Sticks and Stones

The venerable Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who passed away this week, was a beloved leader of the Los Angels Jewish community. I heard his sermons at bar mitzvahs when I was growing up, and much later had a chance to meet him when he invited me to give a talk on the Klimt case at Valley Beth Shalom. He was a super, kind, intellectual rabbi. And yet, I occasionally found myself disagreeing quite strongly with him, as I did when he wrongly spoke out against the Los Angeles Opera’s performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle, which I had supported in an Op-Ed.


On the day before he died, the Jewish Journal published a poem by Rabbi Schulweis concerning genocide and violence against African Americans, written for this past year’s high holiday services. It begins with the familiar schoolyard trope “Sticks and stones may break my bones / But names will never harm me.” Never mind that the version I grew up with ended with “But words can never hurt me.” I have always found comfort and strength in this mantra, and it dove-tails nicely with my libertarian views supporting the First Amendment.

But not Schulweiss: “False, false we Jews have learned” is his next line before he goes on a tirade against hate speech, which he says “materializes into lethal weapons,” invoking the Holocaust and all subsequent genocides (47 in number, he says), a “litany of civilizations’ broken covenant.”

False? My favorite schoolyard saying is false? And worse, it leads directly to massacres, rapes, torture and genocide?

I don’t think so.  Schulweis, may he rest in peace, completely missed the point of “Sticks and stones.” The saying was never meant as a license to hurl insults. Rather, it is all about defense. “But words can never hurt me.”  Not you, me. Of course words can hurt. That’s what everyone feels. But the saying teaches us to deflect the injury — not to let words hurt you. By doing so, you regain the upper hand, without stooping to the same level as your attacker. My opponent’s words have no effect on me. They cannot hurt me. I am above being hurt by words. So go on and hurl insults. I have nothing to fear from you.

How noble a sentiment. How empowering. And how Jewish! For thousands of years we have been insulted and taunted. Has it stopped us? Has it caused us to discard our faith? Our people? No. Words can never do that.

What exactly is Rabbi Schulweis preaching? That we should treat hate speech like a hurled stone? That we should fight back? That violence is the appropriate response to words that hurt us? After all, if words are so hurtful and dangerous that they can lead to genocide, wouldn’t they deserve our greatest sanction? The schoolboy who punches the kid who taunts and teases him would have every justification. After all, the words hurt.

There is no denying that sticks and stones can break our bones. Against those we must defend differently. But words can be neutralized and defeated without resorting to counterattacks and violence. That is what we should try to teach our children.

Heinrich Heine was a better poet and I like his line better: “Where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people as well.” For my taste, that’s the more Jewish outlook. Think of all the murder done by people who want to protect the world from people who say things they don’t like. Isn’t that the real source of genocide?

The great Jewish Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis understood this, perhaps better than Rabbi Schulweis, when he wrote the following concurring opinion in Whitney v. California (1927), which I find still valid and truly inspiring, notwithstanding the Holocaust and 47 smaller genocides that followed it. Rabbi Schulweis was an amazing person. But I am sorry to say his last poem got it wrong.


Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that, in its government, the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end, and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness, and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that, without free speech and assembly, discussion would be futile; that, with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government. They recognized the risks to which all human institutions are subject. But they knew that order cannot be secured merely through fear of punishment for its infraction; that it is hazardous to discourage thought, hope and imagination; that fear breeds repression; that repression breeds hate; that hate menaces stable government; that the path of safety lies in the opportunity to discuss freely supposed grievances and proposed remedies, and that the fitting remedy for evil counsels is good ones. Believing in the power of reason as applied through public discussion, they eschewed silence coerced by law — the argument of force in its worst form. Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.

Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears. To justify suppression of free speech, there must be reasonable ground to fear that serious evil will result if free speech is practiced. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the danger apprehended is imminent. There must be reasonable ground to believe that the evil to be prevented is a serious one. Every denunciation of existing law tends in some measure to increase the probability that there will be violation of it. Condonation of a breach enhances the probability. Expressions of approval add to the probability. Propagation of the criminal state of mind by teaching syndicalism increases it. Advocacy of law-breaking heightens it still further. But even advocacy of violation, however reprehensible morally, is not a justification for denying free speech where the advocacy falls short of incitement and there is nothing to indicate that the advocacy would be immediately acted on. The wide difference between advocacy and incitement, between preparation and attempt, between assembling and conspiracy, must be borne in mind. In order to support a finding of clear and present danger, it must be shown either that immediate serious violence was to be expected or was advocated, or that the past conduct furnished reason to believe that such advocacy was then contemplated. 

Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence. Only an emergency can justify repression. Such must be the rule if authority is to be reconciled with freedom. Such, in my opinion, is the command of the Constitution. It is therefore always open to Americans to challenge a law abridging free speech and assembly by showing that there was no emergency justifying it.

Moreover, even imminent danger cannot justify resort to prohibition of these functions essential to effective democracy unless the evil apprehended is relatively serious. Prohibition of free speech and assembly is a measure so stringent that it would be inappropriate as the means for averting a relatively trivial harm to society. A police measure may be unconstitutional merely because the remedy, although effective as means of protection, is unduly harsh or oppressive. Thus, a State might, in the exercise of its police power, make any trespass upon the land of another a crime, regardless of the results or of the intent or purpose of the trespasser. It might, also, punish an attempt, a conspiracy, or an incitement to commit the trespass. But it is hardly conceivable that this Court would hold constitutional a statute which punished as a felony the mere voluntary assembly with a society formed to teach that pedestrians had the moral right to cross unenclosed, unposted, wastelands and to advocate their doing so, even if there was imminent danger that advocacy would lead to a trespass. The fact that speech is likely to result in some violence or in destruction of property is not enough to justify its suppression. There must be the probability of serious injury to the State. Among free men, the deterrents ordinarily to be applied to prevent crime are education and punishment for violations of the law, not abridgment of the rights of free speech and assembly.

