Josh Lambert, academic director at the Yiddish Book Center and author of American Jewish Fiction: A JPS Guide, discusses an exciting new Yiddish Book Center program: Tent: Encounters with Jewish Culture.
Most of the Jews in their 20s that I know care more about culture than they do about religion or politics. They may or may not be members of a synagogue, and they may or may not be politically active, but they’re intense about something. It might be books—like the people who read this blog—or comedy or film or music or food or theater or something else, but most of them are following their favorite artists on Twitter, listening to podcasts, and working on creative projects of their own. Can we imagine a world in which these cultural pursuits are a central, fundamental part of what it means to be Jewish?
The Yiddish Book Center draws inspiration from the time when hundreds of thousands of Jews in America would read a daily Jewish newspaper, and when there were cafés across the country where Jewish writers and readers would gather, every day, to argue about art and everything else. Our new program, Tent: Encounters with Jewish Culture, is about creating those kinds of opportunities. Funded by Michael Steinhardt, one of the founders of Birthright Israel, and developed by the Yiddish Book Center, this is a program that offers one-week immersive cultural experiences, for free, to Jews in their 20s. The deadlines are approaching fast for the first three of these. Tent: Comedy will take place in LA, in March; Tent: Creative Writing, in Amherst, MA, in June; and Tent: Theater, in NYC, in August.
In each program, a group of twenty Jews in their 20s will gather to experience that cultural field and its complex Jewish connections. In LA, they’ll discuss Jewish humor from Freud to Larry David, go out to the comedy clubs, and meet with stand-ups and screenwriters. In NYC, they’ll go to Off-Broadway and Fringe Festival shows, have an intimate conversation with Tony Kushner, and read some of the classic works of American theater. In Amherst, they’ll participate in creative writing workshops with teachers from the best MFA programs in the country, meet with agents and editors (for example, Matt Weiland from W.W. Norton, who’ll be editing Blake Bailey’s biography of Philip Roth), and discuss the long and complex relationship between Jews and modern literature.
Who wouldn’t want a week of free accommodations, free tickets to shows, free workshops, and smart, funny, meaningful discussions with brilliant teachers and a group of like-minded peers? No one I know.
More details can be found at our website, www.tentsite.org. And this is just the beginning. For 2014 we’re planning ten of these one-week programs, on a range of other subjects, run in partnership with innovative nonprofit cultural organizations from across the country. And even more in 2015.