Bringing publishers, editors, agents, and literary professionals together since 1963, the Jerusalem International Book Fair (JIBF) proved prescient by reinventing itself as a forum in 2019, transitioning from an expo to a more panel-based program that explores topics in the global publishing industry. As such, it was primed to make the necessary shift to online proceedings for 2021. This year’s much-anticipated digital event—on May 3-4, 14, and 21—will continue to tackle pressing issues in the book business, including those generated by the pandemic, while providing a bridge to the next JIBF in-person gathering in May 2022.

“The digital forum is our way of reaching out to the JIBF's friends and attendees,” says Yoel Makov, director of the Jerusalem International Book Forum. “Our aim is to provide a concise and relevant program that addresses the issues and questions publishing professionals have dealt with since the beginning of the crisis, and the challenges they still have to face in the near future. But more importantly, it is an expression of how much we miss the special energy and vibe our participants bring with them and a place for them to share it again.”

Although the event is based in Jerusalem, Makov says the JIBF has never been an event that focuses strictly on Jewish or religious content. “Rather, it’s an international meeting ground for people of different countries, creeds, and cultural backgrounds,” he says. “Since its shift from fair to forum in 2019, the JIBF has focused mostly on the professional experience of members of the trade.”

Known for its mix of intellectual and informal gatherings, the forum embraces cultural diversity and fosters inclusion and open dialogue, connecting literary professionals from across the globe. “We firmly believe,” Makov says, “in the free exchange of ideas and shared experience.”

That humanistic philosophy comes to life via the JIBF’s prestigious Jerusalem Prize, awarded to an author whose body of work best expresses and promotes the idea of "freedom of the individual in society.” Joyce Carol Oates was the 2019 recipient, and previous honorees include Don DeLillo, Susan Sontag, Ian McEwan, Haruki Murakami, and other literary heavyweights. The prize jury itself is chosen from a wide range of impressive figures from academia, criticism, literature, and politics. Former Israeli presidents Shimon Peres and Chaim Herzog and authors Etgar Keret and Aharon Appelfeld have all served as past judges.

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion will announce the 2021 winner during the digital forum’s opening session on May 3, and will award the Jerusalem Prize itself at next year’s in-person gathering.

There is also a keynote address scheduled for May 3 by Israeli composer, conductor, and pianist Gil Shohat, titled Playing to an Empty Concert Hall: Creating Music and Performing During a Global Pandemic. The May 4 proceedings, titled Publishing During a Pandemic, will feature Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle on “Why This Is (Still) the Best Time in Publishing Ever” and a panel that examines 2020’s unique challenges and takes stock of where publishing is now as experienced by participants with different positions in the industry.

The forum not only presents programming during those consecutive days in May, but adds sessions on the following two Fridays as well (May 14 and 21). “We planned the Forum Fridays to be more informal and intimate,” Makov says, “and to allow for greater room for non-panelists to express their views.” There are discussions set around the changing roles of agents and scouts, how editors interact with authors, and what changes are here to stay in publishing, from business models to work environments.

Another key facet of the JIBF—a project of the Municipality of Jerusalem produced by the Arieal Municipal Company—is a weeklong professional seminar offered to

about 35 editors, literary agents, and literary scouts as part of the Zev Birger Editorial Fellowship program, sponsored by the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group. The event boasts nearly 600 alumni from 40 countries representing a wide range of companies and professional roles. “Many alumni now occupy senior positions,” Makov says, “and the JIBF remains a focal point for their professional relationships and friendships.” For years now alumni attendance during the JIBF has been supported by Penguin Random House. Though the event, and the fellowship program, cannot be hosted in person this year, Makov hopes to see the attendees back in person in 2022.

Forum Dates: May 3-4, 14, and 21
In collaboration with the International Writers Festival, Mishkenot Sha’ananim.