Category Archives: Jewish Columns

Tent–A Jewish Seminar Big Enough to Encompass It All

In 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 GatherTheJews. tent logo

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:

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!

Jewish Comedian Spotlight: Sarah Silverman

The term “Jewish comedian” sounds a bit redundant.  Or perhaps it just sounds unnecessary since so many members of the tribe have made a living being a lingual muse.

Either way, 42-year-old comedian Sarah Silverman is ambivalent when it comes to the “Jewish comedian” label.  And for good reason:  Her father was Jewish, her sister Susan is a rabbi, and her last name is SILVERMAN.

And in 2008, Silverman helped orchestrate “The Great Schlep”, which encouraged young Jewish voters to get their Jewish grandparents in South Florida to get off the golf course and vote in the Presidential election.

Still, in an interview with Movieline in 2011, Silverman says “I’m so associated with being Jewish — and I do it myself — but I have no religion. To me it’s cultural, it comes out of my pores. I can’t control it. I wasn’t raised with any religion, I have no religion, but it’s become such a part of me. ‘Jewish comedian Sarah Silverman!’ You know what I mean?

The “comedian” label needs not much clarification.  A quick look through Silverman’s YouTube videos, quotes, or book The Bedwetter, you will see that being a Jewish girl is just one of the countless topics Silverman touches with her pointed prose.

Along the way, Silverman has appeared on almost every late-night talk show since the late 1990s.  In 21 years on the comedy circuit, Silverman has had a part in so many television shows and films that she has proven to be a pretty reliable talent, always ready to work with her fellow comedian pals.

Silverman even had a cameo in the film adaptation of the musical Rent.<

Profane?  Yes.  Insightful?  Absolutely.  Shocking?  No doubt.  “Jewish comedian”?  The label is distracting.  But Silverman is certainly a bright and talented comedian—-a modern-day Lenny Bruce with a hint of Jewishness and a hunk of obscenity.

What North American Schools Have the Largest Jewish Populations?

With Labor Day weekend just around the corner, millions of students in the United States are heading back to class at their respective colleges and universities.

And shortly thereafter, the Jewish students will be interrupting their study sessions, keg parties, football games by attending High Holidays services.

In that spirit, here is a list of which schools in North America have the most Jewish students and largest percentage of the student population that is Jewish.

A few takeaways:

  • University of Florida, University of Central Florida, and University of Maryland have the highest total number of Jewish students, each topping over 5,000.
  • The largest Jewish population at a school west of the Mississippi River is the University of Texas, University of Arizona, and UCLA, each topping over 3,000.
  • The Big Ten Conference is the most Jewish athletic conference represented on the top 60 list, with Northwestern, Maryland (in 2014), Rutgers (in 2014), Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio State, Illinois, and Michigan State, each with over 2,500 Jewish students.


(Facts courtesy of Reform Judaism Magazine and Hillel.



Jewish Comedian Spotlight: Lewis Black

Published on August 14, 2013 on Gather the

On the outside, Lewis Black features a gruff voice, thick-rimmed glasses, and gyrating neck jowls.  On the inside?  Insightful chaos.   Unlike many comedians, Black has shied away from humor intended to shock audiences, but rather leave them walking away with a sense of both irreverence and education.

Straight outta Silver Spring, Maryland, comedian Black epitomizes the word “curmudgeon”.  In his book, “Nothing’s Sacred”, the Jewish-raised comedian chastises the name of the town where he was Bar Mitzvahed in 1961 as lacking both “the seasonal spring” and a “single silver-miner”.  Small irritations such as these have led Black to have an enormous career in comedy that has spanned over thirty years.

His screaming commentary on American politics have been a favorite of Jon Stewart, who has featured Black’s rants countless times on “The Daily Show”.

And for two seasons, Black hosted his own television show on Comedy Central.  ”The Root of All Evil”, which aired in 2008, pitted the pros and cons of topics such as Olympic Games vs. Drinking Games, NRA vs. PETA, and High School vs. American Idol.

In this 2008 video of Black at the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue in DC, he describes what it was like to be the first Jew his roommates had ever met at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill: (Warning, language is rated R)

He turns 65 years-old this High Holiday season.  While well-versed in the traditions of Judaism, Black has offered his own sermon for the community:  ”There are things about the Jewish religion that I carry with me to this day. Chief among them is Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, as it’s so happily called. It had a profound effect on my innocent young mind. The service opens with the organ playing “Kol Nidre,” one of the spookiest pieces of music ever written. You hear it and literally are surprised bats and shit aren’t flying around.”

Perhaps a jazzy Kol Nidre melody would suit Black’s mood better (because despite all of his blood-pressure-raising anger, Black’s music of choice is not thrash metal, but contemporary Jazz.

He is almost always on tour.  Check out Lewis Black’s website for more information:

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