Gaza is not a Nazi concentration camp or ghetto

warsaw-ghetto-children2During this summer’s war in Gaza, I have heard and read otherwise intelligent people making an ignorant comparison of Gaza to Nazi concentration camps.  For example, the author Lawrence Weschler, an old family friend of mine whose grandparents fled the Nazis, accused Israel of “confin[ing] 1.8 million Gazans within what might well be described as a concentration camp.” Not an extermination camp, he explained, but “one cannot help but liken the conditions today in Gaza to the sorts of conditions once faced by . . . Jews and gays and gypsies at Dachau and Theresienstadt in the years before the Nazis themselves settled on their Final Solution. After another friend of his complained about the comparison, he wrote a second piece suggesting thata fitter analogy might be to the Warsaw Ghetto.”

Notwithstanding the fact that there has been a proliferation of Holocaust museums, including the one I helped build in Los Angeles, perhaps the terrible reality of the Nazi period is still evading the consciousness of the world.  The fault may be in how we set up our museums.  Mostly we avoid the real terror, the stench of death, and skirt around the horror of what transpired to instead give a somewhat more palatable, sanitized version of the Holocaust fit for masses of school children and adults who otherwise would be offended. What other explanation could there be for the type of wanton ignorance that would compare Gaza with Dachau, Theresienstadt or the Warsaw Ghetto?

Here are just some of the facts:

Gaza has a population of 1.8m people in a 139 square miles (360 km2, or a density of about 13,000 per square mile (5,000/km2). This is about the same density as Chicago, Boston or San Francisco, and only 25% the density of cities like Paris, Athens, Hanoi or Calcutta.  People are not starving, disease is not rampant and untreated, and mortality rates are not abnormally high. For example, “[t]he infant mortality rate is ranked 104th, at 16.55 deaths per 1,000 births.” There are 640 schools in Gaza serving 441,452 students.

Of course during the month-long war, as many as 2,000 may have been killed and 10,000 injured. Gaza is a war zone and there is no doubt that Gaza faces a humanitarian crisis in the coming months. But it is very thankfully not a Nazi concentration camp or ghetto.

The Warsaw Ghetto held 400,000 Jews in an area of 1.3 sq mi, or a density of 300,000 per square mile, 23 times the density of Gaza. In just two months in 1942, 254,000 were sent to Treblinka and exterminated. But even without counting the extermination, the mortality rate in the ghetto was astronomical, due to overcrowding, malnourishment and rampant disease. During 1941 deaths rose from 898 a month in January, to a peak in August of 5560, and right through to May 1942 where 3,636 died. The average monthly mortality rates for the seventeen months January 1941 – May 1942 was 3882.  That is nearly 1% mortality per month over a period of a year and a half. And again, that is not counting the ongoing deportation and extermination of almost the entire population.

Theresienstadt, the so-called “model ghetto,” at one point reached a population of 58,491 in a fortress built for 7,000, for a density comparable to Gaza, but without the housing to accommodate them. Sickness and malnutrition led to mortality rates comparable to the Warsaw Ghetto. Out of 160,000 prisoners sent to Theresienstadt between 1941 and 1945, 35,409 died in the ghetto due to hunger or disease, 88,129 were deported from there to extermination camps and out of these just 4,136 survived. Infant mortality at Theresienstadt was nearly 100%, because it was forbidden for women to bear children. (Survivor Vera Schiff recounts in her memoirs that as a teenage nurse she was required by a doctor to smother a newborn baby, because if it had lived to the morning, the mother, child, doctor and nurse all would have been executed.) Education of children in Theresienstadt was prohibited and could only be undertaken clandestinely. Men, women and children were housed separately. On November 11, 1943, the Commandant ordered all 40,000 prisoners to stand outside in freezing weather for a census. About 300 prisoners died of hypothermia as a result. This is just a small taste of the terror of being a prisoner in Theresienstadt.

Dachau concentration camp was a prison for men. Prisoners lived in constant fear of brutal treatment and terror detention including standing cells, floggings, the so-called tree or pole hanging, and standing at attention for extremely long periods. There were 32,000 documented deaths at the camp, and thousands that are undocumented. Typhus epidemics and forced death marches killed thousands. At the time of liberation, the death rate was 200 per day.

I have tried to set forth just a few of the terrible facts about the Warsaw Ghetto, Theresienstadt and Dachau, just three of a network of dozens of camps and ghettos the Nazis set up throughout Europe. In our museum in Los Angeles, we have displays for 12 ghettos and 19 concentration camps, in an attempt to give people some perspective on the enormity of the Nazi persecution and extermination of Jews. But what we cannot do is show people exactly what it was like to be in these hellish places, because it is simply too terrible, too disgusting, too unbearable for ordinary people to be confronted with such horror. Still, we need to do a better job, so that people come away from our museums with the perspective necessary to understand the difference between a place like Gaza, where people are living under terrible conditions, and places like the Warsaw Ghetto, Theresienstadt and Dachau under the Nazis, where people were dying and being murdered.

That’s Not Expressionism

I went this week for the second time to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see the big new exhibition entitled From Van Gogh to Kandinsky: Expressionism in Germany and France. I had high hopes for this show. Thanks to the Robert Gore Rifkind collection at LACMA and the Galka Scheyer collection at the Norton Simon Museum, Los Angeles can boast the best collection of Expressionist artwork anywhere outside Germany and Austria. A blockbuster international show highlighting the Expressionists would be a welcome antidote to the steady stream of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist exhibits at LACMA and most other American museums.

The show presents a vast array of works by artists associated with the two German Expressionist groups Die Brücke (The Bridge) and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider). The main argument of the show is that these artists from Germany — Kirchner, Heckel, Nolde, Pechstein, Kandinsky, Marc, Macke, Jawlensky, Schmidt-Rottluff and Feininger — were influenced by the artists in France — Van Gogh, Matisse, Gaugin, Derain, Dufy, Picasso, Rousseau, Signac, Braque, and Cézanne. Indeed, the wall panel introduction asserts the “conversation” between Germany and France was the “most significant” influence on the Expressionists.
While the artworks presented certainly demonstrate that the German artists imitated the Post-Impressionists and Fauves early in their careers, what is almost entirely missing from the show are any actual works that one might call Expressionist. By focusing on only the color palette, and not the actual content of the works, the curators have entirely missed the point of what Expressionism was supposed to be.
Expressionism was not necessarily a new direction in art.  There were many precursors, including, for example, Grünewald, Goya, Turner and Munch, artists whose focus was on the expression of deep, often dark, mysterious emotions. The major French schools — Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Fauves, and Cubists — studiously avoided this type of heart-on-your-sleeve emotionality.   Perhaps the distinction is best explained, not by words, but by pictures.
Here are three works from 1910 by the Austrian Expressionists — Kokoschka, Schiele, and Schoenberg — all of whom were consciously excluded from this show.  
 kokoschka schiele_standing





These are all undoubtedly works that one would label Expressionist.  Now, what do they have in common with Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples (1893-94)?








