Jewish Culture at the Gothenburg Book Fair 2023

Jewish Culture, the main theme of the 2023 Gothenburg Book Fair, spans from the Bible to present day. Numerous seminars will explore decisive events in Jewish experience with focus on the universal aspects of the multifaceted Jewish culture as expressed in literature, philosophy, film, music and in contemporary life.

The Jewish literary tradition spans from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Books of the Prophets to contemporary literature. ‘The People of the Book’ is a term often used to describe the strong bond that the Jewish people have had with texts throughout the generations.

Jewish philosophy reflects on the human condition and its fate, and constitutes a long and rich tradition manifested by remarkable Jewish authors: poets from the Spanish Golden Age such as Solomon Ibn Gabirol and Yehuda Halevi, philosophers as Baruch Spinoza and Ludwig Wittgenstein, Yiddish writers as Scholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer, central European authors as Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt, authors in the shadow of the Holocaust as Primo Levi, Nelly Sachs and Paul Celan, American novelists as Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, Israeli writers as Amos Oz, and contemporary writers as Nicole Krauss and Masha Gessen.

The Institution for Jewish Culture in Sweden, the 2023 Guest of Honour of the Book Fair, will give glimpses into this vast, multifaceted Jewish culture and its rich literary tradition.

"My hope is that the audience will feel closer to Jewish culture, history and life"

– Lizzie Oved Scheja, founder and Director of Jewish Culture in Sweden

– Lizzie Oved Scheja, founder and Director of Jewish Culture in Sweden

We interviewed Lizzie Oved Scheja, founder and Director of Jewish Culture in Sweden, which is this year’s Guest of Honour at the Gothenburg Book Fair. We discussed driving forces, the difficulty of saying no to opening doors, and what experiences visitors to the 2023 Book Fair can expect in their encounter with the richness of Jewish culture.

“Though she be but little, she is fierce.”

This has probably been used to describe Lizzie Oved Scheja on many occasions, but Shakespeare’s words can so very aptly be applied to her. The Director of Jewish Culture in Sweden has a palpable energy about her person. Lizzie – and the cultural body she founded and still runs – has curated no fewer than 36 seminars for this year’s Gothenburg Book Fair within the theme of Jewish Culture. This is all to invite You to experience the rich literature and treasures of global Jewish culture. Congratulations are most certainly in order for Lizzie, who has just been awarded a medal by the King of Sweden for her significant contributions to Jewish culture in Sweden.

Fierce truly is the right word.

Who is Lizzie Oved Scheja?

“I was born and raised in Israel – I was a very curious child who was determined to explore the world. I grew up in a very safe and loving home with a family who encouraged – practically expected – me to move forward and find my own way to excel. I had excellent teachers who fascinated me: I think they were the ones who inspired me to discover, create and dare to do.

When I was twenty, I travelled first to New York and then to Los Angeles to study at the UCLA School of Fine Arts. Then I moved to Paris. That was how I came to Sweden: I didn’t mean to stay, I just needed a break from the intensity of life in the French capital for a month or so. I had my whole life in Paris, but you know sometimes life opens doors for you. It certainly does for me. I have a hard time saying no to doors that open – I want to go through them and see what happens.

In Sweden, I got involved in what was an impossible but simultaneously incredible project: directing Fiddler on the Roof. The production was a success, which led to me being offered the post of cultural attaché by the Israeli ambassador in Stockholm. That was a great introduction to Swedish cultural life and an exciting time. Later on, I moved into the private sector, and built a platform for Jewish culture where I invited artists, authors and researchers to combine forces on projects on various themes. I also became very involved in the Jewish congregation in Stockholm – it became my second home in Sweden. I staged many cultural programmes on their behalf on a pro bono basis and before long I was on the board, responsible for programming.”

Tell us about Jewish Culture in Sweden

“Jewish Culture in Sweden was created together with a few very generous close friends and visionaries: without them there would have been no J! There was a need for a high quality, independent platform for Jewish culture in Sweden at an international level, so we went right ahead and created it through sheer willpower, hard work, commitment and passion. Its foundations were and still remain a clear vision, as well as all the support and loyalty I’ve had the great fortune to benefit from as I’ve gone about my work.

