The story behind a 1923 photo taken at my great uncle’s picnic grove, a Prohibition-era saloon outside Chicago — the crown jewel of my genealogical nerdery.  /  Continue

Zalman Malkin

Retain your cultural identity while losing your religion with this proven method developed by real Jews who came to America from Czarist Russia at the turn of the century.  /  Continue

A selection of home movie reconstructions, documenting a 30 year gap in my parents’ lives.  /  Continue

Niles West High School Cheerleaders

A letter to my high school class on the eve of our reunion:


This summer marks the 20th year since we graduated from Niles West High School. Twenty years — a greater span of time than our age in 1991. Since then we’ve gone to college, found jobs, probably married, had kids, even more kids, and possibly divorced and married again. We’re old enough to have children approaching high school age, if not college. And our lives have taken innumerable directions.  /  Continue

If you’ve seen the video about my mother’s birds, you’ll recognize Jerry Cohan, the man who famously had a love affair with Zeus, the parrot. A number of people have asked me how he and Zeus are doing — I’m sad to report that it’s been almost a year since Jerry died.  /  Continue

Hyman Victor Gravestone Photo

I thought I knew everything I could possibly know about my great-grandfather Hyman Victor. He’d been the sole object of my genealogical fascination a few years ago, and I was pretty confident I’d exhausted all my sources about his life.  /  Continue

The Orange Nude by Roberta Malkin

A few days ago I received an email from a guy I didn’t know named Bob:

I think this was done by your mother.
Might want to pick it up. Very good work and it caught my eye.

He included a link to a Goodwill auction where I immediately recognized one of my mother’s early drawings, at least 30 years old judging by the style. It was being auctioned out of Portland, Oregon – odd given that my mother, Roberta Malkin, has lived and worked her entire life in Chicago.  /  Continue

The Laser Eruv

A front page article in The Times on Friday describes widespread winter storm damage to eruvs across the northeastern United States, including extensive damage to the eruv that outlines much of Manhattan.

For those unfamiliar, an eruv is a symbolic boundary – a wire – that is strung between utility poles around the perimeter of an orthodox Jewish area. Intact, it allows Jews to carry objects outside of their homes on the Sabbath – a “magic schlepping circle” as the writer Calvin Trillin liked to call it.  /  Continue

I visited Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Chicago today to find that my great-grandfather Hyman Victor’s gravestone photo had been stolen, without a doubt sold for scrap metal. A sad conclusion to the story of his life I spent a lot of time reconstructing.  /  Continue

On my most recent visit to Chicago my dad opened an old shoebox and removed a letter from his cousin Jeffery Gurvitz, who died fighting in Vietnam at the age of 24.

My dad and Jeff grew up together on the south side of Chicago (both were grandsons of Hyman Victor), and later spent a year as roommates down at the University of Illinois. When they graduated, my dad maintained his 2S student deferment. Jeff served in the army.  /  Continue