In 1978, several avid Jewish genealogists attended a talk by Arthur Kurzweil and learned of a new genealogical society in the New York-New Jersey area, led by Neil Rosenstein and Rabbi Malcolm Stern. Only one other Jewish genealogical society had existed in the 20th century, and that was in Berlin before the War.
In May of 1979, Esther Anguli-Profus sent out a hand-lettered invitation, “Genealogy Anyone?” for an organizational meeting in her home. Within two months, Mel Hanberg filed incorporation papers with the state of California to officially establish the Jewish Genealogical Society. Mel served as president for the first year, followed by Esther during the second year.
There was a great deal of interaction and cooperation among the first societies. They began to share resources and materials they developed with each other, and to host annual conferences right away, the first in New York, then Washington, D.C. It was Los Angeles’ turn in 1983, with 150 attendees, ten speakers, and field trips to seven research sites. JGSLA hosted another conference in 1990, with 266 participants, thirty presentations, and 80 volunteers. By 1998, when we hosted the 18th Annual Seminar, “Hollywood Chai,” 850 genealogists came from around the world, and we had 80 lectures, with four sessions offered simultaneously, and 85 volunteers to help make it run smoothly. The growth of the conferences reflected the growth of the interest in searching for our roots. Many birds of a feather meetings and special interest groups were organizing and internet groups were being established. A record number of such groups held meetings here in 1998.
We began to hold some of our meetings at the LDS Family History Library more than 20 years ago. Eventually the relationship led to an agreement to house our own library there, making it available several days a week for our members and the public. Our library has grown to 550 books, and from the beginning, we raised funds to purchase microfilms for the LDS library, including many ship’s manifests, and a large collection of Eastern European vital records.
Our members taught genealogy classes at the University of Judaism, beginning with Professor Steven Lowenstein in 1980, and at synagogues and community centers. They gave lectures for many other Jewish groups, helping us to build strong connections to other organizations in Los Angeles through the years. We have been able to donate funds for the purchase of genealogical materials for the UCLA, Hebrew Union College, and University of Judaism libraries. We always relied on our members to share their expertise by speaking at our meetings, and to assist others in their research. Our members developed many types of resource materials — annotated bibliographies, inventories of microfilms held in our local LDS Family History Library, lists of Yizkor books in the local libraries, a guide to local research sites, and a Beginner’s Guide. Chet Cohen compiled the Shetlfinder book, one of the first aids for Jewish genealogists.
We have been very fortunate to attract capable and creative editors for Roots-Key throughout the years. The first newsletter, called “The Researcher,” was published in December of 1980 — four pages, in which Mel Hanberg wrote about dispelling myths, such as “all the records were destroyed in the war” and “our name was changed at Ellis Island” — and we are still trying to correct these myths. Today our newsletter is among the top journals published by Jewish genealogical societies.
The fall of the Soviet Union made genealogical research possible for many of us, allowing much more access to Eastern European records. We have all had to learn to use computers, both to access genealogical information and to communicate with genealogists worldwide. Many of our members work as volunteers for internet-based groups to translate records and create searchable databases. We were able to donate funds earned by our last conference to JewishGen, Jewish Records Indexing-Poland (JRI-PL), and the Litvak Special Interest Group. These organizations made a significant contribution to our conference programs and helped us to bring archivists here for consultations.
I joined JGSLA in 1993, served on the board beginning in 1998, first as recording secretary, then as Program Vice President, and as President for the past four years. The presidents who came before me have helped me whenever I asked for help. The Board of Directors and many other volunteers have worked together to attract new members, to serve our faithful long-time members, and to make the activities of the society run smoothly.
By the end of the 1980s, we had over 200 members, and today we number over 600. There are 80 Jewish genealogical societies now around the world. As we have grown, the world has changed in important ways, and access to information has increased greatly, but the role of our society continues to be to offer face to face interaction among Los Angeles genealogists and outstanding programs, where our members have the opportunity to interact with experts in many fields.
