Monday, August 1, 2011

Many Hands Make a Mitzvah

One of the satisfying things about my work with genealogy is when I am able to help another person make an important family connection.  As I have created two Kehilalinks, websites for others searching their family history, I often have the opportunity to do that.  It frequently takes many hands to make a mitzvah (a kindness for someone else) and a recent experience illustrates that well.

The first step in the making of a mitzvah was an e-mail that I received last November from the head of the Radom Society in Montreal.  He advised me of the discovery of 72 previously unknown Jewish tombstones that had been erected into a monument in the Jewish cemetery in Radom, Poland.  As most of the tombstones in the cemetery had been used by the Nazis to pave the roads, the discovery of intact tombstones was a very important event. His uncle Haim Kinczler, head of the Israeli Radom Society, had been instrumental in discovering these tombstones and assuring that they would be available to those visiting Radom, a huge mitzvah in itself.  The Israeli prison system and the Polish prison system collaborated with the help of Polish prisoners and a British/Israeli philanthropist to build the structure that houses the tombstones. For more information on this project see my prior post Unusual Collaboration Unveils Lost Tombstones.

When I heard about the tombstones, my first thought was that I needed photos.  The tombstones potentially belonged to the families of those researching family from Radom and I had the means to reach them through the Radom Kehilalink. With the information that was provided, I contacted a friend at the Resursa, the Arts and Culture Center in Radom.  I had met Jakub on my last visit to Radom when he secured the key to the former cemetery for me so I could visit it.  I asked him if he might be able to take photographs of the tombstones for me and he graciously went out to the cemetery in the middle of winter to do just that and sent me a CD with the photos.

I then needed to get them translated so posted a request for help on the JRI-Poland e-mail list.  Two volunteers did the translation.  One of the translators, an Israeli friend with ties to Radom did an additional step cross-referencing it to the Book of Residents, a kind of ongoing census that records family groupings.

Up until now I was choreographing, arranging for photos and translations.  Now my hands-on work began as I had to isolate each picture for a web album, clean up the information into a format for the web and build the appropriate pages and links to publish it on the site.  I also submitted the photos and translations to the Jewish On-line Worldwide Burial Registry which will add them to their database that is easily accessible to researchers.  Finally I completed the circle by sending an e-mail to JRI-Poland’s email list to announce its availability.

Now I had only to wait to see where it led and it didn’t take long.  I already knew that one of my translators had found a family member in the tombstones that he had translated.  This week I spoke with a woman who is planning a trip to Radom who had discovered the Radom Kehilalink.  She reported that in looking at this database she discovered her grandmother’s tombstone.  The links to the Book of Residents further added to the information on her grandmother.

In order to connect a woman in Detroit, the child of a survivor, with her grandmother’s tombstone in Poland, it took many Israelis and Poles to create the structure, someone in Montreal to communicate it, the help of my Polish friend to photograph, two translators, one American and one Israeli and finally me to organize the effort and build it into the website.  Many hands make a mitzvah.

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