The Jewish Americans

Last Wednesday PBS aired the first of three two-hour segments of a documentary called "The Jewish Americans." The second part aired tonight, with the third airing next Wednesday.

It's a wonderfully produced documentary, filled with fascinating insights into America's Jewish community, which began over 350 years ago, when 23 Jews arrived in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam (later known as New York). It's a fantastic, well-researched examination of how those early American Jews assimilated themselves into American culture, and, in some cases, even helped shape the way America has evolved and grown.

I am, of course, a big Jewish geek, especially when it comes to the history and culture of my people, so this kind of thing is of great interest to me. The documentary is filled with incredible old photos and newsreels and filmstrips, along with interviews with well-known American Jews like Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and comedian Sid Caesar, as well as non-famous Jews, children of immigrants from the early 20th century.

This documentary is so cool, I'm halfway tempted to spend the $40 on the DVD set.


raptorpack said...

350 years ago...did they really have to assimilate much back then. I mean we didn't really have a culture at that time just a whole bunch of people not knowing what to do but they were told to do. Isn't it kinda like the same from where they came from. Just...like new trees.

1031 said...

Jews have always had to assimilate, wherever they've gone. Regardless of what country they're in, they're still Jews, and there has always been a stigma that has followed them around, even across the Atlantic.

Assimilate may not be the correct term. As you said, America was a new country back then (for Europeans, anyway). But it was either attempt to fit in with the neighbors or be ostracized.

There was a great bit in the documentary about these wealthy (German, I think) Jews who didn't let on that they were Jewish because they didn't want to be rejected from what passed for high society back in the 1700s and 1800s.