We have always found leaders who are willing to invest in our society’s future, and members who will share their knowledge and skills. Who knows what changes will occur in the next 25 years – whatever they are, we will be leaving a legacy for our families, and for our community.
1st Vice President, 1999 – 2000
President, 2001 – 2004
My main contribution was in playing a key role in establishing the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles as a credible and enduring institution, for researchers in Jewish genealogy to pursue their craft successfully. I helped launch the organization and brought in professional speakers, and am highly gratified that my efforts continue to grow and bear fruit under others’ leadership 25 years later.
I just received the wonderful Roots-Key and the info for the program, and I am getting this to you ASAP before it gets buried in my primitive Casita here in Spain. It does my heart good to see the efforts of so many dedicated people that do their utmost to see this organization thrive. It is hard to believe it all started so modestly in my living room 25 years ago!!!
Please say hello to all my friends in LA.
All the best, Esther
Laura Klein – President 1982 – 1984
Herb Mautner – President 1986 – 1987
I joined the J.G.S.L.A. in 1979, and hold membership card #14. I joined the board as treasurer, when Laura Klein was our President. I was elected as your President for the years 1986 – 1987. The late Bert Spiszman was our membership chairman. He was a lovely man, and our membership grew to about 500 members. When Hal Bookbinder took over as President, I started the mentor program. It was specifically meant for newcomers to our society, who need help from our more experienced members. The old timers would list their expertise, and the newcomers would list their needs, and I would bring them together for further knowledge. I do not know if this program still exists today, since for the last couple of years my wife and I made aliyah to Israel, to be with our daughter, and her family in Kibbutz Hazorea. I would love to hear from some of our members.
Best wishes to your silver anniversary.
Norma Arbit, President 1988 – 1990
Gerry Winerman – President 1994 – 1996
I was president from 1994-1996. At the time I was installed membership was 350. My goal was to bring membership up to 500. We fell 15 short. I spent twenty years (hard to believe) on the board in just about every position. I also taught classes privately and at the FHL. While teaching classes I had the opportunity to see who was really interested in genealogy and asked them to join the board. Most of them did.
My greatest accomplishment was creating our excellent rapport with the FHL and having our library maintained there. What I got in return was a wonderful relationship with many people who have become some of my closest friends. What started as a hobby turned into a passion and then a profession. Serving on the board and doing genealogy has been one of the highlights of my life.
Sincerely, Gerry Frey Winerman
Ted Gostin – President 1997 – 1998
Hal Bookbinder – President 1991 – 1993, 2001 – 2005
I joined the JGSLA shortly after the 1983 conference and have been serving on the board since the mid-1980s. In 1988, president Norma Arbit tapped me to chair the 1990 conference and so the next two years of my life were devoted to its planning and execution. Everything was planned in great detail and it generally went off without a hitch…save one. It turned out to be the hottest week in LA history with several days above 104. Try as they might, the hotel air conditioning could not keep up. But, the folks at the Holiday Inn (now the DoubleTree on Wilshire) were great, regularly providing free ice cream and cold drinks. Once the conference was over, I was elected to the presidency of the society for 1991-1993. During this time, the society continued to grow and several important programs were established. One of these was a mentor program, assisting members by making other more experienced members available to them. Another program that we began was a series of pre-meeting tutorial sessions. These grew exceedingly popular, with attendance often rivaling that at the main meeting. On completing my term as president, I became the society webmaster and established and built up our website, www.jgsla.org. I also assumed editorship of the monthly Dates and Updates, which I continue to publish.
In 1998 we again hosted the annual genealogy conference, and I took on the role of Syllabus Chair. I created a “Jewish Genealogy Yearbook” as a section of the syllabus and have published it annually since. The yearbook describes the more-than-100 organizations involved in Jewish Genealogy, providing their contact information, history, and their activities for the preceding year. The yearbook has generally been included in the annual conference syllabus and is accessible on-line at the website of the IAJGS, www.iajgs.org. One aspect of the 1998 conference which is memorable to me is that we shared the Century Plaza Hotel with many in traditional Arab dress, who were in Los Angeles for the opening of the Culver City Mosque, one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere.
