2022 marks the 40th anniversary of the San Diego Jewish Genealogical Society!
In 1960, the late Rabbi Malcolm Stern wrote American Families of Jewish Descent, the first genealogical survey of more than 25,000 U.S. Jewish families. In the 1960’s, Alex Haley’s book and subsequent television series, Roots, showed that minorities could trace their family history. Dan Rottenberg wrote Finding our Fathers: A Guidebook to Jewish Genealogy in 1977 and showed that Jewish genealogy was possible. In 1980 Arthur Kurzweil wrote his inspirational book From Generation to Generation: How To Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Personal History.
Then in March 1982 Kurzweil came to San Diego to lecture about genealogy and discuss his book. During the question period at the end of the lecture, Ralph Berman asked the question, “How can we start a Jewish genealogical society here in San Diego?” Suddenly several people came over to Roberta (she’s the genealogist in the family) and Ralph and handed them pieces of paper with their names, addresses and telephone numbers. And so the San Diego Jewish Genealogical Society was born.
After the first few meetings in Roberta’s and other member’s living rooms, the group was able to move to a permanent home at Temple Emanu-El in Del Cerro. During that time the fascination with genealogy continued to grow.
By the following year, 1983, membership had increased to 26 members and about one-third of the membership attended the national Jewish Genealogy Seminar in Los Angeles. Since that time members have attended national and international conferences in New York, Chicago, Boston, Salt Lake City, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Las Vegas, London and Jerusalem. Closer to home were field trips to the UCSD Library and the National Archives branch at Laguna Niguel.
Founder Roberta Wagner Berman served as president until 1989, with a brief time out while Phyllis Darer was president. During her tenure as president, Roberta started the library with an initial order of six books. As the library grew she arranged to move it from her garage to the library at Temple Emanu-El. We now have more than 600 volumes, in addition to maps, newsletters from other genealogical societies and audiotapes and CDs of lectures.
Soon after LaVerne Fefferman joined the society, she mentioned at a meeting, “Someone should be writing all this down for a newsletter,” and so our publication, DISCOVERY, was started. The first issue appeared in November 1985, with LaVerne as the editor. Since then, each of our editors added their own special touch to the newsletter and we thank Roberta Berman, Wallace Rindskopf, Pam Rossman Monroe, Calvin M. Weil, Shana Egan, Carol Baird, Judy Gordon and Wayne Marcus. Wayne brought DISCOVERY into the computer age by instituting electronic delivery.
In 1989 Carol Davidson Baird assumed the presidency. Carol served for eight years and during that time we experienced a steady increase in membership, from 36 to 101 members. We also incorporated to our present non-profit, tax-deductible status. As the Jewish population of San Diego moved north, so too did the SDJGS. In 1993 we moved to our present home at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla.
Jackye Sullins was elected president in 1997. Under her leadership we continued to grow and started our website, designed by then Program Chair Brahna Derr. We have had joint meetings with the Jewish Historical Society. We also moved our library to its new permanent home at the Astor Judaica Library of the JCC.
In September of 2002, Wayne Marcus became president. He oversaw the expansion of our website and made the use of the Internet an important part of our meetings. Under his leadership, the SDJGS has been a co-sponsor of the San Diego Jewish Book Fair and of “DAVKA: The Survival of a People,” a Holocaust project of the JCC.
Adelle Bernstein and Joy Torchin began their term as co-presidents in September 2006. The following year Adelle Bernstein assumed the presidency. In 2008 Marge Kealey became president and in 2011 Jean Moss joined her as co-president. In 2012 Jean became president on her own. 2015 brought Harold Fisher and Sheldon Krueger as co-presidents. Harold was president in 2016. Jean became president for the second time in 2017.
For several years, Heidi Farkash organized the society's participation in the Del Mar Fair, where we displayed maps, books and family documents and offered free genealogical advice to fair patrons and made it known that there was, indeed, a Jewish genealogical society in San Diego. We have also reached out into the community with speakers and with displays at Jewish community fairs.
The SDJGS, under the leadership of Roberta Berman, recorded Jewish burials in San Diego County for the benefit of genealogists and as part of the history of San Diego. This resulted in our book, San Diego Jewish Burials, 1871-1995. The burials are also available on The JewishGen Online World Burial Registry (JOWBR).
Many of our members have traveled to their ancestral towns in Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Germany, Hungary and Ukraine and reported back to us with fascinating tales of archives, cemeteries, synagogues, old homes and of course, people and sometimes even family they met along the way.
Our members have all contributed to the growth of the San Diego Jewish Genealogical Society, whether through volunteering their time or with monetary donations, or by attending meetings and sharing their resources, stories and family histories.
Although the pandemic made it necessary to stop in-person meetings, through Jean’s leadership and our webmaster’s (Brahna Derr) knowledge of Zoom, we are able to continue our monthly meetings with quality programs.