Planning a virtual Jewish Book Festival

Cate Marquis

Zelda Sparks, director of cultural arts at the Jewish Community Center, said transforming the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival into virtual events was no easy task. 

“It was challenging, to say the least,” she said. 

Working with festival co-chairs, Jim Bogart and Barb Williams and  70-plus volunteers and staff, festival planners re-envisioned what the festival would have to look like as a virtual event.

The changes this year include condensing the festival to eight days from its usual two weeks, holding a maximum of two events per day rather than the usual three to avoid Zoom-fatigue and having an interviewer facilitate the discussion at every author presentation. 

In addition, this year’s book festival will be immediately followed by a weeklong St. Louis Jewish Film Festival, which typically takes place in June (look for a preview of the film festival in an upcoming edition). 

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“Co-chairing the Jewish Book Festival during these difficult times has truly been an extraordinary experience, requiring all of us involved to be as grounded and realistic as possible, while simultaneously tapping into everyone’s creativity,” Bogart said. “There have been so many challenges throughout the year, requiring creative solutions from technology to marketing to cultivating the great spirit of volunteerism at the J.”

Williams said she and her co-chair met in person only twice earlier this year, and then planning went virtual in March. 

“As everyone else working from home is aware, this is a very surreal experience,” she said. “Interacting with 45-plus (committee) members over Zoom is just not the same. We tried to use smaller committee Zoom meetings, emails and individual phone calls to augment our monthly meetings.”

Williams said going virtual had some positives. 

“One of the surprising advantages of going virtual is that authors committed their time within days of reaching out,” she said. “Without having to leave home, they were very enthusiastic to participate. Another big plus is that our friends and family who live outside the St. Louis area are able to participate in all the events this year.” 

Williams said the results of all of the months of festival planning is a diverse group of 15 authors who will make for fascinating events.

“We are so excited about our author lineup and community response, and humbled by our continued sponsor and co-sponsor support,” she said.