Searching for One’s Roots

It’s great to see Jewish Action devote attention to the topic of genealogy. Bayla Sheva Brenner has written a number of meaningful pieces on the topic, most recently an article exploring the Orthodoxy of a handful of families who arrived in the US in the early part of the twentieth century or earlier (“Unbroken Faith: American Jewish Families Who Defied the Odds,” spring 2016).

Growing up in my Orthodox family, I often heard that the Harrises had come to America in the late-1800s. I knew bits of information about my great-grandparents from both sides, and some of the stories that were told over. Four years ago, I started genealogical research.

After repeat visits to the Bayside Cemetery in Queens where I discovered the graves of many Harris family members, and after spending time scrutinizing records on a number of genealogy sites, I found additional relatives, my family’s original name (it had been changed to Harris), our family’s town of origin in Poland and stories that would interest not only family members but others as well.

The high point was one Motzaei Shabbat, turning on the computer and reading a Hamburg-outbound ship log from 1887. I looked line by line for my great-great-grandparents, having only their first names to work with. The log was in German, but readable, and I found their first names with their last names somewhere after entry no. 50 in the ledger. Bingo.

While genealogy can become a consuming hobby, replete with sleuthing, it’s really about wanting to connect to the past and the future. It reminds us to take charge now of what messages and meaning we will impart to the generations that will follow us.

Being a photographer and filmmaker with an active interest in genealogy, I started The Family Documentary Project (http://judahsharris.com/family-documentary-project) to help other families explore their history and ponder the best ways to share a coherent and accurate message with those who will want to know about us—and thereby themselves—in the years to come.

Judah S. Harris
Kew Gardens Hills, New York.


Women Leaders

Your section on eight dynamic women leaders was most interesting (“Women Leaders Speak . . . about Their Work, Their Choices, Their Lives,” summer 2016). Other examples could be added to this roster of accomplished women who make a difference in the Jewish world. My nomination goes to Rebbetzin Pearl Borow.

Pearl has taught a variety of classes on Chumash, Navi, Ketuvim and other Judaic subjects for more than   sixty years. Her students, in the US and in Israel, range from those with little or no Judaic background to those who are fluent with texts and commentaries, and have included all ages, from youth to seniors. She is a true role model, representing a forever-young senior citizen who continues to learn, reminding us
that learning and teaching know no age barriers.

Estelle P. Harris
Jerusalem, Israel


I enjoyed the recent symposium on women leaders. However, I was perplexed by the choice of participants. Not to detract from the eight amazing women who shared their stories, I counted two campus educators, two journalists and at least two women involved in adult education, but not even one woman involved in Jewish day school or high school education. As our community is blessed with a plethora of fantastic women who serve as principals, administrators and teachers in the Jewish school system, I am baffled by the oversight.

Obviously, those in the educational field rarely make headlines for what they do on a daily basis. However, if leadership is about showing others the possibilities that lie before them and giving them the tools to attain those possibilities, then few do it as often or as effectively as those working with our children every day.

Aaron Ross
Bergenfield, New Jersey


A Beloved Teacher

I delighted in the recent musings about my former English teacher Dr. Susan Katz, aka “Miss G.” (“Tribute to a Teacher,” fall 2016). About twenty years after Miss G. had been my teacher at Esther Schoenfeld High School, she was my “boss” at Shulamith High School for Girls in Brooklyn. Working for her was a pleasure. Dr. Katz always looked for something positive to say to teacher and student alike. She was erudite, fun and firm in her convictions. The curriculum was enriched with trips, performances and unique experiences like an annual trip to a production of Gilbert and Sullivan and a staff-student baseball game.

Shoshana Zakon
Brooklyn, New York


A teacher holds a very special place in the lives of young people: a teacher can make or break a child’s love of learning and desire to explore the world’s wonders. I remember well a trip my family took to Sweden when I was in college, and my father made a special point to find and introduce us to his elementary school Ivrit teacher—a Hungarian refugee from Nazi Europe who instilled a life-long love of Hebrew literature and language in the scant few Jewish students living in Stockholm. So it was a great pleasure to read your tributes to teachers—and to find my own beloved English teacher, Susan Katz, among them.

You missed a portion of her pedagogical life—Dr. Katz taught high school English in HILI in New York (now HAFTR). She opened our eyes to the beauty of literature, poetry and theater. We presented plays—with great verve, if not talent—for the whole community; we learned to analyze and appreciate poetry and fine writing. But perhaps most important of all, she was the first English teacher I ever had who wore a hat, and who was able to share with us her joy of combining love of Torah studies and secular studies. It was a lesson I carried forward to this day, and I have Dr. Susan Katz in many ways to thank for it.

Barbara Lehmann Siegel
Chair, OU Commission of Synagogue and Community Services
Silver Spring, Maryland

This article was featured in the Winter 2016 issue of Jewish Action.