What about Gaugin’s Polynesian Woman with Children (1901)?










And can you see a connection with Van Gogh’s Restaurant of the Siren at Asnières?

The Restaurant de la siren in Asniäres by Van Gogh







Ok, last one.  Can you see the influence on the Austrian Expressionists in Matisse’s Still Life with Red Rug (1906)?








The answer is: you can’t.  Of course, if you are trying to make the case that the German Expressionists were mainly influenced by the French, then you have to choose only their works that show that influence, which is what the curators of the show do.  Over and over again, the curators take works that are obviously imitations of the French, rather than the later works that we all have come to know as Expressionism.  The few exceptions in the show stand out like sore thumbs.

So, it is true that Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s 1909 Dodo at the Table really does look like a Matisse.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, «Dodo am Tisch (Interieur mit Dodo)»









But his Street Scene from 1913 really does not.











Wassily Kandinsky’s Arabian Cemetery (1909) really does almost look like a Fauve work by André Derain.








But his Sketch I for Painting with White Border (1913) really does not.










What is missing from this show is anything that shows what German Expressionism really was.  Fortunately, you can walk over to the Ahmanson Building at LACMA and see highlights from the Rifkind collection, including this 1919 Expressionist masterpiece by Otto Dix.

DixLedaSwan1919 LACMA Web







But you won’t find anything like it in the blockbuster Expressionism show.

The truth is that German Expressionism was not chiefly an outgrowth from French art trends. No doubt the Dutch (living in France) were a great influence.  The examples from Van Gogh and Van Dongen in the show really are terrific and certainly do point the way to Expressionism. But Expressionism as a movement was not really about the imitation or appropriation of the French color palette. It was the idea, not the style, that made Expressionism.

In sum, the Post-Impressionists made great innovations in style (palette and technique), which the artists in Germany who later became Expressionists all tried early in their careers to imitate and adopt. But the bottom line is that Post-Impressionist painters for the most part were still painting pretty pictures of pleasant scenes.  The Expressionists, when they finally hit their stride, were emphatically doing something completely different. The LACMA show is just an excuse to once again put together a blockbuster Post-Impressionist show (Van Gogh, Matisse, Cezanne, Gaugin, etc) with some derivative early works by the Die Brücke and Blaue Reiter artists. We’ll have to wait for a truly great show on Expressionism, one that does not limit its focus to just the German artists, but includes the Austrians too. Because you cannot explain works like Kokoschka’s 1913-14 Bride of the Wind by looking to France.


Answers to Geni Skeptics

Over and over again, I see the same questions and negative comments from folks who can’t seem to understand the beauty of the World Family Tree at  So, here are some answers to their issues:

