This is an extraordinary time for Jewish books. And it is easy to see why. A year-long period extending across 2017-2018 contains several anniversaries for Israel, from the Balfour Declaration in 1917, to the state’s foundation in 1948, to the Six-Day War in 1967. So maybe it’s more than a coincidence that this is the year that… Simon Schama brought out Belonging — the superb continuation of his history of the Jews, Martin Goodman published his definitive AHistory of Judaism and Rebecca Abrams applied Neil MacGregor’s techniques to Jewish social history in The Jewish Journey when investigating 22 Jewish artefacts in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
It is a long time since the word “Jewish” has cropped up in so many Jewish Book Week events: The Jewish Questionin 20th-Century Literature; Feeling Jew(ish); and A Serious History of Jewish Comedy, are just some.
All these talks illuminate the Jewish experience — artistic, literary, social, religious and, of course, in relation to the infamous Jewish joke. Is there a new urgency to wrestle with this word? Come and listen to find out.
Harvard professor Susan Suleiman is presenting her wonderful study of Irène Némirovsky. She and others throw light on the often tortured feelings of 20th-century writers towards their Jewishness. In part, these states of mind were a consequence of persecution and enforced emigration, but this does not tell the whole story.
Suleiman’s fellow Harvard professor, the internationally renowned scholar Stephen Greenblatt, is giving a unique talk on the Garden of Eden’s impact on art, literature, myth and culture — with a Jewish twist.
Then there’s Israel. Ian Black’s brilliantly received analysis of Israel’s relationship with Arab countries over the past century will be discussed by the author and Jonathan Freedland. Sara Hirschhorn and Dov Waxman offer a rationale for why American Jews are so torn in their attitudes towards Israel and why some are so drawn to the settlements.
In our debate on “Israel at 70”, five experts, who have all lived in Israel, or do so now, will thrash out the existential problems that Israel confronts from its internal disharmonies.
And there’s more… Lewis Glinert offers an alternative history of Israel through tracing the transmutations of the Hebrew language across the millennia, while Yael Dayan will look back over many decades of intense involvement in Israeli politics. And how could a conversation between Melanie Phillips and Maureen Lipman not take in Israel?
George Prochnik will talk on the evolution of Gershom Scholem’s life and thought, rooted in the fervent Zionism that drove Scholem from Berlin to pre-Mandate Palestine.
Irving Finkel, the spellbinding philologist and Assyriologist, who is interviewing Mohammad Gharipour, is bowled over by Gharipour’s illustrated history of Middle Eastern synagogues. Out of their synagogues, Rabbis Joseph Dweck and Raphael Zarum will negotiate the labyrinth of Jewish ethics.
These talks are the core of Jewish Book Week. I think of the annual JBW as a festival with Jewish thought as its heart and soul, radiating outwards to explore the 21st-century interaction between Jewish life and the wider world, an interaction expressed through the arts and sciences, finance and politics, where Jewish thought and global issues brush up against each other, sometimes abrasively.
Many of our speakers believe that, without radical change, the world is hurtling towards disaster, although the solutions they advocate may be profoundly different. Borders, national identities, the future of Europe, Russia, the Middle East, the US, war, the news — words that will crop up repeatedly over JBW’s nine days.
There is one quality that all our writers share — they express their views with passion and conviction. Many talks will be calls to action. We open with a big debate on technology, democracy and the new geopolitics, featuring some who have written cutting-edge books on these topics — Jamie Bartlett, Ian Goldin, Stephen D King and Jonathan Haskell.
I could go on… and on… check out our fabulous series of afternoon events at JW3 – Mona Golabek, creator of The Pianist of Willesden Lane; June Kenton, the lingerie queen; David Bolchover, the biographer of Béla Guttmann; and art historian Griselda Pollock on the life and art of Charlotte Salomon, are just some of those appearing. And, as if that wasn’t enough, we offer insights on gardening; why we eat what we eat; how to burnish your reputation; men and sex; and the tragi-comic life of a junior doctor. Do come and join us.
Jewish Book Week 2018 runs from March 3 to March 11 at Kings Place N1 9AG and JW3 NW3 6ET