LONDON - The UK's Jewish Book Week 2010 kicked off on Saturday night with a wide array of events over the next seven days that celebrate the Jewish contribution to the literary world.
The week-long event, a major part of the Jewish calendar, takes place at the Royal National Hotel in central London and this year covers diverse subject areas from football to philosophy, mathematics to literature, queer theory to justice, the economic crisis to the threats to democracy, Jewish revival in Poland to peace in the Middle East.
There will be round tables, readings, workshops, spoken word events, a program for children and events in Hebrew for London's Israelis.
Geraldine D'Amico, director of Jewish Book Week is extremely excited about this year's event.
"I really think it is our most eclectic festival ever and I challenge anyone not to find a single session that would interest them," she said. "Hopefully, quite the opposite, I hope people will feel spoilt for choice."
A Purim spiel with a contemporary twist kicked things off on Saturday night which had award-winning author and Columbia University scholar Simon Schama starring as Mordecai, the Facebook profiles of all the Megillah characters and live Iranian music.
"We are particularly excited by the various spoken words events we have this year at the festival, with for the first time in the history of JBW, new work being commissioned," said D'Amico. "All the participants in the Purim Spiel wrote original texts for the event and with such fabulous speakers as Anita Diamant, Simon Schama, Kathy Lette, David Aaronovitch and more, it will be an evening to remember. It's also the first time we'll have live Persian music at JBW."
On Sunday prominent British lawyer and academic Anthony Julius will discuss his definitive new work, Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, with MP and author Denis MacShane, former chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism.
Also on Sunday, writers from England and Israel will square up against each other in a football game. The Israeli team includes Avi Shilon, biographer of Menachem Begin, and Assaf Goavron, author of the controversial Croc Attack
JBW has been criticised for hosting on Sunday the critical of Israel editor of the London Review of Books (LRB), Mary-Kay Wilmers.
Last year Wilmers told The Sunday Times
: "I'm unambiguously hostile to Israel because it¹s a mendacious state. They do things that are just so immoral and counterproductive and, as a Jew, especially as a Jew, you can't justify that."
LRB did the first review of Walt and Mearsheimer's 'Israel Lobby' book in 2006 and LRB writer Ed Harriman produced the documentary earlier this year that implied there was a powerful and influential Israeli lobby at work in the UK.
D'Amico told the Jewish Chronicle
this week that Wilmers has been invited to discuss her latest book and not her views on Israel.
On Sunday also, bestselling American author Anita Diamant will be discussing her new book Day after Night
, a story of friendship in the Alit holding camp of illegal immigrants to Israel in 1945. It tells the tale of four women who each has her own story to tell of surviving the war in a difference European country.
Monday sees author of the hugely successful book Everything is Illuminated
in conversation with leading Israeli novelist Etgar Karet. Outlining their visions for addressing ethical challenges, religious and secular, in the 21st century, will be the theme for Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks's discussion with philosophy scholar Susan Neiman.
On Tuesday, one of France's foremost intellectuals Hélène Cixous talks to literary critic Nicholas Royle on Tuesday. While on Wednesday, one of the world's leading experts on human reproduction, Prof. Robert Winston, takes a fresh look at man's greatest discoveries and asks whether our dependence on science and technology has led us into a precarious situation.
On Thursday, two cult figures in the fight for justice, look back on Albie Sachs' life-long devotion to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Justice Albie Sachs, former-member of the South African Constitutional Court, is in conversation with Baroness Helena Kennedy who has acted in many leading trials, including the trials of battered women who kill their partners.
Over 130 speakers will take part in Jewish Book Week. Other world leading writers and thinkers taking part include. Tariq Ali, Marcus du Sautoy, Niall Ferguson, Anne Fine, Rebecca Goldstein, Oliver James, Simon Mawer, Dominique Moïsi, Steven Pinker and Will Self.
Jewish Book Week will close next Sunday with a discussion on the Diaspora's relationship with Israel and look at what lies ahead with peace in the Middle East seeming as elusive as ever. Human rights activist Prof. Francesca Klug, J Street advisor Daniel Levy and Ben-Gurion University's Prof. David Newman will discuss the debate between those labeled as "self-hating Jews" and ardent supporters of Israel who give unconditional support to Israel.Jewish Book Week runs from February 27-March 7See: www.jewishbookweek.comFollow JBW blog at: http://jbwuk.wordpress.com