A stellar line-up joined us for the finale of Jewish Book Week, co-hosted by World Jewish Relief, as stars of screen, stage and page lit up King’s Place in an event celebrating the power of the Jewish Voice. An array of famous actors and personalities took the audience on a journey to find the epitome of the Jewish voice through letters, poems, speeches, articles, songs and music. Throughout the evening they read and performed the words of Jewish philosophers, novelists, comics, poets, nation-makers and musicians.
The event was held in partnership with World Jewish Relief and the charity’s Chief Executive, Paul Anticoni was the first on stage to read a letter written to the JC by a Welshman lamenting the fact that World Jewish Relief hadn’t offered any help following a recent earthquake and heavy snow fall.
Saul Reichlin hosted the evening and introduced the audience to Zoë Wanamaker who performed a hilarious letter written by Groucho Marx to Warner Bros following a dispute around their film ‘A Night in Casablanca’.
Emily Maitlis read a scathing epistle from Franz Kafka to his father about his Jewish upbringing and Jason Isaacs first assumed the role of Rabbi Isodor Chemelwitz from ‘Angels in America’ and later as Michael Cohen in his recent explosive address to the United States Congress. Sir Brian Leveson gave voice to Albert Einstein in a letter to his sister imploring her to leave Nazi-occupied Europe before the war.
Esther Freud, daughter of Lucian Freud read from a small booklet entitled “Helpful information and guidance for every refugee” which was distributed by World Jewish Relief to the refugees it helped escape Nazi Europe in the 1930s. Performance poet Adam Kammerling charmed and set the stage alight with his poem about the unwritten rules of tube etiquette.
Janet Suzman channelled Golda Meir in her famous 1948 speech to the Chicago Jewish community, to raise funds to protect the Jews of Palestine. Bill Browder took to the stage to read his own article published the day after President Putin stood beside President Trump and offered to swap him for 12 Russian spies.
Simon Sebag Montefiore recounted Emile Zola’s powerful words from his open letter, J’accuse, highlighting the criminal injustices of the Dreyfus affair, and renowned human rights lawyer Philippe Sands moved the audience to tears with Sir Hartley Shawcross’ final address to the Nuremburg Trials, where he read a first-hand witness account of the murder of the Jews of Dubno.
Henry Goodman assumed the role of Philip Roth discussing his protagonist and alter-ego Nathan Zuckerman, and also delighted the audience with his performance of US comic Milton Berle’s ‘Philosophy of Life’.
The audience was treated to a special performance of The History Boys, with its original director Nicholas Hytner joining Henry Goodman, Janet Suzman, Philippe Sands, Jason Isaacs, Zoë Wanamaker and Emily Maitlis to re-enact the iconic scene discussing the morality of using the Holocaust as an exam subject. Jay Rayner on the piano, with singer Pat Gordon Smith, mesmerised the audience with their jazz renditions of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Dance me to the end of love’, and ‘Sunrise Sunset’.
Jewish Book Week and World Jewish Relief, co-hosts of the evening, asked the UK Jewish community to enter their own submissions epitomising the power of the Jewish voice. The winner was Marie Levotine and the audience was audibly thrilled by her choice of Rabbi Hugo Gryn’s 1994 appearance on Desert Island Discs where he personalised one of the oldest and best-known Jewish jokes in his own inimitable style – finishing with “yes, that’s the synagogue I don’t go to”.
Claudia Rubenstein, director of Jewish Book Week said, “We were thrilled to partner with World Jewish Relief in our 2019 finale. We feel privileged that such a stellar cast of writers, actors, performers and directors presented a fascinating array of Jewish voices, reflecting Jewish Book Week’s role in the Jewish and wider communities of bringing words to life.”
Paul Anticoni, CEO at World Jewish Relief said, “We have had a fantastic time collaborating with Jewish Book Week to create this phenomenal event and it was wonderful that the incredible cast gave up their time to support the evening. World Jewish Relief is about action, about championing the Jewish voice and giving a voice to the voiceless. It felt fitting that we were able to bring these Jewish Voices to life in this way.”