Political insider in spotlight at Gaithersburg book festival


book-festival-axelrod-book-coverBy Cheryl Kravitz

The sixth annual Gaithersburg Book Festival had something for everyone—authors, poets, journalists and educators discussing their own works and teaching others to be the best writers they aspire to be.

A highlight was the appearance last weekend of David Axelrod, author of Believer, My Forty Years in Politics. Axelrod shared the stage with Washington Post reporter Dan Balz.

The consummate Beltway insider, Axelrod served as senior adviser to President Barack Obama and to the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition, as well as senior strategist to Barack Obama’s historic campaign for the presidency in 2008 and his re-election in 2012. Today he serves as director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago and as a senior political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC.


In an interview, Axelrod said he is now in a different phase of his life, wanting to “reclaim my life” after decades working in the political maelstrom. He briefly discussed Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president, noting that they are longtime friends. He responded to the recent flap over the Clinton Foundation receiving significant donations from as many as 19 foreign governments, saying, “The Clinton Foundation does good and admirable work, but they needed to do a better job promoting that work. They need to anticipate [media scrutiny] in advance.”

A critic of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Axelrod famously tweeted in March, “Tightness of exits in Israel suggests Bibi’s shameful 11th-hour demagoguery may have swayed enough votes to save him. But at what cost?”

Axelrod is on the record saying that Netanyahu “mortgaged the future” to win re-election. “Let’s acknowledge the obvious: Bibi Netanyahu is a great politician and there’s no question he’s willing to do whatever is necessary to keep himself in power.”

At the festival, he explained his Israel stance: “I am like most Jews. My dad was an immigrant from the pogroms. My grandparents went there in the early ‘60’s and I haven’t forgotten what that meant to them. These are deep ties. I am invested in Israel and I believe in a two-state solution.”

Local author Michelle Brafman, an adjunct professor of fiction writing at Johns Hopkins University, discussed her debut novel Washing the Dead, about the Jewish ritual act of purification after death called tahara. The cleansing is performed by a funeral director and staff, or the ritual may be carried out by the chevra kaddisha, a group of Jews trained to care for the body and prepare it for burial.

The book toggles between decades in the life of Barbara Blumfield, a suburban mother and preschool teacher who was 17 when her mother’s affair ripped her family from their Orthodox Jewish community. Decades later, the rabbi’s wife summons Barbara to perform the ritual burial washing of a beloved teacher. The story examines the deep ties between mothers, daughters, friends and religion.

Brafman, whose family belongs to Beth El synagogue in Bethesda, describes her book as “a spiritual page-turner.” The book, she says, is ultimately about forgiveness. “It’s not what I originally set out to write about. And to answer the question I get a lot…nothing in the book happened to me.”

Paul Stankus, a reviewer on the festival committee, said this book was his first choice for inclusion in the event. “Actually I overheard two women talking about it at the Bethesda Farmers Market saying how great it was, and I was happy they loved it as much as [I].”

Washington resident Erica Perl is an author who has written a number of children’s books. She discussed two of her books, When Life Gives You O.J. and Aces Wild.

A plus with both books: There is a glossary of Yiddish words in the back to help the unitiated.

For more information on the festival, visit http://gaithersburgbookfestival.org.

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