(JTA) — In the late 1800s, the Ottoman Empire was looking to conscript men into its army, including the several thousand young Jewish ones who were living in the city of Baghdad.
The Jewish community didn’t like the idea of the imperial forces taking away its young men, so it arranged to pay authorities for exemptions. Rabbi Shlomo Bekhor Husin of Baghdad documented the exemptions, carefully jotting each down name in medieval Rashi script.
In the following decades, many of those names vanished or morphed as the Jews living there dispersed across the globe. But the lists survived and now are housed at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem — if you’re willing to deal with the microfilm format on which they are preserved.
Retired Israeli diplomat and independent researcher Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch has squinted to read and translate every single one of the nearly 3,500 names on Husin’s lists. And the lists are just one of the dozens of idiosyncratic sources that Rosen-Koenigsbuch has consulted in his years-long hunt for lost Jewish family names.
Rosen-Koenigsbuch, 73, has published the world’s most complete lists of Jewish surnames from the cities of Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo and — as of this week — Alexandria. (Next up are probably Basra, Mosul and Erbil, he said.) The four lists have been combined by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency into this searchable database. (If you know your name belongs but isn’t there, email Rosen-Koenigsbuch, who’s always making additions and corrections.--
Lee David Jaffe
Surnames / Towns: Jaffe / Suchowola, Poland ; Stein (Sztejnsapir) / Bialystok and Rajgrod, Poland ; Joroff (Jaroff, Zarov) / Chernigov, Ukraine ; Schwartz (Schwarzman?, Schwarzstein?) / ? ; Koshkin / Snovsk, Ukraine ; Rappoport / ? ; Braun / Wizajny, Suwalki, Poland, Ludwinowski / Wizajny, Suwalki, Poland