The first ever South African Jewish Literary Festival (JLF) in 2016 was sold out and so JLF soon became a regular event on the communal calendar. The bigger and better JLF 2018 also sold out with a programme bursting at the seams and a strong visitor turnout.
Based in the Western Cape, which is considered the book festival province, the JLF complements other literary offerings like the Franschhoek Literary Festival (which includes an Israeli author every year) and the Open Book Festival by offering a jam-packed day of fascinating events linked with a Jewish thread to anyone who loves books, Jewish literature, culture and conversation. It personifies the term “People of the Book”.
The JLF showcases authors, poets, illustrators, journalists, writers and educators who have a Jewish connection or are engaged with subjects of Jewish interest. It is aptly held on the Gardens Community Centre campus in central Cape Town, home to the acclaimed Jacob Gitlin Library which anchors and partners the festival.
Over one full day, from 09h00 to 17h00 the various sites comprising the community campus hum with panel discussions, launches, readings, debates, presentations and book-style activities. Sessions cover a variety of genres including fiction, food, memoir, politics, academia, journalism, and the arts.
The plans for JLF2020 were all in place when the Covid-19 pandemic forced us to cancel the ‘in-person’ event three days before the event and rethink our strategy and JewishLiteraryFestival@home was born.
Using Zoom technology we were able to present 23 sessions, most of which were from the original programme. Every Thursday night we invited ticketholders to join us from their homes in lively discussions with eminent authors both local and overseas. These webinars allowed the reach of the festival to go global and we were delighted to see booklovers from all over the world join us.
Since 2016, award-winning and well-known South African authors have participated in the JLF – the likes of Steven ‘Boykey’ Sidley, Diane Awerbuck, Arthur Goldstuck, Rachel Zadok, Patricia Schonstein, Gail Schimmel, Gus Silber, Richard Poplack, Jonathan Ancer, Joanne Jowell, Rahla Xenopoulos, John Matisonn, and Mandy Weiner intrigued and inspired audiences. Special speakers included Helen Zille and the deputy Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Ayellet Black.
Moderators have included Nancy Richards, Lisa Chait and Helen Moffett, who brought their expertise and connections into the mix. International guests included Avraham Infeld from Israel, Lyndall Gordon and Jill Edelstein from the UK, and Jennifer Friedman from Australia.
For JLF@home2020 we were able to connect with Thomas Harding, Tamar Hodes and Jonny Steinberg from the UK, Gigi Fenster from New Zealand, and a bevy of local authors and presenters, which made for a broad and varied programme.
At the ‘in-person’ festivals, the JLF offers a full children’s programme for ages 4–12, which sadly had to be cancelled for 2020. We hope to bring that back for 2022 when authors, teachers, entertainers and carers will keep the young ones occupied all day with storytelling, workshopping and creative activities.
Naturally, with food being an important part of Jewish culture, we are always delighted to offer lunches from Café Riteve and coffee bars open throughout the day for that brief pause between sessions. While we could not do that with JLF@home, we know many enjoyed a drink and a snack of their own making as they watched the sessions, capturing the spirit of the day.
Each festival has a carefully curated programme designed to appeal to all ages and covering a wide range of genres. The ethos of the JLF is to promote constructive dialogue and discussion in the true spirit of Jewish life without promoting any single political or religious agenda.
In 2022 we look forward to once again ‘literally’ rubbing shoulders with our acclaimed authors and presenters at the JLF. Covid-19 forced us to look beyond our skills set and with this new knowledge we hope to present a programme that once again illustrates our way with words to both our local community and the world.