  1. Someone stole my tree and put it on Geni.  You are confusing the different qualities of the word “my.” It can be used as a possessive, as in “that’s my wallet.” But it can also be used as an attribute, as in “red is my favorite color.” You can steal a wallet, but not your favorite color. When you say “my family tree,” it does not mean you own it. It just means that your name appears on the tree. You don’t own the facts on your tree.  You don’t own your mother and father, even if you call them “my mother” or “my father.”  So, no one can “steal” your family tree. Additionally, the law of copyright protects only original works of authorship. The basic facts on a family tree (name and dates and places of birth, marriage, death) are neither original nor authored by you. They are not protected by copyright. This is true even if you did a lot of work or paid a lot of money to compile the information. The bottom line is that anyone is allowed to create a family tree using the data on your family tree. So, get over it. Whoever added the information did you a favor. Now you don’t need to do it yourself.
  2. I found sooooo many mistakes on Geni.  Yes, there are mistakes on Geni, as there are on every family tree. Is your tree publicly available so we can check it to find your mistakes? The beauty of Geni is that you can find and correct the mistakes. Geni’s World Family Tree has 77 million connected profiles.  If only 1% of them have errors, that is still 770,000 mistakes. The fact that you discovered a few of them is no big deal. Did you try to fix them? Often you can just fix the mistakes yourself. Other times you can contact the managers or start a discussion on a profile to address mistakes. By allowing users to fix not only their own mistakes, but the mistakes of other people, the tree on Geni is quickly becoming the most accurate tree ever created. The same principle worked for Wikipedia. Initially, skeptics questioned whether a crowd-sourced encyclopedia could ever compete with and be as reliable as the professionally edited versions. Ten years later, the printed versions are obsolete and no longer being printed. Geni works the same way and with the same effect. After a while, the Geni tree surpasses and supersedes any other version.
  3. I want to be deleted.  No man is an island.  We all are part of the World Family Tree, even if we don’t want to be.  In general, you can’t boss other people around and tell them what to say and do.  Do you also go around to your friends and family and tell them not to talk about you? Do they listen?  So why do you think it is appropriate to do that on Geni?  You have two options: either ignore it if it bothers you, or join Geni and take over the management of your own profile so you can do with it what you want.
  4. I want my family member deleted.  This is a variant of the one above.  You say “I don’t care for myself, but my sister wouldn’t want to be on the Internet.” Please.  Let your sister take care of herself.  You aren’t responsible for her.  And all living people are private on Geni anyway.  Read Geni’s privacy policy.
  5. I want my children deleted.  Another variant of the above.  Why would you want your children deleted?  Do they not exist?  Why deprive them of their ancestry?  The answer is the same as for the previous ones.  You can’t boss people around and tell them who they can and cannot put on the World Family Tree. So just get over it. Besides, all living people are “private” on Geni already. Read Geni’s privacy policy. In most cases, if you ask the manager, they will remove your kids. And Geni policy is to remove them upon request. But someone will add them back in sooner or later, so it’s really pointless.
  6. Geni is dangerous because it will lead to identity theft.  First, there is no such thing as “identity theft.”  You don’t wake up one morning and say “Who am I?  Someone must have stolen my identity!”  What people call “identity theft” is merely garden variety fraud. The most common kind is the use of credit card information, ordinarily stolen in bulk from some merchant or individually by a store clerk.  Neither of these require the use of genealogical data. Another type of “identity theft” is when someone applies for a credit card in your name. This ordinarily is perpetrated by someone you know, someone with access to your mail, who also knows your address and phone number and social security number.  Usually it is someone living in the home.  Again, since the person already knows you and has access to all your information, there is no need to use an online genealogy source to perpetrate this type of fraud.  In the many years I have been following this issue, I have not heard of a single case of “identity theft” (or any crime) involving the use of an online family tree.  Not one.  But I bet you are still worried.  This is not because of any real risk, but of something called narcissistic paranoia.  People imagine that the world thinks they are as important as they feel themselves to be.  But trust me, with 7 billion people in the world, no one really cares about you.  No one is targeting you for fraud. Get over yourself.
  7. On Geni you lose all control of your tree.  Yes. That is what works so well. You collaborate with other people and together you solve problems, fix mistakes, make breakthroughs and build a better tree. Geni is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with millions of people working together at the same time on one single puzzle. If you are a control freak, and can’t work with other people, Geni is not for you. If, when you were in Kindergarten, you got a “Needs Improvement” in Works Well With Others, then Geni is not for you.  But remember, that beautiful little tree that you spruce up and polish and admire is going to simply disappear into oblivion when you are gone.  No one is going to care.  Eventually, someone will put all the data on Geni and no one will ever look at your work again.  No one.  But go on having fun hugging your tree.  You might want to put your private tree on MyHeritage, since that site works well for personal trees.
  8. I have a huge tree and don’t want to take the time to put it on Geni. This is a legitimate issue. But here’s the story. What you think of as a large tree is really very small. What do you have, a few thousand profiles? Geni’s World Family Tree has 77 million and is adding more at a rate of 7 million per year. Any personal tree with more than a few thousand profiles most likely is built by importing Gedcom files and adding data that is already on Geni. The problem is that Geni had to disallow importing Gedcom files because it caused too much duplication. But the problem you have is solvable. First, just start your tree again on Geni. Very soon, you will find a match with part of the existing tree. Then you can take advantage of the work that has already been done and not have to re-enter that part of the tree. With any sizable tree, you will find duplicates very quickly. Second, make sure to invite your family members to the tree so that they can assist in re-building it on Geni. This is one of Geni’s strengths, because everyone can work together. Last, ask for help. There are a lot of folks on Geni who love to just help people enter data. Start a discussion or ask a curator for help. Trust me, it is doable. There is some pain involved, but in the end you will be happy you took the time to migrate your data over to the Geni platform so that your tree can be part of the World Family Tree.
  9. There is no quality control on Geni. False. Geni has over 100 Curators whose job it is to help users resolve issues and to clean up messes in the tree. This is another unique feature on Geni that does not exist at any other collaborative tree program.
  10. I don’t want my ex-husband on my tree.  You should have thought of that before you married the jerk.  Seriously, the issue here is that genealogists have traditionally used marriage records to help identify people and discover genealogical data. This has made the marriage itself genealogically significant. So, even if it was just a few bad years for you, genealogists will want to include your marriage on the tree. Practically what this means is that you have to share your tree with your ex. Geni will keep living profiles private from ex-spouses and anyone else you remove from your family group. Some people still hate this. But it’s just something you have to get used to. On Geni, the goal is to have one single tree with everyone, so it doesn’t make sense to have ex-spouses working on separated trees. Especially if there are children from the marriage, it just doesn’t make sense.
  11. I have a problem with how Geni works. We all do. Geni is just a small company with a tiny staff that works very hard to keep the platform running. There are about a thousand pending improvements that we are all clamoring for.  Go to the Geni Help Desk and request an improvement.
  12. There are no sources on Geni. Geni is a place to build your family tree. Geni’s parent company, MyHeritage, competes with Ancestry in offering (for a fee) access to billions of records and other data sets (like US census records). On Geni, you can also pay to access the data on MyHeritage.  When there are record matches with data from MyHeritage, you can attach those records to your profiles on Geni (just as you can if you build your tree on Ancestry).
  13. The trees on Geni have no sources and are just copies of trees found elsewhere.  This may be true for some parts, but many parts of the World Family Tree are very well sourced. It just depends on who is doing the work and how much has been done. There are people who have added many thousands of documents and photos to the tree. (See the Geni Top 10 Lists to see who has done the most.) Bottom line is that the World Family Tree on Geni is only as good as we make it. If you have sources that aren’t on Geni, then go ahead and add them. What are you waiting for?
  14. I can’t figure out how to use Geni. There is a learning curve on Geni and in the beginning it can be steep. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a Curator.  Also search the Geni Wiki and the Knowledge Base at the Help Center.  Trust me, we’ve all been there. Not all of it is intuitive. But the good thing is that Geni is a very flexible tool. Pretty much anything is possible and all problems can get solved.  So be persistent and don’t give up.
  15. How do I stop someone from changing my tree?  If there’s a problem with vandalism, you can report the user from his profile page under the Actions menu, or contact a Curator. But if it’s just that you want absolute control, that’s something that Geni doesn’t allow. Geni is all about collaboration and working together. If you can’t stand the idea of someone adding or changing something on the tree, stay away from Geni. Of course, you’ll be missing out on the most exciting thing to happen to genealogy in the last 100 years, but that’s your choice.
  16. Who can get access to change my profiles?  A good question. Because of the various levels of privacy, there are several ways of getting access. If you are in the “family group” of the manager, that will give you the most access. Under the Actions menu on the manager’s profile page, you can request to add someone to your family group. You can also “collaborate,” which gives you the ability to edit only the public profiles of the other manager. Generally, deceased profiles should be public, and living ones private. Public profiles are searchable on Google, which is a great way for people to find your tree.
  17. Geni has all this fantasy stuff, Adam & Eve, Odin, Zeus, even God Almighty, and I don’t want my tree connected to such things.  Part of collaborating is allowing other folks to do their thing. Sometimes it strikes us as bizarre. But seriously, who cares? Most of us have plenty of trouble dealing with just the past few hundred years. If others want to make believe and work on fantasy trees from thousands of years ago, just ignore them and leave them alone. With over three million users connected to the World Family Tree, there are going to be more than a few crackpots. But you have to take the good with the bad. Working with others in the parts of the tree you care about is the main thing.
  18. The Geni tree is completely unreliable. Again, it depends where you look and who is doing the work. In the area I focus on, Austrian and Czech Jewry, the tree is incredibly accurate and reliable and includes tens of thousands of sources and documents added by dozens of users who work nearly every day to improve the tree. If you think you are the world’s expert on some part of the tree, and you haven’t put your work on Geni, then you only have yourself to blame. Geni is not the place to find the answers to your genealogical problems (although it often does have them), but rather it is the place for you to share your answers with others. Geni works because the best way to conduct any type of scientific research is to make your hypotheses public and allow others to check your work. Geni makes this possible like no other platform. See my earlier post On Certainty in Genealogy.  So, bottom line, either roll up your sleeves and get to work, or just be quiet and keep it to yourself.  There’s plenty of work still to be done and nobody likes the guy who just sits on the sidelines with his arms crossed criticizing all the other people who are actually doing the work.
  19. I’ve used another site and it’s better.  It’s pretty clear you have no idea what you are talking about. Those of us on Geni also use all of the other sites. We wouldn’t be on Geni if there was something better. There’s simply no comparison with the competition. The other collaborative trees are much, much smaller. Remember, the World Family Tree on Geni has over 77 million profiles and over 3 million connected users.  The World Family Tree is growing at a rate of 7 million profiles per year. And Geni also has millions of as yet unconnected trees added by millions of users. By comparison, WikiTree has just 7,395,539 profiles from 169,417 members. WeRelate has just 2,548,000 profiles. FamilySearch (operated by the Mormons) just started its collaborative tree, and it’s not certain how large it is, but it will be tough for them to catch up. The Mormons are industrious, but Geni already has an incredibly comprehensive Mormon family tree. (According to the Geni Forest Density Calculator, there are over 125,000 profiles within just seven steps of Brigham Young.) OneGreatFamily claims to have a big tree as large as or larger than the one on Geni, but I don’t know of anyone who uses it. It is not publicly searchable on Google as far as I can tell, which makes it a bit useless. Bottom line is that Geni has a big advantage over its competitors in terms of the size and number of users, which makes it really the only place worth putting your tree.
  20. I am a serious professional genealogist and people like me don’t use Geni.  Wrong. There are plenty of fabulous genealogists using Geni, including many professional genealogists. But you know better. You logged in one time in 2007, didn’t add any of your family, made a couple of searches and didn’t find the data you were seeking, and never came back. You don’t believe in sharing genealogy for free because, after all, that’s how you make your living. You have never tried to work with a client by using Geni to collaborate with him on his tree. You found a mistake on Geni and therefore decided the whole thing is worthless. (See #2 above.) You didn’t bother to try to fix the mistake because you’d rather criticize Geni than actually do genealogy. You think you are the greatest genealogist in the world, but you have no clue because you have never worked on a collaborative site like Geni and seen how other genealogists work. There are folks on Geni who do more serious genealogical work before breakfast each morning than you do in an entire week. But you wouldn’t know that, because you are too old-fashioned to try something new. You like to badmouth Geni to others because it threatens you and your livelihood. You are right to be afraid.
  21. Geni is a for-profit company and I won’t give my information to them so they can make money off of me. Geni is a small company with a handful of employees, now owned by MyHeritage. It makes enough money from subscriptions to keep itself going, but not much more. Your own contribution is negligible among the millions and millions of profiles on Geni.  So don’t worry about anyone making tons of money off your work. If you are under the illusion that your contribution to the World Family Tree is that valuable, see the comment about “narcissistic paranoia” above (#6) and just focus on the narcissism part, or better yet, look up “delusions of grandeur“.
  22. Geni might go out of business and then all my work will be lost. Your work will be lost anyway. Trust me, as soon as you’re gone, that tree on your hard drive will never be looked at again. That private website you pay for? Gone within months. Only if you publish is there some hope of your work outlasting you. An online tree is an easy place for most people to publish their work. Geni’s World Family Tree is a unique asset that will certainly continue to grow and have some non-negative value to whichever genealogy company owns it. Of all the trees being built today, it has the greatest chance of being maintained far in the future. You can also eliminate any short-term risk of data loss by exporting Gedcom backups from Geni. The real risk is in refusing to share or publish your data. What would you have to show for all your work if your home were to burn down? Have you ever considered that?

