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Jewish Journal

People of the Book Festival

Fourth annual JCC fest brings out the bibliophile in everyone.

by Naomi Pfefferman

November 9, 2000 | 7:00 pm

Jewish books are hot these days.

Jonathan Fass should know; he's directing the People of the Book - Jewish Book Festival, a program of the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles, which turns four years old this week. The emergence of the festival is part and parcel of the Jewish book renaissance that's been sweeping the nation recently.

At a time when Jewish continuity is in, Holocaust memoirs are everywhere and Jewish-themed tomes grace the book reviews of major daily newspapers, the festival has prospered. Several thousand Angelenos attended the 1999 fest. And at this year's event, Nov. 12-16, you can catch Myla Goldberg ("Bee Season") and Nomi Eve ("The Family Orchard") whose stunning debut novels have gleaned national attention (see sidebars). Author Rich Cohen, who'll read from his partisan saga, "The Avengers" (see story below), had lengthy excerpts of his book published in Newsweek.

Significantly, it's not an exclusively Jewish shop that is providing the 250 tomes for festival "bookstores" at the West Valley and Westside JCC's. Rather, it's the upscale Century City Brentano's.

Fass has a theory about the explosion of Jewish books. "Jews are the People of the Book, so if there's a reinvigorating of Jewish identity, it follows there's a reinvigorating of Jewish literature," he says.

The festival has come a long way since it was whipped up from scratch by the JCC's Seville Porush in 1997. The 2000 fest is smaller and more focused than in years past, so it's more polished, and events aren't competing against themselves to draw patrons in the megalopolis. "We've been learning what works and what doesn't in a huge city like L.A.," Fass explains. "We've also been trying to reach out to audiences we haven't targeted before."

For the first time ever, there's a singles event, co-sponsored by JDate.com, featuring Rabbi Niles Elliot Goldstein, himself a single guy. Goldstein will talk about his book, "God at the Edge: Searching for the Divine in Uncomfortable and Unexpected Places," chronicling how he set out to find God in tough, scary situations like dog sledding in the Arctic.

Also debuting is a panel discussion highlighting the lesbian Jewish experience, where you can hear Zsa Zsa Gershick, editor of "Gay Old Girls," profiling lesbian pioneers of the gay liberation movement.

The 10 festival programs, moreover, include children's storytelling events; Tova Mirvis reading from her book, "The Ladies' Auxiliary," set in the Orthodox Jewish community of Memphis, Tenn.; and a mystery night with "A Conspiracy of Paper," David Liss' tale of an 18th century London Jew investigating the mysterious death of his estranged father. Richard Krevolin's monologue "Boychick," starring Richard Kline, is another tribute to a misunderstood father by a son out of touch with his Jewish roots. ("Boychick" will run Nov. 18 and 19, but the Nov. 16 performance has been canceled. Advance reservations are necessary to guarantee the festival admission price of $6 per person.)

The goal of the festival is simple. "We wanted to present as wide a range of Jewish literature as possible," Fass explains.

And while the fest does not yet break even from ticket sales, that's not the point, adds Fass, the JCCs' Jewish education specialist. "We lose money," he says, candidly. "But the goal of Jewish education is not to turn a profit. It's to help Jews grow Jewishly."

All festival events are $6 except children's programs, which are free. A $24 pass allows admission to all events. For more information and to obtain a festival brochure, call (323) 938-2531, ext. 2207.

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