Book Festival is ready to roll


The St. Louis Jewish Book Festival officially opens on Nov. 5 with an evening with William Shatner. This year the annual event celebrates its 28th year with ten days of authors and programs. More than 20,000 people attended the book festival last year.

“I am very proud to say we have the largest attendance of any Jewish book festival,” festival director Marcia Evers Levy said.

“We have grown due to the tremendous capabilities of the Book Festival Director Marcia Evers Levy and Zelda Sparks who heads the cultural arts department,” volunteer co-chair Pam Sherman said. “Because of their hard work we can continue to grow and attract these kinds of authors.”

More than 30 women served on the board this year with many more volunteers working behind the scenes to prepare for the annual event. Board members read the books, do book reviews and learn about the authors. Each year the program is created from the ground up. Lenore Pepper and Sherman are the volunteer co-chairs this year.

“It was fun starting with a clean slate without knowing who the keynote speaker is, the authors or the books,” Pepper said. “As we added each piece it was so exciting to see the program come together.”

The opening events begin with a private reception for sponsors before the program at the Jewish Community Center. The keynote presentation with Shatner begins at 5:30 p.m. followed by a book signing of his science fiction book Captain’s Glory. The festival’s gala dinner follows at the Sheraton at West Port Plaza catered by Simon Kohn’s. Dinner co-chairs are Lynne Isaacs Palan and Manne Palan and Judi and Phil Scissors.

“Part of the fun of going to the dinner is the opportunity to visit with the keynote speaker,” Judi Scissors said.

While the official start of the book festival is Nov. 5, there is a special preview speaker this year. Rabbi Harold Kushner always comes to the festival when he has a new book and feels very attached to St. Louis, according to Evers Levy. Unfortunately it did not fit on his calendar this year so his presentation will take place on Monday, Oct. 30.

Every year the festival brings something new and different to its line-up. This year there are several unique events. The women’s lit panel features authors Loraine Despres, Lynn Isenberg and Laura Zigman. A baking demonstration and sampling will take place with the Brass Sisters. The pair collect antique bake ware and recipes dating back to the late 1800’s. Thursday Night Live at the J Comedy Club will feature local actress, comedian and singer Stellie Siteman emceeing an evening of fun and laughter with authors of Jewish humor.

Missouri’s Own features local authors speaking about their books and writing. KMOX radio personality Charles Brennan’s new book offers an inside peek at celebrity ties to St. Louis. Greg Marecek and Myron Holtzman relive the excitement of the basketball team, the St. Louis Hawks. The changing racial and ethnic faces of the America’s Jewish population and what it means for the future of the Jewish community is the subject of Scott Rubin’s new book. Survivor Maria Szapszewicz shares her poetry and essays of the Holocaust.

Once again a musical concert is offered as part of the festival. Member musicians of the St. Louis Symphony orchestra with concert master David Halen will present a tribute to Irving Berlin. The event is being held at Congregation B’nai Amoona. The program also features Kimwana Doner a soprano with the San Francisco Opera and author David Leopold who wrote Irving Berlin’s Show Business.

Actor Peter Falk will speak with St. Louis Post-Dispatch film critic Joe Williams. It is done in a style similar to the familiar actor’s studio format on television said Evers Levy. The format has been done very successfully at previous book festivals.

“It feels very intimate since the audience gets to eavesdrop on their conversation,” Evers Levy said. “There are microphones available as well so they can also ask their own questions.”

Michael Weisskopf was one of the first reporters embedded in Baghdad. He lost his arm to a grenade and spent time recuperating at Walter Reed with other amputees who were returning home with a new reality. He shares his own story and three soldiers in the hospital with him in his book, Blood Brothers: Among the Soldiers of Ward 57.

These are just a few of the more than 30 authors featured this year.

“It’s so amazing we are now offering the book festival for ten days now,” Sherman said. “It offers the opportunity to include so many more authors. We have programs in the morning, noon and evening and you can even order a box lunch. It is the biggest bargain in town.”

“It is the most incredible line up we’ve ever had in St. Louis,” Lynne said. “We are covering every genre from Kushner to Shatner. It is a great time to bring in Bill Shatner who is at the peak of his career. He is going to wow the crowd!”

For more information on the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival call 314-442-3299 or visit them online at: