We are entering an unlikely golden age for Jewish cultural provision in London. Though the Jewish community in the capital is less than a quarter of a million, and has been in long-term decline (though this might change with the Orthodox influx) the number of cultural outlets increases with mind-boggling multi-million pound projects. Following the succesful move of the London Jewish Cultural Centre to Ivy House in 2006 we now have the newly revamped Jewish Museum in Camden Town which re-opened in March. It is a much more diverse resource than its somewhat frumpy predecessor with attractive displays and a good programme of events for young and old. The Jewish Community Centre for London being built in the Finchley Road will soon follow with a wide mix of cultural events and social activities already taking place around North London. Meanwhile successful festivals such as Limmud and the Jewish Book Week pulls in 10,000 visitors and the Jewish Music Institute, Spiro Ark are part of the creative endeavours.
I think what we are seeing, a new diversity of cultural provision, almost a Babel of voices, reflects the confidence and prosperity of a mature and lively community.
But it would be nice to see a similar trend in supporting publishing ventures. I am not carping. Some of my books, such as Once Upon A Time in Lithuania by artist Naomi Alexander, have benefited from generous sponsorship. and in these financially straitened time there is less money around. But the fact is there is no real focus on preserving and uncovering written works by Jewish authors.
There are many fine Yiddish works that have never been translated, European fiction and non-fiction destroyed by the Nazis and many top living Jewish authors from around the world whose works we would like to see in English but which need some financial support to make them commercially viable. How many Israeli authors do we actually get to see in translation? Aside from Amos Oz, David Grossman and Etgar Keret there are many other good Israeli writers whose works should be on our shelves.
The European Association of Jewish Culture (based in London and Paris) over ten years awarded 110 grants to different European arts projects but all went to new drama, art, music or film (apart from one year when new journals were allowed). Books were seen as problematic, the organisers could not agree which country should benefit from a book in translation. So books are getting forgotten about. Yet the people of the Book know the enduring power of the written word.
So let’s wake up and put books to the forefront of the next wave of cultural endeavours. maybe we need a new institution to make it happen. There’s plenty of interest amongst publishers of books of Jewish interest, and I’m definitely up for it, but we do need commercially-minded financially experienced people and philanthropists to make it happen!