By: Steve K. Walz, Jewish Press Israel Correspondent
Date: Wednesday, August 03 2011
Jewish genealogy is no longer a passing fad. The combination of genetic research by scientists, the unearthing of various genizot all over the world, and good old-fashioned groundwork by academicians and people just curious about their heritage has led to some fascinating personal discoveries.
Itzhak Fouxon, an assistant professor of physics at Tel Aviv University, has taken the process one step further with his work for the Am HaZikron Institute, which assists Jews in finding familial links.
In an interview with The Jewish Press, Fouxon explained the genesis of the project and its ultimate goals.
The Jewish Press: How did this project get started and why?
Fouxon: This story began about thirteen years ago when Alexander Jonathan Vidgop, one of the founders of the Am HaZikaron Institute, starting from thirty-five relatives known to him, found 1,500 additional people who were related to him and thus created his family tree. While working on his genealogy, he paid attention to the fact that, though many of his relatives were unaware of the existence of other family branches for nearly 100-120 years and were living not only in different countries but even on different continents, their spheres of activity and life stories were not only very similar but often repeated themselves.
These peculiar facts could be a strange coincidence, but they provided the initial impetus for the Am HaZikaron Institute of Science and Heritage of the Jewish People, located in Israel, to start collecting the material to check similar strange coincidences in other Jewish clans.
What are some of the more fascinating discoveries you’ve made?
The research proved that every Jewish clan has some dominant features that do not change through the ages and thanks to which each Jewish clan has its own unique existence and survival strategy. Further analysis has shown that each Jewish clan has its own special mission in this world, which practically every member of the clan carries out steadily (often being unaware of it).
How do people get involved with your project?
We would like people to get interested in their family history and to let this history speak to them. Everyone will hear something unique, but there is a message there for all. We understand that there is an initial lack of information about family history and we help people in a number of ways to find this information. First, we provide a workshop – “Generations” – that lets the participants experience the history of the Jewish people via the history of their own families. Each participant gets a personal family name certificate that tells the origin of the name, who the first people were with that name, how members of the family migrated from country to country during the centuries and who were the prominent people from the clan.
This is made possible by performing a special research for each participant for two weeks prior to the workshop. In this way we give every Jew an opportunity to be introduced to the personal family history by filling the information gap in. People can get involved by participating in the workshop and supporting it as an important element of Jewish education and self-identification. The certificates can also be ordered via the Institute’s website, www.amhazikaron.org.
We also invite people to participate in the project via the website www.jewage.org. The site is built on Wikipedia principles, allowing Jews to build their family trees and to collect their family history artifacts together with their relatives from all over the world. An important element of this site is that it is trilingual, allowing the scattered families of Jews to unite by working on common roots. Uniquely, the users can ask questions and get help from us in researching the history of their families.
Finally, the community can get involved by supporting our projects that will benefit all of the Jewish people.
Tell us about the “Heavenly Jerusalem” project, which is generating an enormous degree of expectation.
“Heavenly Jerusalem,” which we are developing right now, is a multimedia web project that will help Jews find their place and the place of their families among millions of Jews who lived in the past and who are alive today. The project will aim to visualize in a single virtual space all Jews who were ever recorded in history, starting with Abraham to the present day. Jews will be visualized as stars of a virtual Heaven in accord with the biblical passage: “… I will multiply your [Abraham’s] offspring as the Stars of Heaven” (Genesis 23:17). The stars will be connected by rays signifying the family connections between the people these stars represent.
One will be able to discover the celebrities and famous people he or she is related to, and to experience the fact that all Jews are one big extended family by discovering how he or she is related to any other Jewish person. One will learn that the majority of modern Jews are descendants of a few medieval rabbinical families. Generally, this project will open our eyes to how closely related we all are.
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