November in Michigan conjures up memories of visits to the cider mill, Thanksgiving Day parades and the Jewish Community Center’s Annual Jewish Book Fair. Longtime Detroiters will fondly recall hearing luminaries such as Peter Max, Elie Wiesel, and Madeleine Albright speak at the November event. Over the years, the Jewish Book Fair has become synonymous with incredible authors, the largest selection of Jewish books for sale and a marketplace filled with toys and Chanukah gifts for everyone in the family!
Now celebrating its 67th year, three pivotal forces, with three distinctly different perspectives, met to talk about this year’s event. Terry Hollander, Book Fair Chair, has been involved in Book Fair for over twenty years. Judy Loebl, JCC’s Assistant Executive Director, fondly remembers Book Fair as a child and has participated for many years. Jaemi Loeb, who moved to Michigan a month ago, is taking over the reins as Senior Director of Cultural Arts and Director of the Book Fair.
Terry: Jaemi, what did you know about the Jewish Book Fair before moving to Michigan?
Jaemi: To be honest, I only knew about it from what I read online. I was impressed that it is the oldest and one of the largest Jewish Book Fairs in the country. However, it was only when I got here that I began to understand the scope of the event and the incredible authors that come to our festival. I was also astounded by the thorough vetting of authors and books by the Book Fair Committee. Having spent time in Houston, which also has a very large Jewish Book fair, I thought I knew what big meant. I was wrong.
Terry: To find the 40 or so authors that are invited to Book Fair, our volunteers travel to New York to Jewish Book Council to hear over 200 authors speak, read hundreds of books and watch dozens of YouTube videos to make sure we are getting the best of the best!
Judy: So, after so many years of involvement, and reviewing dozens of books, who are you most excited to hear this year?
Terry: Each year I say “this is the best year” and I will say it again this year. With our incredible lineup of authors, it would be impossible for me to choose just one or two favorites. With so much in the news about bullying, I think it is important for everyone to hear Sally Kohn (November 12) speak about her book The Opposite of Hate. She is speaking alongside Angela Himsel, author of A River Could Be a Tree, at our annual “Lunch with the Authors.” The Book Fair Committee has been raving about Margot Singer’s (November 7) novel Underground Fugue, our Book Club Night selection. That has become a really popular evening with 15 different book clubs participating to hear the featured speaker. However, you do not need to be in a Book Club to come and enjoy the evening.
Jaemi: We are honored to have Mitch Albom (November 6) on this year’s schedule. People will have the chance to see him an intimate venue and also have the opportunity to have him autograph his latest book The Next Person You Meet in Heaven. I’m also excited about SARGE (Opening Night, November 3)! We’re bringing him to Detroit, by popular demand from his appearance at “SAJE in the Sun” in Florida. People who saw him last year said he was hilarious. My research on YouTube has lead me to agree. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my excitement over hearing Jamie Bernstein (November 5) daughter of Leonard Bernstein. As a conductor, Bernstein was my idol, so I can’t wait to hear about Jamie’s life with her famous dad.
Judy: I seem to gravitate to non-fiction. I lobbied to have Cory Taylor (November 11) speak on his book How Hitler Was Made: Germany and the Rise of the Perfect Nazi. We have two extraordinary authors who wrote books about Israel. Ronen Bergman (November 4) wrote the page-turner book Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations. And, due to a last minute cancellation, we are fortunate to be able to bring in Rick Richman (November 13) for Irwin Shaw Night. He will be speaking on his book Racing Against History: The 1940 Campaign for a Jewish Army to Fight Hitler. It is the untold story of three Zionist leaders who undertook separate missions to America to seek support for a Jewish army to fight Hitler. It’s not listed in the brochure so make sure you don’t miss it on the 13th.
Jaemi: Not having been to previous Book Fairs, what are some annual traditions and what is new this year?
Terry: We continue the tradition to feature a book associated with a film. This year we have Beverly Gray (November 10) speaking on her book Seduced By Mrs. Robinson followed by the screening of 1967 film The Graduate. We also brought back our “Business Breakfast” (November 8) with Michael J. Coles co-founder of the Great American Cookie Company and former CEO of Caribou Coffee author of Time to Get Tough.
Judy: New this year are two family programs. PJ Library author Debra Darvick (November 4) will have an interactive reading of her book We are Jewish Faces. The following Sunday (November 11) “The Sherrill Berman Dinosaur Goes to Book Fair” will delight children of all ages with hands-on activities with fossils, craft projects, and live reptiles!
Jaemi: Not being from Michigan, I didn’t know that Faygo was a local favorite until I read Joe Grimm’s new book The Faygo Book (November 8). Besides speaking that evening, he is the featured guest at our Patron dinner.
Terry: Anyone who attends the Patron Dinner will dine on Salmon marinated in Faygo Red Pop, Faygo Rock n’ Rye brisket sliders, and Faygo Root Beer Floats! If you can’t attend the dinner, Grimm’s talk is free and open to the public that evening at 8 p.m.
Judy: Speaking of free..almost all of our speakers, with a few exceptions are complementary with no reservation required. We hope that people will come to hear the authors, buy books, and enjoy a cup of coffee on us.
Jaemi: We only mentioned a few of the great authors that will be coming to town. We work hard to make sure there is something that will appeal to everyone. But with so many choices it seems like it would be difficult to decide what to attend.
Terry: We have a detailed brochure that gives short synopsis of each book. However, the best way to learn more about the books is to come to our “Sneak Peek” (November 4) with Sharon Schwartz, Connie Silver and Cheri Victor. Our panel of experts give short reviews of many of the featured books as well as some newly published books that you may have missed. Also, on that day only, recommended books will be available for a special discount. In addition, on our website, jccdet.org/bookfair we have links to reviews and YouTube videos.
Judy: If you were to say one more thing about Book Fair what would you say?
Terry: I would say that presenting this Book Fair to the community is a labor of love of hundreds of volunteers and an amazing Steering Committee. We could not do it without them or the support of our Patrons and Sponsoring Organizations–so we say Todah to all.
Jaemi: Seeing the size of the village it takes to put on this Book Fair has been amazing and I think that team is part of what ensures that there is really something for everyone.
Judy: For me it is all about our Jewish community coming together to celebrate books, authors and reading!
The JCC’s Jewish Book Fair runs from November 3-14 and is held at the Jewish Community Center, 6600 W. Maple Road in West Bloomfield. For information jccdet.org/bookfair or 248-661-1900.