Baltimore Festival of Jewish Literature aims to foster dialogue


By Rudy Malcom

The fourth annual Baltimore Festival of Jewish Literature will seek to foster dialogue around antisemitism and racism.

The festival will include four events, which will take place Nov. 2-21. The JCC of Greater Baltimore is serving as the main organizer. Other organizers include Jewish Volunteer Connection, Chizuk Amuno Congregation, Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom Congregation and many more. Like other Jewish literary festivals across the country, Baltimore’s falls during Jewish Book Month.

This will mark the second year that the festival is under the JCC’s purview. In the past, the festival was spearheaded by Myrna Cardin and Ed Berlin, the former owner of the Ivy Bookshop.

Whereas last year community organizers hosted their own events on their own pages, this year, different sets of partners will host events that align with their mission and audience.

For example, Krieger Schechter Day School, Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and the Macks Center for Jewish Education are partnering on a private event with educators Ron Wolfson and Bruce Powell, who will talk about their book, “Raising A+ Human Beings: Creating a Jewish School Culture of Academic Excellence and AP Kindness.” The event will take place on Nov. 8.

“Last year was about connecting micro-communities, and this year we’re in a little bit of a different position,” said Melissa Seltzer, senior director of community arts at the JCC. “These micro-communities are now connected, and this year, we’re really working together to speak to as many audiences as possible about peace, collaboration and antisemitism.”

While the festival was held entirely online in 2020 due to the pandemic, some of the events this year will be held in person.

“The power of community fuels everything that I work on, and it’s very challenging when you can’t gather as a community,” said Seltzer, who has a master’s in Jewish communal service. “It’s very powerful to be able to experience something as a collective and then have individual reflection and transformation.”

Mark Oppenheimer
Mark Oppenheimer (Photo by Lotta Studio)

The first event of the festival will take place Nov. 2 at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts, with Mark Oppenheimer discussing his book, “Squirrel Hill: The Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting and the Soul of a Neighborhood,” with Saima Sitwat, a writer, educator and community organizer. Published earlier this month, Oppenheimer’s book recounts the effects of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting on the neighborhood where it occurred, through interviews with those impacted.

Another in-person event, held Nov. 21, will be an “author, bird and artist encounter,” recommended for ages 3-8, with storyteller Noa Baum.

“It’s really important in our programming that we get children reading and seeing beyond themselves when they’re younger,” Seltzer said.

Sam Baum (Photo by Sam Kittner)

Baum will share the process of turning a Burmese folktale into a picture book about tikkun olam. Afterward, attendees will create bird feeders in a bird conservatory with CJE’s PJ Library Director Julie Wohl.

Additionally, journalist Celeste Headlee, a Black Jew, will discuss her forthcoming book, “Speaking of Race: Why Everybody Needs to Talk About Racism — and How to Do It,” on Nov. 16.

Seltzer stressed that literary events can help combat racism and antisemitism by allowing participants to “see things in a new way.”

“Hearing about the tragedy in Pittsburgh and thinking about things that have happened in our lives gives us a chance to think about how to do things differently, in a way that pulls at your heartstrings and informs you at the same time, moving you in a way that only art can,” Seltzer said.

Rudy Malcom is a freelance writer.

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