Disclaimer:  The views expressed above are my own and are not necessarily the views of Geni or its parent company MyHeritage.

Ich bin Österreicher

Today I was awarded Austrian citizenship. Last year Austria passed a new citizenship law (Section 64a Abs. 18 StbG) that allows children born between September 1, 1964 and August 31, 1983 to an Austrian mother to apply for citizenship. The deadline for application is April 30, 2014. Several years ago, my mother, who was born in New York in 1940 to parents who had fled from Austria, convinced the authorities that they should award her Austrian citizenship retroactively. I am not sure this was a normal application of the law, or if they made some exception for her. In any case, this meant that technically my mother was an Austrian citizen when I was born. Unfortunately for me, at the time of my birth, Austrian law did not allow a child to inherit citizenship from your mother.


As an aside, my father’s parents, also Viennese, had Czechoslovakian citizenship when they fled from Germany in 1933. Although my grandfather Arnold Schoenberg was born in Vienna in 1874, he was not able to obtain Austrian citizenship after World War I because of discriminatory anti-Semitic laws that prohibited “Eastern” Jews (from Hungary, Slovakia, Galicia, etc) from obtaining Austrian citizenship. Arnold had inherited from his father the status “zustaendig nach Pressburg” (meaning he had official residence rights only in Pressburg/Bratislava), so he automatically became a citizen of Czechoslovakia after WWI. More recent restitution laws have corrected this injustice, but not posthumously, so my father is not entitled to Austrian citizenship. So I had to rely on my mother’s status.

1689170_10151963463601270_1426601067_nIn any case, I applied under the new law, which was a bit cumbersome (FBI fingerprint reports, apostilled birth and marriage certificates, a biometric passport photo), and just today received my certificate awarding me retroactive Austrian citizenship. The good news is that I can now pass citizenship on to my children. The ones under 14 require only an application, while the older one first needs to pass a basic German test and a quiz on Austrian history. But once they are citizens, they can study and live anywhere in Europe. I figure that this might come in handy for them someday.

