Jewish Book Festival opens with Marion Grodin

05:00 AM, Nov 02, 2013

Written By Anne Schuhle

When author Marion Grodin opens the Lane Dworkin Jewish Book Festival, the audience will also be treated to Marion Grodin the comedian.

They can expect lots of laughter,” says Grodin, who plans to talk Sunday about Standing Up, her humorous, heartbreaking memoir, which goes on sale Tuesday. She’ll also do an extensive Q&A with the audience.

I’m very open to people asking me whatever they want,” says Grodin, whose program at 7 p.m. is part of opening day for the festival, which goes through Nov. 19 at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Rochester.

Grodin is the daughter of actor Charles Grodin, and her varied skill set seems tailor-made for the eclectic lineup of the book festival. Authors include cartoonist Leigh Rubin, former local judge Anthony Sciolino, best-selling romance writer Francesca Segal, equal rights activist Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin.

The festival does a really good job of showcasing the diversity of books with Jewish authors and topics, books that appeal to a broad section of the community,” says Ellen Comisar, chairwoman of the event. “We think we have something for everyone and certainly for book lovers. You could spend the next 2 ½ weeks at the Jewish Community Center and be very happy.”

In addition to the speakers, panelists and a film presentation, the event features a bookstore with $35,000 worth of literature, brought in by Barnes & Noble. Festival director Lori Harter says it will give community residents access to many works with Jewish themes or authors they wouldn’t otherwise see.

So far, advance ticket sales point to a record attendance for the festival, Harter says.

Grodin says the Jewish culture has had a big impact on her life and career. She was tickled recently to learn that her great-grandfather, a Talmudic scholar, drew crowds from miles around because of the humor he brought to teaching the Torah.

But Grodin doesn’t see the Jewish book festival as exclusionary. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Like the other authors, her insights and particular experiences — cancer, divorce and addiction — touch people of all cultures who can relate to the humanity in her writing, Grodin says.

I think I write very honestly, courageously and transparently about things that are difficult, things that a lot of us go through but don’t talk about,” Grodin says. “I hope people will read my book and identify with it. I think isolation is the enemy, and, hopefully, this book will lighten their load.”

Another of the festival’s poignant events features Second Suns, the final book of the late David Oliver Relin. His mother, Marjorie Relin of Pittsford, will provide an introduction Nov. 16. Second Suns focuses on the Himalayan Cataract Project and its founders, two ophthalmologists who are restoring sight to the impoverished residents of remote mountain regions.

Speakers that evening include one of the doctors, Geoffrey Tabin, and Stefano Levi, whose film about the men’s work, Out of the Darkness, will be shown. With funding from the Flaum Eye Institute at the University of Rochester Medical Center, the festival is bringing Levi in from Germany for the event.

Relin died in December 2012 of an apparent suicide. He was co-author of the best-selling book Three Cups of Tea, about Greg Mortensen’s work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which drew allegations of some fabrication of facts, mainly because of timelines Mortensen provided. Others have praised Relin’s commitment to highlighting nonprofits.

It’s a sad occurrence that we’re featuring David Oliver Relin’s last book, but we’re gratified that his family is supportive and has been instrumental in shaping this event,” Comisar said. “It will be a very moving evening for those who’ve read his books and, especially, for those who knew him.”

Schuhle is a Finger Lakes-based freelance writer.

Opening day with Rubes

Opening day with Rubes

Cartoonist Leigh Rubin, author of the Rubes cartoon, will hold a session at 2 p.m. Sunday that includes stories and hands-on cartooning. Tickets are $11.

Rubin will be in Rochester for the week. He also has a project with the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong museum. He will be incorporating the two new inductees, which will be announced on Thursday, into his Rubes cartoons.

The ceremony is at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Finalists are bubbles, chess, Clue, Fisher-Price Little People, little green army men, Magic 8 Ball, My Little Pony, Nerf toys, Pac-Man, rubber duck, scooter, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Rubin also will be taking part in the National Toy Hall of Fame Weekend Celebration on Saturday and next Sunday. His presentations will be at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 and 3 p.m. Sunday. An exhibit of his cartoons also will open and will remain on display through Jan. 5.

The Strong events are all free with admission of $13.50.



The Lane Dworkin Jewish Book Festival starts this weekend and runs through Nov. 19. A pass is $145 for the general public for all 15 events; individual programs vary from about $8 to $25, depending in part on whether food is served. For full details and to buy tickets, go to

Here is the schedule:

• Judge Anthony Sciolino, former Monroe County Family Court Judge and author of The Holocaust, The Church and the Law of Unintended Consequences, 7:30 p.m. Monday.

• John Schwartz, New York Times correspondent and author of Oddly Normal, a true story of acceptance that looks at issues regarding gay teens and suicide risk, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. “It’s a very powerful book, beautifully written, with a lot of humor in it, which makes it a really good memoir,” says festival director Lori Harter. “I think it’s so strong because it’s so human.”

Romance and Brunch, with author Francesca Segal, author of

The Innocents

and daughter of

Love Story

author Erich Segal, noon Thursday.

• A Community Remembrance of the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, 7 p.m. Nov. 10, with commentary from Curt Lowens.

• A Community Read discussion of Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed by Leslie Maitland, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11.

• A fiction panel discussion at noon Nov. 14, featuring Joshua Henkin (The World Without You); Ilan Mochari (Zinsky the Obscure); and Liz Rosenberg (The Laws of Gravity).

• Beer ‘n Books at the Genesee Valley Club on East Avenue, featuring John Rosengren, author of Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes. “Having Beer ‘n Books as an off-site event is a good example of what we’re doing to demonstrate that we want to attract a broad audience and be accessible,” says festival chairwoman Ellen Comisar. The festival committee hopes to bring in repeat customers and see last year’s patrons drawn into the whole event because they enjoyed Beer ‘n Books in 2012.

• Rochester’s Own is an event featuring the following local authors: Henry Silberstern, Lost Childhood, a Memoir; Sheila Konar, The Book I Never Wanted to Write: Coping with Alzheimer’s; and Jack Garner (current columnist and retired film critic for the Democrat and Chronicle), From My Seat on the Aisle: Movies and Memories, starting at 10 a.m. Nov. 17.

• Afternoon Tea with activist, Ms. magazine co-founder and breast cancer survivor Letty Cottin Pogrebin, author of How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, 4 p.m. Nov. 18.

• Spirituality — The Kabbalah of the Alphabet, with Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin, author of Letters of Light, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19.