Legal-thriller writer Scott Turow headlines November’s Jewish Book Festival

Author Scott Turow


Best-selling author Scott Turow will headline the 38th annual St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, which opens Nov. 6 at the Jewish Community Center. 

Turow, the writer of several legal thrillers-turned-movies including “Presumed Innocent” and “The Burden of Proof,” will be featured during the Keynote Conversation on opening night of the festival, which will run through Nov. 20 and offer a bounty of fiction and nonfiction writers to match a variety of interests and tastes. 

Most festival events take place at the J’s Carl and Helen Mirowitz Performing Arts and Banquet Center at the Staenberg Family Complex, 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur.

Topics such as history, religion and finance will be presented along with lighter fare such as cooking, humor and baseball. Novels range from mystery to historical drama to comedy. Nonfiction tackles topics from defining anti-Semitism to the development of GPS to speculation on whether Andy Warhol was a hoarder. Several programs feature chefs and cooking — with samples.

“Balance is key in deciding on a lineup, and the festival co-chairs, Judy Berger and Julie Frankel, do a lot of reading and research,” festival director Scott Berzon said.


The Keynote Conversation with Turow takes place Sunday, Nov. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in the Staenberg gymnasium. Tickets are $45. Turow, who is a lawyer, will be interviewed by Michael A. Kahn, a local lawyer and an accomplished mystery writer (the Rachel Gold series).

Berzon said: “I think with Turow as our opening-night speaker, we have the chance to appeal to the legal community, which might not otherwise come to or know about the festival. 

“We saw a similar scenario last year with (former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben) Bernanke attracting new audience members from the financial world. But I’m particularly excited about Turow because he has never been a part of the festival in any way in our 38 years.”

A second keynote conversation had been planned for Nov. 13 with Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of “Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life,” but it had to be canceled. 

“We’re fortunate that cancellations are very rare,” Berzon said. “But, when they do occur, it’s tough. Rabbi Kushner and his wife were in a bad car accident and, while they are both OK, doctors are not permitting him to travel. As a result, Kushner has canceled his book tour, and there are no plans to reschedule.” 

Berzon talked about several highlights of this year’s festival.

“Kenneth Rogoff, a top-tier economist, wrote a fascinating book (“The Curse of Cash”) that is receiving a lot of attention, and he’ll discuss it in our Money Matters program” Nov. 10 at 7:30 p.m., he said. 

A program set for Nov. 15 at 7:30 p.m. will feature Dov Waxman, whose book “Trouble in the Tribe: The American Jewish Conflict Over Israel” “is very important,” Berzon said. “It is an unbiased look at how views of American Jews have changed toward Israel over time and what the implications of that shift may mean.”

On the lighter side is “Die Laughing: Killer Jokes for Newly Old Folks” (Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m.) with William Novak, co-creator of “The Big Book of Jewish Humor.”

“William Novak is a professional joke teller and joke collector, and I think his program is a great way to spend a Saturday evening,” Berzon said.

“Our Comedy in the Kitchen program should be a lot of fun, with shopping, food and a speaker, Robert Rosenthal, who is both a trained comedian and chef,” Berzon said. 

The event takes place Nov. 16, with snacks and a shopping reception at 6:45 p.m. and the program at 7:45 p.m.

Among other featured events are a Kristallnacht program (Nov. 7 at 7 p.m.) with historian Robert P. Watson and his book “The Nazi Titanic: The Incredible Untold Story of a Doomed Ship in World War II”; and Cardinals Sports Night (Nov. 14 at 7:30 p.m.) with sports authors Gary Kodner and Howard Megdal, introduced by Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III and moderated by Ben Hochman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Food Friday (Nov. 11) will feature the owner/chefs of Philadelphia’s modern Israeli cuisine restaurant Zahav, at 10:30 a.m., and the grandson of the founder of Coney Island’s Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand at 1 p.m. 

Game Day (Nov. 18 at 10:30 a.m.) will offer a conversation with Karen Gooen, author of the novel “Small World: A Mah-Jongg Table Talk Tale,” plus lunch and a chance to play table games. 

What is this year’s must-see event?

“Always the hardest question. This year, I think, Shep Gordon is going to be fascinating,” Berzon said of the legendary manager, agent, producer and author of “They Call Me Supermensch,” who will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19.  

“The number and scope of celebrities he has represented is remarkable – and always a mensch along the way.”    

Home-Grown Talent at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 14 will present three Missouri writers, and Broadway: From Grit to Glitz will feature Broadway theater columnist Michael Riedel at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17. 

The festival also includes two events not related to books: Slatkin at the Symphony, a performance of three pieces including Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” conducted by Leonard Slatkin at Powell Hall at 3 p.m. Nov. 13; and a Carole C. Levin Ballet Program featuring dancer/choreographer Miriam Mahdaviani, plus the St. Louis Ballet at 3 p.m. Nov. 20 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, which will close out the festival. 

Each year, the festival puts on “bookend events,” which are scheduled before and after the festival proper. Berzon considers one bookend event held in September to be among the year’s biggest coups: a conversation with the “Today” show’s Al Roker and his wife, ABC News journalist Deborah Roberts. 

“Our kick-off couple put a big smile on my face,” he said. “They were especially entertaining. During the planning, however, we found out that Al was in need of knee surgery, and I wasn’t sure the event would take place. But the couple were 100 percent committed, and we moved quickly to find a date in September, before the surgery was to take place.”  

Other early bookend events included authors Geraldine Brooks and Jennifer Weiner in October. A post-festival Martin Luther King Day event is scheduled Jan.15, with Cynthia Levinson, author of “Watch Out for Flying Kids,” and a performance by the child acrobats of Circus Harmony. 

 Books for the festival are selected throughout the year by a  committee of volunteers led by co-chairs Frankel and Berger. 

“Judy and Julie are a remarkable duo,” Berzon said. “To think that they didn’t even know each other before taking on this commitment is baffling because they work so well together. They are inventive, personable, well-organized, dedicated, impressive fundraisers, and so much more.”

 Frankel said, “Here we were, two complete strangers to each other who needed to work closely together last year. We had no clue of each other’s personalities, strengths or weaknesses. But what an incredible working and personal relationship we have formed, which turned into two years as co-chairs of the festival.” 

Berger agreed. 

“During our tenure, we have read hundreds of books, met just as many talented authors, written thousands of words, made hundreds of phone calls, traveled together, shared many meals, and have spent almost every day working on the festival,” she said. “But what an honor this has been! We have also been blessed to work with Scott Berzon, the J staff and over 100 active volunteers. Without them, our job would have been impossible.” 

A Premiere Pass, which allows entry to all festival authors, costs $95 and is available at Prices vary for individual events. Books will be available for purchase at the festival. 

Tickets, program details and other information are available online at