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PAGE 8B HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, FEBRUARY 27, 2009 Tracing history: Genealogy vacations open up doors to the past The rooftops of Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. By Beth Shapiro Jewish News of Greater Phoenix We've heard romantic tales of the "old country" from our grandparents and have studied the black-and-white photOsof distant relatives in hopes of trying to find a fam- ily resemblance. The stories tug at our hearts, beckoning us to visit the foreign lands where our families lived for generations. Such trips were not pos- sible for years, due to the political and social climate of certain regions. Today, friendlier relations between the United States and other nations, along with easier transportation modes, make planning a trip to trace your family's past nearly as easy as the click of the mouse. In May 2007, two Phoenix couples, Larry and Fran Fra- zin, and Dolph and Sharron Evnin, enjoyed an 18-day trip to Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Belarus, to trace their families' roots. "In searching the Internet. I found a company called Lithuanian Tours." says Larry Frazin. "I discovered that not only did they do tours of Lithuania. they also had a group of tours from the Judaic standpoint. We negotiated a customized itinerary, which took almost a year to plan. We were on the move in a car everyday. It's not for the faint of heart because the sites are very dif- ficult for the heart. It's very emotional to see the graves and the camps." The foursome embarked on the trip with basic knowledge of their families' histories. "I did some research before the trip but I had a lot of dif- ficulty because I was spelling things wrong," says Dolph Evnin. "But I found out you had to use your imagination and change spellings of a lot of words to get what you wanted. It took me four years to find Zabelminkas in northern Lithuania because my mother was pronouncing it Vabolnik." Though he says the shtetl doesn't exist anymore, the group visited the Jewish cemetery in the area. "I didn't find anything because there are too many graves, all the headstones are in Yiddish and they're worn and pretty old. If I had stayed four or five days I might have found something." One of the trip highlights for Fran Frazin was visiting a new synagogue in Tallin, Estonia. "We happened to be there the day before the synagogue that was being dedicated. That was such a thrill for us." Lithuanian Tour seven- day packages start at $L100, excluding airfare: Internet research Jewishgen.org is the best place to start your ancestral search, if you are not sure where to begin. "Jewishgen. org is huge," says Larry Bell. executive director of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society, which has initiated a genealogy group thatmeets monthly. "The first thing you have to do is start with yourself and work back. You don't get to Europe until you do the research." Established in 1987, jew- ishgen.org is a Jewish geneal- ogy cyber-research tool that connects and reconnects thousands of people all over the world researching their Jewish roots. The site's grow- ing database offers people an opportunity to make discoveries through links to millions of records. "Once I got involved in genealogy, I realized I was really learning about myself andwho I came from and why my mother was the way she was, because her mother was the way she was and soforth," says Susan King, founder of the Web site. "It became a real socio-political-historicai lesson in who I am." In 1997, King and several family members traveled to Lithuania to trace their roots. "It was one of the most life- changing experiences that I went through," she recalls. "We were getting ready to leave Simnas. when this man comes runnmg up to us with arms flailing. It turns out that his father worked for the town's synagogue. He gave me the record player, which was used to the play the records for High Holiday services at the synagogue. He felt that somebody needed to have it. How do you describe that kind of experience?" Two years later. Shtetl Schleppers. Jewishgen.org's travel program, was launched to provide group and inde- pendent genealogical tours in Eastern Europe with visits to ancestral villages. "I don't think we've sent anybody .over there who hasn't come back saying, 'Wow.' It's one MURPHY B Our Offices Work The Night Shift In Less Than 60 Seconds You Can Convert Your Murphy Home Office System Into The Most Comfortable Bed In The House !! I[ Altamonte Springs South Orlando Clermont (407) 339-5077 (407) 850-9295 (352) 243-0031 www.MurphyBedsOrlando.com l Come Visit One Of The LARGEST Murphy Bed Retailers In The Country Nearly 20 Years In Business THOUSANDS Sold In Central Florida t! A goat wanders thing to go to Paris. It's an- other thing to go back and see where your family came from." King explains that signs of the old country are evident despite the modern cities. "Eastern Europe is changing very quickly now. