Seeking Kin: In Israel, a changing of the genealogy guard

"Hamador L'chipus Krovim" helped reunite Izi Mann's family. "I see how important it is, how it can help," says Mann of the Israeli radio show he now hosts.<br />
 (Credit: Noam Mann)

“Hamador L’chipus Krovim” helped reunite Izi Mann’s family. “I see how important it is, how it can help,” says Mann of the Israeli radio show he now hosts.
(Credit: Noam Mann)

The “Seeking Kin” column aims to help reunite long-lost friends and relatives. 

BALTIMORE (JTA) – Yitzhak Mann’s brother-in-law reached Israel in 1950 a broken man, his life in Belgium shattered. His wife, daughters and many other kin were murdered in the Holocaust, so in Israel he searched for his lone surviving relative.

The brother-in-law submitted his own name to the radio program “Hamador L’chipus Krovim” (Searching for Relatives Bureau) for broadcast. Yitzhak Mann listened that day. The men soon were reunited.

“I see how [the program] worked with my family, I see how important it is, how it can help,” said Mann’s grandson, Izi, the show’s new host. “This is the power of radio — that it can connect people. … It’s close to all of us.”

On July 1, “Hamador L’chipus Krovim” moved from its longtime home, Reshet Bet (B Channel), to Reshet Alef (A Channel). Reshet Bet is the country’s most popular — the go-to network for news and commentary. Reshet Alef is the address for cultural types.

Even on Reshet Bet, the program constituted but a blip on the Israel Broadcast Authority’s vast programming screen, airing just 10-12 minutes daily from Sunday to Thursday. But loyal listeners cherish the show, and Mann and his predecessor, Yaron Enosh, consider it a public trust — an important conduit for publicizing search by individuals and groups for people with whom they have lost touch. The requests appeal to Israelis’ interconnectivity to help restitch the shorn threads of the Jewish family quilt.

Mann hit paydirt almost immediately. On Monday he broadcast a telephone reunion between two members of an officers training course in 1962. Shimon Givon had recently located 84 fellow trainees he had wanted to alert to an upcoming reunion, but still sought 11 others.

"Aharon, why haven’t you called in 50 years?" Givon said to Aharon Calderon the moment the latter came on the air. "This program is incredible. I have now found eight people [because of] the program."

From its earliest days in 1945, the Jewish Agency for Israel-launched program played a critical role in reuniting Holocaust survivors and their Israeli relatives, such as Mann’s. “Hamador L’chipus Krovim” started as spartan as broadcasting gets, with just the names of ship arrivals recited each afternoon. The show went off the air in the late 1960s, but Enosh revived it in 2000 and, except for a two-year hiatus when Mann and others filled in, has served as its host.

Things began changing last winter. New management at the state-run IBA squeezed the show’s host and producers to do more with less, so they left. Listeners returning to their post-Passover routines and adjusting their dials on April 16 encountered Mann rather than Enosh. No acknowledgment of the change was provided. After the May 17 show, “Hamador L’chipus Krovim” abruptly went dark. IBA management planned to cancel the show, but listeners and Mann pushed them to reconsider. Moving to Reshet Alef saved the show.

The formula in the new incarnation of “Hamador L’chipus Krovim” remains consistent: one or two interviews a day, with Person A explaining why he or she is searching for Person B and providing, at the host’s prompting, relevant names, dates and places. Written messages from listeners sometimes are recited to lay out the gist of their searches. Reunion requests fall into five categories: relatives, friends, classmates, military-service comrades and miscellaneous two-ships-that-passed-in-the-night others.

When he hosted the show, Enosh, 56, came across as the soothing uncle inviting guests to relax a moment in a comfy recliner in the parlor for a chat. First he would inquire into the origins of callers’ uncommon surnames and the pace of life in their hometowns, then ask open-ended questions about the search at hand, returning to encapsulate the points and solicit listeners’ assistance.

Mann is more the interlocutor one meets for a quick sandwich before rushing back to the office. The politely inquisitive Mann, 55, dispenses with chit-chat and gets right to the point, sets out the interviewee’s biographical facts and prompts him or her to proceed. He occasionally interrupts to clarify points.

Enosh says he left the show on good terms. He continues hosting a popular Friday afternoon show, “Kol Shishi,” on Reshet Bet, where interviews occasionally contain a search component. Enosh plans to launch another family-reunification program on Galei Tzahal (Israel Defense Forces Radio) and a daily newspaper column on the topic. 

“Hamador L’chipus Krovim” is right up Mann’s alley. He is a history buff who hosts “She’elah Shel Pa’am” (Long-Ago Question), a weekly Reshet Bet program in which listeners ask to hear old clips, such as of a Winston Churchill speech. Mann plans to add historical audio elements to “Hamador L’chipus Krovim.” This week he played the anthem composed for an earlier Maccabiah; a Beersheva man listening to the show found the music after a researcher for the sports movement had sought it.

Several years ago, Mann taped a private interview with his father, Emanuel, to preserve names and stories that might otherwise have been lost. Before he died in 2008, Emanuel also wrote a detailed family tree, some of which was misplaced.

“This summer, we’ll search for it,” Mann said. “[Emanuel] found relatives of ours in England and in the United States. My fantasy is that someone out there was saved [from the Holocaust], yet doesn’t know about us — and that we’ll find him.”

(The "Seeking Kin" column is sponsored by Bryna Shuchat and Joshua Landes and family in loving memory of their mother and grandmother, Miriam Shuchat, a lifelong uniter of the Jewish people. Email Hillel Kuttler at seekingkin@jta.org if you would like help in searching for long-lost relatives and friends. Please include the principal facts and your contact information in brief one-paragraph email.)

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