If anyone else is in the same boat, I urge you to contact your nearest Austrian consulate and get your application in before the April 30 deadline.

Schoenberg drought continues

Almost two years ago, I blogged about the fact that the Schoenberg Violin Concerto had not been performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  (Actually it had been performed just once, in December 1974, with conductor James Levine and violinist Zvi Zeitlin.)  Well, the orchestra programmed the piece for this month.  But the performance was cancelled when both the conductor Christoph Eschenbach and the soloist Christian Tetzlaff, cancelled due to illness.

Next season’s program will be announced in a couple of weeks and we’ll have to see if the now twelve-year drought in Schoenberg performances by the LA Philharmonic on a regular subscription concert will continue.  I don’t think there is another major orchestra in the world that has avoided playing Schoenberg for such a long period.  Most of them perform Schoenberg’s music quite regularly.  Only in his adopted home-town is he so mistreated.  Very sad.

On Certainty in Genealogy

In June, I wrote an article on collaborative genealogy for Avotaynu.[1]  In recent articles, Israel Pickholtz and Sallyann Amdur Sack-Pikus have responded by raising concerns about collaborative genealogy, especially as it is practiced on the leading collaborative genealogy platform[2]  Both authors suggest that genealogy on Geni is not for the “serious/accomplished/seasoned genealogy researcher.”  In his most recent article, Pickholtz uses the term “serious” no fewer than five times to describe his differing approach.  Elsewhere the authors describe their opposing genealogical method as producing results that are “authoritative,” “definitive,” “verified,” “proven,” “fully vetted,” “accurate,” “validated,” “correct” and “certain.”  The implication throughout these articles is always that the genealogy that I and others do on Geni is none of these fine things.  So certain is Pickholtz that his, and only his, method leads to truth that he defines his own mantra, and the lesson he would have us teach new genealogists, as “if it might be wrong, it doesn’t belong.”

In fact, the problem is a philosophical one.  The “serious” genealogist, as defined by Pickholtz and Sack-Pikus, is a positivist.  He or she believes that empirical genealogical facts can be conclusively verified as true by following prescribed rules.  The Genealogical Standards Manual of the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), and other such manuals propounded by groups of professional genealogists, is a positivist attempt to set forth such rules.  As a lawyer, I find the positivist approach very appealing.  It is comforting to begin with the rules set forth in code books and precedents and think of the practice of law as merely an application of the rules to the facts of the case.  But as a scientific approach to determining empirical facts, positivism leaves a lot to be desired.

Let me explain.  Positivists set up rules for interpreting evidence and assume that these rules lead to “verified” results.  In a court of law, a judge will exclude hearsay or documents that lack foundation (a verified source), in order to prevent consideration of evidence that might lead to an incorrect result.  Similarly, in the Genealogical Standards Manual you can read about “unsound presumptions – concepts that may be valid, but cannot be accepted as true without supporting evidence.[3]  As the first example of an unsound presumption, the BCG lists “A man’s widow was the mother of all (or any) of his children.”[4]  Now, a positivist following prescribed rules, and interested only in facts that can be “verified” according to those rules, might be able to dismiss and exclude for lack of corroborating evidence the possibility (even the likelihood) that a man’s widow is the mother of his children, but that isn’t necessarily the best scientific approach for a genealogist trying to make an educated guess at the mother of those children.

There is another approach, which I will call the “sophisticated” approach, to differentiate it from the “serious” approach propounded by Pickholtz and Sack-Pikus.  Genealogy is the science of assembling empirical genealogical facts such as “A is the son of X and Y” or “B is the sibling of C” or “X is the husband of Y”.  The sophisticated genealogist understands that there is no scientific method that can definitively determine the truth of any genealogical fact.  Rather, as the great 20th century philosopher of science Karl Popper, a critic of the positivists, suggested, the best that one can say about any posited empirical fact is that it has not been falsified, that there is no evidence suggesting it is incorrect.  Take, for example, the fact that “Y is the father of A.”  A serious genealogist, following a positivist approach, might say that this fact has been conclusively determined to be correct because it has been verified in a birth certificate, a document presumed under the Genealogical Standards Manual to be true and correct.  Of course, the sophisticated genealogist knows that paternity is a tricky thing.  Sometimes the father listed on the birth certificate is not in fact the biological father.  What appears true and correct to the serious genealogist is for the sophisticated genealogist merely a likely possibility, not yet disproved or falsified.

A sophisticated genealogist would never say “if it might be wrong, it doesn’t belong,” because the sophisticated genealogist understands that every assertion of an empirical genealogical fact might be wrong.  No matter how many genealogical research standards are applied, the empirical truth of observed facts can never be conclusively determined.  There is always a chance that the evidence has led to the wrong conclusion.  So, when someone asks me, as they often do with regard to genealogical profiles on Geni, whether I am certain that something is correct, I always answer: “I am never certain of anything!”  I am always looking for new evidence, open to the possibility that something I had believed to be true has been falsified in some way.

For good reason, Karl Popper’s approach of empirical falsification is today much preferred by scientists over the positivist approach.  If genealogy is the science of assembling empirical genealogical facts, then empirical falsification may be the best philosophical framework for a sophisticated genealogist.  I think of every genealogical fact I put on Geni as a hypothesis waiting to be tested by other genealogists.  If they find a fact that tends to disprove the hypothesis, it is easy to change the hypothesis to fit the newly discovered fact.  That flexibility is what I like about Geni.  Contrary to what those unfamiliar with Geni, like Pickholtz and Sack-Pikus, have presumed, Geni does not use an algorithm to merge or change any profile.  All changes are made by humans and are viewable by other users.  Each profile includes a “Revisions” tab that records any changes that were made, so prior hypotheses can be revisited.  Geni curators are not authoritarian arbiters of correctness, but rather facilitators who help other people discuss and resolve or preserve differing views on the Geni platform.  For example, to answer one of the criticisms of Sack-Pikus, there is a trick that curators can use for people who were adopted, so that you can have two sets of parents, biological and adopted.  I have used this for the poet Richard Beer-Hofmann, whose mother died in childbirth leading to his adoption by his mother’s sister, who was married to his father’s nephew/first cousin.  It’s a complicated family, but on Geni you can show all the relationships, a necessity for historians trying to figure out ambiguous references to family members in the poet’s biographical writings.

