The Nut Specialist

“Thank God dishes don’t talk back,” I found myself thinking as I lathered up the sponge and opened the hot water spigot.

In truth, my brain felt full up with my correspondence of the morning and it was a relief to do dumb mechanical housework. I let my mind be soothed by flowing water and scented dish soap. I went over the correspondence in my head like a broken record, finding resolution in the silent repetition.

I run the support desk for the JewishGen General Discussion Group. This is a moderated list for the purpose of furthering the study of Jewish family research. I handle complaints and difficulties encountered by those who attempt to send in messages to our list.

Necessary Evil

While one doesn’t need to subscribe to the Discussion Group to send in a message, there is a list of rules and regulations as long as Cyd Charisse’s legs regarding what may or may not be posted to the list, which we’ve found to be a necessary evil to keep our list running smoothly. Worse yet, the rules and regulations are constantly evolving so that we have yet to post a completed list of same for our readership.

Most of our readers take our rejections (oops—we’re not supposed to use that word) with good grace. But others fight back. And they can get mean.

Our moderation team does its work anonymously, while I am the moderation’s public face: the only one to sign a real live name to correspondence with “Genners.” I handle support mail from my personal email address.

Volunteer Steam

Note that JewishGen is run on volunteer steam. There are only about 6 people in the entire organization that draw a salary. I’m not one of them.

A complaint from one of my “regulars” confronted me from my inbox as I groggily sat down at my PC with the first of this morning’s two cups of hot black coffee. This woman’s message had been rejected (oops, there’s that word again) for being off-topic for our list.

People send in all kinds of messages which are only tangentially connected to the topic of the list or which have nothing whatsoever to do with genealogy. We don’t post those messages. We “return” (Ah! That’s better) them to the sender with a note of explanation—“We’re sorry, but the headdress of the waiters at Shmulke Bernstein’s on Essex is off-topic for our list.”

I’m Undemocratic

You’d be surprised how many people want to pursue the issue with me after the fact. They tell me I’m undemocratic. I’m censoring them. They feel like they’re in Nazi Germany. They tell me my bias is showing through.


So why do I do it? Why do I run the support desk? Because JewishGen gave me and continues to give me a wealth of information about my family for free. JewishGen gives me a community of like-minded souls. And because I believe in the work that JewishGen does in furthering the documentation of Jewish family history.

Inner Circle

Also, I am honored to think that after all these years, the people at JewishGen like what I do for them and appreciate me. By now, I think of the list manager and the moderators as my friends, and their opinions matter to me a great deal. I hold my shoulders back just that much more for knowing I am part of the inner circle of this little microcosm that does so much good.

Besides, one of the most famous people in my family tree is the late Myron Cope, my mother’s brother and a color commentator for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Uncle Myron was known in sports circles as the “Nut Specialist.” So thinking about some of the goofier complaints that come to my desk in my capacity as the support desk for JewishGen, I think it is rather fitting after all: I am carrying on a family tradition. Think of me as JewishGen’s Nut Specialist.

About the Author
Varda Epstein is a blogger and Communications Writer for