arts & entertainment >> on the cover / book fair
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Gem Of An Event
The JCC's annual Jewish Book Fair turns 60 and celebrates
its diamond anniversary with a sparkling collection of incredible authors.
Special to the Jewish News
rwin Shaw knew he was taking a risk,
but he had a good feeling.
Then executive director of the
Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan
Detroit, Shaw was planning the JCC's
upcoming book fair.
Shaw himself had come up with the idea
of a JCC Jewish book fair, which was the
very first in the United States, and it was
doing well, but still just a few years old.
Mort Plotnick, then director of the JCC's
educational and cultural services, had
heard about a new book called Our Crowd.
He mentioned it to Shaw.
The two decided to invite the author to
No one could believe it. Stephen
Birmingham? Who was this guy? He
wasn't Jewish. What, his friends wondered,
was Shaw thinking?
A few months later, absolutely everyone
was talking about Stephen Birmingham
and Our Crowd, a biography of the promi-
nent Jewish families in 19th-century New
Irwin Shaw would enjoy the coup.
Stephen Birmingham would go on to write
another 22 books. And the JCC's annual
Jewish Book Fair would become the larg-
est and most prominent event of its kind.
This year the JCC's annual Book Fair
turns 60 and celebrates with a diverse col-
lection of guests, including best-selling
novelists Andrew Gross and Joseph
Skibell, CNN's Clark Howard, journal-
ists Jim Lehrer and Ned Zeman, virus
hunter Nathan Wolfe and physician Dr.
Howard Markel, psychic Rebecca Rosen
and Jonathan Levin, recalling the life and
death of his son, Miles.
To be held Nov. 2-13 in both West
Bloomfield and Oak Park, this year's book
fair, under the guidance of Book Fair
Director Sheri Lebo, also opens with a new
chair, Susan Lutz.
"Irwin Shaw died in 2004, but he left a
wonderful legacy:' said Lebo.
"It is wonderful to be able to enjoy books
written by Jewish authors or written on
Jewish topics all in one place,' added Lutz.
"It is guaranteed that the 60th annual
Jewish Book Fair will have a book to inter-
est everyone and anyone who attends.
There are books in the category of fiction,
mystery, history, Judaica, memoirs, busi-
ness, current events, politics, Israel, art,
music, humor, cooking, biography and
"The most special part of Book Fair to
me is the experience of hearing authors
speak about their books live and in per-
son. Many of us have heard authors inter-
viewed on radio or television, but it does
not compare to actually sitting in a room
with the author and having the opportu-
nity to have the author sign your book."
In the Beginning
It all began with Irwin Shaw.
Shaw was born in Detroit in 1912. As a
child, he loved nothing more than read-
ing, and he spent many happy days at the
Detroit Public Library. Later, he taught in
the Detroit Public Schools and was direc-
tor of the Fresh Air Camp before coming
to the JCC.
Shaw was a one-of-a-kind, remembers
his friend and colleague, Mort Plotnick.
"Irwin was an incredibly creative
human being" who loved the arts and was
devoted to finding new ways to involve
people Jewishly, Plotnick said. Jews are the
"people of the book': Shaw noted, so "let's
do this right and start a book fair."
Shaw was a risk-taker and a man who
"thought ahead of the curve Plotnick
said. At the same time, he was "meticu-
lous. He had a process about how things
should be and he knew the importance of
and how to solicit the help of others.
Only months after coming on board at
the JCC, still located on Curtis and Meyers
in Detroit, Shaw decided to host a Jewish
book fair. The first event had six speakers
and bookshelves provided by Luddington
News, a wholesale operation in Detroit.
One of Shaw's first steps was to enlist
the support of Rebecca Kelman, then the
JCC's library director, and Henry Meyers
as honorary chair.
Like Shaw, Meyers loved books and was
a leading figure in both the Jewish and
general community. He gave generously of
his time and out of his pocket, including
funding the large prizes awarded to chil-
dren at the early book fair art contests.
Shaw also brought on board Mort
Plotnick, a man with connections and a
top-notch business sensibility. Plotnick
brought in support from local booksellers,
whose sales invariably increased during
Book Fair; arranged for publishers (rather
than the JCC) to foot the bill for the
authors' airplane tickets; and worked with
Shaw to develop an extensive structure of
volunteers, without whom Book Fair could
It didn't take long for Detroit's Jewish
Book Fair to become the talk of the book
world. Publishers eager to send their
authors called to ask for next year's dates
the moment one book fair was over;
other JCCs began their own book fairs;
and Detroit's event began to attract some
of the biggest names in the world, like
Kirk Douglas, Chaim Potok, Elie Wiesel,
Howard Cosell, Alan King and Tony Curtis.
There's a Hebrew saying that translates,
roughly, to: You can tell a lot about a man
by his behavior when he's angry, by how
he acts when he's had too much to drink,
and by how he gives to charity. Add to that
his appearance at Jewish Book Fair.
A handful of guests came with an
entourage worthy of a king, and some
were downright rude. But there was always
a Tony Curtis to make up for them.
Not only was Curtis, who died last
year, a popular actor, he was critically
acclaimed, as well, for his work in films
like The Boston Strangler, The Sweet Smell
of Success and Some Like it Hot.
Still, Plotnick said, Tony Curtis was
always gracious, generous and easygoing.
"Not only would he patiently pose for
pictures, he would pull other people over
and say, 'Come on, do you want to be in a
Sixty years since its founding, the
JCC's annual Jewish Book Fair contin-
ues to be the largest in the country, with
guests in the past few years alone includ-
ing Alan Dershowitz, Elie Wiesel, Neil
Sedaka and Jeffrey Toobin.
The crowds are much bigger, the staff
(both professional and volunteer) is
Book Fair Director
Book Fair Chair
The late Irwin
larger, the JCC owns plenty of its own
bookshelves now and guest authors have
expanded from six to 60. But there's always
that sweet bit of the past that remains:
One of Book Fair's most popular events
remains the annual Irwin Shaw Night. E
Elizabeth Applebaum is a marketing spe-
cialist at the Jewish Community Center of
Metropolitan Detroit. Unless otherwise noted,
she is the writer of all Book Fair stories in this
The 60th annual Jewish Book Fair
runs Nov. 2-13. All events are free
and open to the public unless oth-
erwise noted. Events will be held at
the Jewish Community Center of
Metropolitan Detroit: 6600 W. Maple
Road in West Bloomfield (WB) or
15110 W.10 Mile Road in Oak Park
(OP). To view the complete brochure
or to register for events, visit jccdet.
org/bookfair. For more information,
call (248) 432-5692. Some events
take place at the new Berman
Center for the Performing Arts on
the JCC campus in West Bloomfield
(WB-BC); the box office phone num-
ber is (248) 661-1900.
Book Fair on page 44
October 27 G 2'