A celebration of reading at the JCC

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After going virtual last year, the Louis S. Wolk JCC of Greater Rochester will kick off its annual book festival with in-person events this weekend.

“Something is lost when we’re watching things on screens all the time like we did (during the height of the COVID pandemic). It’s so heartwarming to see people out in the lobby, reflecting on what they read or heard, discussing their perspectives, but catching up or sharing gossip too. It’s much different than typing in a chat,” says Stacey Freed, the festival chair, who has also worked as a volunteer at the festival for years.

“That human connection puts the ‘fest’ in ‘festival’,” she says.

For 30 years, the JCC Lane Dworkin Jewish Book Festival has been a week-long celebration of authors and books. This year, it touches on a wide variety of topics, including comedy, history, religion, politics, and, similar to the festival in 2019, food. In fact, the inaugural event at Temple Beth El will feature a cooking demonstration by author, chef, and TV personality Eitan Bernath.

Bernath, 20, appeared on the first kid’s episode of “Chopped” in 2014, and currently is the principal culinary contributor for CBS’ “The Drew Barrymore Show.” His first cookbook, “Eitan Eats the World,” was released in May, and features Bernath’s spin on dishes from PB&J pancakes to Kurdish Shamburak.

“He’s proud of his heritage. It was a big influence on his love of cooking and his cookbook is all kosher,” Freed says. “Eitan is a lot of fun and will bring a lot of energy for young and old audiences at the event.” 

Other events at this year’s festival include a tour of Jerusalem’s tombs, tunnels, and trenches from journalist Andrew Lawler’s new book, “Under Jerusalem: The Buried History of the World’s Most Contested City.” 

There will be a children’s event about ecological action inspired by Anita Pazner’s book “The Topsy-Turvy Bus” with local organizations Cornell Cooperative, Impact Earth, and What’s Good

A tasting of wines and chocolates from Pinnacle Liquor and Laughing Gull Chocolates will follow a panel about fiction writing with authors Lynda Cohen Loigman and Susan Coll. A boxed lunch will be included during a panel with Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a founder of “Ms. Magazine.” The closing ceremonies will include Jewish folktales with “The Clever Little Tailor” translator David Forman, and music from the New York Klezmer Orchestra.

In addition, there will be a discussion with two Rochester authors whose work touches on their families’ Holocaust ordeals. Sam Rind fled Poland to Ukraine with his mother and later joined other family members in Bolivia at the age of 10. Jerry Elman is a child of survivors who uncovered the details of his parents’ survival and the emotional scars passed down because of that experience.

“These are important stories that we need to preserve and make sure younger generations hear and can learn from,” says Freed.

As a bonus event post-festival, Mark Schiff, longtime touring partner of Jerry Seinfeld and author of “Why Not? Lessons on Comedy Courage, and Chutzpah,” will perform a stand-up at Comedy @ the Carlson about what hard-won lessons he has learned over his 50-year career.

The festival, Oct. 23-30, will also feature a bookstore at the JCC’s Yiddish Center, with books provided by Ampersand Books, the Neighborhood of the Arts’ indie bookstore at Writers & Books.

“We (host the festival) because we all love books. This is a great way to spread that love and have some fun events and food at the same time,” Freed says.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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