Jerusalem 2004 Conference Summary

The 24th International Conference on Jewish Genealogy is history. More than 750 people attended the conference, from 17 countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Sweden, United States, United Kingdom and Venezuela.

The host society, the Israel Genealogical Society, did a great job, and did Israel Proud!

The 2004 Jerusalem Conference was a resounding success and exceeded all expectations. Over 765 people from 21 countries attended more than 170 lectures and workshops. This year’s conference was organized according to themes, which, according to the feedback received, the attendees particularly appreciated. They could more easily plan their research hours at archives, knowing that a group of lectures being given at any particular time might not cover their immediate interests, and could feel freer to chose other alternatives. Of course, those with broader research interests had a hard time choosing among the various sessions. Unlike previous conferences, Friday had a full complement of lectures on all three tracks.

The content level of lectures was quite high and received appreciative compliments from those attending. This conference had the highest concentration of Sephardic subjects ever before presented at a Jewish genealogy conference. This fact drew many people Portugal, Spain, South America and Israel. Another first for this conference is the use of MP3 technology to produce a CD of the lectures. The CD includes all lectures given throughout the week. This technology was chosen instead of tapes for each lecture because the CDs are more durable and the sound quality is clearer. This also makes it more affordable for the people who couldn’t attend the Conference and yet wanted to hear the content of the lectures. Many of the major archives extended their hours of operation to accommodate the conference attendees. And this is not all. There was also an unexpected boon in relations with the various archives around Israel. Archives in Israel are recognizing genealogy as real research and cooperating with the Israel Genealogical Society [IGS]. At this year’s conference, Yad Vashem chairman, Avner Shalev, told the conference attendees “We want to partner with you!” The ICS is now working with various archives and archivists to create databases of information that will, in turn, bring in more researchers. [There is nothing sadder than an unused, unknown archive.]

The best things that happened at the conference were the individual experiences and successes of those who attended. Families found cousins and had mini-reunions that were very meaningful to them. Yad Vashem’s databases provided new information and contacts. The conference made sure that anyone who wanted to make contact was aided in their communications. Most Israelis are multilingual, so it was always possible to communicate somehow.

Not everything went smoothly. There were several glitches regarding the conference. Long after the conference date was set, the hotel suddenly discovered that it had double booked and this resulted in a change of the conference dates. It was then necessary to make sure that all the prior publicity on the internet was changed to the correct dates. The ICS conference planners called upon professional conference organizing company called ORTRA to handle various aspects of producing the conference. At times it was frustrating to work with them because the company had no idea what a genealogy conference was all about and kept trying to categorized this genealogical event as a scientific conference. In the long run, however, the company was a big help and kept the conference from going into debt. Their handling of registration, while far from perfect, did take a big burden off the conference committee. One significant problem arose during the conference – They were totally unprepared to handle public relations. During the conference, it quickly became evident that the conference committee had underestimated the amount of local interest the conference would generate and had neglected entirely to provide press kits or a press liaison person to handle the Israeli radio, TV and newspaper people who suddenly appeared. Thank heaven, three or four of the committee members came forward to take on that responsibility. Nevertheless, there were many awkward moments.

Special thanks are due to the conference committee members who did so much to make this conference a success. They acquired a lot of experience, gained archival allies, and significantly increased the membership of the Israel Genealogical Society. This Conference had a remarkable impact on the Israelis and awakened them to begin actively doing family research.

A great genealogical conference!

International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies