Jewish Publication Society: Until 120 and On

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Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, speaking at last night’s Jewish Publication Society 120th Anniversary Banquet, could not constrain himself from talking about the topic that everyone else could barely constrain themselves from talking about: the Phillies.

Seriously: he got up to the microphone, and there wasn’t even a pretense of his being more qualified to speak than the impressive assortment of professors, scholars, and philanthropists in the room (not to mention Norma Shapiro, the first female federal judge in the country), much less the expected “Wow, this is odd — I’m speaking to a random roomful of Jews.” No, sir: in his red tie and white shirt, Mayor Nutter said the exact thought everyone else had been trying to articulate all day: “How about those Phils, ladies and gentlemen. I can’t believe it. The Phillies.”

He paused, changed his approach, and then said something — and that’s when the profundity hit.

“It’s not how much you get knocked down, it’s how much you get back up. I think that’s something that Philadelphians understand about their sports teams, and they understand it about their lives.”

The entire night was a pretty spectacular spectacular. Not quite sure what to do, we stood around with glasses of wine in hand, trying to look at least medium-dignified to the half-full but growing crowd of people who seemed to be born into dignitariness. The weirdest part of these affairs, the rather formal ones where you don’t know anyone, is by far the name badges. They’re always printed in too-fine type, always on display in dimly-lit rooms, and they’re always positioned over a part of the body that isn’t really sociable to be looking at.

So I met people, wondering whether I was supposed to know them, finding out (relieved, and then intrigued) that the answer was no. And then someone came over and introduced herself, and it was Rena Potok, the Senior Acquisitions Editor, who I’ve been emailing with for a year, and who was quite abubble — about new projects, the projects that were on display, and most of all about their new YavNet project, and JPS’s forays into multimedia:

JPS and the Next 120 Years
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: tanakh society)

And then she introduced us to JT Waldman, who wrote and drew the amazing calligraphed comic version of Megillat Esther
He also just illustrated the intro to the book From Krakow to Krypton, which we kvelled about here — and who Itta and I spent most of the evening hanging out with plotting evil schemes with productively socializing for work with. He runs JPS’s aforementioned YavNet blog, who ran a pretty kicking Jewish-superhero popularity contest for a while, although I don’t know who won. Man, I hope they have another 120th celebration soon so I can ask him about that.

All told, it was a pretty remarkable evening. Much attention was lavished on the ever-useful JPS Tanakh, which they recently donated 10,000 copies of to the U.S. Armed Forces, as well as cute little editions (that I can’t find pictures of) with pink, khaki, and — get this — a denim “jeans pocket” cover. The CosmoGirl Bible it is not (for which we should probably be grateful) but it’s a pretty cool way to carry around your daily helping of Torah, Writings and Prophets. Those were one of the focuses of the evening…as well as their “Tagged Torah” project, which aims to go beyond Mechon Mamre as the most useful and interactive online Bible.

Retrospectives can usually be a useful euphemism for times when you don’t want to say eulogy. They’re another thing entirely when a retrospective is an excuse to talk about great new things to come….and that, I think, is what last night’s JPS reception really was.

Posted on October 31, 2008

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