President Report – IGRA AGM – June 18, 2023

Welcome!

Before I begin – I would like to take a moment to reflect and remember four extraordinary figures, part of IGRA’s tapestry, who passed away since we last met. Hank Skirball – an avid genealogist (responsible for my taking the dive into genealogy in the 1990’s), researched, scoured archives in the United States, Germany and Lithuania, and built a tree with 14,700 people! He was active in the Jerusalem English lectures of the IGS and – a founder, supporter, member of the Va’adat Bikoret and editor of many articles – of IGRA for many, many years.

Barbara Ellman lived in New Jersey but volunteered in a variety of genealogy projects including IGRA databases. She was really committed to our work and received our Mathilde Tagger Award for databases in 2014. She was very involved in helping JewishGen and other genealogy groups. Barbara served as secretary of one of our AGM’s and most recently was elected to the IGRA Board.

Ingrid Rockberger was a force of nature. Ingrid was always helping someone with genealogy – when she wasn’t busy with her many roles in WIZO. She tenaciously managed to find lost connections to her family and to the family of her husband. A good portion of the history of genealogy in Israel rests on Ingrid’s shoulders. She became President of JFRA (Jewish Family Research Association) and when that group ran into difficulties worked tirelessly to bring the group into the IGS. When we needed to make the break with the IGS, Ingrid was again at the forefront and through her IGRA took over where JFRA left off. Ingrid could be counted on, again and again to help steer the organization. She was on the Board, chaired committees, moderated Seminar Days and volunteered with our databases in several capacities. IGRA, together with Ingrid’s family, are working on a special way to commemorate her. We thank them for their generosity.

Barbara Siegel had amazing energy. Barbara organized the English speaking genealogy programs for years in Jerusalem with the IGS. She had unending energy and, in addition to a full schedule of lectures, she also organized trips for our members to archives and other sources of genealogical information.  She attended many International Conferences and served on the committee for the IAJGS Conference in Jerusalem in 2004.  She was one of the founding members of IGRA.  Barbara was also an avid bird watcher.

Our collective loss is great. Zichronam Livracha.

 

Change, growth, creativity, determination – What do all of these have in common? All describe characteristics of the group of people behind the Israel Genealogy Research Association fondly known as IGRA.

In 12 years – from a kernel of an idea, a vision of the future direction of genealogy in Israel we have become a giant in the field, respected for our thoroughness, innovation and abilities.

Looking back, for a moment – in the summer of 2011 the Archives in Israel had not even envisioned a digitization process for their records. An index of records by names of individuals, available on the internet, wasn’t even dreamed of. Bilingual searches? Not heard of!

We built IGRA on these founding principles of “helping people with their family research and making available to the public a wide variety of material from the Ottoman period through the early years of Israeli Statehood, as well as additional material about Jews from the Diaspora located in Israeli archives. We work with people of many nationalities and provide resources on countries from around the world.” We decided to expand our collection to include the Mediterranean Basin and are gathering important records not currently available elsewhere.

We have reached out to tens of Archives and have a working relationship with over 50 Archives in Israel and over a dozen elsewhere. We, due to the tenacity and amazing work of Rosie Feldman, Carol Hoffman, Daniel Horowitz, Ingrid Rockberger z”l and all of our volunteers, have produced a database collection coming close to 3,000,000 records!! What an impressive accomplishment.

Our special group of database volunteers was recently recognized in an IAJGS Salute! We are always looking for additional volunteers and now have opportunities in several languages. In addition to transcribing the data, we look for people capable of proofing the work in English, and transliteration. We also need volunteers to be active in our webinars, Seminar Days, Facebook pages, technology, newsletter, PR and more. Zoom and other platforms have transformed our abilities to communicate with others. We need more volunteers to learn the skills and join the team of IGRAs tech support group.

Last Fall we sent out a survey asking people to become more active – in one of the areas mentioned above, serving on the Board, Executive, Audit Committee and as Officers. The results were disappointing to say the least. Over 6000 received the notification and thousands opened it up. Fewer than 250 sent in responses and that was divided between English and Hebrew (about 2/3, 1/3). Board members contacted all indicating they would be interested to volunteer in a specific area and at the end of the day – we had no new leads of people willing to join our forces.

Our audience: at the end of 2022 we had 1023 members – 495 living in Israel. We do not have demographics to know what percentage are Hebrew speakers or English speakers. The rest are mostly from the US, Canada, UK, Australia and France. We also draw from people to our programs who are registered on the site but not members, from people who come across our PR in the JewishGen Digest or Tapuz or from word of mouth.

Members of the Board and Va’adat Bikoret have continued to meet and have compiled a very ambitious program of activities augmented by our renewed face-to-face meetings in Givatayim thanks to Billie Stein and Hinda Solomon. Mid-year we welcomed Aviad Ben-Izhak to our Board to fill the term vacated by the sudden passing of Barbara Ellman z”l.

