After the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings, Baltimore's Jewish literary community gathers to heal

Barely a week after a gunman opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue and killed 11 people, Baltimore’s Jewish community will come together at a long-planned literary festival in an attempt to affirm the healing power of the written and spoken word.

“Feelings in the Jewish community are running pretty raw right now,” said Ed Berlin, co-owner of the Ivy Bookshop, which is the lead organizer of the inaugural eleven-day Festival of Jewish Literature.

“We didn’t plan it this way, but holding the festival now is a bit defiant. It shows we’re not afraid to congregate — and we’re not afraid to congregate in synagogues. It shows we’re proud of our cultural heritage.” (Berlin co-owns the bookstore with his wife, Ann Berlin, and Emma Snyder, former executive director of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation.)

The festival’s schedule was devised to showcase the variety of Baltimore’s Jewish literary community. Events are being held from the northwest burbs to just south of the Inner Harbor; in Orthodox, Reform and Conservative houses of worship; and in cultural organizations including the Jewish Museum of Maryland and the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts and Center Stage.

“We’re not a homogeneous community,” Berlin said. “We’re very, very diverse. After my wife and I moved to Baltimore in 2012 we thought we needed to do something that would create cohesiveness by bringing people together.”

Map of locations and events taking place at The Festival of Jewish Literature. (Baltimore Sun)

Non-Jews are welcome, as are nonbelievers, Berlin said. If there is a shared “religion” at the festival, it’s likely to be the love of a good book.

“I was so excited when The Church of the Redeemer offered to host a program,” Berlin said. “That really put punctuation on the concept that this event is for the entire Baltimore community to enjoy.”

Here’s everything you need to know to plan your visit:

What is it? The Festival of Jewish Literature is a city-wide celebration of the written word that includes 13 author appearances, panel discussions, performances and children’s activities.

When is it? Thursday, Nov. 8 through Sunday, Nov. 18.

Where is it? Events are being held at 11 venues throughout the Baltimore area, so chances are that you live or work close to at least one of them. For specifics, check out the map accompanying this article, or visit festivalofjewishliterature.org.

Who’s delivering the keynote address? Communications expert Deborah Tannen will discuss her newest book, “You're the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women's Friendships” at 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at Beth El Congregation, 8101 Park Heights Ave., Pikesville. Tannen is the Georgetown University linguistics professor whose 1990 book, “You Just Don’t Understand,” exposed men’s and women’s contrasting communication styles. She recently was in the news analyzing gender differences between the testimonies of U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who accused him of sexual misconduct.

Sounds kind of highbrow. Where can I go for a few yuks? Check out the Jewish Variety Hour at the Ivy Bookshop on Nov. 17, where magician David London will perform along with such noted Baltimore scribes as Marion Winik and Jessica Anya Blau. The follow night, author Jeremy Dauber will close out the festival at the Chizuk Amuno Congregation by discussing the history of Jewish comedy — its origins, defining characteristics and development from Biblical times through the age of Twitter.

I’d like to hear that Dauber guy but the grandkids are visiting. You’re in luck. Three children’s programs will be offered at the same place and at the same time as the Dauber reading: a puppet show for preschoolers, an author visit for the kindergarten through fourth grade crowd and a graphic novelist program for kids aged 10 and older. In addition, the previous Sunday features a ticketed family event at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts in Owings Mills. Tales created by kids will be brought to life and staged by the improvisational troupe Story Pirates — and enhanced by music, costumes and sets.

Can my book club participate? They can join in the “community read” of Dara Horn’s fifth novel, “Eternal Life,” about a woman who discovers that she can’t die. The New Jersey-based novelist — a two-time winner of the National Jewish Book Award — will speak at the festival Nov. 15. Related programming will be conducted throughout the year by the Macks Center for Jewish Education, which is sponsoring Horn’s visit.

Will any noteworthy local Baltimoreans be honored? We’re glad you asked. Gilbert Sandler, former Baltimore Sun reporter, historian and all-around wise guy, will be recognized with a public tribute before the Nov. 13 program at The Church of the Redeemer.

How much does it cost? Most events are free. A handful — a post-lecture reception for Tannen is a ticketed event ($25), though the reading itself is free. Fees also will be charged to attend a performance by the Story Pirates improvisational kids’ troupe ($15) and a discussion of the life of former vaudevillian and Broadway performer Eddie Cantor ($10.)

Are my tax dollars being used for this festival? No. For now, at least, the two sponsoring organizations — the Ivy Bookshop and JMore Magazine — are footing the bill. Berlin said that could change in future years.

Some events want me to register in advance. Is that really necessary? Yes. Tannen’s reading already has had to be moved to a larger room to handle the demand for tickets.

What about parking? Berlin said each venue has ample free parking.

mmccauley@baltsun.com

twitter.com/mcmccauley

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