"Romance on the Road" unites book-lovers across Israel

Groups and events are like oxygen for the growing cadre of enthusiasts of the erotic romance genre.

ROMANCE ON the Road has held well-attended book events all over the country, including in Jerusalem, Haifa and Eilat. (photo credit: Courtesy)
ROMANCE ON the Road has held well-attended book events all over the country, including in Jerusalem, Haifa and Eilat.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 It all began with a Facebook post in a group called, “All about Romance,” which has over 36,000 members. “Why does Israel Book Week take place only in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem??? Isn’t northern Israel considered part of the country???” one post questioned. This new crusade continued and gained momentum as meeting after meeting was held. Finally, a new Facebook group called, “Romance on the Road” was created. 
While the shelf life of other genres is faltering, the popularity of erotic and romantic novels continues to grow. Sales of both translated romance novels, as well as books written originally in Hebrew, continue to soar as tens of thousands of copies are bought by eager readers. Members of this Facebook group often spend up to NIS 350 a month on books. 
“Erotica is an important part of our lives,” explains author Yolanda Hirsch-Sofer, 39, who penned eight novels and is the founder of the Facebook group.
“All we’ve done is taken the implied, made it much more explicit and taken it in a different direction. Our gatherings are just the beginning. We plan to hold more panels in locales in areas all over the country in cities that authors don’t often reach. This way, we can make literature accessible to everyone. Israel is a small country and there’s room for everyone, but naturally the stronger communities receive a much larger portion of people’s attention, whereas the weaker ones too often end up being ignored. We recently received a request from a reader who lives in northern Israel, which provoked considerable lively discussion. 
“Many female writers argued that when they held gatherings at malls, women weren’t showing up,” continues Hirsch-Sofer. “Since I’m an entrepreneur, I decided to take on this challenge. Once we started getting organized and I saw that a good number of orders and many authors were interested in joining in, I knew we had something real here. I try to rotate the authors each time we have a panel. Sometimes, I invite experienced writers to sit on our panel, whereas at other times I schedule younger writers who are just beginning on their path – or a mix of the two. It is so important for women authors to have this contact with readers, who jump at the opportunity to embrace their favorite female writers. This contact between reader and writer is mutually beneficial, and neither one can exist without the other.”
NINE FEMALE writers and 90 readers participated in the first event, which was held in Haifa. The second event was held at the legendary Danny Books Gallery in Jerusalem, and included 11 authors and over 100 book lovers. The third took place in Eilat over the weekend of May 16-18, and was attended by dozens of writers from all over the country, who dazzled guests with stories at panels that were held after kiddush on Friday night and during meals throughout the weekend. In a WhatsApp group that was created especially for the occasion, participating authors presented themselves. 
Yafit Suissa Malka, 38, who is married and has three children, and is the director of a community center in Kiryat Bialik, has been reading since as far back as she can remember. “I read everything I can get my hands on,” says Suissa Malka. “I love all genres. When I was in fifth grade, they let me start taking out books form the junior high library since I’d read every book in my school’s library. Three years ago, I created a Facebook group called, “Kol Ma Shekoreh” with three friends: Merav Karpletz from Beersheba, Miri Sayag from Hadera and Karin Laret from Atlit. The group now has over 3,000 members who are looking for something different, and who wish to create a pleasurable place where women can express themselves without worrying about any repercussions. All women can join, but it’s mostly geared toward readers of the romantic/erotic genre. Slowly, more and more women are joining this group and forming strong friendships that are based on a common love of books. 
“It used to be that when people thought about authors, they’d picture someone holed up in their study behind a large desk. Nowadays, thankfully, authors are much more accessible, and we can meet them and interact with them. The gap between how we imagine them and what they’re really like has been greatly reduced. But authors don’t always make the time to drive up north for a meet-up with readers.”
So when author Noa Neumann Glasco asked on the, “Romance on the Road” Facebook group, ‘If we hold a special book event in northern Israel, will any of you attend?’ she was inundated with tons of enthusiastic replies. “They quickly put together an incredible evening,” says Suissa Malka. “A number of authors participated, and we sold lots of books that night. Refreshments were offered at extremely reasonable rates, which made it nice for everyone involved. About 100 women from all over the north came, including Haifa, the Krayot, Acre, Karmiel and Nahariya.” 
AFTER HOLDING events in Jerusalem, Haifa and Eilat, the group has really crystallized. 
“Our goal was to get women from all over the country involved. It was incredible having a three-day gathering with women you met through a common love of books. In my opinion, this shows what great dedication we all have.”
At these book events, the writers themselves are there to sell their books and write personal dedications in each copy bought. The authors love their interactions with readers, who cherish every story about what the impetus was for the authors to begin writing, and how they come up with ideas and formulate plot lines. 
“In every genre, there are some great books, as well as some mediocre ones. Sometimes when I finish a book, I ask myself, ‘Why would anyone have published such a book?’ But that’s just my personal opinion. Then there are books with the most amazing story lines. Some have much more detail than others, and that’s half the fun. There’s no doubt that reading such books is extremely exciting and fun. Luckily, we no longer live in the 1950s, when women had to hide that they were reading such novels. And many women will tell you that it’s done miracles for their intimate relationships with their partners. It’s totally legitimate to admit that you enjoy reading such novels. There are so many amazing Israeli writers who are writing quality books.”

