San Diego Jewish Book Fair proves to be top of its class

This year marks the bar mitzvah of the San Diego Jewish Book Fair, a transition from infancy to maturity.

In the past 13 years, the annual event, sponsored by the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture and held at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center (JCC), has increased from 10 authors to more than 50, exceeding the boundaries of La Jolla to garner attendees from all over San Diego and earning a reputation as the top Jewish book fair in the country by the Jewish Book Council.

“Take out the word ‘Jewish,’ ” said San Diego author Todd G. Buchholz, who kicks off this year’s event on Thursday, Nov. 1 with a lecture and book signing. “It’s probably the leading book fair in the country.”

Buchholz, former White House economic adviser, hedge fund manager and a co-producer of the play “Jersey Boys,” released three new books this year: “New Ideas from Dead CEOs,” “New Ideas from Dead Economists,” and his first novel, “The Castro Gene.” His lecture will focus on the first title.

“I don’t believe in reincarnation and reviving the dead,” Buchholz said, “but I do believe in reviving the ideas of dead people and applying them to today’s challenges.”

Despite having rubbed elbows with world leaders, Buchholz was flattered to be part of the book fair line up.

“My gosh, I’m sharing the bill with Kirk Douglas,” Buchholz said. “I’m terribly impressed with the people they have.”

More than 40 authors, ranging from playwrights and historians to artists and poets, will offer lectures through the program’s conclusion on Nov. 27. The event also includes a book store with thousands of titles, and Family Day.

Book-A-Palooza, on Sunday, Nov. 4 from 1 to 5 p.m., is a free event for families with children ages 2 to 12. The just-for-kids portion of the book fair will feature storytelling with children’s authors, exhibits, theater and music, arts and crafts.

Last year’s book fair was attended by more than 8,000 visitors. Jackie Gmach of the JCC described it as a “community event with a Jewish angle.”

“There are more than 90 Jewish book fairs across the country, and this is the biggest one,” JCC’s Judith Anderson said. “This is the biggest literary-based event in San Diego County.”

This year’s lecture series includes Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (“The Deadliest Lies”), comedian David Steinberg (“The Book of David”), Rabbi Eugene Borowitz (“A Touch of the Sacred”), biographer Michael Bar-Zohar (“Shimon Peres”), clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel (“The Blessing of a Skinned Knee”) and former ambassador Dennis Ross (“Statecraft: And How to Restore American’s Standing in the World”).

Other head liners include award-winning playwright Tony Kushner (“Brundibar,” “Angels in America”), Michael B. Oren (“Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776 to the Present”) and Judith Viorst presenting her beloved children’s story character Alexander all grown up in “Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days.”

Tijuana poet and community leader Jose Galicot will present, in Spanish, a multi-media presentation with music, dance, images and readings.

Israeli author Ram Oren, “Ahot Ktana (Little Sister),” will present his lecture on Tuesday, Nov. 6 in Hebrew.

Also represented are short story author Max Apple; Risa Levitt Kohn, curator of the San Diego Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition; biographer Lindsay Pollock, UCSD Professor Deborah Hertz, Meredith L. Jacobs’ guide for modern Jewish moms, food columnist Judy Bart Kancigor and Israeli novelist Meir Shalev.

A last-minute question-and-answer lecture with Kirk Douglas (“Let’s Face It”) was added on Monday, Nov. 19 at 6 p.m.

“We’ve been trying for five years to get Kirk Douglas,” said Jackie Gmach, book fair director.

Deemed the “gold standard” of Jewish book fairs, San Diego has culled a reputation for itself that draws in many authors. The eclectic mix of local and international talent creates a diverse event with something for everyone.

“People are always excited about who might be coming, and they look forward to it all year,” said Judith Anderson. “I think that people who haven’t explored what’s available will be amazed to see how we’re able to attract ... best-selling authors here. It’s such a great opportunity to sit down with them in an intimate environment, almost face to face.”

Gmach said this year’s fair has the potential to offer “beyahad,” being together."We just had a disaster,” Gmach said, “and for some people it’s going to take years to recover. If you think about the people who are really in trouble, they can find, in some cases with the authors, comfort, and if not the comfort, they can find (diversion). In times of difficulties and times of joy . . . it’s good to be together.”

The San Diego Jewish Book Fair runs from Thursday, Nov. 1 to 27 at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, 4126 Executive Drive. Check the program for lecture requirements (some are free, some require reservations/tickets which range from $6.50 to $15.50). Information is available at or (858) 362-1348.