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Living history

Centennial salute

Teaneck resident David Olivestone, national director of communications and planning for the Orthodox Union in New York, wanted to give his mother something special for her 100th birthday.

Olivestone, with years of experience in graphic design, had already produced a memory book for his mother on her 90th birthday.

“It was black and white, Xeroxed, with a binder,” he said, remembering that his whole family pitched in to help with the collating. “Technology has changed a lot in 10 years.”

Helen Olivestone as a young girl with her late brothers Joe, center, and Jack, sometime around 1913-1914.

Taking advantage of new resources, Olivestone has created a bound four-color book for his mother’s centennial, “The Family of Helen Olivestone, Centennial Edition,” using photographs and documents to trace the genealogy of Helen Weisrose Olivestone and her husband Bernard’s extended families.

Olivestone credits e-mail with allowing him to reach out to all his relatives. “You can share everything,” he said. “Pictures came out of nowhere.” All but one of his relatives was reachable, he said. The holdout lives on a houseboat.

According to the author, approximately 60 families are detailed in the book, with about 250 individuals listed.

“This combined my [personal] interest and my ability to do the artwork,” he said. He also availed himself of online digital printing. Using the Website www.lulu.com, he submitted a PDF file that was subsequently printed as a book. Family members can produce copies of the book by using online demand printing. Each copy costs $26.

Olivestone’s mother made aliyah last year, he said. He and his brothers, who live in Israel, had been urging her to make the move for years.

“She said she wanted to put it off until she got old,” he said.

The centennial book project evolved because Olivestone realized that many members of his family were leaving England. “The graves of our grandparents are there,” he said.

“My father was a meticulous man,” said Olivestone. “He kept reams and boxes of different papers.” Using these documents and photographs, Olivestone obtained life-cycle information from the office of England’s chief rabbi as well as data from online Jewish genealogical sites.

Through portraits, photographs, newspaper clips, obituaries, headstones, marriage licenses, and ketubot – as well as through text written by Olivestone himself – Helen Olivestone’s son tells a story, not only of his own family but of Orthodox life in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries.

“I Googled my own name,” said Olivestone, suggesting that this is a good way to start such an investigation. “I also used [the Website] JewishGen.org and online information from Yad Vashem.”

Among the more interesting online resources he found were lists of Jewish civilians killed during the German blitzkrieg attacks against London. His great-grandfather was among them.

Olivestone said he was particularly gratified to receive, from a relative, a picture he did not already have. It came from an aunt, who, fleeing the Nazis, lived in Cuba before coming to New York.

“She was so far away that everybody sent her things,” he said. “She had a whole box of my grandmother’s photos. When I said I’d never seen that photo, she said she thought everyone had it.”

Olivestone said he also learned from this project that “every Jew has his own story.” He noted that many Jews who fled from Belgium to England were killed in bombings. In addition to the 43,000 civilians killed in London between Sept. 1940 and May 1941, he said, “others suffered evacuation and deprivation.”

Reflecting on his mother’s long life, Olivestone noted that his mother “lived to see the founding of the State of Israel, she went through the technological revolution, and she has 12 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren.”

“She was thrilled when we gave her the book,” he said, noting that the family – 160 people, all of her descendants – gathered in July for a weekend celebration of her birthday. “She shows it to all her guests at her home in Kibbutz Lavie.”

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