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The tree of life

Alum Michael Goldstein’s search for his roots helps countless others find theirs
March 27, 2018
By Ursula Leonowicz

With its roots deep in the ground and its branches pointing towards the sky, the tree of life is an important symbol in many cultures, including the Jewish one. It’s no wonder, then, that a family tree is what led Michael Goldstein, BA (applied soc. sci.) 69, to find not only his roots but also his purpose.

In 1985, when Goldstein started working on a family tree with his eldest son Dan, he had no idea that their search for ancestors would turn into a lifelong passion for, and eventual career in, genealogy.

Michael Goldstein, BA 69 Jerusalem-based Michael Goldstein founded Jewish Genealogy Search, a resource that helps people learn their Jewish family heritage.

“I started in the whole area of genealogical research almost by accident,” says Goldstein. “I had an interest in it from an early age, but I didn’t really do anything to actively pursue it until my wife assigned me with the project of helping our son, and then I was hooked.”

Born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, Goldstein grew up in a tight-knit family. He knew a little about their history when he started working on the tree more than 30 years ago, yet nothing compared to what he knows now. To date, he’s traced both his own and his wife’s lineage all the way back to 1786 and has identified more than 1,900 of their descendants.

To find out how, we have to examine his roots.

When Goldstein started at Sir George Williams — one of Concordia’s founding institutions — in the late 1960s, he was interested in political science and was considering a career in government. By the time he was in his third year, though, he became fascinated by applied social science thanks to a course he had taken with professor Hedley Dimock, and decided to switch his major.

“The department was like a close-knit family and went far beyond the material we were studying,” he explains. “The interaction between students — as well as faculty and students — was very intense and enjoyable; it was a rewarding experience.”

After graduating, Goldstein decided to pursue a master of social work degree in New York City before returning to Montreal to work with the YM-YWHA. He remained at the Y for close to 10 years. Following that, he held various positions with Jewish Family Services and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), where he ended up working as a fundraiser.

It was during this time, shortly after he moved to Israel while working with the JNF, that Goldstein started thinking about a second career. “I had gotten very busy with genealogy — doing my own and helping friends — and it seemed like it had a future,” he says. “I decided to see if it was possible to turn what had until then been a hobby into work.”

Goldstein, who lives in Jerusalem, has since served on the boards of a number of Jewish genealogical organizations, including as president of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies.

He’s also created Jewish Genealogy Search, an international resource that helps people research their Jewish family heritage and roots as well as reconnect with long-lost family members. Much of Goldstein’s work revolves around the Holocaust, when “not only were six million Jews murdered, but the contact between family members that did survive was broken,” he explains.

“I reunited one American client with half-sisters after not having contact with them for 70 years,” Goldstein adds. “He had some vague memories from when he was seven or eight years old, but he hadn’t even told me that he was a child Holocaust survivor.”

Many of Goldstein’s clients don’t even realize they lost family in the Holocaust when they first reach out to him for clues about their ancestry. Yet reconnecting them with their roots, and putting them in contact with living relatives, is what makes it all worthwhile for him.


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