Writers from around globe to converge in Bay Area

How do Jews create an authentic Jewish culture in an age of "Disneyfication?" How do Jews create an authentic religious culture in an age of secularization, on the one hand, and fundamentalism on the other?

More than 50 novelists, playwrights, poets, critics and academics from as far away as Guatemala, Hungary, Israel and Great Britain will lead discussions on such issues from Feb. 1 to 3 at "Writing the Jewish Future: A Global Conversation," a conference sponsored by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.

The writers represent every level of religious observance and every shade on the political spectrum.

Held at Stanford University, U.C. Berkeley and San Francisco's Mark Hopkins Hotel, the conference will be open to the public, with the audience not only listening but participating in discussions. Book groups, courses, literary supplements, public radio specials and Internet forums — before, during and after the event — will augment the discussions.

"We all expect it to yield new insights into private moments of creation as well as public moments of Jewish celebration and self-reflection," said Steven J. Zipperstein, a conference co-chair and Stanford University's Daniel E. Koshland professor in Jewish culture and director of the program in Jewish studies.

The conference will have a strong international focus, seeking links between Jewish culture and experience in far-flung countries.

In addition to Ozick, Paley and Kushner,

other American participants will include critic Leon Wieseltier. Among Israeli voices will be novelist Yehudit Hendel, poet laureate Yehuda Amichai, critic-translator Hillel Halkin and Sephardic writer Sami Michael.

Latin American writers will include Guatemala's Victor Perera, Brazil's Moacyr Scliar and Mexico's Elan Stavans. Cultural observer Henryk Broder will represent Poland-Germany.

Among European novelists will be Britain's Dan Jacobson, Romania's Norman Manea and Hungary's George Konrad, who has been discussed as a potential Nobel Prize candidate.

Each day of the conference will feature a theme — "The Jew as Writer — The Writer as Jew"; "The Crisis of Subject Matter: What Jewish Writers are Writing"; and "Jewish Language," focusing on the complexities of translation as well as bridging the secular and the spiritual.

In addition to the conference sessions, four public programs are scheduled, each examining a different mode of cultural expression.

"We also expect an explosion of activities surrounding the conference, including related museum exhibits, literary salons and theater productions," said Marilyn Waldman, conference chairman.

On Saturday night, Jan. 31, San Francisco's A Traveling Jewish Theatre will present "Reading Jewish Writing" at the Koret Theater of the San Francisco Public Library.

Sunday, Feb. 1, "The Jewish Poetic Voice: An Evening of Readings" will take place at U.C. Berkeley. On Monday, Feb. 2, "Erev the Millennium: Literary Visions of the Jewish Future" will be presented at the Herbst Theater in San Francisco.

On Tuesday, Feb. 3 at Stanford, the program "Crossing the Media Border: Translating Literature into Film" will feature a screening and discussion with filmmakers.

In connection with the conference, special exhibits concerning Jewish literature will be mounted in Bay Area Jewish museums and public libraries. Area Jewish high schools will host special programs, Stanford and U.C. Berkeley will offer adult-education programs, and Lehrhaus Judaica will schedule a number of courses on the works of authors attending the conference.

Many conference events will be broadcast on the World Wide Web.

The National Foundation for Jewish Culture is presenting "Writing the Jewish Future: A Global Conversation" in cooperation with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, the program in Jewish studies at Stanford University and the Jewish studies department at U.C. Berkeley.

Funders of the project include the S.F.-based Jewish Community Endowment Fund and the Koret Foundation.

The conference costs $185 for three days or $80 for each day. The student rate is $80 for three days or $30 per day. For information, call the local conference office at (415) 896-6824 or visit the event web site at www.jewishculture/writers