The ultimate guide to the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival

The+ultimate+guide+to+the+St.+Louis+Jewish+Book+Festival

By Cate Marquis , Special to the Jewish Light

After two years as a virtual event, the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival returns to an in-person format this year. The festival, set for Nov. 6-13, will feature authors and panel discussions on wide-ranging subjects, from cooking to true crime, history to romance. 

The keynote speaker for this year’s festival is former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who will discuss her book, “Lessons From the Edge: A Memoir,” on Sunday, Nov. 6. 

A day earlier, on Saturday, Nov. 5, a pre-festival “Bookend Event” with Phil Rosenthal, creator of the TV comedy “Everybody Loves Raymond” and star of the Netflix series “Somebody Feed Phil,” could draw a record-setting crowd to the Jewish Community Center, festival organizers say. 

“We are thrilled to present this year’s Jewish Book Festival as a fully live event,” said James Bogart, a festival co-chair. “The festival is loaded with terrific authors, fascinating panel discussion and a compelling keynote speaker, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Her memoir is a wonderful read.” 

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Festival co-chair Louise Levine said one of the festival planning committee’s goals was to provide a mix of authors that would appeal to a broad swath of the community. 

“I believe our schedule has done that, because so many people have come up to me and said that this year’s book festival has an exciting lineup of authors and a wide range of topics,” she said. 

The festival will feature a mix of serious and fun, fiction and nonfiction as authors talk about and sign their books. Food and sports are always staples of the festival, and food writers of all types are especially abundant this time — including one that mixes baseball and food. Barry Weinberg’s “Eating my Way Through Baseball: Legendary Stories with a Major League Bite” tells tales of dining with the famous. 

Also plentiful are memoirs and biographies of various types, along with novels and books about business and history. 

“There is truly something for everyone,” said the new director of literary arts at the J, Hannah Dinkel, who came to her new job in August from a research job at Washington University.

Yovanovich’s keynote (7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6) is an event Dinkel is particularly looking forward to. Yovanovitch, the daughter of survivors of the Shoah and the old Soviet Union, is a retired diplomat with a long, distinguished career. She has received multiple awards, twice including the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, and the Secretary’s Diplomacy for Freedom Award. 

She gained wide public attention by testifying during U.S. House hearings in the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump, who asked Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election.

“The ambassador [will] reflect and comment on relevant, current events, which have shaped our nation, from the unique lens of a retired diplomat whose family originates from a war-torn country [Ukraine], which has horrified, captivated, and even unified a very divided country and global network,” Dinkel said.

In general, festival organizers worked to offer more panel discussions and theme nights. These include a cookbook panel featuring Food Network’s Molly Yeh; a Sports Night; a Women’s Night featuring Netflix star Julia Haart; a historical fiction panel; a romance panel; and an annual Kristallnacht event, put on in collaboration with the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum.

Some of this year’s festival events include (see full schedule on the festival’s website)

• Monday, Nov. 7, at 1 p.m.:  “Historical Fiction Panel” with Lisa Barr and her novel “Woman on Fire” and Rachel Barenbaum and her novel “Atomic Anna.” “Woman on Fire” is a thriller about a hunt for a painting stolen by the Nazis — expressionist artist Ernst Engel’s most famous work, “Woman on Fire” — in a race against a ticking clock with international intrigue. “Atomic Anna,” a science fiction tale that involves time travel, a nuclear scientist, a graphic novel and three generations of women, in a race to prevent the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

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• Monday, Nov. 7, at 7 p.m.: Charles Bosworth and St. Louis lawyer Joel Schwartz talk about their nonfiction crime book “Bone Deep: Untangling the Betsy Faria Murder Case,” which explores the real facts about the strange case of murderer Pam Hupp, a story dramatized in the miniseries “The Thing About Pam” starring Renee Zellweger.

• Tuesday, Nov. 8, at 10:30 a.m.: “Jewish Lives Biography Program,” with Julian E. Zelizer, speaking about his book, “Abraham Joshua Heschel: A Life of Radical Amazement,” about the rabbi who combined faith and social justice to become an icon of the Civil Rights era and who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. 

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• Tuesday, Nov. 8,  at 7 p.m.: Cookbook authors panel with Cathy Barrow, author of “Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish: A Whole Brunch of Recipes to Make at Home,” and Molly Yeh, author of the cookbook/memoir “Home is Where the Eggs Are.” 

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• Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 10:30 a.m.: A “Romance  Fiction Panel”  featuring Amanda Elliot and her book “Sadie on a Plate,” and Lynda Cohen Loigman and her novel “The Matchmaker’s Gift.” Elliot’s book is about a Seattle chef trying to restart her career on a contest show but finding herself cooking up love, too. “The Matchmaker’s Gift” centers on a divorce lawyer who discovers her grandmother’s secret matchmaking books, which spark new feelings and questions about love at first sight.

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• Wednesday, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m.: The free “Kristallnacht Program” with Scott Lenga’s “The Watchmakers: A Story of Brotherhood, Survival, and Hope Amid the Holocaust.” The books tells a compelling story about how Lenga’s father, Harry Lenga, and Harry’s brothers survived the Shoah in Poland with the help of their specialized skills. In 1949, Harry Lenga immigrated to St. Louis, where he married and had three sons and three granddaughters.\

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• Thursday, Nov. 10, at 1 p.m.: Gregory Zuckerman will discuss “A Shot to Save the World: The Inside Story of the Life-or-Death Race for a COVID-19 Vaccine,” a thriller-like account of the race to save lives and the unconventional path to the lifesaving vaccine. 

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• Thursday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m.: “Women’s Night” will feature Julia Haart and her memoir “Brazen,” detailing her journey as an ultra-Orthodox woman in the world of high fashion. Her talk will be preceded by a “Boutique Bazaar” at 5 p.m. 

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• Saturday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m.: “Music Night” with Broadway pianist Paul Ford and his memoir, “Lord Knows, at Least I was There:  Working with Stephen Sondheim,” which details his years working with Sondheim and as accompanist to Mandy Patinkin and others. 

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The festival concludes Sunday, Nov. 13, with two events. 

• At 1 p.m., Rabbi Benjamin Spratt discusses his book “Awakenings: American Jewish Transformations in Identity, Leadership and Belonging,” co-authored by Rabbi Joshua Stanton, in which they make the case that this is a time for Judaism to grow and evolve. 

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• At 7 p.m., the festival wraps up with “Sports Night” featuring basketball and baseball. Dan Grunfeld discusses “By the Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, a Basketball Legacy and an Unprecedented American Dream,” his memoir of becoming an Olympic gold medalist and an NBA player and executive. Then Barry Weinberg will talk about “Eating My Way Through Baseball: Legendary Stories With a Major League Bite,” about dining with Yogi Berra, Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and Jack Buck, as well as with Neil Armstrong, Charles Barkley, Bob Knight and more.

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The post-festival “Bookend Event” will be the annual “Missouri’s Own” author showcase at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16. The panel will include seven authors: Missouri State University professor Mara W. Cohen Ioannides (author of “Jews of Missouri: An Ornament to Israel”); Larry E. Swedroe (“Your Essential Guide to Sustainable Investing”); Richard Lazaroff (“Illumination”); Cynthia Changyit Levin (“From Changing Diapers to Changing the World: Why Moms Make Great Advocates and How to Get Started”); Diane Bleyer (“The Second Chance”); David Henschel (“The Art of Old Time Black and White Photography”); and Jessica Radloff (“The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series”).