Pickholtz dismisses the analogy to Wikipedia, but he misunderstands the argument because he is stuck in the positivist philosophical framework.  Wikipedia and Geni are not mechanical arbiters of objective truth according to some positivist rule book.  Rather, they succeed because they are platforms that allow scientific collaboration by many millions of people, each presenting empirical facts and testing hypotheses.

The underpinning of the sophisticated approach is to always add ever more documents and sources so that others can retrace the steps and test the hypothesis. I have personally uploaded about 14,000 documents to Geni.  The ability to allow others to recreate an experiment and independently assess the evidence is at the heart of the scientific method.  The results of this type of scientific collaboration on a shared platform are clearly superior, leading to more discoveries and more correction of mistakes.  From his website, Pickholtz is thrilled to receive a note from another researcher “every few months.”  On Geni, I receive about five messages per day related to work I have done.  The work on the tree is never-ending and continuous.

Genealogy can be done in many different ways and collaborative genealogy on Geni is not meant to supplant or replace other forms of genealogy.  If you like, you can and should keep your own file, whether written or digital, for keeping certain types of records and work in progress.  I have nothing against websites like Pickholtz’s, or even the obviously silly way he attaches percentages of certainty (30%, 50%, 90% etc.) to various speculative connections.[5]  I find all types of assertions of genealogical facts interesting and useful.

So, as a sophisticated genealogist, if I were asked, as Pickholtz was, what advice to give to new genealogists, I would say: have fun.  Don’t be dour like the serious genealogists.  Make the best guesses you can, based on the facts at your disposal.  But don’t fret too much over whether every fact you set forth in your tree is correct or not, or whether it is verified according to someone’s rule book of standards.  No one, not even the serious genealogists, can conclusively determine the truth.

[2] I. Pickholtz, “Getting It Wrong,” Avotaynu XXIX, No. 2, p. 21; S. A. Sack-Pikus, “As I See It,” Avotaynu XXIX, No. 3, p. 2; I. Pickholtz, “Concerns about Geni and Other ‘Collaborative Genealogy’ Websites,” Avotaynu XXIX, No. 3, p. 14; S. A. Sack-Pikus, “Collaborative Genealogy: Some Cautions on an Exciting and Useful Advance,” Avotaynu XXIX, No. 3, p. 13.

[3] The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (2000), p. 11 (emphasis in original).

[4]  Ibid.

[5] See (viewed November 28, 2013).

London’s National Gallery Shows Nazi Loot

This article has been published on Al Jazeera.

It might be news to some that London’s National Gallery is featuring an unreturned Nazi-looted painting from Austria in its current show “Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900.”  Gustav Klimt’s beautiful unfinished portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl, herself a Nazi victim, was owned by Amalie’s friend, the widower and Jewish sugar baron Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer.  In March 1938 Ferdinand was forced to flee Austria, and survived the war in Zurich, Switzerland.  He died in November 1945.  As he explained in his 1942 will, his “entire property in Vienna [had been] confiscated and sold off.”  His heirs never found or recovered the portrait of Amalie.  For the rest of the story, see  Al Jazeera.

Amalie Zuckerkandl

Prague Blog #7

October 6, 2013

On our last morning in Prague, I took a quick walk around the Jewish quarter and ended up in the Robert Guttmann Gallery to view an exhibition on propaganda films made in Theresienstadt.  Watching the films, seeing the faces, often close-ups, of the young and old people who would soon, most of them, be murdered in Auschwitz, was heart-breaking. Of all the memorials and cemeteries I had seen on the trip, this made the most impact on me.  Perhaps it was also because I left Nathan in the hotel and went there alone.  When you are alone with your won thoughts, it is easier to connect emotionally with the material.  I see this also in our Holocaust museum, when people have the audio guides on and in their eyes you can see the emotion as the story hits them.

These propaganda films have naturally been criticized for not showing the truth about Theresienstadt.  But there is something actually quite subversive about them, and I can understand why the Nazis never released them.  The town was prettied up for the film and all of the old and sick people were taken out of sight.  Instead, the film shows relatively happy-looking, fit and comfortable people just going about their daily business, watching a concert or a soccer match, reading a book on a park bench, hanging out in the dormitory-like bunks.  In all, they look perfectly normal — which of course raises the question:  what the hell are they doing being locked up in a prison-ghetto?  Why are all of these nice, normal, well-mannered, happy people being treated like criminals.  The Nazis could never have released the film because it would have undermined the entire premise of their extermination campaign.  This film is the absolute opposite of the the stereotyped anti-Semitic caricatures of Der Stürmer and of the Nazi propaganda films like Jud Süß.

Perhaps the prisoners realized the subversive nature of the film and played along, with the hope of demonstrating to the Nazis how good and normal they were.  But the performance was too good.  Rather than demonstrate how well the Jews were being treated in this supposedly “model” ghetto, the film put the lie to the entire Nazi enterprise.  Of course, one would need to know the context these days to understand the film in this manner.  All one needs is the coda, used also at the end of this exhibit, that 60% of the people remaining in the camp in the Fall 1944 were deported and murdered at Auschwitz, as many as 24,000 in one month.

I do not want to end this blog on a downbeat.  The trip itself was fabulous, the weather was perfect, the people were universally friendly.  Really, the whole thing could not have been better.  Nathan really loved the trip and loved spending time with me, and I know I will always remember this trip I took with him.  I think he got a sense of where he came from and how he got to where he is today.  You can’t ask for more than that.


Prague Blog #6

October 5, 2013

Michaela picked us up with Hana early this morning at 7:00 am for the drive down to Ckyne.  Prague is beautiful at all times of day, but especially in the morning when things are quiet and the sun is coming up.  As we headed south, the road took us through a pastoral landscape of low, green, rolling hills fenced off into small farms with random clumps of forest here and there.  Every few miles we passed a small village or could see one in the distance.  Ckyne is about two hours south of Prague.  We passed through Strakonice, once the fez capitol of the world.  As we approached Ckyne the hills got larger and steeper, the road curved more and the scenery became more green.  We first passed through Volyne, a town that looked like it might have about 5,000 people.  A few minutes and hairpin turns later we arrived at Ckyne.  The town was larger than we expected. We were told there were 3,000 people living there.  Michaela stopped at a market to ask for directions to the new synagogue.  Make a left and another left and you will see it.  Sure enough, there it was, bright and shiny in its brand new white paint job.


