By Stephanie Burton
Actor Zach Braff paid a surprise visit to book-club members at the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University last week. He joined his brother Joshua, the author of the new book "The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green," which was the topic of discussion at Edgar's Book Club that evening. And though the star of the TV show "Scrubs" and movie "Garden State" may have greater name recognition than his brother, Joshua was the center of attention among the attendees.
"The students were actually more interested in asking Joshua questions," said Inbal Naveh, the Steinhardt JCSC fellow at the Bronfman Center.
And with this group of enthusiastic readers, it should come as no surprise that the authors are true celebrities. Launched by Naveh last November, Edgar's Book Club brings together students with vast interests to read and discuss thought-provoking books and get to know the authors. Members choose books that are written by local Jewish authors or that raise questions about Jewish identity. The Bronfman Center purchases 25 copies of the book for the participants, and they return to Hillel a few weeks later for a discussion with the author.
"Edgar's Book Club has also been wonderful as an engagement tool, getting new faces in Hillel, people who we may have only seen during the High Holiday Season," Naveh said.
"I first joined Edgar's Book Club because I've always found it frustrating to read a good book and not be able to discuss it with anyone. Now I get to read great Jewish contemporary literature, meet young authors and engage in conversation with my peers," student Rachel Ishofsky said.
Members say they enjoy the club because it provides a way of looking at Judaism through both creative and intellectual lenses.
"There are so many times while reading for fun that I've stopped to wonder what exactly an author was thinking at a certain point in time, and because of Edgar's Book Club, I can just jot down my questions instead of leaving them unanswered," said Ilene Rachel Cohan, a freshman at NYU.
The group has also met with Nichole Krauss, the author of "History of Love," and its next selection is Rachel Simmons' "Odd Girl Out," a novel related to female aggression and behavior.
Stephanie Burton is a senior at The George Washington University and an intern in Hillel's communications department.