Jerusalem’s 8th Writers Fest goes digital during pandemic
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Jerusalem’s 8th Writers Fest goes digital during pandemic

The annual event featuring American, European and Israeli authors will be held online, May 10-13, with all events open to the public

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

An event at the 2019 Jerusalem Writers Festival at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, which was held in person, unlike the 2020 edition, which will be online, May 10-13, 2020 due to the coronavirus (Courtesy Writers Festival)
An event at the 2019 Jerusalem Writers Festival at Mishkenot Sha'ananim, which was held in person, unlike the 2020 edition, which will be online, May 10-13, 2020 due to the coronavirus (Courtesy Writers Festival)

In another first wrought by the coronavirus, The 8th International Writers’ Festival, usually held at Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim cultural conference center overlooking the Old City walls, will take place online, May 10-13, free of charge.

“We’re really happy that against all odds, with all the events that have been canceled, that we’re able to do an international festival with a rich schedule, and on time,” said Moti Schwartz, director of Mishkenot Sha’ananim and the festival director. “It’s too bad that it’s not at Mishkenot, but hopefully, next year in Jerusalem.”

This year’s festival will consist of four consecutive days of conversations between writers and artists from Israel and abroad, musical workshops, dialogues between writers and original literary events — all free of charge and accessible to anyone via the festival’s website, YouTube channel and Facebook page.

Many of the events will be held in English, although the writing workshops are all in Hebrew.

The lineup has remained mostly the same as had been planned, said Schwartz, with just a few additions given the change in venue.

Writer Michael Pollan (Courtesy Fran Collin)

This year’s English-speaking guests include novelist Tom Perrotta (May 10, 6 p.m.-6:30 p.m.), “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner (May 13, 5 p.m.-5:30 p.m.), writer Nicole Krauss (May 10, 5 p.m.-5:30 p.m.), and Michael Pollan, who writes about the intersection of food and nature and will speak to Haaretz reporter Ronit Vered with an appearance by chef Hedai Offaim in a digital take on a cooking workshop (May 13, 8:30 p.m.-9 p.m.).

Also appearing are Italian novelist Marco Balzano, German writer Leonie Swann and French-Rwandan writer Gaël Faye.

They’ll meet online, sharing the screen with English-speaking Israeli writers, including Matti Friedman, Etgar Keret, Ayelet Tsabari and Evan Fallenberg, as well as Hebrew-speaking writers, including Eshkol Nevo and Dror Mishani.

The topics have shifted slightly, said Schwartz, given the reality of the present. Some writers will be speaking about their writing routines during the coronavirus pandemic and how it affects the ways writers tell stories.

Eshkol Nevo will converse with readers and Etgar Keret will give a workshop with tips for writers (both in Hebrew).

Michael Schwartz, director of Jerusalem’s Mishkenot Sha’ananim and the Writers Festival, took the annual event online in May 2020 when he realized it would otherwise be canceled or postponed (Courtesy Olivier Fitoussi)

“Our first thought was to postpone the festival, maybe do it in the summer,” said Schwartz. “Then we realized that wouldn’t happen. So we decided to make it digital after we saw how well Zoom was working. ‘Why not?’ we thought.”

It’s good to be “trying something new on,” he added.

Still, “it’s not like a real festival where you get to see them in person and to proverbially touch them,” Schwartz said.

All the events are open to the public and free, although some of the workshops have a limited number of participants and require preregistration.

Every event will be available on the Mishkenot Sha’ananim YouTube channel at the end of the festival.

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