Friday, 20 March 2015

Jewish Literary Fairs Around the World

As our team gears up to offer Sydneysiders an exciting program for the 2015 SJWF, it is inspiring to see Jewish writers festivals flourishing internationally. Recently, both London and Jerusalem hosted literary luminaries to take part in innovative interviews, debates, and exhibits celebrating Jewish culture and the written word.
For over sixty years, London's Jewish Book Week has hosted events promoting the diversity of Jewish culture through the written word. This year, the festival of words and ideas organised a rich program for attendees. JBW boasted a breadth of presenters and panel discussions with an international flair. The event showcased book launches, topical debates, author signings, readings, interviews, performances, as well as workshops. From novelists to podcast hosts to essayists, artists, cartoonists, biographers, journalists, and restaurant critics, JBW welcomed a panoply of guests. Themes highlighted were plentiful and as varied as art, music, food, politics, Israel and the Middle East, New York culture, the Holocaust, anti-Semitism, sexuality, language, science, and faith.
JBW reached out to a wide audience with original and fascinating sessions.  During "Jews and the Military," John Day and Derek Penslar discussed Jewish participation in the military throughout history. Cartoonist and humourist Robert Mankoff explored the art form in "The New Yorker Cartoon". Londoners also had the opportunity to listen to an interview with Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson, indulge their inner foodie with the "Middle Eastern Food Scene" session, and learn industry secrets at "Judging book prizes: Going behind Closed Doors". The musical session "Talking Jazz,"  featured Ella Leyar performing jazz and speaking about her experience with the Russian State Jazz Orchestra.  
Marc Weitzmann
The 2015 JBW saw Marc Weitzmann take home the Chaim Bermant Award for Journalism. Weitzmann won the £5,000 prize for “France’s Toxic Hate,” his five-part series on anti-Semitism. The recipients of this prize are rewarded for delving into the contemporary Jewish experience.

Established in 1963, the Jerusalem International Book Fair is the largest literary event in Israel. For its 27th fair, the biennial program announced a change in venue as it relocated to the city’s vibrant hub in an effort to reach a young audience. An astounding 300 programs were offered during the week-long event. The line-up showcased conversations between international authors, such as Jennifer Teege and local ones, such as Amichai Shalev. One such creative pairing included Israeli food writer Janna Gur discussing the Jewish kitchen with American restaurateur Mark Russ-Federman. JIBF also highlighted literature that embraced the interaction of Hebrew and Arabic. The relationship between Germany and Israel was explored in a conversation dealing with perception, in literature as well as in life, and of how each country views the other. German authors such as Norbert Kron delved into the issue with Israeli authors such as Liat Elkayam.  
JIBF is multifaceted, representing literary fiction as well as detective fiction, science fiction, and cookbooks. This inclusive festival offers children a space to fall in love with books. JIBF welcomed children into the fold with daily programs initiating young minds to the power of the written word.
"The Disappearing Screen"
Photo taken by Natalia Cheban
An innovative central feature of this edition of JIBF was the exhibit “The Disappearing Screen,” which celebrated the jubilee year of German-Israeli diplomatic relations. Designed by German architect Werner Sobek, the two-meter-high wall consisted of over 5,000 wooden blocks on which quotes from prominent German politicians, academics, musicians, and philosophers were written. Attendees had the opportunity to choose to bring home the wooden blocks with their favourite quotes as a souvenir. The goal of this memorable exhibit was to create a dialogue Germans and Israelis in the aftermath of the Holocaust.
JIBF is a great opportunity for industry professionals as well. Closed-door programs give writers the opportunity to interact with editors, publishers, and agents through workshops, mentoring sessions, and seminars. This year,emerging Israeli writers were given the chance to participate in a new book-pitching event hosted by the Foreign Ministry and Penguin Random House. The newcomers to the literary scene had five minutes to read a passage of their book to international publishers, distributors, and experts in the field.
Ismail Kadare
This year’s Jerusalem Prize recipient was Albanian author Ismail Kadare. This was a momentous selection as Kadare is the first writer of Muslim background to receive this honour. One of the highlights of JIBF, this prize is awarded to an author whose work explores the individual and freedom in society, work which resonates on a universal level.  Kadare also won the Man Booker International Prize in 2005.  

As we celebrate the success of these two Jewish literary events, the SJWF team is working hard on an engaging program for our community.  

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