When Raz Spector returned to Israel after several years abroad traveling across Asia, the Haifa native wanted to reconnect with local Israelis – over books.

“I wanted to meet likeminded Israelis and I’ve always liked people who, like me, enjoy reading texts and books,” he says.

“I was curious to see how total strangers would react to each other when they listen to one another reading. I wanted to create this karaoke platform for text lovers to belt out words close to their hearts.”

Spector thought that the most appropriate name for such a meeting would be “BookSurf,” a mashup of “book club” and “couch surfing,” an Internet platform for travelers to sleep on strangers’ couches. “Perhaps I should have called this ‘text-surfing’ because these gatherings are not just about books, but it’s too late to change the name now,” Spector tells ISRAEL21c. “Plus ‘BookSurf’ has a nice ring to it.”

What Spector, 47, did not anticipate was how far his idea would spread. The first BookSurf took place in Tel Aviv on June 6, 2013. Since then, more than 2,200 BookSurfs have taken place in Israel and around the world in hundreds of homes, cafés, parks, bars and other hosting spaces, according to Spector.

BookSurfers in Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy of BookSurfing Israel

Spector’s BookSurfing website and Facebook page have drawn the attention of people from as close as Jerusalem and Haifa to as far as Albania and Mexico City.

There are 15 BookSurfing cities in Israel and 15 abroad. Volunteer Facebook administrators in each city facilitate and publicize the events, working alongside a moderator and host. Ideally, each surf has six to eight presenters.

World BookSurfing Day

This year, for the first time, Spector and his international Facebook facilitators have organized a World BookSurfing Day for June 2.

“The international aspect of this phenomenon is very important to us,” says Spector.

Twelve countries will come together that day to BookSurf, including groups in Australia, India, England, Albania, Germany, Spain United States, Canada, Argentina and Mexico. Eight cities will take part across Israel.

BookSurf administrator Gabriel Meizner in Mexico City is excited for the day. “World BookSurfing Day aims to celebrate the thousands of strangers that have come together through BookSurfing,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

Meizner, a 25-year-old university student, noted that much energy and cooperation among volunteers is needed in order to get BookSurfing going in a city.

“It takes a lot of work, but after 10 to 15 surfs, the movement consolidates. I have been to surfs in Mexico City that have included participants from four-year-olds to 97 year-olds.”

BookSurf rules

Spector has attended around 400 surfs in Israel and has encountered an eclectic range of texts that people have chosen to read out loud including legal documents, graffiti, grocery lists and research papers, alongside literature and poetry.

There are six rules for organizing a BookSurf:

  1. Every participant will read out loud to the entire group.
  2. The participants may use any readable text.
  3. The text (or extract) read out loud must not exceed a page and a half (about 450 words).
  4. In every session, at least one of the participants must be new to BookSurfing.
  5. Among the participants there should always be some people who don’t know each other.
  6. Every surf must have a moderator.

Surfs, open to the general public free of charge, are themed and can take up to three hours. They usually begin around 8 in the evening after people get home from work.

“We have an emerging community of participants in Israel,” says Spector, who works as a teacher trainer when he is not BookSurfing. “But surprisingly, one of the countries where BookSurfing is very popular is Albania.”

BookSurfing outdoors in Tel Aviv. Photo courtesy of BookSurfing Israel

Koren Kassirer, a BookSurfing administrator in Canada, learned of Spector’s project from a video she watched on BookSurfing in Israel.

“I decided that we needed a BookSurfing group in my area of the world,” she tells ISRAEL21c. Kassirer, who lives in the small town of Durham, Ontario, organized her first surf over a year ago after contacting Spector.

“The texts were surprising, the conversations and interactions interesting, but the best part was how well these texts created connections between this group of strangers,” she says.

“When you plan a BookSurf, you never know who the contributors will be or what texts they will bring. The unpredictability is the best part. What I also find refreshing is the exchange of different ideas and points of view.”

A new BookSurfing group. Photo courtesy of BookSurfing Israel

Kassirer believes that World BookSurfing Day will attract even more people to the project. “The fact that we will have surfs in at least 23 different cities in at least 12 different countries is incredible!” she exclaims.

“I am so happy we were able to reach so many different places for our inaugural World BookSurfing Day. I look forward to seeing where this takes us next year.”

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