Israeli author Etgar Keret kicks off The Hyman S. & Freda Bernstein Jewish Literary Festival on Sunday with a discussion about his first nonfiction book, The Seven Good Years: A Memoir.
Speaking via phone from Israel, Keret described the experience of writing about his own family — the book begins with the birth of his first child and ends with the death of his father — as challenging on an emotional level.
“Something in this experience [makes] you feel much more exposed,” explained Keret. “I think when you write stories you expose your emotion but you don’t say much about your biography, but when you write stories about your child or your parents it feels more dangerous.”
The festival, a program of the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center’s Morris Cafritz Center for the Arts, runs until Oct. 28 and features a lineup that includes former Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz discussing his new book Abraham: The World’s First (But Certainly Not Last) Jewish Lawyer; ethical eating activist and The Omnivore’s Dilemma author Michael Pollan talking to an audience at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium about sustainable living; The Game Must Go On: Hank Greenberg, Pete Gray and the Great Days of Baseball on the Home Front in WWII author John Klima in conversation with former Washington Post sports editor and columnist George Solomon; and former BBC investigative journalist and television producer Dina Gold discussing her legal battle to successfully reclaim a building in Berlin seized by the Nazis. She will be joined by Georgetown University Professor Ori Soltes, an expert on art restitution.
The festival closes with author and essayist Shalom Auslander providing a lecture about HAPPYish, Showtime’s dark comedy that Auslander wrote and created.
“We’re thrilled about the lineup this year because it’s really diverse,” said DCJCC Director of Jewish Innovation Sara Shalva. “Each of our authors, whether they’re coming to speak about a piece of fiction or a book reflecting history, tell a compelling story. The D.C. Jewish community is thirsty to hear about how people reflect on their Jewish identity and use language to tell stories that are real to them or are from their imagination.”
Gold said the issue of restitution is still “very much alive” more than 70 years after the end of World War II. She said her book, Stolen Legacy: Nazi Theft and the Quest for Justice at Krausenstrasse 17/18, Berlin, and the film Woman in Gold, starring Helen Mirren, have helped bring attention to the millions whose property was stolen by the Nazis.
Since she has been getting press attention for her book, Gold said people have been contacting her about how to claim property and she advises them on the best places to research.
“I spent a lot of time in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum doing a lot of research. Sitting in there you see all the people coming in and wanting to find out and getting the archivists to help research and find digital material and so on,” said Gold. “It’s quite moving to see people’s reactions when they find something in there, on the microfiches and the digital archives. It’s absolutely incredible what information you can now discover.”
In addition to the author presentations, the festival will also feature a screening of the Israeli film I Am Bialik and events for children, including story time with My Name is Aviva author Leslea Newman, whose book won the 2015 Sugarman Family Children’s Book Award.
One of Keret’s motivations for publishing the book and touring was the opportunity to show a more nuanced view of Israeli reality.
“Many times when I go to places in the world, people say to me I’m for Israel or anti-Israeli, but very rarely you go to someplace and they say to you that they are pro-Swedish or anti-Swedish, because we all know that there are nice Swedish people and some un-nice Swedish people,” said Keret. “To be a victim of this generalization is not enjoyable. I don’t want people to be pro-Israeli or anti-Israeli. I want them to see us as human beings and I hope that this is what the book is able to achieve.”