JCC BookFest welcomes ‘Israel 201’ co-author Oct. 23
By Deb Silverthorn
Dallas native Benji Lovitt will speak about his book “Israel 201: Your Next Level Guide to the Magic, Mystery and Chaos of Life in the Holy Land” at the 2023-2024 Margot Rosenberg Pulitzer Dallas Jewish BookFest. The event, open to the public, will be presented by the Aaron Family JCC and Central Market at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, at The Legacy Midtown Park.
“It’s definitely a homecoming to have Benji here. Our partnership with The Legacy continues and for this one, because he’s family, it’s really special,” said Rachelle Weiss Crane, Aaron Family JCC director of Israel engagement and Jewish living and BookFest producer.
Released in February, in time for Israel’s 75th birthday, “Israel 201” is co-written by Joel Chasnoff, a Chicago native who, like Lovitt, made aliyah and for whom Ra’anana is home. A nod to Israel’s anniversary, the book provides aspects of Israeli life that will both surprise and educate even the most ardent Israelophile.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said that “this wonderful book will show you the Israel you didn’t know you didn’t know” and actress Mayim Bialik commented that it is “Fantastic! Precisely the kind of Israel education we all need. ‘Israel 201’ helps you understand the real Israel in all her complexity and beauty.”
Lovitt said from his home in Tel Aviv, “Our goal is to get people talking about the biggest questions facing Israel and make them laugh a bit along the way.”
“Israel 201” asks, and mostly answers, questions like “How did Jerusalem’s cat problem spur religious debate,” “Why are Israelis so blunt, even when the truth hurts” and “How did Hebrew become the first dead language in history to be revived?” It also offers information ranging from pre-Yom Kippur bicycle sales, Shomer Shabbos car insurance policies, ancient marriage laws and Arab-Israeli stand-up comedy to LGBTQ+ activism in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces).
The book goes beyond the typical introductory “101” course to reveal the real Israel, as based on the authors’ own experiences living there for a combined 25 years. Included are interviews with Israeli experts including Olympian Yael Arad, “Fauda” co-creator Avi Issacharoff, Israeli Druze high school principal Kamil Shelah and Center for Women’s Justice Director Susan Weiss.
Benji is the son of Dallas residents Zelene and Robert and the brother of Avra Collins and Steve Lovitt. He spent his summers at Camp Young Judaea and Tel Yehuda. Raised at Congregation Beth Torah, he also served as this region’s Young Judaea president.
He graduated from J.J. Pearce High School and then The University of Texas at Austin with a psychology degree. Before moving across the Atlantic in 2006, Lovitt worked in technology support in Houston; at the Israeli consulate in Atlanta, Georgia; and with Young Judaea teen programs in New York.
“I moved to Israel, an immigrant starting over. I worked for tech companies, as a tour operator and for 13 years I’ve been self-employed in this great place. I grew up living Jewishly, summering as a camper, then counselor, through Young Judaea and I loved Israel. I didn’t want to look back some day and wonder ‘what if’ about living here,” Lovitt said.
Lovitt has performed for audiences around the world including at JCCs, Birthright Israel, Jewish Federations, synagogues and more. His perspectives have been featured on Israeli television and radio and in outlets such as USA Today, Time Magazine, BBC Radio, The Atlantic and The Times of Israel. Benji has worked as a cross-cultural trainer with groups including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Masa Israel.
Although Israel is his home, he is excited to visit his hometown and his parents’ home at The Legacy Midtown Park as part of the 30-city U.S. tour he and Chasnoff have scheduled.
His parents are thrilled about the upcoming program. Earlier this summer, the family was together to celebrate Zelene and Robert’s 60th wedding anniversary.
“As a child he was already a great writer of short stories and poetry. He’s combined those talents with his love of the land, people, places — almost everything — about Israel,” said his mother. “He traveled the U.S., he did Young Judaea’s Year Course and almost immediately then wanted to make aliyah. Israel really is his home.
“Benji’s always been a joy. We are both proud and so excited for this,” she said.
She went on to say that he was named Binyomin Natan Pincus after his great-grandmothers and that he lives in honor of them.
Lovitt and Chasnoff met as stand-up comedians in New York City more than 20 years ago. Their goal in writing “Israel 201” was to share life in Israel in a positive way, not focusing on conflict and trials but providing a comprehensive view of its magical insights.
“We could have made the book twice as long as we dove deep into the macro and micro of all things Israel,” said Lovitt. “It’s been a blessing and an honor to speak to so many experts and authorities as well as residents.
“I’m thankful for the J and The Legacy Midtown, for inviting me — not as a stand-up but to get to know this other side of me,” he said.
He hopes that everyone in the Dallas community will attend and give a special shout-out to Israel.
“Israel 201” joins a menu of varied BookFest authors and programs set for October:
At 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, via Zoom, Dallas’ Rachel Amado Bortnick — who was born in Izmir, Turkey — will moderate an event with Elizabeth Graver, whose book “Kantika” was inspired by the migration story of her own Turkish-Sephardic grandmother.
At 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, author Joe Posnanski will share his “Why We Love Baseball: A History in 50 Moments,” with Dallas’ Robert Steinfeld, who has had an illustrious sports production career including as executive producer of the WNBA Dallas Wings and the National Lacrosse League Panther City Lacrosse Club.
The Oct. 12 event with chef and author Moshe Basson and with Leslie Niren, Temple Emanu-El of Dallas’ cantor and home chef, has been postponed.
For more information, or to register for any of the BookFest events, visit jccdallas.org/special-events/bookfest.