New Jewish literary festival

Janine Schloss (left) and Noe Harsel at St Kilda Town Hall where  the Melbourne Jewish Book Week will be held. Photo: Peter Haskin

AFTER two years of planning, the inaugural Melbourne Jewish Book Week will see more than 100 authors, journalists, editors and publishers take part in a variety of sessions from May 3-9.

Co-directors Noe Harsel and Janine Schloss have built on the success of the Melbourne Jewish Writers Festival, which was last held in 2016.

“The festival will celebrate the richness of Jewish literary culture from around the world,” said Harsel. “It will feature Jewish authors who are well-known and emerging and also non-Jewish authors who have written on a Jewish theme or issue. There will be a lot of Australian talent at the festival – it’s very exciting.”

She said the festival wanted to encourage members of the broader community to attend in order to create a multicultural dialogue.

Schloss added: “There are many global issues that should attract a diverse audience.

“The authors are excited to be part of the festival.”

Among the local authors at the festival are Bram Presser, Mark Baker, Arnold Zable, Caroline Baum, Heather Morris, Ros Ben-Moshe, Robert Manne, Raymond Gaita, Fiona Harari, Kerri Sackville, Leon Gettler, Leah Kaminsky, Yvonne Fein and Judith Buckrich.

Overseas authors attending the festival include American novelists Rachel Kadish and Stefan Merrill Block, who talk about their novels, The Weight of Ink and Oliver Longing on Saturday, May 5 at a discussion titled “More than one America” which explores the role of a fiction writer in the current US landscape.

Kadish’s The Weight of Ink is a historical journey of two women, set in England and Israel, which won the 2017 American National Jewish Book Award. Block’s Oliver Longing is a powerful story set in Texas around the events of a fateful school dance that has devastating repercussions.

Acclaimed British Jewish author and science presenter Michael Brooks will present the festival’s keynote address on Sunday, May 6 titled “The Unexplained Universe”.

Brooks, author of At The Edge of Uncertainty, The Secret Anarchy of Science and the bestselling non-fiction title 13 Things that Don’t Make Sense, will be joined by Australian science presenter Norman Swan.

Mohammed al Samawi, a Muslim who lives in Washington and lectures widely to promote inter-faith relations, is making his only appearance in Melbourne at the festival on Sunday, May 6 when he talks about the true story behind his book, The Foxhunt.
Another international guest, Israeli crime writer Dror Mishani, whose books include The Missing File, A Possibility of Violence and The Man Who Wanted to Know, will attend several festival sessions including “In Conversation” with historian Stewart King.

Melbourne Jewish Book Week’s opening night gala on Thursday, May 3 is at the Glen Eira Town Hall and titled The World According To …

“It’s a literary cabaret featuring songs, words and music,” said Harsel.

Directed and performed by Galit Klas – who last year created A Night to Remeber: The Ghetto Cabaret at the Kadimah – it will feature the reading of original works from Brooks, Mishani, Jessica Bellamy, Andrea Goldsmith, Abigail Ulman and Damon Young.

Another special event – to close the festival on May 9 – is Tales: Tall and True at Memo Music Hall, St Kilda. It promises to be a night of storytelling compered by Jayne Kranz featuring Morris Gleitzman, Bram Presser, Elise Hearst, Judy Horacek, Sarah Krasnostein, Maria Tumarkin and singer-songwriter Husky Gawenda.

The busiest day of the festival is Sunday May 6, with up to four simultaneous sessions being held at times. Organisers hope the sessions on Monday, May 7 will be well attended despite it being a work day.

In addition to the sessions there will be readings, performances, film and the launch of Karen Liberman’s Alegria, a collection of stories and recipes celebrating her family’s Moroccan heritage.

Two kosher food trucks will be at the festival hub outside St Kilda Town Hall.
The Melbourne Jewish Book Week is at St Kilda Town Hall and other venues from May 3-9. Bookings: www.melbournejewishbookweek.com.au

REPORT by Danny Gocs