Jewish Book Fest’s new director, tree camp, ‘Streetcar’ on stage

Amy Pakett was named Director of Literary and Jewish Arts at the Jewish Community Center. Photo: Angelo Sgouros

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Book deal

Sometimes when it rains it really does pour — in a good way. 

Last week, Amy Pakett got her share of April showers when she learned she had been named Director of Literary and Jewish Arts at the Jewish Community Center, which includes overseeing the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival. 

A few weeks after she starts her duties on May 1, she will travel to New York where the national Jewish Book Council sponsors a conference for attendees to learn about the newest Jewish-interest books and meet Jewish authors. Each year, many of the authors at the conference are chosen to appear at various Jewish book festivals around the country, including St. Louis’.

In her new capacity as St. Louis Jewish Book Festival director, Pakett will only be able to attend part of the conference. That’s because she is getting married in St. Louis that third week in May, to Emily Bornstein, with Rabbi Jim Bennett officiating.

“Thankfully, our amazing co-chairs (of the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival) will be there the rest of the time to bring back the information,” said Pakett, who turns 29 in May, joking that next year she will be able to plan a little better.

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Both Pakett and Bornstein currently work for Jewish Federation of St. Louis. For nearly four years, Pakett has served as Federation’s communications manager; Bornstein is a planning and allocations associate. 

Pakett explained that while she was happy in her position at Federation, she was “ready for a change and saw an opportunity” she couldn’t pass up.

“I am so excited and energized,” she said, referring to her new appointment. “It is unexpected and different and something I am ready to take on.”

In addition to her professional experience at Federation, Pakett has been an active volunteer with a number of Jewish organizations. She served as a BBYO advisor, and has been involved with organizations such as Nishmah and Next Dor. In 2017, she received the JPro Emerging Leader Award.

“I am so pleased that we were able to attract such a talented, impressive and professional individual such as Amy,” says Jean Margul, co-chair of the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival. “I am positive that everyone who meets her will agree, and I am confident that under her tenure the proud tradition of the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival will continue and grow for years to come.”

The book festival is recognized across the country as being one of the strongest and best-attended of its kind. In the course of two weeks in early November, more than 30 authors take the stage at the J to share their latest books.  A committee of 75-plus volunteers meets throughout the year to help with the planning. 

 “The book festival has such a rich tradition here, and one that I plan to honor and respect,” said Pakett. “I hope to build on this foundation and make it stronger and see how much further I can take it.”

Don’t be surprised if you see more cookbook authors and cooking events at future book festivals. When I asked Pakett what she was reading now, she ticked off titles from Jewish culinary whizzes, including Israeli chef Michael Solomonov, known for his iconic Philadelphia restaurant, Zahav, and Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-British chef, writer and restaurant owner.

“I love to cook and I love cooking all kinds of foods,” said Pakett. “I love that there are these new Jewish chefs who are merging traditional Jewish cuisine with new foods and techniques.”

Planting for summer

Looking for something new for your kids to do this summer? What about tree camp?

Forest ReLeaf of Missouri, which operates the only nonprofit community-assisted tree nursery in the region, is hosting Tree Camp at Creve Coeur Park from June 4-9. The camp, which is geared toward youngsters entering grades 5 and 6, will take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., with lunch included. The cost for the week is $50 and scholarship opportunities are available. 

On Saturday, June 9, parents are invited to attend with their campers for a special family day.

“Each day will focus on a different category that together we hope will enhance the campers’ appreciation for nature and get them outdoors,” explained Tess Wasserman, a certified naturalist and one of the volunteers who will be teaching at the camp. She said campers will learn about basic tree care, pollinators, birds, wildlife, and much more.

“My day is all about birds and the bird-tree relationship,” she added, explaining that the St. Louis Audubon Society will lead a bird walk with campers. “All the native trees we grow at the (Forest ReLeaf) nursery that are in the forest — every one of them is a host plant for some moth or butterfly. So the caterpillars are going to be all over the leaves and trees. And the birds are going to be eating the caterpillars and taking them to feed their young. 

“I know one statistic is that it takes more than 40,000 caterpillars just to raise one baby bird.”

Wasserman said Forest ReLeaf has a large warehouse with office space in the park that can double as a shelter for campers in case of inclement weather.

“We are planning to implement all kinds of fun activities into learning about nature and the outdoors, so campers will be making art projects, writing in journals, having scavenger hunts and taking home all kinds of activities and handouts from the Missouri Department of Conservation,” said Wasserman. “I wish I had something like this growing up.”

For more information about the camp, or to register, go to forestreleaf.org/treecamp

Are you listening, Stella?

Mark your calendars for May 10-19 for the Tennessee Williams Festival St. Louis’ production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Grandel Theatre. Highlights of this year’s production include original music composed by St. Louis-based Henry Palkes (who also happens to be Jewish), a Stella Shouting Contest and a New Orleans-style parade through Grand Center.

“Streetcar” performances are scheduled Thurs. through Sun., May 10-13; Wed. and Thurs., May 16-17; and Sat., May 19. 

Opening night festivities will kick-off at 5:30 p.m. May 10, with a traditional brass band and New Orleans-inspired parade through Grand Center. The parade is free and open to the public. The Stella Shouting Contest will immediately follow the May 13 performance.

For “Streetcar” tickets, go to MetroTix.com. For more information, visit twstl.org or call 314-517-5253.