PUBLICATIONS
Interview excerpts:
  1. Living Jewish
  2. Jewish Genealogy
  3. The Jewish Traveler

Book excerpts:
  1. Jewish Roots in Poland
  2. Jewish Roots in
      Ukraine and Moldova


Living Jewish
She Returns to Family Roots to Research Other's Past

By Steve Lipman, The Jewish Week

Miriam Weiner (right)
and Larisa Mazurenko, director of the museum in Ostrog, Ukraine, examine a list of Jewish students, one of the many documents in an extensive collection.

Miriam Weiner, a Jewish genealogist who lives in Secaucus, N.J., wants to buy a second home but the commute will be a killer. Her future residence, a two-story cement building on a secluded woody hill, is located on the western border of Ukraine. It's three miles from the town of Mogilev-Podolski, a six-hour drive from the nearest major city, Kiev, capital of the republic.

If Weiner buys the home, which is owned by two Jewish businessmen and was used as a vacation dacha by Communist officials before Ukraine became independent in 1990, she will become the first member of her family to live in the region for nearly a century. Her maternal grandmother, for whom she is named, left in 1894.

Weiner is returning to Ukraine, once a center of Jewish life, as president of Routes to Roots, an independent genealogy research service.

Weiner a syndicated columnist, one-time private investigator and legal secretary has set up a satellite office in the 10-year-old house during her frequent trips to the pair of republics over the last few years. She has stocked it with a computer, printer, fax machine, photo copier, reference books and various household items fax machine, photo copier, reference books and various household items.

Now a familiar face in Mogilev-Podolskiy, she has made friends in the town's 400-member Jewish community. I really feel at home," says Weiner, who carried boxes of matzah and other Passover foods as gifts during her last trip in March. She goes again in June, her 16th sojourn to the former Soviet Union in the last four years. Weiner, who says she is the first private Jewish genealogy researcher to receive unlimited access to the archives in Ukraine and Moldova, will make month-long trips there at least four times a year as part of her research.

Accompanied by an interpreter, she travels by car through the heart of the former Pale of Settlement working on behalf of American and Canadian Jews who are interested in their family trees and ancestral hometowns. Weiner's worksites are a few dozen unheated, unventilated state and local archives. Her resource: stacks of record books, some dating back to the early 1800s, some in good shape, some in pieces, that hold such personal data as births and deaths, marriages and divorces, draft notices and immigration applications. "There is more [available] than we ever dreamed," says Weiner, who has personally inspected many of the archive facilities. She also has access to Jewish records in Poland to determine their holdings.

"There is very little organization," she adds. "Archives in these republics do not have the sophisticated research mechanisms which we take for granted, such as computerized listings of documents, copy facilities as we know them, office supplies with which to conduct day-to-day business, adequate telephone/fax facilities." Weiner makes copies of documents on a portable photocopy machine and stores the archival inventories on a laptop computer. Because the archives lack a Western-style banking system, she pays with American currency, reference books and office supplies. Fax machines are popular tender. Cooperation? "Wonderful," she says. All the local officials and townspeople, non-Jews, have opened their doors to her efforts. "People have a civic pride and want to help you. I've never experienced any anti-Semitism."

On her second visit to Ostrog, a town in western Ukraine, the director of the local museum offered to show Weiner a locked storage room. "I didn't expect to find anything Jewish in the museum," she says. To her surprise, she saw in the room a floor-to-ceiling trove of Judaic items, including cupboards full of holy books and close to 100 old Torah scrolls. "They were taking very good care of the items."

During her visits to hometowns of her clients' forebears, Weiner videotapes interviews with municipal officials and ordinary citizens. She takes pictures of Jewish cemeteries and often-deserted synagogues, and brings back such local mementos as telephone books and postcards. "People have a burning desire" to find out about the life their relatives left behind, Weiner says. "It brings them closer to their roots to see a document with their family's names on it."

All of her grandparents came from Ukraine, including her maternal grandmother, Miriam Odnopozov, who was born in the town of Priluki and immigrated to Brooklyn. "I think they would be proud that I have such an interest," Weiner says. In Mogilev-Podolskiy, she has attended meetings of a Holocaust survivors' organization. She has sung and danced with the town's Jews. Some invited her to a seder this year. "The people are happy to see me someone who cares about their past," Weiner says. "They're interested in what I'm doing.

"When I am in Mogilev-Podolskiy, I feel like I could be in one of my grandparents' towns," which she has also visited, Weiner says. "I feel a strong connection to my family roots. I understand the sacrifice my grandparents made, leaving behind everything they knew."

___________

Excerpted from an article published May 28, 1993 in The Jewish Week.
Reprinted with permission of The Jewish Weekin New York, New York.


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