Jewish National Fund-USA Reading Series: Not Your Average Book Club
By Anita Silvert
The classic book club: sitting around a table, chatting with friends, some nosh, and maybe some wine, right? But how often does the author actually join the dialogue? With Jewish National Fund-USA’s (JNF-USA) Monthly Reading Series — one of the most unique and engrossing complimentary book clubs requiring no prior commitments and open to anyone in the country - supporters will have access to an engaging and lively moderated group discussion with community members from coast to coast and the unique opportunity to interact with the author. Even better? You don’t have to leave the comfort of your home, as each event takes place virtually. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and log on to Zoom.
Moderated by Steven Shalowitz, who also hosts JNF-USA’s IsraelCast series and his own “The One Way Ticket Show” podcast, says that, as a veteran traveler, the sign of a good trip is coming home wanting to know more about that place. “It’s the same with a good book…there is more to explore as a result of having read the book.”
What could be better than being able to continue the conversation that started in your mind with the person who sparked that curiosity? Shalowitz believes it is better to read a book and, “walk away with more questions than answers,” so the Reading Series is a perfect way to continue the reader-author conversation. Purchasing or reading the book in advance is optional. But those who haven’t read the book still get to meet the author, which makes reading the book afterward feel like having an additional personal narration.
JNF-USA’s monthly Reading Series started out as a way of providing programming during the first lockdown from the COVID-19 pandemic. The response was so positive that JNF-USA has continued to host the virtual series indefinitely. The goal was “to engage, inform, and provide insight into all things associated with Israel.” Israel engagement is especially important now, when travel to Israel is restricted, and the series brings Israel to people’s screens. So much of today’s focus on Israel revolves around politics and headlines. But when someone visits in-person, small cafes and shops are discovered, along with chance meetings with people and impromptu conversations. The country’s culture is what comes home in the suitcase. The Reading Series brings those moments to its listeners.
Shalowitz goes through intense preparation for each episode of the Series. Authors are reserved months in advance, so he can do his homework. “The best conversations come from the preparation,” Shalowitz says. “It’s also a sign of respect for the topic, the author, and the listener to be as prepared as possible, for any turn the conversation may take.”
Shalowitz works closely with Sarah Cohen, Director of JNF-USA’s Speakers’ Bureau. He notes that, “she is a joy to work with, and really makes this project happen.” Although the episodes are loosely based on an Israel theme, Shalowitz calls it “Israel-tangential.” For example, the Jewish calendar, which structures Israeli society, unites and engages Jews from all over the world. Previous authors have included Joseph Telushkin around the High Holidays last year, and for Tu B’shvat, there was an ecological Biblical conversation with Rabbi Yonatan Neril. Each episode is designed to be a portal into Israeli and Jewish life.
There are some exciting sessions coming up. March brings David Nasaw’s The Last Million, a sweeping new history of the one million German refugees left behind after the War. In April, just in time for Israel’s Independence Day, Michael Dickson and Dr. Naomi Blum’s Isresilience is a timely connection to what makes Israel entrepreneurship and society so…well, resilient. May is JNF-USA’s Women’s Month, and the series is highlighting Francine Klagsbrun’s Lioness, Golda Meir’s biography.
One of the nicest things about book groups is that a simple reading list can transport you into new worlds and new ideas. The JNF-USA Reading Series is an excellent way to dive into the pool of wisdom that is our Israeli connection, along with the fascinating tangents to be explored.
For an informative and engaging hour of conversation with the finest Jewish and Israeli authors of our time, tune in to the JNF-USA Reading Series. You can find upcoming episodes and registration information at this link. Happy reading!