LEAGUE CITY, Texas -- A unique tour group is offering trips to help American Jews trace their roots in Central and Eastern Europe and other places that were once home to large Jewish populations. The program, an offshoot of Texas-based Jewish genealogical organization JewishGen, is called "Shtetl Schleppers." In Yiddish, "shtetl" means village and "schlep" means to carry, but a "schlepper" also connotes someone who makes an arduous trip.
Each trip begins with three days of guided tours of important Jewish sites in and around a city that is the nearest hub to the participants' ancestral villages. Then the group splits up, and each family heads off for four days in the village their relatives came from. The customized itineraries are designed in advance, and each family gets a driver.
Hub cities include Budapest; Istanbul; Bucharest, Romania; Kiev and Odessa, Ukraine; and Strasbourg, France.
In some cases, Jewish communities were wiped out during World War II, and visitors are taken to neighborhoods that bear no contemporary traces of their Jewish roots. But in other cases, Jewish cemeteries and buildings that were important to the community, like synagogues and schools, may still be standing.
Joanna Fletcher, a spokeswoman for JewishGen, says some participants have done enough genealogical research to provide details about precisely where their ancestors lived.
In cases where there is less information, "our local guides will make arrangements for them to meet anyone left from the Jewish community or a local historian."
Prices range from $1,600 to $3,300 per person, including lodging, fees, and some meals, but not airfare. JewishGen can also help participants find researchers before their trip to try to pin down information about where their ancestors might have lived, and fees for that range from $100 for a very basic search of names in a local archive to thousands of dollars for extensive research.
For more information, visit www.jewishgen.org or call 281- 535-2200.
FORT KENT, Maine -- The scenic St. John River Valley, which borders Maine and Canada, is expecting thousands of visitors March 3-6 when the Biathlon World Cup comes to the town of Fort Kent. The biathlon attracts competitors from around the world showing off their skills in cross-country skiing and rifle marksmanship. Activities will be centered at the 10th Mountain Lodge, a replica of a military blockhouse used to guard the area in the 1700s.
The University of Maine's Fort Kent campus will host a film festival and other entertainment during the biathlon, and various cultural events will highlight the area's Acadian heritage.
For more information, visit www.fortkentbiathlon.org or call 800-733-3563.