes a pamphlet with tips for parents who are supervising teen driving. Unsure as I am at how to teach someone to drive, I am grateful for this informative booklet. Leafing through it, I learned some new recommendations such as safer ways to set rear view mirrors and how to best hold a steering wheel to avoid injury from an airbag (hands at 3:00 and 9:00 o'clock). Cars, technology and rules have changed in the twenty somewhat years since I first hit the road and—like with many aspects of parenting—I find myself learning something new as I re-live this landmark experience with my son.

Our first lesson, as recommended by my RMV teaching "bible," was actually a non-driving lesson. It  went well enough. I helped him familiarize himself with all aspects of the vehicle from the breaks to the tire pressure and everything in between. Are you wondering what all this have to do with genealogy? I'm getting there.
My New Bible

Our next lesson, took place in a deserted parking lot where my son got behind the wheel for the first time. I hope he will forgive me for disclosing the fact that he was petrified of driving. This somewhat irrational fear, originated at the age of ten when he crashed a golf cart into a tree, broke the windshield and remained quite traumatized. Last week, I practically had to drag him to the RMV to take the permit test. Part me thought: he's scared of driving, great! Driving is dangerous especially for teenagers. No rush. He can learn as an adult. But, as a mom, I believe my main job is to help him become independent. Driving is a huge part of independence and it's therefore also my responsibility to help him conquer this fear. Besides, I need him to drive! Having to pick him up from a late practice, while making dinner and picking up my two other boys, is just about killing me. This  actual first lesson was simple and aimed to instill confidence. We practiced starting and stopping, breaking and accelerating smoothly (at up to 15 miles an hour), and turning. I'm happy to report, he did beautifully. We didn't crash into any trees! By the end, he was beaming with self-confidence and belief that he will master this important skill.

As I complimented his figure-eights, he asked me a question which made me pause. "Was your first driving lesson like this mom? Did you do this well?" I thought about it. I racked my brain. But for the life of me, I couldn't remember my first driving lesson. "Really mom? How can you forget your first driving lesson?" he was shocked. "I know. I didn't crash, so it must have gone well," was my unsatisfying answer. I stopped myself from sharing with him my next thought: he probably won't remember this moment thirty years from now either.

This is where genealogy comes in.

William and Ethel Bloomfield (the "whinny,"
distracting tot) with the Model-T Ford.
Read more about Minnie's car accident
in Stored Treasures, A Memoir.
Significant events in our lives, such as bar mitzvah's, weddings and yes, getting our driver's license, are all part of our story. Many have long lasting affect on who we are. In the same way we enjoy re-living them with our children, they enjoy hearing and learning from past. But how many of us take the time to record these moments? It occurred to me, that my son's question, is a great writing prompt for my memoir project. Before he asked, I hadn't thought to include learning to drive in my own memoir or in the ones I'm challenging my friends and family to write, but I should. If my sixteen-year-old is interested, then other teens are interested as well. We can all relate to this almost universal. It also exemplifies cross-generational shared experiences and how they changed over the years. Most of our parents taught us to drive without a guide book. My mother, learned to drive at thirteen. How scary is that? (In 1961, it was legal to drive that young in Texas). My great-grandmother learned to drive as an adult, the early 1920s, when Ford made the price of cars accesible and my great-grandparents bought their first model-T (for about $200 dollars). She crashed, early on, shattering the windshield, while driving only fifteen miles an hour. She was distracted by her "whinny" five-year-old daughter. Things have changed. Minnie struggled with a distracting tot. My son has to learn to drive with the added distractions of cell phone and texting (which the pamphlet wisely recommends to power-off during driving lessons).

I thank my son for reminding me that it's both the milestones and the little things which make for great writing prompts. I also thank him for participating in genealogy without noticing and despite his stated "non-intrest." I hope that in thirty years from now, he will appreciate I documented his first driving lesson, and can share this post with his children. I promise to ask my parents about teaching me to drive. Maybe they can help jolt my memory so I can add a driving chapter to my own memoir.

Do share your first driving stories with us! Does it belong in a memoir?