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Book Festival This Year: Low-Key and All Local

November 12, 2009 By:
Aaron Passman, JE Staff
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It's November, and that magical time of year has arrived. No, not the onset of Thanksgiving, and not even an early Chanukah. It's National Jewish Book Month.

While in the past, the Jewish Community Centers in Philadelphia marked the occasion with large-scale events, this year's activities are decidedly lower-key.

The Kaiserman JCC in Wynnewood will hold the 2009 Jewish Book Festival from Nov. 15-22. The Kaiserman is the only area JCC doing any events specifically related to the book festival this year; in the past, events were held at synagogues and other community institutions, as well as at the JCCs.

According to organizers, this year's focus is strictly on local authors and local topics.

Part of the reason for this, said membership and marketing director Marti Berk, is due to the dissolution of the JCC system earlier this year, when the branches became independent.

There wasn't too much left in the budget, acknowledged Berk, adding that the local spin is "going back to the roots of what book festivals are."

Moreover, she said, "in this economy, why would you spend $25,000 on a big-name author when you've got so many local authors out there?"

Planners say that one of the highlights will be the kickoff on Nov. 15, which includes a discussion with a quartet of local authors ranging in age from their teens to their twilight years.

Among other ways the festival has gone local this year is by partnering with nonprofits. On Nov. 16, the Renfrew Center Foundation will sponsor an art exhibit by women recovering from eating disorders; and on Nov. 19, the Kaiserman will join with InterFaithways and Theatre Ariel to hold a performance about being an interfaith couple.

Other community centers are offering book-related programming of their own in celebration of National Jewish Book Month. At the Klein JCC, members are said to be reading this year's "One Book, One Jewish Community" selection, Dara Horn's All Other Nights for programming throughout the region.

The Kaiserman festival will also include a review of that title on Nov. 17, hosted by Rabbi Lance Sussman of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park. The "One Book, One Jewish Community" program is run by the Elkins Park-based Auerbach Central Agency for Jewish Education/Jewish Outreach Partnership and funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

For those who don't mind driving a little farther, the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, N.J., is celebrating its 20th annual Blank Rome Festival of Arts Books and Culture through Nov. 15. Among the highlights are authors A.J. Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically), Nobel prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, Dara Horn and more.

The festival also includes musical performances and presentations by TV pastry chef Duff Goldman and Orthodox author and TV-show personality Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

For more on the book festival at the Kaiserman JCC, call 610-896-7770 or log on to: www.phillyjcc.com.

For more on the festival in Cherry Hill, call 856-424-4444 or click on the link at: www.katzjcc.org.

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