From Haggadah to Harry: Big range of books in Jewish Book Festival

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From Haggadah to Harry: Big range of books in Jewish Book Festival

Steve and Cokie Roberts, authors of “Our Haggadah,” will appear at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester Sunday, Oct. 30, for an opening-night lecture and dessert reception.

Now in its 19th year, the Lane Dworkin Rochester Jewish Book Festival presents a diverse offering of books by Jewish authors to the community.

And that means books of all sorts, with subject matter ranging from interfaith families to Kosher cooking to … superheroes. And the rise of Google. And jurisprudence as seen in the “Harry Potter” universe.

“It’s very deliberate,” said Lori Harter, the new director of the festival, which opens today at the Jewish Community Festival of Greater Rochester in Brighton and runs through Nov. 16, with other events throughout the year. “We want to have a diverse program. We want to provide a diversity of subject matter and topics of interest for the community, which ranges from senior citizens to young people.”

There’s also a diversity of activity, from signings and lectures to panel discussions to a “Kosher Throwdown” cookoff Tuesday evening between “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook” author Leah Koenig and Max Rochester owner Tony Gullace.

Harter is in her first year as director for the book festival, as well as next summer’s Ames Amzalak Rochester Jewish Film Festival. The festival’s purpose, she noted, is to provide a showcase for Jewish author and books of Jewish content, promoting community consciousness and pride in identity.

“The whole purpose of the book festival is to build community-wide cultural events, a showcase of Jewish authors, panel discussions and demonstrations for the community at large,” she said, “… and to help people celebrate their Jewish identity in ways that are meaningful to them.”

Along the way, she noted, “we also create a significant bookstore” at the JCC with the yearly festival’s featured books.

New to the festival this year is a “JCC Reads” community-reading discussion program featuring “The False Friend” by Myla Goldberg, who wrote the best-selling “Bee Season.”  Participants have been reading the book — about the scars left by a traumatic experience in which two 11-year-old girls go into the woods but only one comes out — since September. Goldberg will be on hand at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 2, for a lecture and discussion.

“The reviews for this book, ‘The False Friend,’ have been phenomenal,” Goldberg said. “It has lessons not only in community, but it talks about children — the scars of childhood bullies, that leave scars that never heal.

“The book has a lot of insight into how home defines us,” she added. “We felt that made it a perfect community read. One of the questions the book asks is, ‘Are we doing enough as a community? Or are we too focused on immaterial details?” Also, “How often do we as a community fail to make amends, because we want to sweep things under the rug, and get back to our picture-perfect world? It’s a deeply resonant and emotionally charged story.”

Goldberg is already looking forward to next year’s festival — its 20th anniversary — and expanding the event’s presence in the community.

“I think it promotes awareness, and acceptance and pride in the diversity of people,” Harter said. “If you can create a festival that promotes awareness and pride, that goes toward strengthening the whole community.”

Here’s the schedule of events for the festival, all at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester, 1200 Edgewood Ave., Brighton:

Sunday, Oct. 30, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: “Rochester’s Own” featuring four local authors (no charge but tickets required):
10 a.m.: Eldred Chimowitz, a University of Rochester professor and author of “Between the Menorah and the Fever Tree,” a debut novel depicting the Jewish-African experience of “Chungle” from a Rhodesian boyhood to youth in apartheid-era South Africa to adulthood in America.
11 a.m.: Sarah F. Liebschutz, a professor emerita at SUNY College at Brockport and author of “Communities and Health Care: The Rochester, New York, Experiment,” exploring how health care is organized and financed in Rochester.
Noon: Judge Karen Morris, a Brighton town justice and professor of law at Monroe Community College, author of “Law Made Fun Through Harry Potter’s Adventures: 99 Lessons in Law from the Wizarding World for Fans of All Ages.”
1 p.m.: Cynthia Kolko, author of “Fruit of the Vine,” a novel set in the Finger Lakes that illuminates the contrast between the bucolic wine-country setting and the hard-edged people who inhabit it.

Sunday, Oct. 30, 7:30 p.m.: Authors, journalists and political commentators Cokie and Steve Roberts — an interfaith couple who met 45 years ago — have hosted a Passover seder in their Maryland home for years. They’ve written “Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families,” and will appear at the JCC tonight for an opening-night event to talk about their approach to the holiday and the lessons they’ve learned as an interfaith couple. A dessert reception will follow.
($12, $10 JCC members)

Tuesday, Nov. 1, 7:30 p.m.: A Kosher “Throwdown” pitting Leah Koenig, author of “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen” and monthly food columnist for The Forward, against Max Rochester owner Tony Gullace. The audience, of course, gets to judge.
($10, $8 JCC members)

Wednesday, Nov. 2, 7:30 p.m.: Myla Goldberg, author of “The False Friend,” appears for a community-read discussion of her novel. ($10, $8 members)

Thursday, Nov. 3, 7:30 p.m.: Technology reporter Steven Levy, author of “In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our World.” He takes readers inside Google headquarters to show how the company works. ($10, $8 members)

Friday, Nov. 4, noon: 10th annual fiction panel luncheon featuring Wayne Hoffman, author of “Sweet Like Sugar”; Sharon Pomerantz, author of “Rich Boy”; and Adam Schwartz, author of “A Stranger on the Planet.” ($18, $15 members)

Sunday, Nov. 6, 2-4 p.m.: Kids “Mitzvah-Thon,” a PJ Library event featuring a readathon, jumpathon, bounceathon, snackathon and more, based on Ann Koffsky’s “Noah’s Swim-A-Thon” and Ellen Bari’s “Jumping Jenny.” Each child who completes the Mitzvah-thon will design a personalized book plate to be placed to a children’s book to be donated to the Rochester Jewish Coalition for Literacy. (No charge, RSVP required by Nov. 4 to Shelly Stam at sstam@jewishrochester.org; please bring non-perishable food item for Brighton Food Cupboard)

Sunday, Nov. 6, 7:30 p.m.: Longtime New York Times sports columnist Robert Lipsyte, author of “An Accidental Sportswriter,” looking back at his career as something of an outsider in the press box. ($10, $8 members)

Monday, Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m.: Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, who chronicles the origins of the most famous superheroes (Superman, Batman, the Hulk, Spider-Man and more), many of whose creators were Jewish. His book is called “Up, Up and Oy Vey: How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero.” ($10, $8 members)

Wednesday, Nov. 16, 7:30 p.m.: Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole, author of “Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza,” an exploration of an Egyptian geniza, or repository for worn-out Jewish texts and manuscripts. ($10, $8 members)

Tickets to all events are available at (585) 461-2000; http://jcc.ticketleap.com; and at the JCC, 1200 Edgewood Ave., Brighton, during operating hours. Walk-in tickets, if available, will be sold 30 minutes prior to the event, though there’s no guarantee there will still be some available.

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