Social-cultural youth program to launch in L.A.

A new social program for 20- and 30-something Jews is bringing comedian Sarah Silverman, playwright Tony Kushner, New York literary editor Ira Silverberg, and other Jewish artists and cultural leaders all under one tent — metaphorically — in 2013.

The effort, appropriately called Tent, aims to provide young adults with the opportunity to explore what it means to be Jewish by learning about Jews who’ve left their mark on popular culture and by developing their skills in the fields of comedy, creative writing and theater. 

“Part of what this program is about is validating and ennobling and celebrating contemporary Jewish popular and vernacular culture,” said Joshua Lambert, program director.

Tent is a program of the Yiddish Book Center, a nonprofit based in Amherst, Mass., that is dedicated to telling the Jewish story. Individuals interested in taking part can apply at 

The first of three weeklong seminars, Tent: Comedy, will address the theory and practice of comedy through a Jewish lens. It will take place March 17-24 in Los Angeles; applications are due Jan. 7.

Tent: Comedy will explore stand-up, improv and sketch form with comedians from leading comedy troupes, and participants will meet with performers and writers working in film and television, see stand-up comedian Silverman’s live show at Largo at the Coronet, talk shop with television writer Jill Soloway (“Six Feet Under”) and more.

The other two pilot program seminars will cover creative writing and theater.

Tent: Creative Writing takes place June 2-9 at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst and allows aspiring and practicing writers to have their fiction workshopped by their peers as well as by critically acclaimed visiting writers. They’ll talk about why Jews are such a bookish people and why they’ve done so much writing, see a New York-based literary agent, and meet Silverberg, literature director at the National Endowment for the Arts.

Taking place Aug. 4-11 in New York City, Tent: Theater will give participants time to meet with actors, playwrights and directors. They will participate in a Q-and-A with Kushner — who received the Pulitzer Prize for his play “Angels in America” and wrote the screenplay for the Steven Spielberg film “Lincoln” — and attend several theatrical productions, off-Broadway and elsewhere.

Applicants don’t have to be people who already are successful amateur comedians, fiction writers or playwrights; they simply must be interested in finding an innovative venue for their Jewish selves and in the cultural side of their identity, Lambert said. He likened the program to Moishe House, which has been successful in engaging the post-college young adult population by providing opportunity for community involvement, Jewish learning and leadership.

Ever committed to increasing Jewish identification among Diaspora Jews, husband-and-wife philanthropists Judy and Michael Steinhardt, active supporters of Birthright Israel, have provided the financial backing for Tent. The initiative is part of an effort spearheaded by Aaron Lansky, founder and president of the Yiddish Book Center, and Michael Steinhardt to reach out educationally to young adult Jews and find meaningful programs for them.

Lambert, academic director at the Yiddish Book Center, visiting assistant professor of English at the University of Massachusetts and contributing editor and comedy columnist at Tablet Magazine, said he has been working hard to made the seminars’ content as strong as possible.

“I try to plan programs that I would want to go to,” he said. “I would like to sit in a room with Tony Kushner and talk about theater for a couple hours.”