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Jewish Book Month Speaker Series celebrates 25 years

The committee that chose the books for this year’s Jewish Book Month Speaker Series at the North Shore Jewish Community Center in Marblehead on October 11, 2019. lft to rt: Sara Ewing, the Adult Program Director, Izzi Abrams, Salem, Susan Steigman, Marblehead, and Diane Knops, Swampscott.

MARBLEHEAD — Twenty-five years ago, book clubs started sprouting up all over the North Shore. A group of women at the Jewish Community Center were certain a club that discussed books written by a Jewish author or about Jewish topics would succeed. They were correct. Three events were held that year, all well-attended.

Here it is, 25 years later, and the JCC of the North Shore’s Jewish Book Month Speaker Series is thriving. This year’s eight-event series begins Oct. 24, when author Ben Mizrich reads from his bestselling “Bitcoin Billionaires” at Tedesco Country Club.

The speaker series has become so popular, members of other book groups now reserve entire tables. “It’s a Jewish Community Center event but it has wider appeal” said Sara Ewing, JCCNS adult program director. “Everyone is welcome to these community events.”

Diane Knopf, Jewish Book Month chair, said “In the early days, authors were local. Somebody would know somebody.”

But each year the roster became more impressive. Featured authors have included  Lesley Stahl, the CBS journalist who was born in Lynn and grew up in Swampscott; Dr. Ruth Westheimer; Marcia Clark, the lead prosecuter in the OJ Simpson murder trial; and Pete Hamill, the New York City journalist and novelist.

Izzi Abrams, JCCNS board president and an early childhood educator who co-chairs Children’s Services at the Swampscott Public Library, even broke bread with Hamill, after a JBM event for his book “Snow in August.” “I took him out to dinner in Marblehead. I can’t remember where,” she said, “but the conversation was lively.” 

Abrams also picked up at South Station Jamie Bernstein, who had written a book about her dad, music icon Leonard Bernstein, and they stopped at Kelly’s in Revere before the event. Abrams even pinch hit as featured speaker when the authors of a book about illusionist Harry Houdini missed their train in NYC. “It was a full house, and I spoke for an hour and a half. It’s a good thing I read the book and like to talk,” she said.

Last year, Marblehead’s Phyllis Karas, author of “Women of Southie,” brought along three of the book’s prominent women, who grew up in South Boston during Whitey Bulger’s reign of terror, on the very day Bulger died. It was standing room only at the JCC’s Hillel Library. 

The annual Girls Night Out gatherings, which feature an author or book that’s of special interest to women, have become must-attend events. Dani Shapiro, author of “Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love,” will be spotlighted author Nov. 14 at Kernwood Country Club in Salem.

“The Girls Night Out events also include boutiques, shopping, raffles … and drinking,” said Susan Steigman, with a smile. Steigman, a committee member, organized Jewish Book Month at the JCC from 2001 to 2012. 

“I am so proud of our very special Jewish Book Month 25th silver anniversary milestone, and am humbled by the amazing staff and committee members, past and present, and all their efforts in making this annual author series quite remarkable for an unbelievable quarter of a century,” said Knopf. “This year’s lineup is quite exciting and promises something for everyone.” 

The committee also includes Sylvia Belkin, Margie Detkin, Sara Foster, Ethel Harris, Helaine Hazlett, Sheryl Levy, Karen Madorsky, Catherine Mazur-Jefferies, Patti McWeeney, Ina Resnikoff, Sharon Rich, Shelley Sackett, Sara Winer and Jane Zeller. 

The 2019 series is sponsored in honor of Alice and Joe Ossoff. Joe passed away last year. It is supported by cultural benefactors Sharon and Howard Rich.

The Spirit of 76 Bookstore has been a partner throughout the series’ 25 years, handling book sales. 

The 2019 schedule:

Bitcoin Billionaires, Ben Mezrich
Mezrich, New York Times bestselling author, will share the incredible true story of identical twin brothers, Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss’ big bet on crypto-currency. Oct. 24, 7 p.m., at Tedesco Country Club. $36.

Gina from Siberia, Jane Bernstein
Bring your children and grandchildren to hear the true story of a family of Jewish immigrants determined to bring their beloved dog Gina with them when they left the former Soviet Union. Nov. 3, 3 p.m., at Epstein Hillel School. This event is free.

Mistress of the Ritz, Melanie Benjamin
The German army sets up headquarters at the Hotel Ritz in Paris in June 1940, and the hotel’s hosts, Blanche and Claude Auzello, must navigate a terrifying reality filled with secrets and lies. Nov. 6, 7 p.m., at the JCC. $18.

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love, Dani Shapiro
Shapiro will discuss her personal memoir about a staggering family secret that was uncovered by her own genealogy test. Nov. 14, 6 p.m., at Kernwood Country Club, Salem. $72, includes dinner, a glass of wine and a copy of the book.

Careful What You Wish For, Hallie Ephron
Ephron introduces us to Emily Harlow, a professional organizer with a deadly problem she may not be able to clean up. Nov. 17, 10 a.m., at the JCC. $25, includes brunch.

Fall and Rise: The Story of 9/11, Mitchell Zuckoff
Zuckoff, professor of journalism at Boston University and former Boston Globe reporter, will discuss his latest book which weaves together the interrelated stories of “extraordinary ordinary people” and their experiences on the worst day in American history. Nov. 20, 7 p.m., at Temple Emanu-El. $18.

An Afternoon of Ukuleles, Cartoons and Conversation with Roz Chast and Patricia Marx
Chast, “poet-laureate of urban neurosis” and renowned cartoonist for The New Yorker, and Patricia Marx, a humorist and staff writer for The New Yorker, have developed a hilarious program filled with musical parody, amusing anecdotes, hysterical (if not questionable) stories, and whimsical visuals. Dec. 1, 3 p.m., at Peabody Essex Museum, Salem. $36, includes reception and museum admission.

The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe, Rebecca Erbelding
Erbelding, historian at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, pieces together years of research and newly uncovered archival materials to tell the dramatic story of America’s little-known efforts to save the Jews of Europe. Dec. 11, 7 p.m., at JCC. $18.

For additional information or to buy tickets, go to jccns.org.

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