Sephardic Names Traced
To Spain, Portugal
By BETTY PROVIZER STARKMAN
The 17th Century saw the
arrival of the first Jewish settlers to
North America. They were of
Sephardic origin, having come from
Spain and Portugal, via Brazil,
Holland and the West Indies.
Proudly they kept their surnames,
many of which were adopted from
A few examples of these early
American Sephardic family names
are: Alvarez, Barrios, Belmonte,
Cardozo, Casseres, Correa, Curiel,
Devalle, Dias, Ferro, Fidanque,
Gomes, Henriques, Levy, Lopez,
Maduro, Mendes, Mercado,
Monsanto, Rivera, Rodrigues, Salas,
Sasso, Seixes, Silva, Sola, Suares,
Touro and Valencia. Many of these
names have become Americanized.
The old membership records
and cemetery of the Touro
Synagogue in Newport, R.I., also
bear witness to these early
Sephardic Americans. Touro
Synagogue, founded in 1658, was
visited by George Washington in
1790. In 1946, it was designated a
National Historic Site. Henry
Wadsworth Longfellow wrote in his
poem entitled The Jewish Cemetery
The names upon their monuments
Of foreign accent and of different
Alavares and Rivera interchange
With Abraham and Jacob of old
Parnas is a family name
derived from the Hebrew, meaning
warden or trustee of the community.
It might also mean president or
administrator of a society.
The surname London does not
indicate British ancestry. It is
derived from the Hebrew title
Lamdon (learned one), which over
the years was distorted to London.
The names Feder and
Federman were adopted by an
ancestor who was a scribe. In
Yiddish/German, Feder is a
"feather" or "quill."
Vigoda, Wigoda, Wigodor,
Vigodar are names of occupational
origin. Wygoda, in Polish means
"inn" or "tavern." There were
thousands of these Wygodas, run
primarily by Jewish people, who
subsequently used this as a family
The family Moskal, adopted
their surname from a Polish
nickname meaning Muscovite.
Offen, Ofen is the German
name for Buda, a section of
Budapest, Hungary. This family
name indicates Hungarian ancestry.
Milhaud is another surname of
geographic root. Long, long ago you
had a progenitor from the southern
French village of Milhaud.
Bielski as a surname indicates
that a progenitor came from Biala
Wies (white village) in Poland.
Chenkin, Henkin is of
matronymic origin, adopted from the
Hebrew Hannah, mother of the
Kraus, Krause (curled in
German) describes a physical
characteristic of the ancestor who
chose this name.
Nissan, a name of Hebrew
origin came from the first Jewish
month which starts between March
10 and April 10.
Betty Provizer Starkman is the past
president and founder of the
genealogical branch of the Jewish
Historical Society of Michigan.
Ethiopian children, the offspring of immigrants to the Jewish state rescued during
Israel's Operation Moses, participate in tree-planting activities at a Jewish National
Fund Forest in Israel.
Tu B'Shevat: A Jewish Link To Israel
Continued from page L-1
the eating of three different types of
One grouping of fruits are those
which are entirely edible, such as
seedless grapes, figs, pears and
blueberries. A second category is
fruits which contain pits, but whose
outsides are edible. This group
includes: olives, dates, cherries and
apricots. The third group is made
up of fruits whose outside shell may
not be eaten. This type of fruit
includes pomegranates and nuts.
The kabbalists associated
symbolism with the various parts of
the fruits. Those parts which can be
eaten represent holiness; the
inedible pits represent the internal
impurity; and the shells serve as
protection for the fragile holiness
Another interpretation of the
three types of fruits refers to
different kinds of personalities.
Some people maintain a hard
outside shell, guarding themselves
against closeness to others. Some
people allow some closeness with
others, but only to a point. They
reserve the internal pit which
prevents total openness. A third
group of people are comfortable in
a state of complete openness and
intimacy. The Tu B'Shevat seder
helps us to consider the positive
value found in all different types of
people, as we enjoy the flavor of a
variety of delicious fruits.
Similar to Passover, it is
customary in the Tu B'Shevat seder
to drink four cups of wine (or grape
juice), but in this case there is an
unusual configuration of white and
red wines. The first cup is white, the
second cup white with a touch of
red, the third cup red with a touch
of white and the fourth cup is red
wine. This change in colors
represents the change in the
seasons of nature — from the white
of winter to the red leaves of
Tu B'Shevat would not be
complete without the actual planting
of new trees. In Israel, this day is
marked by elaborate tree-planting
ceremonies held by schoolchildren.
Outside of Israel, adults and
children give money to the Jewish
National Fund to arrange for trees
to be planted in Israel.
Tree planting is a custom which
is central to the life of every Jew.
The Talmud describes a practice by
which parents planted a tree to
commemorate the birth of each
child — a cedar for a boy and a
cypress for a girl. When the children
would grow up and marry, the poles
of their chuppah would be made
from the branches of their
Tu B'Shevat is a day to
consider the vital importance which
trees plays in our everyday lives.
Trees provide food, lumber, shade
and oxygen. Trees beautify our
landscape while they prevent soil
erosion. Tu B'Shevat is a worthwhile
time to rediscover our world of trees
and learn to appreciate how
valuable trees are to our survival.
It's an appropriate day to take a
family walk in the woods, to plant a
garden or read about the wonders
With all of these possible ways
to celebrate Tu B'Shevat, we should
not forget that the holiday is rooted
in its association with the physical
Land of Israel. The most appropriate
way to celebrate Tu B'Shevat is to
be in Israel. And if this is not
possible, then let's use this Tu
B'Shevat to plan our next trip to
Israel to plant a tree in person!
Rabbi Pachter is associate rabbi of
Adat Shalom Synagogue.
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS