UK’s Jewish Book Week celebrates 60 years

A leading festival of Jewish thoughts and ideas and a major event in the Jewish calendar, the book week is not without controversy.

February 19, 2012 03:44
2 minute read.

London 521. (photo credit: Wikimedia)


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LONDON – Jewish Book Week (JBW) kicked off in London on Saturday night with a far-reaching and diverse program of events and participants, including famed author Umberto Eco, British actor David Morrissey, Israeli designer Ron Arad, Britain’s chief rabbi and the founder of US lobby group J Street.

A leading festival of Jewish thoughts and ideas and a major event in the Jewish calendar, the book week attracts audiences beyond the Jewish community.

However, it is not without controversy; it stands accused of hosting anti-Israel protagonists.

Last year, one of its main sponsors, The Jewish Chronicle, accused it of hosting “fanatical Israel-bashers” and “Israel’s enemies,” and for allowing a session to be sponsored by the London Review of Books, who it described as “a Der Stuermer- lite for intellectuals.”

“With friends like JBW, there is precious little that Israel’s intellectual enemies need to bother with,” the Chronicle said in an editorial last year.

The UK’s second-oldest festival, this year’s book week is celebrating 60 years with a week of events that explore Jewish culture, look at Israel and the Middle East, touch on global issues, unearth new talent, launch books and delve into comedy, music, film and storytelling.

Highlights include a discussion with authors Anthony Julius and Hillel Halkin on their book about famed philosopher Yehuda Halevi; a talk with historian and author Deborah Lipstadt, who will be discussing her new book on the Eichmann Trial; the launch of French film-maker and intellectual Claude Lanzmann autobiography, who is known for his documentary Shoah and will be speaking to BBC creative director Alan Yentob about his life, work and passions; and University of London’s Professor of Israeli Studies Colin Shindler’s conversation with journalist Nick Cohen, author of the book What’s Left: How liberals lost their way, on Shindler’s new book Israel and the European Left: Between Solidarity and Delegitimization.

Other notable speakers include Israeli author Etgar Keret and award-winning author Jonathan Safran Foer, who will be talking to Jeffrey Goldberg about the Hagadda and his new edition that is set to become a popular edition to Seder table.

British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and atheist mathematician Marcus du Sautoy delve into the relationship between science and religion, while academic Bernard Wasserstein presents an interpretation of the collapse of European Jewish civilization even before the rise of the Nazis.

The founder of J Street Jeremy Ben-Ami is slated to be interviewed by Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland about the challenges of being “a new voice for Israel,” while comedian David Schneider will provide a light-hearted look at how Jews and sport just do not get on.

British artist Willow Winston has been commissioned by Jewish Book Week and her book-themed art installations adorn the venue. To commemorate the occasion, organizers have also drafted a list of 60 must-read Jewish books from the last 60 years.

With many events sold out, each session will be available as free podcasts after the event.

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