All posts by Philip

Looking for a house in Germany

It’s no secret that there has been a large increase in antisemitic incidents across Europe in recent years. No one I’m sure missed the events in France last month, where in addition to the murder of eleven employees of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo (and a Muslim policeman outside the office building), a different terrorist two days later murdered four people in a Kosher supermarket on the outskirts of Paris.

You probably also heard about the murder of five (originally it was reported as four, but one victim later died of their wounds) people in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium in May of last year. The terrorist believed to have carried out that attack was later caught in France, having French and Algerian citizenship, and having fought in Syria for ISIS before returning to France in 2013. If convicted he would be the first European to have gone to fight for ISIS and then to have returned to Europe to carry out an attack.

You may, however, have not noticed an event that happened last summer in a city called Wuppertal, Germany. Last August, three men, whose roots are Palestinian, firebombed the Bergische Synagogue in Wuppertal. The synagogue was originally burnt to the ground by Nazis during Kristallnacht in 1938, and had been rebuilt only in 2002. The synagogue did not burn to the ground this time, luckily, which is probably why the story did not receive a tremendous amount of mainstream coverage. The court proceedings were recently held, and the three men were found guilty of arson, but amazingly the court declared it was not an antisemitic act (presumably such a declaration would have been similar to the US hate crime designation which would have increased the punishment). The terrorists were given suspended sentences and ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service. I wonder if after the original synagogue was burnt to the ground, the courts then also gave a slap on the wrist to the perpetrators? Maybe they didn’t punish them at all in 1938, so this is I guess an improvement? It’s incredibly scary that terrorists can throw molotov cocktails at a Jewish house of worship, and it’s not considered a hate crime. If things continue to deteriorate in Germany in particular, and Europe generally, this moment might be looked back upon as a turning point where hate crimes were justified and allowed to happen without serious punishment. Certainly the next terrorists in Germany who are thinking about attacking a synagogue will decide the risk is low for them, since these terrorists only got community service as punishment.

So what does all this have to do with a house? and genealogy? I don’t hear about Wuppertal very often, so when I do it of course focuses my thoughts on my family that used to live there. My grandfather had two uncles that lived in Wuppertal. They both fled Germany as soon as they could after Kristallnacht, one making it to the US and one heading to British-Mandate Palestine. The one who made it to the US was a prolific collector of family photos, which I am grateful for in my genealogy research. One photo I came across many years ago was a photo of his house in Wuppertal:


It’s hard to read the street name, at least for me. I couldn’t find the street name easily online. I thought perhaps the name had changed over time. I then remembered that years ago I found an old map of Wuppertal (then called Elberfeld-Barmen) which had a list of streets:


I found the map years ago, and have long forgotten where I found it, but had kept it with a folder of historic maps that I keep on towns where I had family. Taking a look at the street list, I came across Katernberger Strasse, in squares D1 and D2 on the map. Remember using grid squares to find locations on maps? People who have only known Google Maps and other electronic options, probably have never had to use grid coordinates on a map to find the street they want. In any case, armed with the name I did a search on, of course, Google Maps, and found the following:


Seems to be a match. Note that there are what look like light-rail tracks running down the street in the photo from the 1930s, while the current photo shows no tracks.  Interestingly Wuppertal is famous for having the world’s oldest operating monorail, the Wuppertal Suspension Railway, which started operating in 1901. In any case, the building now seems to be a restaurant. From what I can find online the photo from Google isn’t current, because that particular restaurant is no longer there.

I wonder what the history of that building has been since my family fled Germany. Who was it sold to when my family left? Who lived in it since then? When did it become a restaurant? Did the various residents of the building know that a Jewish family once lived there? Is there still evidence in the building of things like outlines of mezuzahs in some of the door frames?

Using Nikud (Vowels) in Hebrew on a Mac

I’ve written a couple of articles in the past about using Hebrew on your computer, specifically Finding Hebrew Fonts and the more niche Trick to use Hebrew and Yiddish in Adobe InDesign. Although using Hebrew on one’s computer is fairly simple, one thing that is not so simple is adding Hebrew nikud (vowels) to your text. In Hebrew, unlike in English, vowels are written as a series of marks, generally below the other letters. An example from my article on fonts:


In the above text, the blue marks are nikud. In general nikud are not needed for advanced readers of Hebrew, and if you were to buy a Hebrew-Language newspaper or a book in a bookstore, none of them would have nikud, except for when the meaning of the word could not be determined otherwise.

