WESTPORT — An Israeli tradition is coming to Westport in the form of the first-ever Connecticut Hebrew Book Fest.

“There is in Israel something that I don’t know exists anywhere else and they call it the Hebrew Book Week. It’s an annual event that lasts for one week in multiple places around the country. Publishers and bookstores make displays of books in town squares and parks and basically people just go around and and browse books, read books and buy books,” said Relly Coleman, Westport resident and president of Israelis in CT, the main group organizing the book festival on June 10 in collaboration with the Taste of Israel Food Festival at Temple Israel.

“I thought we should do something like that here to get away from the day-to-day. We can’t do it for a week, but I thought we could do it for a few hours,” Coleman said of the book fest.

Although Coleman thought of the idea several years ago, it took until this year to find the right people to help organize it — the event’s co-chairs Orna Rawls and Tikva Shapiro, both members of Israelis in CT.

Rawls, a playwright, therapist and Stratford resident, said the festival organizing team pulled on resources throughout the Hebrew-speaking community to gather gently used Hebrew books from residents that will be sold at a nominal fee. Newspapers in Hebrew will also be available to those more familiar in the language.

More Information

Connecticut Hebrew Book Fest:

Presented by Israelis in CT in tandem with the “Taste of Israel Food Festival”

Temple Israel, 14 Coleytown Road, Westport; June 10, 1 to 6 p.m.

Tickets - Advance: $5/adult, $20/family of 5; Day of event: $10/adult; $30/family of 5

A series of programs exploring Hebrew literature, including a children’s story time and workshops on Hebrew short stories and poetry, will accompany the festival’s book displays, games, and music, Rawls said.

“It’s No. 1 an opportunity. It’s a community builder,” Rawls said of the book fest.

Weston resident Susan Boyar will facilitate the Hebrew short story class at the festival. She said while many scholars point to Eastern European Yeshiva’s, or Jewish seminaries, in the late 1800s as the birth of Hebrew short stories, she thinks the tradition of Hebrew short stories goes back further, to biblical times and the Book of Esther.

Writing from the diaspora about the fate and experience of Jewish people in unwelcoming lands versus stories written post 1948, after the establishment of the state of Israel (when Jews had ownership over the territory and spoke the dominant language) is the primary dichotomy in contemporary Hebrew short stories and one of the themes she will discuss in her class at the festival, Boyar said.

The festival is part of the larger growth of the Israeli community in the state, Coleman said. Israelis in CT, founded 10 years ago and based in Westport, has become a robust cultural organization with activities including an annual beach picnic in town, weekly Hebrew conversation group at the Westport Library, and Hebrew language classes for kids.

A book festival in tandem with the food festival was a natural next step for the group, Coleman said. “Food for the soul, food for the body. They go together.”


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