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it was still pretty backwards. (There are now) three McDonalds inLviv, Ukraine. But you get out in the country and it's still very much like the way it was." Shtetl Schleppers group tours, withoutairfare, start at $2,500 for seven to eight days, with additional fees for independent shtetl visits. Finding routes to roots "My father, who died 25 years ago. came from Europe to the United States in 1929 when he was 6," says Phyllis Ruffer of New York City. "He had some very romantic memories of the old coun- try unlike those who left as adults. So I grew up with a very strong interest in where he lived. Khotin in southern Ukraine. As a result. I've been interested in genealogy and did some (research) on my own butI didn't get very far." One name that kept com- ing up during her search was Miriam Weiner. author of "Jewish Roots in Ukraine and Moldova" and "Jewish Roots in Poland." Weiner. the first Jewish genealogist to be certified by the Board for Certification of Genealo- gists, established Routes to' Roots. a company that offers in-depth archival research and customized shtetl visits in Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. "She found a whole bunch of people who fit into the tree including the names Kitover and Krepostman. a Khotina name that means 'fortress.' "says Ruffer. after she hired Weiner to do the research. "I wanted to go because I wanted to touch this place. I was really tied into it because of my dad and the stories I heard as a kid." Ruffer, whose maiden name is Nudelman. and her husband visited Khotin last October. It was an emotional and sad trip because she could not find specific.signs of her father's family. "I saw Nudelmans everywhere in the cemetery but none of my Nudetmans. There are 29 Jews left n Khotin, not a very impressive place now. In the old days it was much more of a center of Jewish life and an intellectual center." through an Eastern European Weiner says "a natural out- growthofknowing more about your family history is saying, 'I want to walk in the footsteps of my ancestors. I want to see what's left of these shtetlsY Weiner, who travels fre- quently from her home in New Jersey to another home in Mogilev-Podolsky, in southern Ukraine, says that the most important thing is to interview the oldest family members "even if it's a branch that's estranged and nobody remembers why they don't talk to that branch." She also suggests going through old photos and asking family members to write down the names of the people pictured. Another key bit of advice from Weiner is to determine the correct name and loca- tion of the town from which the family comes. "Many of the towns have the same name. One of my family branches comes from Semi- novka, and I think there are 17 places with that name. It's just like Centerville in the States. So you need to make sure you're going to the right place." The Routes to Roots fees for research and costs for cus- tomized trips are dependent upon each person's interest. Contact mweiner@routesto- roots.com for more details. Italian connection Amalfi Life (amalfilife. corn) offers group and cus- tomized tours to people in Jewish cemetery. search of their southern Italian roots. "Jews were expelled from Spanish-held territory in southern Italy... about 50 years after they were expelled from Spain and Portugal (in 1492)," says Laurie Howell, co-founder of Amalfi Life. "It is well docu- mented that therewere at least 30,000 Jews in Sicily along and 100,000 Jews from Rome and south, including Sicily. And at that time, they only counted heads of households. There is evidence of Jews on the Amalfi coast since 1100 and probably earlier than that." During an Amalfi Life tour, people will be guided through Sicily and Calabria by Rabbi Barbara Aiello, the first fe- malrbhi inky and leader of Synagogue Lev Chadash in Milan, the first progressive/ liberal synagogue in Italy. Dr. Laura Supino, an architect. historian and special guide to the Museum in Rome's Great Synagogue leads the group in Rome. The trip includes visits to the archeological sites of ancient synagogues in Bova Marina and Ostia Antica as well as I! Timpone, the old Jewish quarter in Nicastro. Cost of a seven-day, eight- mght Amalfi Life group tour is $4,885 per personbased on double occupancy, excluding airfare. Reprinted with permis- sion from the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix, www. jewishaz.com. photos courtesy of the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix In a Ukrainian synagogue.