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Hundreds gathered in the Tel Aviv Port entertainment district to wait for the moment that would reveal Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to the world. At 2:01 a.m. Saturday, people here joined fans around the world counting down the seconds before simultaneously opening sales of the much-anticipated book.
The launch was the biggest in the country's history and was part of the largest and most intensive promotional campaign that the literary world has ever seen.
"This is a grand celebration of books and literature, a global celebration," said Steimatzky general manager Iris Barel. "We have thousands of books on site and expect to sell tens of thousands more out of our chain of stores in the days and weeks to come."
The massive campaign was in jeopardy after Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) threatened to impose fines on businesses that opened on Shabbat to sell the books. "Inspectors came by, but no fines were issued in the end," said Steimatzky spokeswoman Alona Zamir.
Children, teenagers and adults alike took part in the celebration, proving that Harry Potter is by no means merely a children's book, but a widespread cultural phenomenon.
Many of the children in attendance were English-speakers, as the Hebrew version of the book won't be on sale until December. Hopefully they won't spoil the fun for their Hebrew-speaking friends. The seventh and last book is said to be full of interesting plot twists and surprises, including the death of some of the main characters.
For those who can't wait, purchasing the English version will provide English reading practice over the summer vacation.
"I can probably finish the book in two weeks, but I plan to take my time and enjoy every page," said 13-year-old Matan Weisbrott of Hod Hasharon.
"I'm leaving the country in 48 hours. I want to finish the book by the time I leave," said one teenager who was too embarrassed to give his name, although he and his three friends admitted that they were certified geeks.
A special live video broadcast of a public reading of the book by author J.K. Rowling was interrupted for technical reasons; viewers in Tel Aviv got to hear only the last few paragraphs of the first chapter.
"The event was very, very successful, we were glad to enable our customers to be part of the international celebration," said Zamir. "We'd love to have more of these types of events in the future, but it's not every day that a book like this comes out."
When asked if it was a matter of the book drawing attention or the publicity promoting the book, Zamir replied: "We have to remember that in the beginning the books did outstandingly well without the aid of the publicity campaign, promoted only by word of mouth. There's something unique about these books that make them appealing to people of all ages and nationalities."