2019 Jewish Book Festival has its own flavor

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Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook own restaurants in Philadelphia. (Photo credit: Zahav)

James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Solomonov and business partner Steven Cook of restaurant Zahav fame will be in Rochester next month. 

They join 19 authors who will explore Jewish culture and identity at this year’s JCC Lane Dworkin Rochester Jewish Book Festival.

The festival, slated for Nov. 3-13, has a focus: food. Now in its 27th year, the event will feature two days devoted to all things culinary under the title “48 Hours of Food.” 

Solomonov and Cook, who recently penned “Israeli Soul: Easy, Essential, Delicious,” and own several restaurants in Philadelphia, are among those at the forefront of the growing interest in Jewish, kosher and Israeli food. Their restaurant Zahav in May won the coveted James Beard honor in the Outstanding Restaurant category.

Others in the festival’s food lineup are Chanie Apfelbaum, creator of kosher food blog Busy in Brooklyn, and Naftali Hanau, CEO of Grow & Behold, a Brooklyn-based vendor of premium kosher pastured meats.

“48 Hours of Food” will include classes on kashrut and kosher cookbooks, and two luncheons, one that discusses healthy eating and another that features Hanua and Rochester’s Mitch Gruber, chief strategy officer at Foodlink. A self-guided kosher food tour is yet another activity in the two-day focus on food.

Andrea Miller, director of the festival, expects more than 3,000 people to attend. 

“The family event this year, MARVEL-ous Day, celebrating all things Marvel, will likely bring in 300 to 400 people alone,” she says. “We expect a very large crowd for Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook as well. Historically, the fest numbers have hovered around 2,000, but year to year the number of events has varied, and so too do the attendance numbers.”

This year’s festivities will include other venues in the community, beyond JCC. Alan Zweibel, author of “Field Guide to Jewish People,” will speak at Comedy at the Carlson, and Israeli author Daniel Oz’s book release party is at the George Eastman Museum, for example. Oz’s book, “Further Up the Path,” is published by Rochester’s BOA Editions.  Cookbook authors Solomonov and Apfelbaum will speak at Temple Beth El. 

Andrea Miller

“Moving the fest events around Rochester helps build a broader audience and celebrate all Rochester has to offer,” Miller says.

The mission of the festival, she says, is to create a showcase for Jewish authors and books of Jewish content to strengthen community awareness of Jewish identity, history and culture, and to provide a community forum for dialogue.  

“The festival pop-up bookstore is mission-driven in that we believe if we can help add one additional book to people’s home libraries, we’ve done our job,” Miller notes.

She is looking forward to the “unknown” moments like when an author’s story resonates deeply with a festival patron, or when a parent finds a new book for their child, or when someone decides to buy a dozen copies of a book, signed by the author, to give as Chanukah gifts. 

Miller, who marketed Rochester’s independent Village Green Bookstore in the 1990s, especially cherishes the bookstore element of the festival. Setting up and running the bookstore is a joy, she says.

The JCC book festival, established in 1992 by Barbara and Sheldon Lane, has evolved over the years, broadening content. Last year it included two audience favorites from the 2018 Ames Amzalak Jewish Film Festival. This year features 2019 film favorites.

“Literary arts will always be the focus, but we think adding some variety is appealing to the community,” Miller says. “We also have an eye to bringing writers throughout the year—more of an ‘Idea Fest/Talk Series.’”

Smriti Jacob is Rochester Beacon managing editor.

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