A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
In 2013, The Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., launched an ambitious series of cultural programming aimed at providing an opportunity for young Jews to learn about modern Jewish culture. The weeklong program, “Tent,” brings together 20 young people aged 21 to 30 in order to intensively study different facets of modern Jewish culture. Each week is dedicated to a different subject and the participants attend performances and lectures related to the topic and meet with experts in their chosen field. At the same time they learn about the connections between the week’s theme and modern Jewish culture.
In the coming year, The Yiddish Book Center plans to expand Tent to include 10 different programs, with the help of partner organizations around the country.
The first three Tent programs were about comedy, in March in Los Angeles; creative writing at the Yiddish Book Center in June, and a week dedicated to theater in New York in August.
During the program in creative writing participants read selections from modern Yiddish and Hebrew literature in translation as well as works on Jewish themes originally written in other languages. After lunch the aspiring writers workshopped their own stories with professional writers. During the evenings they went to literary readings or met with literary agents and publishers. And later at night they hung out together in the dorms at Hampshire College and quickly became friends.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
Over winter break, I didn’t want for activity. There were people to see, films to screen and a wealth of exhibitions to behold, one of the most inventive of which was a modest but arresting show at the Jewish Museum, on until February 3, called “Collection Tableaux.” Taking the form of four distinctive mediations — in paint, paper, glass and fabric — on the role of the table in Jewish life, the exhibition highlighted the connections between the material and the cultural dimensions of the Jewish experience.
I relished each of the artworks but, as a practicing historian, I took particular delight in Izhar Patkin’s “Salonnière,” a large scale, stenciled and framed collage of a fussy end table crowded with the kind of stuff one was likely to encounter in the determinedly bourgeois setting of a 19th-century German Jewish home: books, bric-a-brac, a tea cup and other appurtenances of the cultured.
A closer look, however, disclosed that what was on display was studded with actual historical references. As the artist would have it, the table belonged to Dorothea von Schlegel, Moses Mendelssohn’s daughter, who not only changed her name but her station in life by becoming a saloniste of the highest order. On its surface rested a couple of books, one of which, “Florentin,” she had penned. Slightly off-center, upsetting the balance, the elegant proportion, of things, was a rather unappealing and hulking porcelain figure of a monkey.