So I am half Sephardic.

I am also half Ashkenaz. That half grew up with virtually no family because they were exterminated in the Holocaust. As a result, it’s not a part of my background with which I have ANY familiarity. However, before my grandfather, who did survive, died, I asked my father to get him to tell as much of his life story as possible, and to list as many names of relatives as he could.

Today, Yad Vashem opened their online searchable directory and I paid it a visit. Based upon a very sketchy piece of information, I was able to locate my (deceased) great grandmother (aleha hashalom) within moments. Although the bios give no personal info other than place of residence, birth, birthdate, name and maiden name, I now know more about my great grandmother (who was murdered in Auschwitz) than I knew a couple of hours ago.

It’s an incredible resource, this database. Best of all, it lists the name and relationship of the referrer of the person’s name. It turns out that it was her sister who submitted the name, and as recently as 1999. I am going to try to track down my great aunt and see whether there might be an entire branch of the family still around – I have always thought they were all dead, but from the listing I found, it appears that at least two people I didn’t know about survived the war.

(On that note, I should add that I am glad Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Museum in DC exist, but I believe the Jewish community is wasting valuable resources by building and supporting numerous Holocaust museums and memorials around the world. That money could go to general Jewish education and programs for the new generation and could serve much better use because it would allow this generation to grow and have a connection to their Jewish heritage. Instead, we are focusing on a very particular (and, in historical terms, short-lived) part of our heritage, to the detriment of the living. I should add that one of the sadder things about Holocaust related institutions is that they tend to focus on the death and the last years of the murdered, and we rarely see a focus on their lives prior to the rise of the Nazis. I think focusing on how they lived before things became horrible is at least as important as after, if not more.)

About the author