We were early so I got to look around a bit.  The building was immaculately restored. There was a small prayer room at the top, used when it was too cold downstairs.  This will be the permanent home for the old torah they found in the attic.  Downstairs in the main sanctuary, they have repainted as best they could the design they found for the are around the ark.  The place looks terrific, very comfortable.  They built large cases on the side for exhibits about local Jewish history.  They look like giant closets when closed up, really a terrific design and very practical, with shelves behind glass on top and pull-out drawers underneath.

IMG_0931The services began around 10am and lasted almost three hours.  Over 100 people attended, far exceeding any expectations I had.  There were representatives of other old Ckyne families: Wedeles, Wudl, Fantes, Sittig and Nathan and I represented the Blochs. The services were led by a wonderful singer named Michal Foršt. He lives in Prague also acts as a cantor for the small congregation in Liberec (Reichenberg).  Michal was wonderful, explaining and performing and reading in Czech and English, guiding everyone through a somewhat traditional service.

IMG_0924The old torah scroll found in the synagogue was used for the service, even though it is a bit damaged.  One of the attended was Anna (Kineret) Sittig, a rabbi from Amsterdam.  She was called into service to help with the torah, which was not rolled to the correct portion (Noah, near the beginning).  I got up and helped her roll the old torah until we got to the right place.  It was really very exciting because obviously the torah had not been used in about 100 years, since the community disbanded and sold the building (long before the Nazi era).  And it was fun to think that probably our ancestors had used this very same torah.

Michal called Nathan up to do some of the prayers before the torah reading, and then Nathan was called for the first aliyah, the prayer before the first reading from the torah. Having Nathan there made everyone very excited, I think, because they all started to take photos.  I couldn’t resist joining in.  I put a video up on facebook of Nathan saying the prayer following the torah reading.  More photos from the trip are in the 1, 2, 3 facebook albums I made.


Julius Müller acted as gabay and helped figure out all the various people to call up for the remaining aliyot.  A man from Germany, Hermann Löffler, who had helped support the restoration of the synagogue, was called asked to call out the names. After Nathan, I came up, then the Sittigs and Wudls and also a friend of my fellow Geni curator from Israel, Rafi Kornfeld, was touring in the region and came to join us.  The last aliyah was given to everyone in the community, so we all stood up around the old torah as Michal read from it to conclude the torah service.

The service was long, and with most of it in Czech or Hebrew, sometimes my attention flagged.  At one point I actually got disappointed because I was missing the smell of an old building.  I wanted some sense that the old congregation had been there.  The place felt too new somehow.

IMG_0989After the service, many of us were invited by Jindra Bromova, the woman who organized the entire restoration project and this event, to the local hotel restaurant for lunch.  Nathan passed on the trout, but I actually liked it even though I don’t ordinarily eat much fish.  After lunch, we all went to the outskirts of town and climbed up to the old Jewish cemetery.  It is on a hill enclosed by a high wall that has broken down in one place so you can easily walk in.  The tombstones were recently cleaned (by Matana, I heard) and looked white and polished.  I could not find Rabbi Bloch’s grave, until I took out my blackberry and went to the Geni page and found a photo.  I realized it was against a wall and then Alex Woodle showed me exactly where it was.  Not with all the rest of the graves, but completely separate, along a wall about 10 yards away, his grave stood almost alone, lined up with some much later graves of children who had died young.  I did not understand this, since he died in 1850.  Later I asked Achab Haidler, a wonderful man, and actor by profession, who has helped catalogue many Jewish cemeteries in the region, and he thinks the grave was moved, or perhaps the plaque with his name fell off and someone attached it to a different grave along the wall.  He said he would investigate further.  You can hear Achab on this video of the Ckyne synagogue.  Achab can read all the tombstones, a very difficult task, and he even made a catalogue of the cemetery in Ckyne.   I should also mention Jan Podelsak, a local man who had been IMG_0957working to rescue the old cemetery and the synagogue for about 20 years.  In fact, I recalled coming to Prague in 1996 and getting a poster about saving the Ckyne cemetery that he must have designed.  Jan was clearly very moved by the tribute to him and seeing his long dream fulfilled.  He is a local hero there in Ckyne.

We returned to the synagogue at 4pm for a concert led by Michal Foršt and his band of musicians from Prague.  They began with a lengthy spoken introduction about my grandfather Eric Zeisl (whose grandmother was from Ckyne), followed by a performance of several of his works: Menuhim Song for violin and piano, Shepherd’s melody for Clarinet and piano and two songs for baritone (Ein Stundlein wohl vor Tag and my mom’s favorite Stilleben).  This was well received and then followed by a very entertaining series of Jewish standards (Romania, Halavai, etc).  Michal is truly a great performer (and he said he had a cold, but we didn’t notice at all).

The restoration of the Ckyne Synagogue was obviously a group effort with many people involved.  Jindra’s business partner Vladimir Silovsky was extremely nice and showed me all the work that had been done.  The mayor was there too, and Jindra said he had dedicated one million Czech crowns to the project (about $50,000), which is quite a large sum for such a small town.  Many people came from all over the region to attend the ceremony.  An elderly Jewish woman, apparently the only one in the entire region, came to attend also.  She showed me her mother’s Jewish star and other family documents.  Apparently she had survived as a hidden child. I met a British girl, Natalie, from Cesky Budejovice (Budweis) who came with some local friends of hers that she had met.  A Czech-Swiss woman said she had read about it on the Internet and decided to come from Basel.    There was a film crew and the rededication made the evening news in the Czech Republic.

We left just before Achab Haidler conducted a Havdalah service, because we had a two-hour drive back to Prague and both Nathan and I were exhausted.  Michaela drove us back through the scenic villages and countryside to the shining lights of Prague, with its castles and churches all lit up against the evening sky.  This has been an incredible trip for Nathan and for me, one that I am sure we both never forget.  I hope to return to Prague and the Czech Republic soon, to see all our friends and relatives, and to explore in more depth the home of 3/4 of my ancestors.  I am coming away with a much better mental picture of the world that they lived in, and a real connection to their lives, which was my goal all along.