The Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta celebrates the 21st birthday of its annual Book Festival this year, and the 2012 edition – beginning on Nov. 1 – is bigger and better than ever!

With exceptional authors including Atlanta’s own Stuart Eizenstat, Rabbi Harold Kushner, crowd favorite Maggie Anton, travel expert Peter Greenberg, controversial writer Peter Beinart and beloved entertainer Michael Feinstein, there is certain to be a selection to engage, entertain and educate you, whatever your interests.

Just look at some of your choices:

  • Opening night (Nov. 1) brings you Dr. Michael Bar-Zohar. With “intelligence” the buzzword of the current political debate, who better than this former member of Israel’s Knesset and advisor to General Moshe Dayan to discuss some of the most amazing hidden episodes in the history of Israeli intelligence around the world?
  • Then, directly following Bar-Zohar, more on Israel comes from Simon Sebag Montefiore, whose “Jerusalem: A Biography” offers a comprehensive history of the world’s most sacred city from the era of King David through today’s highly conflicted status. Bill Clinton called the work his “number one book of the year.”
  • Atlanta’s man on the inside in U.S. government, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat, talks about a most pressing issue in “The Future of the Jews,” which looks at major geopolitical, economic and security challenges facing the world in general and the Jewish world in particular.

This session (Nov. 4) will be presented by the George Stern family in loving memory of Eva Prager Stern.

  • Taking another approach, writer/blogger Peter Beinart (Nov. 14) outlines the danger to Israel’s existence in American Jewry’s refusal to confront the challenges facing the Jewish State. His ideas and suggestions are very controversial and have ignited a firestorm of debate on the Internet and in print, and his book, “The Crisis of Zionism,” is a must-read for anyone interested in Israel’s future as a Jewish nation.
  • Even another approach to the issues of Israel can be found in Ronda Robinson’s “Beyond Politics” (Nov. 13), which details the lives of everyday Israelis and invites us to understand the country not through its politics, but through its people.
  • World-famous author Rabbi Harold S. Kushner has a new take on his earlier top-seller, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” He’s related that larger phenomenon to the Bible in “The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person.”

This program (Nov. 12), the Esther G. Levine Community Read, honors Esther Levine, one of the Festival’s longtime volunteers.

  • Remember “You’ve Got Mail” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”? The brilliant author behind these books-turned-films, Delia Ephron, will talk about “The Lion is In,” her story of three women on the lam in North Carolina. Get in on the hit Nov. 15, before it becomes a blockbuster movie!

Other sessions you won’t want to miss include Joy Ladin talking about gender reassignment in “Through the Door of Life” (Nov. 18), Deborah Feldman on leaving tradition in “Unorthodox” (Nov. 13) and Tony Danza (yes, the Tony Danza) on education, “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had” (Nov. 17).

For Fiction Fans

Book club members (and those who would be if they had the time) will want to make time for these fascinating novelists:

  • Maggie Anton (Nov. 2) is back with “Rav Hisda’s Daughters,” the new series following her world-famous trilogy, “Rashi’s Daughters.” Her works are especially appropriate for today, when women are trying to define their place in the Jewish world.
  • Susan Isaacs (Nov. 11) will have you howling with laughter in her “Goldberg Variations,” especially if you relate to dysfunctional families.
  • Jillian Medoff (Nov. 12) talks about family bonds in “I Couldn’t Love You More.”
  • Award-winning journalist Kati Marton (Nov. 18) tells her own story of romance, love and loss in “Paris: A Love Story.”
  • Another family’s touching story is rendered in Jonathan Tropper’s “One Last Thing Before I Go” (Nov. 4).

Special Interest

Still looking for your niche?

  • There’s a Family Reading Festival with special activities featuring Eric Litwin and other authors engaging children and families in reading activities. There will be cooking, crafts, stories, song and much more.
  • Calling all foodies: Local restaurateur Jenny Levison tells us about healthy eating in “Souper Jenny Does Salads” (Nov. 16) and famed cookbook author Lisa Lillen inspires us with extravagant food on a low-calorie budget in “Hungry Girl to the Max” (Nov. 14)
  • Besides Eizenstat, Montefiore, Robinson, Bar-Zohar, Anton and Beinart, there will be many aspects of Judaism on display. For example, former Israeli Minister of Defense and Ambassador to the U.S. Professor Moshe Arens (Nov. 8) brings to life the daring, courage and sacrifice of the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto – who made a last-ditch fight against the Nazis for the honor and future of the Jewish people – in his groundbreaking work “Flags Over the Warsaw Ghetto.”
  • Local favorite Janice Rothschild Blumberg (Nov. 15) has penned the story of Alphabet Browne, the fascinating rabbi, journalist, attorney and political activist, from his arrival in the U.S. in post-Civil War times through his death at the start of the Great Depression in “Prophet in the Time of Priests.”
  • Jewish psychology’s on the agenda when Avrum Geurin Weiss (Nov. 7) takes on “Change Happens,” which contains his advice on the psychology of change and shows how contemporary insights help transform the lives of real people.
  • There’s a “bushel and a peck” of Southern writers (including many metro area locals): Ann Uhry Abrams, Marni Daivs, Zoe Fishman, Emily Giffin, Bonnie Schneider, Lyn Garson, Bobbi Kornblit, Alison Lebovitz and Andy Lipman.
  • Love other people’s tales? Among those sharing their memoirs are Ari Schonbrun, Jennifer Gardner Trulson, Andrew McCarthy (we’re talking the famous actor here), Susan Resnick and John Schwartz.
  • Lastly, there are plenty of sessions just for women (and the men who love them). We’ve got Devan Sipher, Meredith Goldstein, Mary An Zellner and Alicia Ybarbo,  Zoe Fishman, Iris Krasnow, Francisca Segal and Jesse Kellerman.

Among other specially-themed programs are “Brew Ha Ha” (Nov. 13, two sessions) and a 9/11 panel featuring Edie Lutnick (Nov. 5), whose brother was the head of Cantor Fitzgerald. Her book “An Unbroken Bond” tells the tale of the ill-fated men and women who lost their lives in the World Trade Center headquarters of the company, and a portion of proceeds go to the company’s relief fund.

The final melody in this splashy symphony of ideas is a closing night (Nov. 18) tribute to the lives of the Gershwins by beloved pianist Michael Feinstein. He’ll share 12 of their greatest songs and play several of them, adding stories and reminiscences from the music of these immortal brothers.

Parting Notes

If you’re interested in attending any of the above events, remember that the Book Festival attracts over 100,000 visitors, so make your reservations today so you don’t miss out on your favorite stars, novelists, memoirists, journalists and scholars.

Also, the Book Festival’s Social Action Project, Project GIVE, presents “Passport to Literacy,” through which you can give the gift of reading to the children in our community by simply bringing new and gently worn children’s books to the Festival for donation to shelters, hospitals and schools throughout Atlanta.

 BY SUZI BROZMAN / AJT CONTRIBUTOR

Editor’s note: To buy tickets to any Book Festival event, call the MJCCA Box Office at (678) 812-4005 or visit atlantajcc.org/bookfestival. Note that some programs take place off the Zaban Park campus. Finally, for more information on Project GIVE and Passport to Literacy, contact projectgive@atlantajcc.org or call (678) 812-3978.