Sallyann Amdur Sack
“I had never quite experienced serendipity until the Jewish genealogy ‘bug’ bit me in 1977. Then I knew that this was what I had been seeking all my life. The pursuit of Jewish genealogy combines my love of being Jewish, my passion for history, my curiosity about people, and my addiction to mysteries. It offers the opportunity to research and write my own personal mystery—my specific family’s history. The bug bit hard, and nothing in my life has been the same since,” says Sallyann Amdur Sack, reflecting on twenty years’ involvement with the topic.
The contemporary pursuit of Jewish genealogy as a popular, worldwide movement began in the 1970s. Sometimes called the “godmother” of Jewish genealogy, Sack has played a major role in its development as a pioneer, leader, and creative force.
Born on March 13, 1936, in Cleveland, Ohio, she is the older of two daughters of Max and Frances (Steinsnider) Amdur. Her parents, though born in the United States, were children of Eastern European immigrants who had come to the United States during the first decade of this century, the Amdurs from Lithuania, the Steinsniders from Poland and Hungary with a detour through Canada. Max Amdur, an organizer of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, taught his daughters the importance of taking responsibility for making important things happen, an influence Sack cites as seminal to her leadership in the field of genealogical research.
She was valedictorian of her class at Cleveland Heights High School and attended Radcliffe College, where she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated magna cum laude in 1957. She married Lawrence C. Sack in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1956. They raised three children. Their son, Robert Ira Sack, M.D., is a psychiatrist like his father. Daughter Elizabeth Felber is an attorney. The youngest daughter, Kathryn Solomon (who first stimulated Sack’s interest in tracing the family roots), is a radiologist-in-training.
In 1972, Sack earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the George Washington University and ever since has been in full-time private practice in Bethesda, Maryland.
In 1980, Sack founded the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington and served as its first president. In 1984, she organized the first international seminar on Jewish genealogy, held in Jerusalem. In 1985, she cofounded Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, widely considered the “voice” of Jewish genealogy. She is president of Avotaynu, Inc., the parent company of the journal, which publishes books, monographs, and microfilm publications on Jewish genealogy.
Among other activities, Sack has conducted a week-long seminar in Moscow and has served on a number of advisory boards, including the Dorot Genealogy Center at Beth Hatefutsoth Museum in Tel Aviv. She also co-produces and co-hosts the Jewish Genealogy Society of Greater Washington cable program “Tracing Your Family Roots.” Sack was also active in the groundbreaking effort of the U.S. National Archives to open former Soviet archives to Jewish genealogical researchers.
The International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Sack in 2000, “In deep appreciation of her contributions to the world of Jewish genealogy … Her leadership, scholarship, initiative and vision provide an example and inspiration to all Jewish genealogists … worldwide.”
Avotaynu Guide to Jewish Genealogy, with Gary Mokotoff (2004); Guide to Jewish Genealogical Research in Israel (1987. Rev. ed. 1995); Index and Catalog to the Russian Consular Records, with Suzan Wynne (1987); Search for the Family, with Mark Shulkin (1980); Where Once We Walked: A Guide to the Jewish Communities Destroyed in the Holocaust (Revised Edition), with Gary Mokotoff (2002).