Tent – A Jewish Seminar Big Enough to Encompass It All

tent-logoIn March of 2013, I had the fortune of being invited to what was described to me as a “Jewish Comedians Seminar”.  My first reaction was, “That’s a bit redundant, ay?”

I learned about Tent via Twitter of all places after writing one of my snarky Jewish satire pieces for Gather The Jews.

What it was really titled was “Tent:  Encounters with Jewish Culture”, a new program started by the Yiddish Book Center.  The program aims at showing how a commitment to Jewish culture can be a portal into deeper and more inspired Jewish self-awareness—and ultimately professional development.

And the year 2014 is going to be a BIG one for Tent:

In 2014, 10 Tent seminars, taking place in New York, Los Angeles, Montreal, and the South, will gather twentysomethings who are passionate about food, comics, music, journalism, fashion, social justice, art, history, and contemporary Jewish culture.  Applications are available and deadlines are fast approaching: http://tentsite.org/apply

Twenty applicants will be accepted for each of the week-long programs.  Tent is offered free to all accepted applicants.  Each of the seminars will explore aspects of modern culture through a Jewish lens.  Tent programs are designed to help young people to discover how much of what’s exciting in contemporary America from stand-up comedy to serious literature, from pop music and theater to film, law, and cuisine – have rich Jewish histories.

My experience?  I attended the Tent: Comedy Seminar.

When I applied, I only knew a few details: The Seminar would last one week.  It would be held in Los Angeles.  There would be twenty Jewish comedians between the ages of 21 and 30.  We would meet established Jewish comedy writers in LA.  Tent would pay for many of the meals.  So free food.  Funny people.  Schmoozing with funny people with my dream job.  And a week away from the daily grind of my current job.

For an entire week, we would open the morning with free food.  Score!   And then for two hours, we would have a lecture and discussion on topics such as “what is Jewish comedy?” and “why us?”.  A prominent Jewish Cultural History professor, Tony Michels of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, would lead us from the comedy scenes of Ellis Island to the Catskills to Carnegie Hall to Tinseltown.  From Groucho Marx to Lenny Bruce to Jerry Seinfeld to Sarah Silverman.

To compliment the morning lectures, Tent arranged to have an established figure in the Los Angeles comedy scene do a question and answer session with us.  One question I recall was asked of Simpsons writer Ken Levine, “what’s the best way to network in the comedy scene?”  Levine replied, here’s what not to do:  “shortly after a parent died, I was at the funeral home picking out a casket, and one of the funeral home workers asked me if I would read his script.”  Point noted, Ken.

We also met with a writer from The New Yorker, an improv workshop from a former Saturday Night Live performer, and several television actors.

In the evenings, we would attend comedy shows, and several Tent members had the fortune of meeting Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin, comedian Todd Glass, Sarah Silverman, Ed Helms, Kevin Nealon, and Pete Holmes.

We also visited Cantors Famous Deli, and toured historic Boyle Heights, the former epicenter of the Los Angeles Jewish community.

By the end of the week, I could hardly stop repeating to my new friends, “If I found out about this program next week, I would be SO jealous of me.”  Modest?  No.  Honest?  Definitely.

And now, eight months later—-and a week before I move to LA to begin a dream career in a new city—- I am confidant that the new friends I made, the introspective Jewish identity I cultivated, and new career goals I visualized while at Tent Comedy will serve me splendidly on my next journey.

If you haven’t already checked out the 10 programs in 2014, do it now–and if you haven’t applied do that now too. Where else will you get the chance to spend a week with a cohort of like-minded Jews–and it’s all free!