About the JGSLA

The history of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles

The original 'Genealogy, Anyone?' index card that got the ball rolling

The original 'Genealogy, Anyone?' invitation that got the ball rolling
click on the photo to enlarge

In May of 1979, after attending a talk by Arthur Kurzweil with a small group of avid Jewish genealogists, Esther Anguli-Profus sent out a hand-lettered invitation, “Genealogy Anyone?” and held an organizational meeting in her home. Within two months, Mel Hanberg filed incorporation papers with the state of California to establish the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles.

There was a great deal of interaction and cooperation among the first societies. They began to share resources with each other, and to host annual conferences, first in New York, then Washington, D.C. It was Los Angeles’ turn in 1983 – there were 150 attendees, ten speakers, and field trips to seven research sites. JGSLA hosted another conference in 1990, with 266 participants, 30 presentations, and 80 volunteers. By 1998, when we hosted the 18th Annual Seminar, “Hollywood Chai,” 850 genealogists came from around the world, and 85 volunteers helped make it run smoothly. A record number of birds of a feather (BOF) and special interest groups held meetings in 1998. We were able to donate funds earned by this conference to JewishGen, Jewish Records Indexing-Poland (JRI-PL), and the Litvak Special Interest Group, since these organizations made a significant contribution to our conference programs and helped to bring archivists here for from Eastern Europe.

In 2010, we will host the 30th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, from July 11 – 16, at the new JW Marriott Hotel at L.A. Live, a new entertainment area in the heart of the city. The number of lectures, workshops and meetings has grown substantially, and many volunteers will again help to make it a great success.

JGSLA members Gerry Winerman and Herb Mautner at the Family History Center

JGSLA members Gerry Winerman and Herb Mautner at the Family History Center
click on the photo to enlarge

We held some of our meetings at the LDS Family History Center in Westwood beginning 25 years ago. This relationship led to an agreement to house our own library there, making it available several days a week for our members and the public. This collection continues to grow, and our traveling Spizman library is available at monthly meetings.

Our members taught genealogy classes at the University of Judaism, beginning in 1980. Over the years, they have given lectures for many Jewish groups, helping us to build strong connections to other organizations in Los Angeles. We were able to donate funds for the purchase of genealogical materials for libraries at UCLA, Hebrew Union College, and American Jewish University. We have co-sponsored programs with the Skirball Cultural Center, the Museum of Tolerance, the Autry Museum, the Wiesenthal Archives, and many other synagogues and groups.

We have 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, Yizkor books in all the local libraries, a guide to local research sites, a beginner’s guide, and Los Angeles cemetery databases. Chet Cohen compiled the Shtetl Finder, one of the first aids for Jewish genealogists.

We have been very fortunate to attract capable and creative editors for our publication, Roots-Key. 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.

For our 25th anniversary, we hosted a special event, published a special issue of Roots-Key focused on our members’ research experiences, and Pamela Weisberger produced a film, “Genealogy Anyone?” – echoing the invitation to the first organizational meeting – and featuring interviews with many members.

By the end of the 1980s, we had over 200 members, and today we number nearly 600. As we have grown, the world has changed in important ways, and access to information has increased greatly, particularly through the Internet. The important role of our society continues to be to offer face to face interaction among Los Angeles genealogists, a journal and website in which our members can publish their discoveries, and outstanding monthly programs, where our members have the opportunity to interact with experts in many fields.

Past JGSLA Presidents

  • Mel Hanberg
  • Ester Anguli-Cox
  • Laura Klein
  • Herb Mautner
  • Norma Arbit
  • Geraldine Winerman
  • Hal Bookbinder
  • Ted Gostin
  • Scott Groll
  • Nancy Holden
  • Sonia Hoffman

Past Editors of Roots-Key

  • Gladys Gould
  • LeeAnn Rubenstein
  • Ted Gostin
  • Ellen Harris
  • Debbi Korman
  • Nancy Holden
  • Nancy Beiderman
  • Sonia Hoffman
  • David Hoffman