We knew we were onto a winner right from the beginning: there was a buzz straight away, with a large audience and significant media interest to boot. The rest is history. Ten years on, Jewish Culture in Sweden is a major cultural institution.

Of course, we also engage in a range of national and international partnerships. That’s something we really value and care about: the opportunity to work together with institutions in New York, Tel Aviv, Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Kraków or Amsterdam. However, it’s also especially important to us to continue our collaborations in Sweden too – to date we’ve worked with Malmö, Båstad, Umeå, Karlstad, Norrköping and of course Gothenburg.”

And now you’re Guest of Honour at the Gothenburg Book Fair. How does that feel?

“The Book Fair is a great opportunity for us and we are so honoured that the organisers have entrusted us with this role. We hope to live up to that confidence!”

Who can visitors expect to encounter as part of the comprehensive Jewish Culture theme?

“Our philosophy is to use Jewish history and thought as a starting point for discussing issues that are relevant to society today. Based on that, we looked to both international and Swedish writers, journalists and researchers as we developed our seminar programme for the Jewish Culture theme at the Book Fair: we’ve partnered up both with people we’ve worked with down the years and new people.”

What do you want to give Book Fair visitors? What will people take away from the Jewish Culture theme?

“We hope to provide a small insight into the multifaceted Jewish culture and literature. My hope is that visitors will leave the Book Fair feeling elated and inspired, and that the audience will feel closer to Jewish culture, history and life – that will mean we have emphasised the value of minority culture and its vital role in society. I don’t want to say too much; I simply hope we’ll be able to create and offer people a meaningful experience,” says Lizzie Oved Scheja.

Guests in the Jewish Culture theme

In Lizzy Oved Scheja’s own words

Joshua Cohen


“One person I absolutely wanted to bring to the Book Fair was Joshua Cohen, who won the 2022 Pulitzer for his book The Netanyahus. I called him a year ago. He said to me: ‘but I haven’t been translated into Swedish’. I told him he would be. I was sure of it, and I wanted him to come – even if there was no book in Swedish translation because sometimes that takes time. Fortunately, he is now available in translation. I think he’s a fascinating author with an interesting Orthodox background that he has left behind; he also has a keen grasp of language, and his intellect and sense of humour are second to none.”

Daniel Libeskind


“Someone else I thought it was essential to include was the renowned Jewish-American architect Daniel Libeskind. He is worthy of homage – both for his life’s work and his own personal life story. He is an architect who captures memories in buildings.”

Eva Illouz


“Eva Illouz is a professor of Sociology and one of Israel’s most significant intellectual figures. She will certainly be earning her keep during the Book Fair – she’s scheduled to participate in several seminars focusing on culture and politics. However, we also have a programme feature that’s on the lighter side and has nothing to do with politics: we discovered that Eva Illouz is a character in one of Liv Strömqvist’s books, and figured that we had to get these two together on stage.”

Georg Riedel


“Music is an important part of Jewish culture. We want to pay tribute to Georg Riedel – the legendary composer who was born in Karlovy Vary in what was then Czechoslovakia but has since become a national treasure in the Swedish music world, with his work known in every home in the land. We also want to highlight that in his later years, he is now exploring his own Jewish roots through the Yiddish language. The book arising from Riedel’s Yiddishland project featuring his writings translated to Yiddish will be launched and fêted at the Book Fair. We are keen to talk to him about his musical and personal journeys through life.”

Bernard Henri-Levy & Adam Gopnik


“Naturally the winds of political change in Europe and Israel made me think that we would want and need to discuss the current situation with engaged expert thinkers. The philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy and New Yorker essayist and writer Adam Gopnik will be making their debut appearances in Sweden together as part of the Jewish Culture theme.”

Hila Blum


“This particular guest is very special in so many different ways. Hila Blum has won one of Israel’s most prestigious literary prizes, but is also one of the very few Israeli authors to be translated into Swedish. When I found out that her book was going to be translated, I met her in Tel Aviv and invited her to the Book Fair. I think her voice will be a very important one – ‘How to Love Your Daughter’ considers the moving issues of the fear of being inadequate in one’s love as a parent, and not giving love in the right way. They are deeply personal, but this also means that they are very much universal.