LONDON - The UK's Jewish Book Week 2010 kicked off on Saturday night with a wide array of events that celebrate the Jewish contribution to the literary world.
The week-long event, a major part of the Jewish calendar, is taking 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, program for children and events in Hebrew for London's Israelis.
Geraldine D'Amico, the director, is calling this year's event the most eclectic 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. The evening featured award-winning author and Columbia University scholar Simon Schama starring as Mordechai, the Facebook profiles of all the megila characters and live Iranian music.
"We are particularly excited by the various spoken-word events we have this year at the festival, with, for the first time in the history of JBW, new work being commissioned," added D'Amico. "All the participants in the Purim spiel wrote original texts for the event. And the fabulous speakers included Anita Diamant, Schama, Kathy Lette and David Aaronovitch."
On Sunday, prominent British lawyer and academic Anthony Julius was discussing 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 Enquiry into Anti-Semitism.
Also on Sunday, writers from England and Israel squared up against each other in a soccer match. The Israeli team included Avi Shilon, biographer of Menachem Begin, and Assaf Gavron, author of the controversial Croc Attack
JBW has been criticized 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 it's 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 in 2006 published the first, condensed version of what became Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's The Israel Lobby and US Policy
book, and LRB writer Ed Harriman produced a 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 had been invited to discuss her latest book and not her views on Israel.
On Sunday also, bestselling American author Diamant was discussing her new book Day after Night
, a story of friendship in the Atlit holding camp of illegal immigrants to Israel in 1945. It tells the tale of four women who each has her own story of surviving the war in a different European country.
Monday sees Jonathan Safran Foer, author of the hugely successful book Everything is Illuminated
, in conversation with leading Israeli novelist Etgar Keret. That same day, outlining their visions for addressing ethical challenges, religious and secular, in the 21st century, will be Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, in discussion with philosophy scholar Susan Neiman.
On Tuesday, one of France's foremost intellectuals Hélène Cixous talks to literary critic Nicholas Royle. 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, Albie Sachs, a former member of the South African Constitutional Court, discusses a life-long devotion to the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, in a conversation with Baroness Helena Kennedy, who has acted in many leading trials, including those of battered women who kill their partners.
In all, the week features over 130 speakers, also including Tariq Ali,
Marcus du Sautoy, Niall Ferguson, Anne Fine, Rebecca Goldstein, Oliver
James, Simon Mawer, Dominique Moïsi, Steven Pinker and Will Self.
closes next Sunday with a discussion on the Diaspora's relationship
with Israel and a look at what lies ahead in the Middle East. Human
rights activist Prof. Francesca Klug, J Street adviser Daniel Levy and
Ben-Gurion University's Prof. David Newman will discuss the debate
between those labelled as "self-hating Jews" and those who give
unconditional support to Israel.