Jewish Roots Workshop 2019: Speaker Biographies

Jewish Roots Workshop                                    Sunday 22 September 2019

Speaker Biographies


Dr Sima Beeri is a native Yiddish speaker born in Kovno, Soviet Lithuania, from which she and her family emigrated to Israel when she was 12 years old, having been told that they will never be allowed back. She currently resides in London and holds a PhD in Modern Jewish History from the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London (UCL). Her PhD thesis, ‘Language in its Place’, will shortly be published as a book. Sima has a keen interest in the Yiddish language and culture, and in their promotion and study. Currently, she teaches Elementary Yiddish at UCL and runs other Yiddish classes and seminars independently, as well as teaching at the Ot Azoy Yiddish summer school in London. She helped to organise the latest three ‘Litvak Days’ conferences at the Lithuanian embassy in London, in partnership with UCL. She continues to research Yiddish-related topics and has published several articles on this work.

Asya Gefter is an artist and researcher working on practice-based approaches to storytelling and public history. Originally from Moscow, she has lived in London since 2003. Her photographic and video works examine the crossings of the personal and the political across Russian- and English-speaking geographies, often pushing the boundaries between narrative and non-narrative forms. Asya’s discovery of darkroom printing at London’s Chats Palace in mid-2000s led her to the building’s attic, where she found a visual archive, under discarded community arts props, which has shaped her work about Hackney’s radical but hidden past of cultural and political resistance going back to the 1970s. Her multimedia project “Fragments of Memory” began as an investigation into the prewar avant-garde milieu of the Yiddish poet and critic Debora Vogel, and morphed into a searching meditation on historical memory in the contemporary city of Lviv, Ukraine, where Vogel died in the Holocaust. Asya’s recent work contemplates her own lost and elusive family stories, the complications of broken inheritances, the reciprocity between political repression and familial amnesia, and the experiences reflected in the wider history of the 20th century.

Dr François Guesnet is Reader in Modern Jewish History in the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College London. He holds a PhD in Modern History from Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, Freiburg im Breisgau, and specializes in the early modern and 19th century history of eastern European, and more specifically, Polish Jews. He is co-chair of the editorial board of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, member of the Executive Committee of the British and the European Associations for Jewish Studies, as well as chairman of the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies. He held research and teaching fellowships at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, the University of Pennsylvania, Oxford University, the University of Vilnius, Dartmouth College and the Jagiellonian University (Kraków). Publications include a monograph on the Jews of the 19th century Kingdom of Poland, an anthology about non-Jewish attitudes towards the Jewish presence in Poland, an edited volume on antisemitism in post-communist Poland and Hungary, and a volume co-edited with Glenn Dynner on the history of Jewish Warsaw: Warsaw. The Jewish Metropolis. Studies in Honor of the 70th Birthday of Professor Antony Polonsky (Brill 2015). He also co-edited the volume Negotiating Religion. Cross-disciplinary perspectives (Routledge 2017), co-edited with Cécile Laborde and Lois Lee, and Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry, vol. 31: Poland and Hungary. Jewish Realities Compared, co-edited with Howard Lupovitch and Antony Polonsky. Vol. 32 of the yearbook, Jews and Music-making in Eastern Europe, co-edited by François Guesnet, Benjamin Matis, and Antony Polonsky, is forthcoming in autumn 2019.

Antony Polonsky is Emeritus Professor of Holocaust Studies at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Warsaw. He is co-chair of the editorial collegium of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry. His most recent work is The Jews in Poland and Russia volume 1, 1350 to 1881; volume 2, 1881 to 1914; volume 3, 1914 to 2008 (Oxford, 2010, 2012), published in 2013 in an abridged version The Jews in Poland and Russia. A Short History. He holds honorary doctorates from the University of Warsaw (2010) and the Jagiellonian University (2014). In 2011 he was awarded the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Polonia Restituta and the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of Independent Lithuania.

Susan Storring was born in Montreal, Canada, and came to the UK in 1972 to marry the Brit she’d met at the University of Chicago – she a Social Work MA student, and he, a Bio-Chemistry post-doc. She trained as a Psycho-analytic Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic, London, and worked in the NHS for 25 years, until retirement. In 2008, she began studying Yiddish and History of Jews in Eastern Europe in UCL as a Continuing Education student. While attending the Vilnius Yiddish Institute summer school, and with the help of a Lithuanian graduate student, Zita Dargužytė, she found her mother’s shtetl, Gelvan, and thus began her “Jewish roots” journey. Zita subsequently became Susan’s daughter-in-law. Together, they developed a friendship project with the school in Gelvan, that led to many mutually inspiring and healing developments, for Susan and for the Lithuanians she met in the process. Susan joined the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies in 2015, becoming the Joint Conference Secretary in 2017.

Michael Tobias has a BSc Honours degree in Mathematics and Physics and qualified as an Actuary. He has a Masters Degree in Genealogical, Palaeographic and Heraldic Studies.  Michael is a co-founder and Board Member of Jewish Records Indexing – Poland (1995-); Former Vice President, Programming of JewishGen, Inc (1999-2018); and was recently appointed one of the Vice Presidents of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain (JGSGB). He was Database matching consultant to the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.  Michael has contributed to various Conferences, Journals, Radio and TV Programmes including “Who Do You Think You Are” both in the UK and USA. He was instrumental (March 2016) in locating the evidence that allowed Guinness World Records to confirm Israel Krystal, Auschwitz survivor aged 113, as the then World’s oldest living man. Michael was awarded the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies Lifetime Achievement award in Washington in 2011 and in 2012 he was awarded “The Roll of Honour” by the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain.

Serafima Velkovich has been working at Yad Vashem for 14 years. She is a PhD candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, in the faculty of Sociology of Education. The theme of her research is “The identity of persons born in DP camps after WWII”. As a researcher in the Reference and Information Department of the Yad Vashem Archives division, Serafima is closely involved in the research of names material in Yad Vashem`s databases. She lectures on the use of Yad Vashem resources and participates in conferences and workshops. Serafima participated in the “Holocaust Research and the Spatial Turn” workshop in Yad Vashem; IAJGS conference in Jerusalem, Orlando and Warsaw; European Holocaust Research Infrastructure (EHRI) workshops in the Arolsen Archives and Yad Vashem. She was also an EHRI fellow in Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw. The theme of her research was “Mapping the names in Holocaust related materials in The Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute (ŻIH)”. In addition, she writes articles for the EHRI blog.