Top 8 reasons you should be at the Jewish Literary Festival

By Dana Mulhauser, Festival committee member extraordinaire

The Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival is now eight days into its eleven-day run, and I’ve been having a shockingly fun time attending events. “Why,” you ask me, “is that so shocking? Shouldn’t you, Dana, a member of the festival committee, have known how much fun the festival would be?”

O imaginary blog reader, thank you for being so inquisitive. Here is my answer for you. I expected to learn things from this festival and to add a few books to my reading list. I was unprepared for how riotously entertaining it would be.

So, in honor of the eighth day of the festival (and in preparation for Hannukah, which comes early this year), I offer you brief descriptions of eight entertaining elements of the literary festival:

1) Food. Not only did the festival provide me with brunch on Sunday, it even included babka. Do you think the National Book Festival has babka?

2.) Being read to. One author explained that, while she’s glad people listen to her audiobooks, she herself has no input into which actors do the readings or how they interpret the work. With that in mind, it’s it doubly lovely to hear an author read her own work — squeaky voices, silly accents, and all.

3) Spending time at the J. Yesterday I saw, entering the doors at the same time, two women carrying yoga mats, a man holding four books to be signed, and a woman eating a plate of roast chicken.

4) Great questions. At the Joel Chasnoff event, an American Air Force colonel asked why Israeli army officers dress like slobs. And yes, when asking the question, the officer stood at attention, shirt neatly tucked, pants pressed, and shoes shined.

5.) Great answers. Yesterday, someone told Allegra Goodman which part of her last book she thought was lousy. The author answered with such grace, thougtfulness, and aplomb that it made me want to read the book all the more (and to be her friend).

6.) Comfortable chairs. Really.

7.) Lively debate. I’m not sure what was better theater: watching Leon Wieseltier banter with Ruth Franklin, watching Ruth Franklin banter with her questioners, or watching the audience watch everyone else’s bantering.

8.) The audience. Any crowd of readers is going to be a good crowd, but these have seemed particularly friendly. I’ve run into old friends, conversed with total strangers, and gotten more suggestions for new books than I know what to do with.

So there you have it. Lucky for you all, there are three more days of the festival to go. So come debate capitalism and the Jews with Jerry Muller, hear a little historical romance with Jessica Jiji, and nosh with Rebecca Newberger Goldstein. I’ll see you there.

Shabbat Surfing: Vilde Chaya and Vilde Hair

Amy Winehouse

Updated Below

Jewish drug-addict Amy Winehouse has been denied a visa to visit the United States for the purposes of attending the Grammy Awards on February 10. Winehouse is nominated in six categories including Best New Artist for her album “Back to Black” which has sold over 1.5 million copies in the U.S. Hot on the heels of word that she is planning to record a Hannukah album, we began wondering what was the greater offense that will keep her on the other side of the Atlantic? We asked some other writers, performers and directors for their reactions to this blatant display of anti-Semitism/sensible narcotics control:

Poet E. Ethelber Miller says, “I’m glad she’s banned. I think her listeners are OD-ing.”

Michael Hearst from the alt-lit-rock-post-Klezmer band One Ring Zero demurs, “I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I had never actually heard of Amy Winehouse before now. Thanks to Wikipedia, I just learned that she was kicked out of theater school when she was fourteen years old for piercing her nose.”

Rob Tannenbaum leader of Good For the Jews comments, “If they institute a drug test at the Grammys, it’s gonna be a quick show. And if they decide to keep out all the Jews, it’ll be even quicker. And not remotely funny. Or on budget.”

JTA blogger Daniel Sieradski contrasts Winehouse’s exclusion with that of psychologist and Shoah survivor Andrew Feldmar.

Jonathan Kesselman, director of The Hebrew Hammer is the most outraged, “I am infuriated by Amy’s denial of a visa. I gave Ames 100 quid to bring me back some primo London crack. Clearly, the English HATE Jewish substance abusers. If she were Pete Dougherty, she’d be playing the Hollywood Bowl as we speak. God DO NOT save the queen.”

Updated: Turns out Amaleh got her visa, but will stay on her side of the pond anyway… 

Leon WieseltierFrom a vilde chaya to he of vilde hair. Leon Wieseltier participates in the On Faith series that landed Gandhi’s grandson in hot water last week. Wieseltier’s comments are unlikely to garner the same level of outrage.

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