Shabbat Surfing: Literary Blast-from-the-Past Edition

“Jewish literature” doesn’t mean just one thing. Or even a dozen things.

Jewish literature has been a home of mine both personally and professionally, and yet I am always startled at the diversity of what falls into that category. This year was the thirteenth annual Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival here at the DCJCC, and there are always more new and interesting books than we can fit into an eleven-day festival.

In honor of the great writers we’ve had here in the past, and in anticipation of the coming podcasts from this year’s festival, we’re revisiting some of the great discussions that we’ve captured in recent years.

We love a richly woven novel with challenging characters, and that was just one reason we loved Rebecca Goldstein and 36 Arguments for the Existence of God. (You, too? Look out for Ursula Hegi’s Children and Fire podcast.)

There are so many sides when talking about Israel and defense. Last year, Joel Chasnoff told us about life in the Israeli Army, in hilarious and touching stories. (There were fewer laughs this year at the panel on Israel, Loose Nukes and the End of the World.)

Lucette Lagnado is a DCJCC favorite, and she spoke with us about the by-gone Jewish community of Cairo, including The Man in the Sharkskin Suit in 2009. (We liked her new memoir so much, we asked her back to the festival this year for The Arrogant Years.)

We’re moved by those who have deep passionate and personal relationships to Judaism. One of the most captivating figures of our time was Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Often known as simply The Rebbe, Samuel Heilman discussed his Life and Afterlife in 2010. (This year, Jay Michaelson’s scholarship of and intense connection to the Torah came through in his remarks on God vs. Gay?.)

But don’t knock pop culture. We had a great time with Sean Wilentz, talking about Bob Dylan. (And then this year during the World Series, we got to chat about the legendary Howard Cosell.)

Connect to “the old family business,” whatever it might be – Allegra Goodman reads from The Cookbook Collector with one family’s strange connection to the books. (More personally, Alicia Oltuski took us inside the family diamond business during this festival, and brought engaging historical insights into this traditionally Jewish industry.)

The diaspora has meant that Jews have long been a global people. Still, we always want to hear about Jews in unusual places – even if “unusual” is a relative term. We’ve learned about Iraqi Jews in Jessica Jiji’s historical novel and Jewish Gauchos in Argentina from Judith Friendenberg. (If you are similarly globally-curious, watch for this year’s podcasts that bring us to a variety of Russian empire experiences – Jews in Odessa with Charles King, and the panel on Glasnost’s Children, discussing the modern Russian immigrant experience.)

In the coming weeks, we’ll post podcasts gathered in the past two weeks. They only further the argument that there really is no one definition of Jewish literature.

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From the Archives: Judith Friendenberg on “The Invention of the Jewish Gaucho”

This event, held as part of the Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival, was recorded live at the Embassy of Argentina on October 22, 2010.

Judith Friedenberg speaks about her book The Invention of the Jewish Gaucho: Villa Clara and the Construction of Argentine Identity.

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