NY, Rishon families separated by Shoah are reunited

A Jewish genealogy Internet site helped Joan Sher Meister trace her roots.

Joan Sher Meister was on a cemetery tour in New Jersey last year when she began thinking back to her family's roots. The 62-year-old New Jersey native, who now lives in New York, had long since researched the family history of her husband, a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who had lost much of his own family, but had never looked back into her own family's history. The site of graves in the Hebrew Fraternity Cemetery bearing her maiden name Sher set her into action. "This was not my first genealogical project," she said in an interview. Meister contacted a Jewish genealogy Internet site (JewishGen.org) looking to trace her family tree from the small village in northwest Lithuania, Plunge, where her father was born. The village was commonly known among the Jews as Plungyan, she said. The organization, which was in the midst of a fund-raising campaign, began a search in the Lithuanian State Archives for documents from her father's village, where personal records dating back hundreds of years were stored. With the group's help, Meister was able to trace her great-grandfather, Hirsch Sher, and to discover that he had two wives and 13 children, including her grandfather. Armed with this new information, Meister next went to Yad Vashem's Web site, and accessed their computer database of Jewish Holocaust victims. She found 72 Shers listed from her father's hometown village of Plunge. The name she found on the Yad Vashem site - Aizyk Sher - bore an eerie similarity to that of her grandfather's brother, Avraham Isaac Sher, as it was listed in the Lithuanian Archives. Meister did not know for sure that Aizyk Sher was her grandfather's brother, especially after she was told that 10 percent of that Jewish population had the surname Sher, but she decided to press ahead with her search. She then contacted some Lithuanian Jewish researchers, who, acting on the page of testimony filled out in Israel, turned to an Israeli official, Batya Undershatz, who long headed the Bureau of Missing Persons in Israel for help to research the family. Undershatz located the family of Aizyk Shers' granddaughter, Liya Sheps, who had passed away five years ago, and her sister Roza Sheps, 75, who is living in Rishon Lezion. Meister, who flew in from New York with her husband to meet her second cousin and the rest of her Israeli family in a gala reunion Thursday night, said that her search is still not over. "The job is not yet done," she said. "There is more still to find."