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Reflecting on the Beilis Trial
Nov 4 2013

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 4, 2013 | 7pm
Elissa Bemporad, Queens College, CUNY; Edmund Levin, ABC News; Annie Polland, Tenement Museum; Robert Weinberg, Swarthmore College; Jonathan Brent, YIVO (Moderator)
Lisa Gutkin (Musician), The Klezmatics; Lorin Sklamberg (Musician), The Klezmatics

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Fall 2013 marked the 100th anniversary of the trial of Mendel Beilis, an innocent factory clerk in tsarist Russia accused of murdering a Christian boy so his blood could be used to bake matzo. During its time, the Beilis Trial provoked international protest from media, politicians, writers and intellectuals, but today it is little known. This engaging roundtable discussion examined the trial from various perspectives: blood libels and anti-Semitism in tsarist Russia; the widespread artistic and journalistic response to the trial; Beilis’s funeral, which was attended by thousands at the Eldridge Street Synagogue on the Lower East Side; and the relevance of the trial today.

Lisa Gutkin and Lorin Sklamberg of the Grammy-winning The Klezmatics, performed Lid Fun Mendl Beylis, or The Song of Mendel Beilis as part of this event. This folk song was sent to the YIVO publication Yidisher folklor and was adapted from the song Vi halt ikh dos oys? or How Do I Bear It? by Mark Warshawsky.

Mr. Jay Beilis, the grandson of Mendel Beilis, was in attendance at the event.

Presented by the YIVO Institute, Yeshiva University Museum and the Museum at Eldridge Street.

This program is supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Elissa Bemporad is the Jerry and William Ungar Assistant Professor in Eastern European Jewish History and the Holocaust at Queens College, City University of New York. Her book Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk (2013) was awarded the Fraenkel Prize in Contemporary History for an outstanding work of 20th century history. She is currently working on a social history of the blood libel accusation in the Soviet Union and Poland.

Edmund Levin is a longtime writer/producer for ABC News. He is the author of the forthcoming book, A Child of Christian Blood – Murder & Conspiracy in Tsarist Russia: The Beilis Blood Libel (Schocken Books, February 2014). His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and Slate, among other periodicals. He is a graduate of Columbia University’s School of International Affairs and Harriman Institute. He lives in New York City.

Annie Polland is the Vice President for Programs and Education at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where she oversees exhibits and interpretation. She is the author, with Daniel Soyer, of Emerging Metropolis: New York Jews in the Age of Immigration (2012), winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award. Prior to her work at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, she served as Vice President of Education at the Museum at Eldridge Street, where she wrote Landmark of the Spirit (2008). She teaches at New York University.

Robert Weinberg is Professor of History at Swarthmore College, where he teaches courses on Russian and Soviet history, Modern European history, and Modern Jewish history. His research focuses on Russian and Soviet antisemitism, pogroms, and tsarist and communist policies toward Jews. His publications include: Ritual Murder in Late Imperial Russia: The Trial of Mendel Beilis (2013); The Russian Revolution: A History in Documents (with Laurie Bernstein, 2010); Stalin’s Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland (1998); and The Revolution of 1905 in Odessa: Blood on the Steps (1993).

Jonathan Brent (Moderator) is the Executive Director of the YIVO Institute. Brent founded the internationally acclaimed Annals of Communism series at Yale University Press and significantly expanded Yale’s publications in Jewish studies, acquiring titles such as The New Yiddish Library. Brent is also visiting professor of Russian History and Literature at Bard College and lectures widely on Jewish, Soviet and East European history. His books include Stalin’s Last Crime (2003) and Inside the Stalin Archives (2008). He is currently writing a study of the Russian Jewish writer, Isaac Babel.

Lisa Gutkin (Musician): Grammy award winning fiddler/composer/singer/songwriter Lisa Gutkin is one of NYC's busiest musicians. Her varied musical palette has led to collaborations with a wide array of artists in the United States and Europe, the founding of the 'Downtown Celtic' group, Whirligig, and to joining world-reknowned superstars of the klezmer world, The Klezmatics. For several years prior to joining the Klezmatics, Lisa focused mostly on traditional Irish and Scottish music, playing and recording with Tommy Sands, John Whelan, Pat Kilbride, Jerry O'Sullivan, Steve Cooney, Cathie Ryan, and Ed Miller, and in the bands Whirligig and An Cré with John Redmond and Brendan Dolan. Lisa currently tours with the Klezmatics and as a soloist, and occasionally plays bluegrass with The Demolition String Band in their Ola Belle Reed project, old-time American music with Steve Arkin and the QuasiModal Stringband, 1920's jazz with David Zimbalist's Speakeasy String Quartet, Irish and original tunes and songs with Pamela Wyn Shannon, and acoustic Klezmer music with Pete Rushefsky.

Lorin Sklamberg (Musician): The legendary music critic Robert Christgau has described Lorin Sklamberg’s voice as “transcendent, ethereal and sensual,” while a writer for Folkworld gushed that the Klezmatics’ frontman “brings tears into my eyes with his fabulous way of singing.” Lorin Sklamberg, a singer, guitarist, accordion player, oud player and scholar of Eastern European Jewish music, is the co-founder the legendary, and Grammy-winning klezmer group, The Klezmatics. For 14 years Lorin was the coordinator of KlezKamp: The Yiddish Folk Arts Program, and co-founded Living Traditions, the non-profit that sponsored it for seven of those years. Lorin can be heard on some 50 CDs, and also composes and performs for film, dance, stage and circus, produces recordings, and teaches and lectures from London and Paris to Kiev and St. Petersburg. He currently works at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research as the Sound Archivist.