November 25, 2009
People of the Book Tour
It all started on a warm spring afternoon in Manhattan. Dressed in my finest new linen suit, I showed up at the “Meet the Author” event held annually by the National Jewish Book Council (NJBC). This event runs over three nights, and brings 50 authors per night together with 200 event planners from JCC’s and synagogues across the country. Each author has exactly 2 minutes to present their new book, and after all 50 presentations, there is a “Meet Market” held over a catered kosher dinner.
It is like speed dating on steroids. Authors run around saying, “I’d just love to come to your city,” and the event planners try to assess the reception these authors and their books would receive at their “home” during Jewish Book Month (November). Strategically arranged to precede Chanukah, Jewish Book Fairs draw a large and enthusiastic crowd. The smaller venues bring in many lesser known authors, while the larger ones have the means to bring in “celebrities” such as Alan Dershowitz, Amos Oz, Shmuely Boteach, and Joseph Telushkin.
I was fortunate enough to be invited to nine cities, and last week alone went to four of them. San Diego was the first port of call. Our San Diego JCC hosts couldn’t have been nicer, and that legendary So. Cal. “friendly” was in full force. The palm trees were swaying and although I followed Larry King, there was a large crowd in the library for my talk. Afterwards, the stunning atrium was filled with books of presenting authors, and a large assortment of other Jewish books as well.
The following day it was off to Denver, where we were picked up and dropped off in SUV’s, the standard fare for snow country. That evening, we were treated to dinner at the home of a philanthropic couple who were involved with Jewish Day Schools in Denver. Our marvelous hosts had connections in two competing schools and had invited folks active in both for an evening of informative information sharing focusing on my input as founding president of the Jewish Community High School in San Francisco. I was blown away by the willingness of everyone to brainstorm, cooperate, and share, all in the name of mutual cooperation and individual improvement. Questions of governance in an era of scarcity, and staying true to core principles while accommodating fiscal responsibility were openly and honestly explored
After my breakfast talk—complete with bagels—at the Denver JCC, and a short workout, it was off to Cherry Hill, NJ for another 7:30 am breakfast talk the following day. NJ was colder, crisper, and faster. East coasters need to think, act, and do, for the weather can change at any moment, and you’ve got to stay ahead of it. Philly twangs were ever present in this suburb of the city of brotherly love.
My talk at the Cherry Hill JCC was billed not only as part of their Jewish Book Week, but also as part of their monthly business roundtable. Questions were asked about entrepreneurship in a time of recession, and how to make “lemonade from lemons.” Before leaving for Boston, we were graciously shown around some important sites of historic Philadelphia by our charming JCC volunteer hosts. A memorable spot was Betsy Ross’ house, which explained how she was not only the maker of the first flag, but also a single mother and successful entrepreneur. Not bad for a woman in 1775!
Despite the recession, it seems people are thirsty for inspiration. Jewish Book Month was heavily populated in all four cities I visited. People were pouring over the books, buzzing about the latest speaker, and excited to be able to purchase a signed copy of a featured speaker’s latest work.
The NJBC does amazing work, although invisible to many outside of their orbit. The communities that are part of it are truly indebted to them. Keeping Jewish book culture alive is a daunting task in the age of the internet, Tivo and Kindle. The communities I visited, and the volunteers I connected with could not have been more gracious. I was given celebrity status, and it was clear to me that the people of the Jewish Book Fair intended to perpetuate our preeminence in the book business for at least another 5770 years to come, despite what the electrical engineers throw at us!