Think of Black Friday, but just for books. That’s what happens in Israel this week, for Israel’s National Book Week, one of the major events in Israel’s cultural calendar. These ten days in June are also a good opportunity to examine an aspect of Israel that is often overlooked – the culture of knowledge that exists within Israel.

Israelis browsing the books at book week

During Book Week, there are book related sales and events all over Israel. Bookstores slash their prices (one academic publisher, Shalem Press, offers a buy one, get two free offer on its books), and portable bookstores pop up everywhere. There is a central Book Fair in Jerusalem, featuring hundreds of events, lectures, discussions, and of course, book signings, and hundreds of similar events around the country. There are also book parties for children, encouraging children to come and read (and convince their parents to buy them some books as well!) The home video below captures the atmosphere at an event in the Yarkon Park, the largest park in Tel Aviv.

This celebration of books fits well with a general culture in Israel that celebrates reading, learning and knowledge, and this culture begins from childhood. In Israel, September 1st, the first day of the school year, has a festive atmosphere to it. Every major politician, from across the political spectrum will make sure to go to visit a school, to welcome in the new cohort to the school.

But there is a culture of life long education as well. In Israel, it is cool, or definitely not odd, to go to a lecture in the evening. In Tel Aviv, there was recently a series “Science at the Bar” where bars around the city hosted professors to talk about their field. Similar events have taken place in Jerusalem as well. On billboards in both cities, there are regular advertisements for lectures, public debates and book releases. And one can link this modern Israeli phenomenon to the long lasting Jewish tradition and veneration of learning. It seems that the Jews in modern Israel are very much still the people of the book.

An archaeology lecture in a Tel Aviv bar. The lecture focused on the history of Jerusalem, in honor of Jerusalem day.

It is also worth noting that Israel does somewhat stand out from its neighbors in the field of book publishing and distribution. It is hard to find statistics on book publishing in the Arab world, so I will focus on ones that are available for 2008. In that year, across the Arab world, 7560 new books were published (actually a slightly lower figure than previous years, when it was around 8,500). In Israel alone, in 2008, 7400 books were published. According to the International Federation of Libraries Associations, Israel has 870 public libraries. The United Arab Emirates, a country with an equivalent population to Israel, has 20.

Israel’s culture of knowledge is something that is celebrated this week. And maybe a better future awaits all the citizens of the Middle East if that culture of knowledge was copied in other countries.

Contributed by CAMERA staff

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