Melbourne Jewish Book Week at King David
The Jewish people are known as “the People of the Book”. This designation is thought to have initially come from Islam where a separate status was given to those who were believed to have received and written down a prior revelation from God.
Over time, the term has become one by which Jews tend to self-identify. It has taken on two distinct meanings. One relates to the centrality of Torah; the other, relates to the profound relationship between Jews and literature.
The tradition of Jewish storytelling has been a central feature of flourishing Jewish communities. With this in mind, it has been a delight for our school to be involved in continuing this tradition.
This week, The King David School continued its fabulous collaboration with Melbourne Jewish Book Week to bring an outstanding range of opportunities for our students and community to immerse in the world of literature and to hear from a range of inspiring and talented writers.
In a public event, we hosted Jonathan Seidler, author of It’s a Shame About Ray. In conversation with our Wellbeing Program Coordinator, Chanie Stock, Jonathan discussed his powerful and moving memoir. The book addresses the heavy themes of mental health challenges, suicide, communal expectations and shame in a deeply intimate manner. The rich conversation explored these themes and gave insight into a text that is as heart warming as it is heartbreaking.
Our Year 4s delighted in a session with Australia’s former Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel AC. In a highly engaging and wide ranging conversation, Alan discussed his career path. He presented the key message “whatever you do, do it well!” He explained how he moved from studying Electrical Engineering to Neuroscience and then pivoted to business. He also explained his roles as Chancellor of Monash University and as Chief Scientist. Alan then discussed Climate Change and the important work that needs to be done in shifting to renewable energy. The students were engrossed and asked him a vast range of probing questions.
Our Yr 5s met with the hugely accomplished graphic novelist, Nicki Greenberg. Our students delighted in understanding the way that Nicki develops and builds her characters, settings and stories in this fascinating genre.
Year 8 had the great privilege of a deeply personal talk from novelist Suzy Zail. Suzy told of how her father only shared his Holocaust survival story with her upon discovering that he had a terminal illness. She devoted the remaining time she had with him to really getting to know him and learning about his experiences. Upon his deathbed, she promised him that she would write his story and this led her to the world of literature where she tries to use her talents to tell important stories which are anchored in social justice.
Our Years 9 and 10 students joined with the same year levels from Bialik College and Leibler Yavneh College when we hosted the keynote of Melbourne Jewish Book Week, Arnold Zable. Arnold gave a mesmerising and lyrical presentation which articulated his journey to becoming an author and the sense of purpose he finds through writing. He described growing up in a Yiddish house in Carlton and how this shaped his identity. He also described his personal journey across Europe where he explored his family’s history.
He said that the heart and soul of what he does as a writer and an activist is to listen. He also said that “to be a writer is to sit with joy and darkness and to be able to walk in another’s shoes.” He demonstrated how he did this by sharing his learnings from among Australia’s First Nations communities and in his work giving voice to asylum seekers.
Our Year 12s benefitted from a rare opportunity to meet the author of a text that they are studying. Steve Amsterdam spoke about his novel Things We Didn’t See Coming. Steve began his presentation by exploring the philosophy of semiotician Roland Barthes, who provocatively stated that “the author is dead”, explaining that once a text has been released the authorial intention is no longer relevant and it is the readership who will make meaning. In demonstrating this point, Steve said that when his novel was first selected for the VCE reading list, he read the series of questions that students were asked to answer in an exam. He said that he could not have answered any of them.
Nonetheless, in a thoughtful and humble presentation, Amsterdam explained the genesis of his characters and what he was trying to achieve. He said that in writing he “applies pressure to characters to see what they would do.”
Melbourne Jewish Book Week is to be congratulated on the excellent program that they have put together and the incredibly enriching experiences they provided for our students and wider community.