On your mark, get set, read
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On your mark, get set, read

Jewish Book Month – coordinated each year by the New York-based Jewish Book Council and observed nationwide by JCCs, synagogues, and libraries – has been marked in many different ways.

But whether a local community mounts an exhibit, hosts an author, or sponsors a book fair, some groups – such as the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly – have found that one month is just not enough time.

The JCC launched its own book month – The James H. Grossmann Memorial Jewish Book Month – in 1988, according to Ofrah Listokin, event coordinator.

Named by Edward Grossmann as a tribute “to his father’s love of literature and Jewish culture,” according to Listokin, Grossman established the program during his administration as JCC president, “believing that it presented an ideal avenue to transmit important Jewish values to future generations and the Jewish community at large.”

“Jewish Book Month began as a celebration, held in November close to Chanukah, and featured seven to eight authors in a very tight time frame,” said Listokin. But, she said, as people became busier, “trying to squeeze this celebration of Jewish literature into a single month became clearly impossible, so over the years, our format has changed.”

While the JCC continues to feature six to eight authors each season, it now presents only one or two events a month, from fall to spring.

The first year, the JCC’s book month featured Alan Dershowitz, discussing “The Vanishing American Jew,” and Pete Hamill, who talked about his novel “Snow in August.” Other authors who have appeared over the years include Wolf Blitzer, Dr. Isadore Rosenfeld, Abraham Foxman, Richard Sonnenfeldt, Walter Isaacson, Michael Steinhardt, Nathan Englander, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Joyce Carol Oates.

Kaplan JCC on the Palisades James H. Grossmann Memorial Jewish Book Month, 2009-2010 Season
All events begin at 8 p.m., except where noted:

Nov. 12: “Stepmonster,” Wednesday Martin

Nov. 18: “Steal & Deals: How to Shop For a Husband,” Janice Lieberman

Dec. 8: “Family Meals: Coming Together to Care for an Aging Parent,” Michael Tucker (reception in private home at 6:30 p.m.)

Dec, 14: “Start Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle,” Dan Senor

Jan. 12: “The Girls From Ames,” Jeffrey Zaslow

Jan. 28: “Dump ‘Em,” Jodyne L. Speyer (private home at 10 a.m.)

Feb. 11: “One and the Same,” Abigail Pogrebin

March 3: “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Rabbi Shmuel Goldin

For information, call Listokin at (201) 408-1408.

Listokin said presenters explore a wide array of topics, from broad global concerns such as terrorism and anti-Semitism “to more targeted examinations of everyday life, such as caring for aging parents or grappling with the empty nest.”

“Our hope is to highlight authors and topics that will appeal to the varying needs and interests of the people in our community,” she said, adding that Jewish Book Month is widely observed by Jewish communal institutions, “even those not formally affiliated with the Jewish Book Council.”

She explained that as a member of the Jewish Book Council, the JCC chooses books from among those presented at a council gathering each spring.

Listokin said a program offered two years ago by Sonnenfeldt, the author “Witness to Nuremberg” and chief American interpreter at the Nuremberg trials, “was packed…. People were both moved and interested. It drew from across different populations [including] kids from high schools and non-Jews.” (Sonnenfeldt died Oct. 9.) Also a big draw was a presentation in 2004 by Dennis Ross, President Clinton’s top adviser on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Sometimes I choose a book that I know won’t draw a crowd but that is profoundly important to bring to the Jewish community,” Listokin said.

According to the Jewish Book Council’s Website, the program began in 1925 when Fanny Goldstein, a librarian at the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library, set up an exhibit of Judaic books, using it as the focus of what she called “Jewish Book Week.” The event, emulated throughout the county, originally coincided with Lag b’Omer but was moved in 1940 to fall closer to Chanukah, as way of promoting Jewish books as gifts. In 1943, it was extended to one month.

This year, the JCC program will include eight books. On Thursday, Nov. 12, Wednesday Martin, who holds a doctorate in comparative literature from Yale, will “draw on her own experience and insights from literature and other sources to understand the complex psyche of the stepmother,” said Listokin.

Also on the roster are television celebrities Michael Tucker and Jill Eikenberry, who will talk about their experiences caring for an aging parent, and Abigail Pogrebin, identical twin to New York Times reporter Robin Pogrebin, will discuss the challenges of such a relationship.

Other presentations will deal with tips for choosing a spouse, Middle Eastern politics and policy, friendship, and ending relationships. The final presentation will feature Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, religious leader of Englewood’s Ahavath, speaking on the Book of Exodus. (A full list of programs is below.) Listokin said the number of attendees generally varies with the “draw” of the speaker, ranging from hundreds to “more intimate crowds that allow for more interactive dialogue with the visiting author.”

Each JBM event includes a meet-the-author book sale and signing following the presentation, said Listokin. She noted that authors discuss their books for approximately 45 minutes and then invite questions or engage in an open dialogue. Once or twice a season, the event takes place in a private home.

For tickets and further information, visit www.jccotp.org.

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