Jewish Book Festival: Author Horn talks about why she titled her latest book People Love Dead Jews – Vancouver Sun

Posted By on February 3, 2022

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Sure, titling your book People Love Dead Jews is going to get attention. It should.

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When: Feb. 6-10, various times

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Where: Online

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You dont title your book People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present without expecting reaction. Award-winning American author Dara Horn says more than a few have offered opinions on the name; some pro, some con. Surprisingly, fewer in either camp than she expected.

Horn joins U.K. humorist and author David Baddiel whose latest book is titled Jews Dont Count in a Feb. 6, 1 p.m. opening event at this years Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival titled Investigating the New Antisemitism with moderation by Globe and Mail reporter Marsha Lederman. Sponsored by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the talk will tackle the global resurgence of antisemitic actions.

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A doctorate in Yiddish and Hebrew literature, Horn says stories about Jews are her jam, and that she has always pushed back against the idea that Jewish history is far too often defined from the outside-in. The author of five books that tackled issues around literature, language and custom figures she spent 20 years trying not to write her latest work. But there were always flags that a serious dive into the whole fascination with Jewish death versus existence was needed.

I would frequently ask people at my public reading events if they could name three concentrations camps, which many could easily do, said Horn. But when I asked those same readers how many could name three Yiddish writers, there was nowhere the same response. The intention behind this was because the 80 per cent of the people murdered in the Holocaust were Yiddish speakers and part of a famously literary culture, the content of which nobody seemed to care about. Why do we care so much about how these people died if we dont about how they lived?

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As she came to greater understanding of the role that dead Jewish people play in a non-Jewish societys imagination, the book began to take shape. A call from Smithsonian Magazine to write a story on Anne Frank sealed the deal. She didnt want to do it and was uncomfortable with the story, but continued due to the belief that the best stories are found in those uncomfortable places.

I remembered a 2018 news report about a young Jewish man who worked at the Anne Frank museum in Amsterdam, a blockbuster tourist draw in the house where Annes family and others had hidden from the Nazis, asking to wear his yarmulke to work and have to hide it under a baseball cap, she said. He later appealed the ruling to the board and they eventually recanted after a four-month deliberation. Thats a very long time for the Anne Frank Museum to ponder whether or not it was a great idea to force a Jew into hiding, a sad parody in itself.

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The resulting essay for the Smithsonian eventually became the opening chapter of her new book. The opening sentence of her book: People love dead Jews. Living Jews, not so much.

Only a few days after the publication of the piece, the Oct. 27, 2018, domestic terrorist attack on the Tree of Life Or L Simcha Congregation synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood in Pittsburgh took place. Horn received a call to write an opinion piece for The New York Times.

I realized that the only thing editors at mainstream publications wanted me to do was write about dead Jews and to say something particular about it that was sad, inspiring and flattering to all involved, she said. So I took that topic Id avoided and dove into it looking at literature, travelling the world and consistently discovering this relentless, repetitive exploitation of Jewish history. The two underlying principles across time appeared to be that people told stories about dead Jews to feel better about themselves and that those stories require an erasure of actual Jews who should erase themselves to gain public respect.

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Given that cheerful jump-off, its testament to Horns delivery that People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Past manages to be so entertaining. Some of this appeal arises from seeing the record set straight on everything from the myth of customs officers misspelling the names of refugees arriving at Ellis Island in New York to the popularity of Jewish Heritage Sites in places where a population all but doesnt exist. In a world so devoted to denying facts these days, Horns straight-up analysis is refreshing.

The term Jewish Heritage Sites is such a bit of marketing genius, because it sounds so much more appealing than property seized or expropriated from murdered or expelled Jews, she said. These places often werent so sad to see that population go. But they pine for the dead Jews, and the magic Jewish money that Jewish tourists bring.

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Throughout all of her research, the one repeating reveal was constant reinvention, creative renewal and the resilience of the Jewish civilization. Its not the litany of horrors, but rather the spectacular adaptability of the people and culture that needs to be celebrated. Those stories are being told in a continuing spinoff podcast series called Adventures with Dead Jews.

If further proof was needed that this narrative is continuing, the fact that a Tennessee school board voted on Jan. 26 to ban author Art Spiegelmans landmark graphic novel Maus, about Nazi persecution of Jews, should serve as a warning. Some would seem to favour even erasing dead Jews from history.

Dana Camil Hewitt is the director of the 2022 Cherie Smith Jewish Book Festival, which enters its 37th year.

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When this years event moved from in-person to online due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, she felt challenged with how to keep the intimacy of those in-room author and audience experiences online. Thanks to experience gained with last years entirely online event, the unwelcome shift to that format this year wont be too disruptive.

We have learned how to get the best out of such situations, such as this year with an opening event with a writer in England and another in New Jersey needing to take place at a time that suits both, said Hewitt. That happened to land on a Sunday afternoon, which has always been a good time for literary events. Its always a challenge to shift, but its gone well.

Encompassing everything from childrens literature to unknown Second World War history, pure fantasy fiction and more, the annual event has long been a go-to for lovers of literature of all sorts. Hewitt says that, first and foremost, the event celebrates uniquely creative communities and culture, but has always been an event for all. With antisemitism and acts against all ethnicities and minorities on the rise, it seems more important than ever to keep the festival focus.

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Someone once told me to take the Jewish name out of the festival, but you cant separate the culture and people who are making this art from that, she said. You need only go to the synagogue in Texas a few days ago to find an example of the return of polarization and hate speech to places we thought had moved away from that. I think at a time like that, an event like this is more important.

A writer herself, Hewitt trained as a classical pianist and holds a PhD in musicology. She penned the program notes for the Israel Philharmonics season for many years. Arriving in Vancouver, she found her way to the book festival through her role as director of the Jewish Community Centres performing arts program. She loves putting together the very big puzzle of the event.

One of the highlights for her is author Riva Lehrer in conversation with Leamore Cohen discussing her book Golem Girl: A Memoir that celebrates Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance and Inclusion Month. Born with spina bifida, Lehrers cinematic text is tied in with her visual art, which will make for a unique presentation on Feb. 7 at 4 p.m. Tickets: $12 at .

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Jewish Book Festival: Author Horn talks about why she titled her latest book People Love Dead Jews - Vancouver Sun

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