Jerusalem's Biennial Book Rites

Every two years, they come to the International Jerusalem Book Fair - publishers, literary editors, book agents and writers. Groups of publishers and editors from all over the world come to attend a seminar about Israel and its literature. Some are veteran fair hounds, while others are on their first visit to Jerusalem.

The International Jerusalem Book Fair is held once every two years, this time earlier than usual. The guests, hoping for sunshine, got a dose of Jerusalem chill. In the Jerusalem Convention Center, there are stands of Israeli and world publishers. Some states, like Italy and Poland, set up stands with a joint exhibition

Large American and English publishers primarily are represented by their commercial representatives in Israel, Steimatzky and Academon. This is the part of the fair that is open to the public. But the real life of the fair is behind the scenes, at meetings between old acquaintances and new friends who, after exchanging polite words and gossip, reach the point: the book that can be translated or published, or whose rights can be bought or sold.

All this is done in the spirit of a fair, with a little surplus energy, a little pretense, a little forced gaiety. And why not? But all that is still ahead of us. The first evening was dedicated to the opening event, which was filled with statements of the love of books, even though some of the speakers were politicians.

The surprise guest, who was not on the program, was Vice Premier Shimon Peres. He told guests what Jean Racine said and what Marcel Proust thought of reading. He told them that Israel is a small state but a big library, and that the depth of the book is preferable to the pace of the Internet. He said not everyone can be a writer, but everyone can be a student, and hurried on to his affairs.

Publishers' Association Chairman Shai Hausman welcomed the visitors, and expressed hope that the great epic over relations between Israelis and Palestinians would be written in time for the next fair.

David Grossman was given the job to speak on behalf literature. As befitting a writer, he did not lean on the quotes of others, but offered listeners a guided tour in the disaster area called Israel. He spoke of two nations in a state of war who find justifications for their fears, reaching a stage in which fear and force become values in themselves.

He described the very act of writing as protest, an act that enables one to enter other's skin, even if he is an enemy, and help us regain the flexibility of different perspectives.