BOOK LOVER Yafit Suissa Malka helped create the Kol Ma Shekorah Facebook group. (Courtesy) BOOK LOVER Yafit Suissa Malka helped create the Kol Ma Shekorah Facebook group. (Courtesy)
Naifa Kiyuf, a resident of Usifiya, who has two children, believes that reading opens up opportunities for us to learn new things, develop our creativity, improve our vocabulary, and even acquire the skills to deal with different situations. “Every time I read a book, I experience excitement, pain, happiness, optimism, contentment and sometimes even self-confidence,” says Kiyuf. “Books are the best teachers to prepare us for living life. They’ve become such an important part of our lives. The friendships that have developed as a result of these Facebook reading groups, the panels that are held all over the country – and especially the gatherings with the authors themselves – are so enriching. Every time I’ve attended one of these get-togethers, I’m so inspired by the writers; I just can’t wait to get my hands on their new books.”
THE GENRE of erotic romance novels is constantly developing, both in print, as well as in digital books. Leading Israeli authors who write in this genre include Yolanda Hirsch-Sofer, Inbal Almoznino, Ayelet Svetitzky, Dana Levy Elgrod, Lilian Salameh Nahum, Yehudit Zippori, Sharon Tzohar, Linda Mizrahi and Sharon Chayut Ginat. 
Anat Biton, 36, a mother of three from Beit Shemesh, who works in information systems at a cellular phone company, admits that she’s seriously addicted to books. “Events like the weekend get together in Eilat are like oxygen for me,” says Biton. “They’re so much fun and also a great way to meet other women from all over the country. It’s really important that these events take place in the North and the South, so that women all over the country can meet their favorite authors and ask them questions. I personally have been to three of Dana Levy Elgrod’s book launchings.”
“One of the reasons it’s so important to hold these sessions where readers can interact with authors is so that we can see that these women are real people. I’m a member in quite a few literary forums, and this is the only genre where I see such an intimate connection between authors and readers. It’s wonderful that women no longer feel like they need to hide the fact that they’re fans of this genre. It’s a wonderful feeling being able to converse with others who have common interests and tastes in books. I would never discuss with anyone what takes place in my own bedroom with my husband, but discussing characters in a novel is something else. We can all discuss the conflicts and even say what we’d do in such a situation, since it doesn’t have anything to do with our own private lives.”
Hirsch-Sofer is married to a policeman and has three children: a daughter who’s about to go into the army, a 10-year-old son and a nine-year-old son with special needs. “I’ve always chosen jobs where I could leave my work at the office at the end of the day and come home and write, because that’s what I really loved doing. I was a marketing manager at an insurance firm and I’ve managed businesses. I wrote the first version of my book Paradise in Hell when I was just 10. At the time, I called the story, “Hili is a Big Girl,” and I wrote it on a pad of yellow lined paper. The story was about a girl who is taken to Caesarea because in the future she’s going to have to take over for her father, an organized crime lord. When my grandfather found the pad of paper with the story, he threw it in the garbage. 
“I started writing the second version when I was 20, but that one disappeared, too. I wrote the third version five years ago, when my daughter convinced me to sit myself down and write. ‘Just sit down and write,’ she told me. ‘I’ll sit with you and write, too.’ She was very encouraging.” In the interim, Hirsch-Sofer has managed to publish eight books, all of them erotic romance novels or thrillers.
“I’m the first Israeli who’s dared to write in this genre. I’m the only one who writes about female domination.”
WHY IS this genre so enrapturing?
“Since the time we are little girls, society is always trying to keep us down. We see early on the difference in boys’ and girls’ genitals. Girls are taught that we should be restrained, that sex is for men to enjoy. Finally, we have a genre of literature in which women want to enjoy sex and delight in the knowledge that their bodies can be used to derive pleasure. It’s wonderful that women can enjoy the fantasies described in these novels, in which powerful women take charge. It’s so much fun to sit in a room with other women who enjoy reading these novels. Women are so much more limited in their social interactions than men, and these gatherings are the perfect way to make up for what’s lacking.” 
Translated by Hannah Hochner.