The annual Sydney Jewish Writers Festival was held on August 27-28 and featured an array of local as well as international authors.
“When the Sydney Jewish Writers Festival became an annual event, we worried if there would be enough Jewish writing produced each year. How wrong we were!” Sydney Jewish Writers Festival Director Michael Misrachi told Jewish Australia Online.
“We are astounded every year by the remarkable Jewish writing talent which exists in Australia – and our guests at this year’s festival presented yet another stellar line-up.”
Authors of extraordinary stories featured this year, including Holocaust survivors Frank Vajda and Marcel Weyland, who were both saved by Righteous of the Nations – Raoul Wallenberg and Chiune Sugihara respectively.
As Vajda told JA “Jewish people are extremely creative. Writing is one of the most noble professions and a lot of the talent comes through… and to exchange ideas amongst people – whether it’s Jewish, Australian or international, is very important.” One of the aspects that he most enjoyed about the festival was hearing the other presenters: “Their expertise and capacity for wonderful writing – I really enjoyed listening to their stories. I learnt a lot – the ingenuity of people in saving lives; the tremendous parallel between our stories…. the street sense of many women. I also learnt about the incredible generosity and kindness of the Japanese Consul-General in Kaunas.”
In the spirit of the Helen Mirren movie Woman In Gold, US-based author Dina Gold shared her incredible legal battle to reclaim a building that was stolen from her family by the Nazis.
Also fascinating was the story of Iranian Jewish refugee Kooshyar Karimi – doctor, dissident and spy, whose compassionate practise of medicine saved many women’s lives in Iran. Karimi told JA: “Being a writer and being Jewish, it’s inseparable – I always think there’s a writer in every Jewish person; we’re a nation fascinated by literature and art.
“A Jewish writers’ festival is the best opportunity for our great Jewish writers to present their stories and communicate with their people and communities. This is my third time – I’ve been in Melbourne, Sydney. I love it – it’s amazing.”
Misrachi highlighted the involvement of leading Australian figures and thought leaders – such as company chairman, patron of the arts and philanthropist David Gonski, who has become a household name since the release of his report into education funding. Gonski told JA: “I think it’s wonderful to have views being expressed by those who are of the Jewish faith and to make them, in addition, available for discussion and I think it [the SJWF] does a nice job of it.”
Another leading Australian presenting was NSW senior crown prosecutor and well-known photographer, Mark Tedeschi, who is the author of true crime books including Eugenia, a woman who lived in Australia as a man from 1898 until she was charged with the murder of her first “wife” in 1920. Tedeschi told JA he thought the SJWF “was a wonderful idea”.
“The number of people that are attending is a good sign of its success and the need for it,” he observed.
“The number of books that have a Jewish slant in Australia is quite amazing – that are either available in Australia or written in Australia. I think it’s a wonderful festival and I commend the organisers – I think it’s stronger this year than it was last year; no doubt it’ll be even stronger again next year.”
New talent Nathan Besser and Lexi Landsman were also featured and former editor of Harper’s Bazaar (Aust edition) Alexandra Joel discussed how biography and fiction mixed to illuminate the scandalous story of her great grandmother’s past in her fascinating book Rosetta.
International guests included award-winning Matti Friedman – whose essays about the media coverage of Israel after the 2014 Gaza war triggered intense international discussion, Dov Lipman, at the forefront of combating religious extremism in Israel with his efforts to create Jewish unity in Israel and around the world, and TV and film writer and author Julie Thomas.
Dr Ida Lichter, a psychiatrist as well as founder and director of chamber music festival Music in the Hunter, highlighted the power of classical music to transform as well as to heal: “There’s some evidence that it assists in reducing blood pressure and in treating premature babies… and with normal babies, classical music can help with painful procedures.” Lichter told JA.
She was amazed at the standard of the discussion as well as the writers. “The Sydney Jewish Writers Festival offers a great deal. I think Jewish people are very interested in writing and reading – and they want to know; we are the people of the book!”
The SJWF was held at Bondi Pavilion and Waverley Library.
For further details of upcoming associated events visit the website
Compiled by Paula Towers