Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois

“Gesher Galicia" and "Galician Portraits” by Andrew Zalewski

  • 29 Apr 2018
  • 12:30 PM - 4:00 PM
  • Temple Beth-El, 3610 Dundee Road, Northbrook, Ill. - - - - 12:30 pm Library and Help Desk, 2:00 pm Guest Speaker

Gesher Galicia board member and author Andrew Zalewski will give two talks at a special meeting of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois on Sunday, April 29, 2018, at Temple Beth-El, 3610 Dundee Road, Northbrook, Ill. His first talk, “Gesher Galicia: What’s New and What’s Coming Soon,” will begin at 1 p.m. After a short break, his main talk, “Galician Portraits: Jews, Gentiles, and Emperors,” will be presented beginning at about 2 p.m.

This event is free and open to the public. The JGSI library and help desk will not be available for this special meeting. For more information, see

About the talks: The first talk, “Gesher Galicia: What’s New and What’s Coming Soon,” is an update about, its research and resources, such as the All Galicia Database, Map Room, Inventories of Records and more.

In his main talk, “Galician Portraits: Jews, Gentiles, and Emperors,” Zalewski intertwines genealogical discoveries with a broader historical context to bring to life the Jewish community of Galicia during the era of Austrian rule. Galicia, annexed into the Habsburg Monarchy in 1772, was home to a large Jewish community: Approximately 10% of the population was Jewish.

Zalewski, author of two books on his Jewish roots in Galicia, explores the impact of Habsburg rule and the “Jewish enlightenment.” Habsburg imperial edicts were both stifling and inspiring for the Jewish community in Galicia — the laws about Jewish marriages, surnames, schools and military service brought dizzying changes but also controversies.

From inside the community emerged a wave of the Galician Enlightenment (Haskalah). Local Jewish cultural rebels offered biting satires and wrote poetry. Galicia’s diverse community included pious traditionalists and impatient reformers, laborers and professionals, dwellers of shetls and cities. Among them, passionate arguments about language (German, Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish), customs and loyalties easily erupted. But even in difficult times, there were brave voices that spoke loudly against prejudice.

Based on expanded research for the speaker’s book “Galician Portraits: In Search of Jewish Roots,” the talk is of interest to general audiences interested in Jewish genealogy and is illustrated by many pictures, unique archival documents and old maps of Galicia.

About the speaker: Andrew Zalewski is a physician and former professor of medicine at Jefferson University, Philadelphia. He serves on the board of directors of Gesher Galicia Inc., a non-profit organization, with a global membership, which has been dedicated to researching Jewish genealogy in Galicia. He is also executive editor of the Galitzianer, the organization's quarterly research journal.

Zalewski has been interested in the history of Austrian Galicia (1772–1918) and its Jewish community. Several generations of his Jewish and Christian ancestors traced their roots to this former province of the Austrian and Austro-Hungarian Empire.

He has published two historical books about Galicia: “Galician Trails: The Forgotten Story of One Family” and “Galician Portraits: In Search of Jewish Roots,” which are available through Unique archival records, population surveys, old newspapers and cadastral maps have all provided important insights in Zalewski’s research in regard to governmental policies and the social fabric of Galician society at the time.

He has been a frequent guest speaker for Jewish genealogical societies, at various cultural institutions, and in academic institutions in the U.S. and abroad. He and his wife, Margaret, live near Philadelphia. They have two children and four grandchildren. His hobbies include travel and unearthing old records concerning Galicia, as well as writing about little known details about Galicia.

© 2019 JGSI   P.O. Box 515, Northbrook, IL 60065-0515 • 312.666.0100 •
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software