The Jewish Americans, 3 Part Documentary -- On Television Tonight

THE JEWISH AMERICANS is a three-night documentary that explores 350 years of Jewish American history. Written and directed by award-winning filmmaker David Grubin, THE JEWISH AMERICANS is a journey through time, from the first settlement in 1654 to the present. It is about the struggle of a tiny minority who make their way into the American mainstream while, at the same time, maintaining a sense of their own identity as Jews. Focusing on the tension between identity and assimilation, THE JEWISH AMERICANS is quintessentially an American story, which other minority groups will find surprisingly familiar.

Narrated by actor Liev Schreiber, this landmark series features Jewish Americans who have made significant contributions to American life – from Louis D. Brandeis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Henry Morgenthau, Hank Greenberg, Betty Friedan, Molly Goldberg, Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar, and Tony Kushner. However this story is also about Jewish American tailors and shopkeepers, soldiers and bankers, peddlers and merchants, labor organizers and civil rights activists, all of whom also helped shape the American landscape.


Highly recommended. The first section tonight was really well done, of the best standard that we can expect from these kinds of documentaries. Good stories too. A bit much on things like the Triangle Shirt Waist fire and not clear (yet) on things like Reform Judaism (or religion at all in fact) and the difficulties between the German Jews and the Pale of Settlement Jews, but nonetheless, well done, so far.

Thanks for giving the head's up.
Kelly J. Baker said…
This Newsweek piece provides an interesting critique of the documentary.

Lisa Miller writes:
"Too often, though, the documentary functions as a kind of "Jewish Hall of Fame." Featured talking heads include Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sid Caesar and the playwright Tony Kushner. Exemplars of Jewish achievement include Albert Einstein, Hank Greenberg, Irving Berlin and Louis Brandeis. Worthy exemplars all, but in the 21st century, when so many have accomplished so much, and when Jewish identity is frequently a matter of hyphenation—Kushner laughingly calls himself a "gay American Jewish socialist"—this earnest ritual of praising famous Jews feels insufficiently meaningful.

Guardians of Jewish culture mourn the loss of Jewish identity—no one speaks Yiddish anymore, they say, and intermarriage is epidemic—and "The Jewish Americans" is clearly a valentine to a time when despite (or perhaps because of) anti-Semitism, Jews knew who they were. Now, the film rightly points out, the absence of significant antiSemitism in America allows Jews to embrace Judaism on their own terms, a situation that raises questions for which history has no answers. Can good American Jews disapprove of Israel's foreign policies? Does intermarriage mean the end of Judaism or the birth of a new kind of Jew? Can synagogues satisfy American Jewish longings for spiritual connection without sacrificing orthodoxy? "The Jewish Americans" ably reminds us and our children of where we came from, but it fails to address the more challenging question of where we go from here."
Anonymous said…
The NEH magazine Humanities also critiques the series from a similar angle:

Together, the criticisms reveal a real problem of perspective.

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