2014 Jewish Book Festival lineup offers lots to love

Book lovers, take note

By David Baugher, Special to the Jewish Light

As the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival marks its double chai anniversary, organizers believe it is still as strong as ever. It also has a new chief at its helm.

“We always make the claim that there is something for everyone here and I really feel like that diversity is here more than ever for this 36th year,” said Scott Berzon, director of the event who stepped into the job in February. “It is as far-ranging as topics on theater, baking, economics, political history, aging, parenting. I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone who would not find at least one and probably more of the author programs in line with the kinds of things that they like to read and learn about.”

Set to open Sunday, Nov. 2, the two-week affair will indeed feature more than 40 authors kicking off with an opening night keynote address from Theodore Bikel (see related story on page 12), a veteran performer from “Fiddler on the Roof,” in which he’s played Tevye at least 2,000 times.

The event’s first week will feature a wide variety of happenings including a panel with ABC broadcaster Lynn Sherr, author of a book on astronaut Sally Ride; a “Missouri’s Own” panel of local authors Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein, Michael Kahn and Howard Levinson and a ballet exhibition set for the Touhill Performing Arts Center. On Nov. 9, the Delmar Loop will play host to a concert by St. Louis Symphony musicians Daniel Lee and Patti Wolf along with a question-and-answer session. 

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The following day Josh Fattal will recount his experiences as one of three American hikers imprisoned by Iran in 2009. A special baseball panel will convene Nov. 12 Hall of Famers. Things will wrap up Nov. 16 with a special children’s event featuring Mathew Klickstein, author of “Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age.”

“There is a great opportunity for community collaborations with these programs too. For example, we have Sammy Davis, Jr.’s daughter coming in,” said Berzon in reference to Tracey Davis’s Nov. 13 slide presentation regarding her book “Sammy Davis, Jr.: A Personal Journey with My Father.” “Sammy used to do a lot of charity work at Variety in St. Louis. They’ve been kind enough to provide us with some really incredible pictures of Sammy.”

Meanwhile, various businesses and individuals are helping to sponsor each event. Stages St. Louis is even providing a milk cart as a prop for Bikel’s keynote.

“It has been really fun just to have so many people in the community that want to partner with us and vice-versa to make sure that the arts in St. Louis are as strong as possible,” Berzon said. “That’s always done much better in collaboration than in solo little bubbles.”

This year’s festival also features “bookend” events. Presentations on Lauren Oliver’s “Rooms” and Jay Grymes’s “Violins of Hope” took place earlier this month and Allen Salkin, author of “From Scratch: Inside the Food Network” is scheduled for this Sunday (see related story on Page 3B).  Author Lisa Bloom will be on hand for a community Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event to talk about the Trayvon Martin case and Wendy Wax, author of “While We Were Watching Downton Abbey” will also come to town in January. March will see a visit from Gail Sheehy. 

Zelda Sparks, director of arts and culture at the Jewish Community Center, said that she’s looking forward to the upcoming program.

“In the beginning, we thought of this as a gift. It is still a literary gift to the community,” she said. “When I say the community, I mean not just the Jewish community but the entire metro area … You don’t have to be Jewish to find something of interest in the Jewish Book Festival.”

Sparks said festival organizers are working hard to widen the audience and attract younger participants.

“We know people are busy but we have special parenting programs and an evening for working parents,” she said. “We have a kids program this year. We have all kinds of things where we are trying to broaden our scope.”

Series tickets cost $75. For $95, a Series Plus ticket will gain admittance to Jewish Book Festival events all year long.

“It’s the best bargain in town,” she said. “At services this past weekend at my congregation, I can’t tell you how many people stopped me to say, ‘Boy oh boy, the brochure looks great. The lineup of authors is wonderful.’”

Sparks said she never knows which author event will be the breakout favorite for attendees.

“Every year, we say, ‘Who is going to be the surprise this year?’” she said. “[It could be] somebody who maybe is not a household word but after the presentation, people keep saying, ‘Oh, my goodness you shouldn’t have missed this one.’ Those are the ones I am looking forward to and you don’t know which ones it is going to be.”

St. Louis Jewish Book Festival

When: Nov. 2 to 16

Where: Jewish Community Center Staenberg Family Complex, 2 Millstone Campus Drive

HOW MUCH:  Individual author events range from $10 to $22; Keynote address by Theodore Bikel is $40; Series Tickets (good for all festival events Nov. 2 to 16) are $75; Series Plus Tickets (for author events throughout the year) are $95.

MORE INFO:  Visit stljewishbookfestival.org or call 314-442-3299. View a full schedule at stljewishlight.com/JBF2014.