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Cekiske, Lithuania: Home of My Forefathers

Posted on 13 June 2012 by brett

Cekiske Jewish Cemetery

Cekiske Jewish Cemetery

Believe it or not, we didn’t know our ancestors were from Lithuania until the past year. Christie’s grandfather didn’t know his grandfather and has little information about Kasimires Yurgelis, other than he came to the U.S in 1890. Luckily, my cousins Eric and Andrew have spent countless hours building the Finkelstein Family Tree with Ancestry.com. Eric interviewed several key family members during the 1970’s. Not only do we have some photographs, but also the name of the village, Cekiske, in Lithuania where the Finkelstein’s and Nodel’s lived. 

“Finkelstein” means diamond or “sparkle stone” and reflects our forefather’s trade as gem merchants during the 1800’s. Our experience around Kaunas and Cekiske (check-keesh-ke) revealed that most non-Jewish villagers worked for Jewish merchants during that time. Continue Reading

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Israel’s City of Enchanting Mysticism, Tzfat (Safed)

Posted on 04 June 2012 by christie

Beautiful sunset views of Tzfat

Beautiful sunset views of Tzfat

Tzfat (Safed in Arabic), is a charming ancient city where spirituality, mysticism and artistry come together to create a harmonious and enchanting atmosphere. As Israel’s most elevated city (900m), it’s perched high in the Upper Galilee mountains about two hours northeast of Tel Aviv. We rented a car in Tel Aviv to make our way into the countryside. It was surprisingly hassle-free navigating around Israel with signs in English and no check points (unlike our experience in Jordan). Little is known about Tzfat’s early history, but archeologists have found evidence that the city was inhabited since 1500 BC. The city flourished during the 15th and 16th centuries with the settlement of Sephardic Jews who fled from the Spanish Inquisition. Many were practicing Jewish Mysticism (Kabbalah). Shortly thereafter the city was declared one of the four holy cities of Israel.

Alleyways meet Judaism in Tzfat

Alleyways meet Judaism in Tzfat

There is warm and almost magical feeling in the air as you wander through Tzfat’s labyrinth of narrow cobbled stone alleyways. It’s easy to find hidden beauty as you turn each corner, encountering centuries old synagogues, antiquated stone houses, stunning turquoise doors, and decorated iron gates. The spiritual city is home to a mix of traditional Hasidic Jews and modern Supernaturalists practicing Kabbalah through mystical teachings of Judaism. There are a number of bohemian travelers as well as student groups that come to Tzfat from around the world to study Judaism and connect with their inner soul. Continue Reading

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Jerusalem, the “Holiest City”

Posted on 30 May 2012 by brett

Old City, Jerusalem

Old City, Jerusalem (Israel)

If you haven’t visited Jerusalem, go! I am still hitting myself for not going until 36 years of age. There is a special feeling in Jerusalem hard to describe…. and I’m not saying that because I was raised Jewish. One super interesting discovery (of many) is that Old City is one square kilometer and consists of only 36,000 residents. An astonishing 72% are Muslim (26,000), 6,000 Christians (17%), and 4,000 Jews. Of the Christians, 2,000 are Armenian. The city is divided into four quarters: 1) Muslim 2) Christian 3) Jewish 4) Armenian. We wondered why a country “Armenia” has its own quarter? The answer is that Armenia was granted its space because it’s the only country 100% of one religion, Christianity.

Wailing at the Western Wall

Wailing at the Western Wall

With so many religious types, it’s truly amazing that Jerusalem chugs along in harmony. All we hear on the news is about Israel’s struggles to keep peace with the Islamic world. Our experience in Jerusalem (and Israel) has been nothing but friendly and peaceful. Of course, religious fanatics are there and very serious. The funny thing is that they typically ignore you as a tourist because they are so focused on their religious task at hand. Continue Reading

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