Jewish Book Festival off to a strong start

The 2022–2023 Lee and Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival began last month with three authors, each with unique stories for the Tidewater community.

Dan Grunfeld, author of By the Grace of the Game: The Holocaust, a Basketball Legacy, and an Unprecedented American Dream, kickstarted the festival discussing his family’s story with Joel Rubin. Many recognized Grunfeld’s name in relation to his father, NBA star Ernie Grunfeld, and it was apparent that many basketball fans were in the audience. Grunfeld’s message was particularly meaningful to a group of Norfolk Academy basketball players that came to hear him speak.

“Leading up to the event, my seniors were skeptical about having to come out on a school night,” says Eric Acra, a Norfolk Academy history teacher and varsity boys’ basketball coach. “But in talking with them afterward, they were extremely glad they came. The themes of determination, overcoming adversity, and kindness really struck a chord with them and provided a strong and positive message to use as we start our season.”

The following day, Grunfeld spoke to a group of more than 400 8th–12th graders at Cape Henry Collegiate. After a presentation on his grandparents’ experience during the Holocaust, Grunfeld engaged students in a Q+A session, taking many thoughtful questions on why Holocaust education is important, what his family thought of his book, and the state of antisemitism in the United States.

The festival continued with the first of many lunch conversations that are planned with authors. Dr. Alla Shapiro, a first responder to the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, spoke with Valerie Brodsky White about her experience responding to one of humanity’s largest nuclear accidents. Her book, Doctor On Call, details her family’s immigration from the former Soviet Union and her career in the United States, which has made her one of the country’s foremost experts in effective countermeasures against radiation exposure.

Rounding out the festival’s first three events was co-founder of Ms. magazine Letty Cottin Pogrebin, who spoke of her family’s secrets with Carol Jason, sharing stories from her latest book, Shanda: A Memoir of Shame and Secrecy.

“Just when I thought Letty had revealed the most fantastic secret from her family,” Jason says, “she unveiled another and then another.”

Pogrebin took questions from the audience and listened as they shared stories from their own families. Signing books following the event, Pogrebin wrote in each copy, “Wishing you a secret-free life,” a message Jason also took from the book. “It is Letty’s family’s secret-keeping that finally convinces her—no more secrets, no more shanda,” says Jason.

The Lee & Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival continues through June 2023. Events are taking place in person, online, during the day, and in the evening. For more information or to register for upcoming festival events, visit For additional questions, contact Hunter Thomas, director of Arts + Ideas, at

The Lee and Bernard Jaffe Family Jewish Book Festival is held in coordination with the Jewish Book Council, the longest-running organization devoted exclusively to the support and celebration of Jewish literature.

Photography by Mark Robbins.

Hunter Thomas