Book week: brain food… and food

Jewish Book Week opened with a bang on Sunday. Well, actually, with a flash.

At the instigation of Gefiltefest founder Michael Leventhal, JBW saw its first flashmob — 40 participants took to the stairs and balconies of Kings Place, the venue for the nine-day events, to sing and play spontaneous music from Fiddler on the Roof, to the delight of Sunday’s crowds.

The flashmobbers sang twice, with their rendition of L’Chaim (To Life) as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the musical, which was celebrated on Sunday night with actor Henry Goodman.

Though Book Week kicked off informally on Saturday night with a preview performance of Jocelyn Pook’s Drawing Life song cycle, things really got off the ground on Sunday morning with a sold-out event — Hebrew University professor Shlomo Avineri on his new book, the first biography of Theodor Herzl in 35 years. “It was really fantastic,” said audience member Jonathan Silver.

But for those who weren’t keen on brain food, there was traditional succour: Mark Russ Federman and Lance Forman, respectively the smoked salmon kings of New York and London, giving the lowdown on bagels and lox – with, of course, ample samples after the talk.

Adam Cohen was fizzing with enthusiasm after hearing Mark Thompson speak about the life of Yugoslav writer Danilo Kis in a talk chaired by Misha Glenny. “I felt I was alone in a room with two most incredible intellects. It was really brilliant.” He was, on Sunday at least, one of the few audience members under 40. But he was sanguine: “I think my generation does love books and I think that most of the people here will have been going to Book Week for years, since they were young. I’m not worried about the future of Book Week.”

Elsewhere, the big early evening hit was – unexpectedly – Dayan Ivan Binstock and Rabbi Joseph Dweck on the genius of Jewish law, the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Its chairman, Rafi Zarum, advised the JC: “Rabbi Yosef probably wrote more books than all the people at Book Week.”

- Otto Dov Kulka won the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize, it was announced at JWB on Wednesday.The Czech-born Israeli historian was honoured for Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death, his reflections on the Holocaust.

Last updated: 1:11pm, February 27 2014