Forty communities in Israel, all located far away from major cities, will not be participating in this year’s Shavua HaSefer, or “Week of the Book” program due to funding cuts — and the news has prompted an outcry from writers and community leaders who say this will be devastating to readers.
Shavua HaSefer, a program treasured by generations of Israelis, will be held June 7-17. But this year, the only cities slated to get book fairs are Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Rishon LeTzion.
Since 1999, the Ministry of Culture has been supporting book fairs in the peripheria — the areas outside the center in Israel, or within easy distance of Tel Aviv. Communities losing fairs include Ashkelon, Even Yehuda, and Yavneh.
The Ministry of Culture issued a statement saying that it supports the encouragement of reading in the peripheral areas and asked the publishers’ organization to hold this year’s fairs in conjunction with libraries. Meanwhile, the head of the publishers’ union stated that its longtime mission has been to expand the number of communities that get fairs, but that it cannot do so without government funding.
A few fairs — in Haifa and Petach Tikva — are run by Israel’s major bookstore chains, and those will be held. But this leaves communities in the “periphery” — which also tend to have poorer and less educated residents, as the prime sufferers from the cuts. These communities tend to be further from literary life, so the book fair can be a rare opportunity to see and purchase new Hebrew books.
Writers who grew up in out-of-the-way locations have been vocal in their disapproval, and have published pieces on how much the fairs meant to them as children. The novelist Galit Dahan Carlebach, for example, wrote a piece for Yisrael HaYom, or Israel Today, about how she grew up in a house that did not buy books—except for once a year during book week.
“Even in difficult periods like the intifada,” she wrote, “this holiday was not cancelled.”
She also questioned the government’s commitment to encouraging reading in areas outside central Israel.
“It is strange to discover at this moment in particular, when declarations on advancing the periphery are announced from here to Hiroshima, that the Ministry of Culture decided to cancel The Week of the Book in small towns and cities. It is strange that this wonderful right is being taken away from those who were not “lucky” enough to grow up in big cities.”
Aviya Kushner is The Forward’s language columnist and the author of The Grammar of God (Spiegel & Grau). Follow her on Twitter @AviyaKushner