We have held complex Seminar Days, in both English and Hebrew, for many years. Having our membership spread across 24 countries from North America to South America to all across Europe to Asia and to Oceania not to mention every corner in Israel required us to accommodate a variety of time zones and to maximize our use of technology and include people virtually. The Heshvan Event topic this year was “Family Research and Medicine: Impacts and Influences”. Rose Lerer Cohen, Linda Geffon and Esther Rechtschafner made the day a success.

Following the Heshvan Event the Board decided to change the format of these seminars and instead of a full day divided between English lectures and Hebrew lectures, we will try dividing the same general topic between two days – both beginning in the early evening – one day for the English lectures and the other for the Hebrew lectures. Our coordinating team this time is Rose Lerer Cohen, Eyal Hollander and Esther Rechtschafner. The Seminar Day is in one week and the topic this time is: “Exploring the Multiple Facets of Over a Century of Aliya”. We encourage everyone to register and listen to the lectures!

Our monthly Webinar Series has been very well received. Elena Bazes, Daniel Horowitz and I have been the team producing the series “from soup to nuts” for years. We are pausing the Series now as we await a new team to come in. We need your talent to take this idea and move it forward!

While on the topic of leadership – I am making a plea for people to join our ranks and take on positions of leadership. We have been looking for a Treasurer for more than a year! One year from now the positions of Secretary and President will need to be filled as Elena and I will have served for as long as the Takanon allows for officers. We encourage you to look inside yourselves, step up and become involved and look towards joining the next generation of IGRAs leadership.

Some of the decisions of the Board in the last year:

1) Access to new webinar recordings – for members only

2) Access to new recordings of all-day events – for members only

3) Access to old recordings after 18 months to 2 years – open to the public

4) Access to new articles – for members only

5) Access to old articles after 18 months to 2 years – open to the public

6) Live monthly webinars on Zoom – free of charge to all

7) Live all-day seminars on Zoom – free of charge to all

8) In-person meetings – charge for non-members

9) Access to recordings of live in-person meetings in Givatayim – for members only

 

IGRA has grown and with that growth so have our needs grown. Whereas we were able to once handle EVERYTHING “in house” we have grown to embrace the assistance of professionals. The announcements put out for each event are now more standardized and graphically pleasing. As much as possible everything is bilingual. Our newsletter is certainly looking more professional, but it could still evolve. PR for meetings and webinars were in need of a more uniform professional touch.  I add to that pot the Facebook banners and posts, the website posts, the webinar series and PPT slides to use.

It is important to have a central clearing house and all requests to the translator and graphics go through one person so there aren’t conflicting requests from a variety of people. Everything that we now do has to have the same appeal and be a uniform representation of the group. A huge thank you to Sharon Singer and Liora Blum.

Our membership continues to be the largest of any Jewish Genealogy Society under the umbrella of the IAJGS (International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies) which lists close to 90 organizations. Among the draw for people to become and stay members is, of course, our growing database collection. Other incentives are access to our recorded lectures and articles and, in no small regard, to our assistance with Research Queries. Not a day goes by when Rosemary Eshel doesn’t field at least one request. Sometimes the requests are simple but many times they are complex. I can’t thank Rosemary enough for wisely and professionally responding to all and being the “face of IGRA”.

I also want to thank our Va’adat Bikoret – Shalom Bronstein, Susan Edel, and Rose Lerer Cohen. Their participation in our meetings and ability to look at the organization and evaluate how we are meeting our goals is very valuable. In addition, Ellen Stepak continues to volunteer in a variety of positions including the editor of our Articles section, even though she stepped down from the Board. Thank you!!

As in the past, IGRA members will be presenting lectures at the upcoming IAJGS conference in London from July 30 to August 3, 2023. Being in London has afforded a different focus to the Conference and many lecture topics are new highlighting those in European countries and the UK who may not normally participate when the conference is in the United States.

Two additional items before we continue. We all want to thank Philip Trauring for all of the work he put in when he built the IGRA website at the end of 2011. Philip continues to be our “go to” person, especially when there are challenges with the site. Due to changes in technology and our needs, the website is undergoing a facelift. In the coming months we’ll be rolling out the new site and encourage you to send us your feedback.

Lastly, in 2020 we voted, at the AGM, to make certain changes in the Takanon that the Rasham HaAmutot rejected. We wanted to add a clause stating that people had to be members for a certain period of time before they could run for a position on the Board or as an officer. Today we are asking for your approval of the Takanon without that requirement.

Thank you – all of you – for your continued support of IGRA. Please step forward and let us know you’re willing to join in our leadership areas. The strength and vitality of IGRA depends on it. We look forward to a productive year ahead.

Garri Regev