Recently, I had reason to add nikud to a document, and I decided to finally figure out how to add them. Keep in mind, I use a Mac, so these are Mac-specific instructions. For general information on nikud, and codes that can be used on Windows, see the Wikipedia article Niqqud.

On the Mac, there are two keyboard layouts you can use for Hebrew.

First, there is the standard Hebrew layout that is what is used in Israel on all computers.

Second, there is something called Hebrew QWERTY, which maps the Hebrew letters to the closest sounding letters in English, so for example Reish (ר) is mapped to the R and Nun (נ) is mapped to the N. There are some useful shortcuts, like end-letters (in Hebrew some letters change form at the end of a word) simply being Shift and the standard key. For someone who works mostly in English and only occasionally needs Hebrew, Hebrew QWERTY is much quicker to learn.

Adding nikud to text can be done with either layout, although there are some differences. In both cases most nikud are added by using a special key combination, usually using Option (Alt) and a second key. In the standard Hebrew layout, most of the nikud map to Option and a number. For example, adding a kubbutz (which looks like three diagonally arranged dots – as in אֻ) is done by typing a letter and then the key combination Option-8. Just like Hebrew QWERTY tries to map the sounds of letters, it also tries to map the sounds of the nikud, so for the example above of the kubbutz, the key combination is Option-U (the kubbutz sounds like a U).

Hebrew QWERTY can use most of the key combinations from the standard Hebrew layout as well, although not all. All the Option-Number combination (i.e. 0-9) can be used on both layouts.

In order to make it easy to learn, I’ve created a chart that lets you figure out which key combination to use for each nikud. You can download it as a PDF and print it out for easy reference. The first ten combinations are shown using the letter Aleph (א) as an example, with the nikud added. When I write Opt-Sh I mean Option-Shift together with the key shown after it. The next two use a vav (ו) as the example, and the last two are specific to the sin/shin (ש). Most of these nikud can be used on many different letters. I have only added the most common nikud, although there are some more rare ones. For those, I suggest taking a look at the Wikipedia article Niqqud.

The chart is below. You can also download a PDF version if you want.


2015 IAJGS Int’l Conference on Jewish Genealogy in Jerusalem


The next IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy will be taking place July 6-10, 2015 in Jerusalem, Israel. It is the 35th conference, the first having been held in 1981 in New York City, and it is the 4th conference to be held in Jerusalem.

The conference will be taking place in the Ramada Jerusalem Hotel, not far from the entrance to the city (the same location as the 2004 conference). Before the conference, there will be a program on Shabbat (starting Friday July 3 and Saturday July 4) for those interested, and a travel day on Sunday (July 5) before the conference starts (on Monday).

The conference website is now up, and they are accepting registrations for those outside of Israel (registration for residents of Israel is coming soon). There is an early-bird discount for those who register up until April 14, 2015.

For those interested in speaking, they are now accepting proposals. You can propose a lecture (45 minutes), workshop (105 minutes in the computer lab), or panel discussion (105 minutes with up to 5 people on a single topic). Proposals must be submitted via the web site. Note that in my experience the system for submitting papers does not work in Safari on a Mac – use Chrome or Firefox instead. You can submit your proposal by going to the Speaker Service Center page on the web site, and filling out the form. Lectures can be in English, Hebrew or French.

The information you need to provide when filling out the form includes:

  • Full name, mailing address, email address, and telephone number of presenter(s)(If a panel proposal, details for each panelist are required)
  • Brief biographical sketch – (up to 50 words)
  • Summary of recent presentation experience (up to 150 words)
  • Title of presentation (up to 15 words)
  • Presentation type (lecture, workshop, or panel)
  • Brief description of the presentation (up to 150 words)
  • Audience skill level (beginner, intermediate, advanced or all)
  • Preferred language of delivery (English, Hebrew, French)

For some reason, it seems you must finish your proposal within about 20 minutes of starting it, or it will log you out, and your submission will be lost. As such I suggest figuring out what you’re going to write for each of the above entries in advance, and just paste each entry in when you open up the form.

Each speaker can submit up to five proposals, and a maximum of three proposals will be accepted per speaker. For more details on speaking, see the Call for Papers on the conference web site.