Book Week turns a page by celebrating a record year

The late Chaim Bermant’s son Danny, with Prof Geoffrey Alderman

The late Chaim Bermant’s son Danny, with Prof Geoffrey Alderman

Booker Prize-winning author Howard Jacobson brought a record-breaking Jewish Book Week to a close with a lively debate on Jewish life in Britain.

The nine-day festival ended on Sunday with a sell-out crowd hearing Mr Jacobson in conversation with journalist Jonathan Freedland.

They discussed the rise of antisemitism in Britain, anti-Israel activity in the media and on university campuses and Mr Jacobson's novel The Finkler Question.

Lower-priced tickets throughout the week helped the festival exceed last year's sales.

Non-Jewish critics say we are the best book event

Book Week director Geraldine D'Amico said: "It was our best ever year and the book sales were also up on last year. We had an eclectic programme with lots to interest everyone. We gave people what they wanted and they voted with their feet.

"We kept ticket prices down and even lowered them. This was our first year without £15 sessions. Most tickets were £10 or less."

Ms D'Amico said some sessions had seen a lower turn-out than expected where festival-goers felt the speaker was not of significant Jewish interest.

She said: "The lesson is that Jewish Book Week has to be just that, and if people do not see a Jewish connection, it does not work. It is hard to get a big audience if you are relying on people from outside the community.

"But when we have non-Jewish critics saying we are the best book week in London, it's very nice. We would hope non-Jews might see that and come along."

Many sessions failed to attract younger audiences, but Ms D'Amico said it was an indication of social habits, rather than a problem specific to Jewish readers.

"We try to reach out to a younger audience, but most people we talk to in their 30s do not go to events like this. It is not a young person's activity. The True Tales story-telling club had a young audience, as did Gideon Levy. There were a lot of young women at the Yotam Ottolenghi event."

Book Week moves to a new venue for its 60th anniversary next year, leaving Bloomsbury's Royal National Hotel for the King's Place conference centre in King's Cross, next to the headquarters of the Guardian.

Ms D'Amico predicted the move would lead to a different atmosphere: "It will give us more credibility holding it where other literary and music events take place."

The Chaim Bermant Prize for Journalism was awarded to JC columnist and academic Geoffrey Alderman at Sunday night's event. Professor Alderman said he was "shocked" by the win.

He began writing his JC column following Mr Bermant's death in 1998.

Afterwards the academic confided that he may use part of his prize in touring whisky distilleries on the Isle of Skye - a fitting echo of Chaim Bermant, a life-long lover of the peerless single malt.

    Last updated: 12:52pm, March 10 2011