In 2000, I reprised my role as Syllabus Chair, but for the Salt Lake City conference hosted by the IAJGS. This syllabus included a bibliography of North American Jewish community books, listing more than 1,000 volumes which genealogists might want to reference in their research. The bibliography is accessible on-line at the website of the IAJGS. The syllabus also included a write-up on the long and colorful history of the Jews of Utah, and the current Jewish presence in that state.
I have served on the board of the IAJGS since 1993, in the positions of Webmaster, Listserv Manager, Treasurer, Vice-President and, since 2001, as President. The IAJGS has now grown to over 75 member societies all over the world with well over 10,000 individual members. I will complete my presidency in the Summer of 2005, passing on the mantle to my successor, and look forward to devoting more of my time to pursuing my own research, writing and lecturing.
Scott Groll – President 1999 – 2000
My interest in genealogy began in 1976, sparked by the TV Miniseries, Roots. It was hard going in those early pre-computerized days, but I had a great family resource in my grandmother, who knew absolutely everything about her side of the family by heart. I found JewishGen in its Fidonet infancy, and discovered the larger community of Jewish genealogists out there. In 1994, I moved back to Los Angeles, and Gerry Winerman urged me to join JGSLA, which I did with great enthusiasm. I joined the Board of Directors as soon as possible, and have been a proud member of the organization for the past decade, serving in a variety of roles on the board. My tenure as President of the Society began shortly after Los Angeles hosted “Hollywood Chai,” the 18th Annual Seminar on Jewish Genealogy, in 1998. I was Membership Vice-President then, and was deeply involved in the registration of conference attendees.
There were no groundbreaking milestones during my presidency, but I’d like to think that I have had a positive impact on some of our members. I have tried to be a mentor, and share whatever knowledge I have acquired along the way. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to be associated with JGSLA, one of the most professional volunteer-run organizations I have ever seen.
Congratulations on 25 years of outstanding service to the Jewish genealogists of Los Angeles and beyond. I expect great things as we go forward, and plan on being along for the ride.
Scott Groll (Member # 861, President 1999-2000)
My term as Roots-Key Editor was quite a while ago, but I still remember how rewarding that time was. When I took over from Ted Gostin, the previous editor, my philosophy was to make Roots-Key an all inclusive publication. I felt that it belonged to the membership and if any member submitted an article, then it was worth printing. My reward was receiving a wealth of information to share with our membership. Additionally, as an added perk to doing the job, I was able to read all the other genealogical society publications and extract information to add to our Roots-Key.
In 1994, during my term as editor, Roots-Key was entered in the National Genealogical Society’s Genealogical Newsletter Competition. I am proud to say that we won First Runner Up in the Genealogical Society Category.
I could not have done my job and produced an award winning Roots-Key without the people who worked on the publication with me. I want to thank Richard Hoffman, Marlene Kohn, Debra Korman, Ellen Lowe, Herb Mautner, Esther Profus, Dr. Carolyn Rosenstein, Dee Shkolnik, Walter Solomon, Herb Van Brink, and all the members who contributed articles that enriched each and every edition.
Debbi Korman, Editor 1995- 2002
I really enjoyed being Roots-Key editor. Every editor of our newsletter has built on the work of her/his predecessors. I had a very tough act to follow because Ellen Harris had done a particularly fine job as editor. Because JGSLA was so large and our members were so diverse in their ancestry, my goal was to create a publication that had something for everyone. Having predominantly Hungarian ancestry, I knew how frustrating it was to read Jewish genealogy newsletters that focused almost exclusively on items of interest to those of Polish and Russian background. I decided to avoid the journal approach of having a limited number of long articles on a theme or just a few topics, and opted for a newsletter containing many smaller items on a large variety of topics.
My editorial staff was comprised of Roger & Ellen Lowe and Carolyn Rosenstein and together we published a journal that was eventually recognized for excellence by the IAJGS. I am very proud of our accomplishment and I hope that JGSLA members enjoyed, and benefited from, the content of the Roots-Keys during those seven years.