Book week
Israelis browsing the stalls of Tel Aviv's 2009 Book Week. Photo by Dan Keinan
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Starting this evening, hundreds of thousands of Israelis will flock to the squares of major cities in honor of the opening of Hebrew Book Week, an Israeli tradition - the waning of which is predicted every year in vain. As usual, new books will be piled on the stands until it seems more books are written in Israel than read: 5,582 new Hebrew books have been published since the last Hebrew Book Week, a rate of 15 per day.

Is there anyone who reads at this rate? Apparently not. This year too, the Haaretz "Books" supplement is helping people choose the most worthy among the thousands of new titles, and the thickness of this supplement testifies to the high level of the literature published here and readers' thirst for worthy books.

However Haaretz, which has been identified with Hebrew literature since the day the newspaper was founded, no longer contents itself with its two literary supplements, and for the second year now is giving its news pages to authors and poets so their special vision will define the news on the day of their celebration. This annual experiment has already garnered a great deal of resonance, and enables the expression in full force of Israeli writers' extensive involvement in the society in which they create.

Beyond the rich reading experience, today's special edition of Haaretz, in which "writers write the news," also emphasizes to its readers the sincere and acute desire of its writers to live amidst their people. This year Israeli writers have been joined by foreign visitors, and thus it happens that Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa turns things upside down and considers the motivation of Haaretz writer Gideon Levy.

However, it is not only the writers' involvement in Israeli society that Haaretz aims to celebrate today, but also the average Israeli's involvement in local literary life. Therefore the opening of Book Week is an opportunity to celebrate those thousands of new titles, the huge dynamism of Hebrew literature, the pluralism of the local publishing scene, its writers' strength of will - and, of course, the tremendous love for it felt by readers.

Back when Alcuin was Emperor Charlemagne's minister of education, a cultured person's library consisted of less than 50 books. Possibly this suffices for acquiring the best of human knowledge. But in order to celebrate the written word here and now, there is nothing like the most beautiful celebration of Hebrew, which is Book Week.