JCC Book Fair
(William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History)

The Jewish Book Fair has a long and illustrious history.

On Nov. 6-14, the 70th Jewish Book Fair will be held. The oldest and largest Jewish Book Fair in the nation is usually held at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield. Due to the lingering COVID pandemic, this year’s version will be an online program of the best books from Jewish authors or about Jewish history and culture.

The Book Fair has a long and illustrious history. I found more than 2,000 references to the Book Fair in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History, including several excellent articles.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Alene and Graham Landau Archivist Chair

The first Book Fair was a result of a partnership of idea and effort. In 1951, Irwin Shaw became the executive director of the Jewish Community Center with a mandate to increase Jewish education programming. JCC Board Member Louis LaMed had an idea: Why not have Jewish book publishers send their authors to speak at the JCC? Acting upon LaMed’s idea, Shaw went to New York and visited firms that published Jewish books. Initially, the publishers provided little support, but they did send books to sell.

The first Book Fair was held at the Dexter-Davidson JCC in Detroit in November 1952. It was a modest day-and-a-half event with three authors. But LaMed and Shaw had planted a seed that would grow swift and strong. Pauline Jackson and Matilda Rubin mobilized volunteers and 25 organizations, largely synagogues, were partners. Henry Meyers chaired the honorary committee. Two years later, the Book Fair had 260 volunteers and involved 34 local groups. It soon became the largest in America.

From 1976
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

In 1960, the Book Fair moved to the Curtis and Myers JCC Building in Detroit. The D. Dan and Betty Kahn building in West Bloomfield became its home in 1976. Over the years, some presentations were also held at the Jimmy Prentis Morris building in Oak Park.   

Two excellent articles relate the history of the Book Fair. I found one about the Fair’s silver anniversary in the Oct. 1, 1976, JN. This report also includes a photo of three generations of volunteers — Sarah Freidman, daughter Betty Sarkowitz and granddaughter Julie Shiffman — and photos of early pioneers of the Book Fair: Gertrude Oberstein, Pauline Jackson and Phyllis Schwartz.

From 2001
William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History

A virtual event this year, the Book Fair has always used the latest technology. In 1957, for example, Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver was scheduled to speak, but he could not attend in-person. Michigan Bell Telephone Co. and Book Fair organizers made arrangements to have him speak by phone and broadcast the conversation live to the audience via loudspeaker.

The Book Fair’s 50th anniversary was celebrated in the Nov. 2, 2001, issue of the JN. The story celebrated the role of Shaw and included a timeline of famous authors who presented over the years such as Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, Moshe Arens, Mitch Albom, and our JN editor and publisher, Philip Slomovitz. There is also a nice photo of Pauline Jackson speaking at the first Book Fair.

So, let’s celebrate the 70th annual Jewish Book Fair. It’s a wonderful Jewish Detroit event.

P.S. I will be interviewing Michael Shnayerson about his new book: Bugsy Seigel: The Dark side of the American Dream at the Book Fair on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. 

Previous articleASTROLOJEW Horoscopes for Chodesh Kislev 5782 (5 November – 3 December 2021)
Next articleA Word of Torah: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants