The Jewish Americans (2008)

TV Mini-Series  -   -  Documentary
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Series cast summary:
 Himself - Narrator (3 episodes, 2008)
(2 episodes, 2008)


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9 January 2008 (USA)  »

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$2,500,000 (estimated)

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Superb! . This Review Is Taken From The New York Times.
28 February 2014 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Jewish journeys into American society receive an earnest, lively PBS treatment that often seems as all-encompassing as the six million citizens who share this heritage. Their ancestors may have come from different homelands, but their ethnic commonality is considered essential to the dozens who testify in this six-hour sprawl of history. Still, in these testimonials, many assert there are competing elements in their self-definitions.

A sortable calendar of noteworthy cultural events in the New York region, selected by Times critics.

"Gay American Jewish Socialist" is the term the playwright Tony Kushner bestows on himself in the first of three two-hour installments of "The Jewish Americans," and others vary the order of their core affiliations. No matter how each subject describes himself or herself, there is an exuberance about the very ability to choose how to do so — or to have the right to reject labels altogether.

Convincingly, the narration, read by Liev Schreiber, asserts that those who can link their lives to the 350 years that America has welcomed Jewish immigrants would rarely have found such freedom anywhere else. Such a welcome came with degrees of difficulty, as bias, even hatred and injustice often erupt in the narrative. There are also signs of progress, relative to past turmoil: A viewer can presume that no longer would a bigoted adult ask a Jewish boy if he had horns, as Mr. Kushner says happened to him. And no longer would the nation's highest court include one jurist, James Clark McReynolds, who refused to sit beside a Jewish colleague for the official portrait, as Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the Supreme Court relates was the experience of a Jewish predecessor, Louis D. Brandeis.

Like all public-broadcasting historical documentaries, this one has a good measure of stylistic borrowings from the archival scan-shots and the first-person narrations that Ken Burns made famous. This series's creator, David Grubin, also has learned from Mr. Burns when the series needs to linger a little longer on an emblematic biography, and he chooses wisely. Among his picks is Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers power hitter who sat out a crucial game on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The most startling selection is Judah P. Benjamin, the Zelig-esque United States senator from Louisiana who became a Confederate political leader and eventually a British politician after the Civil War didn't go his way.

These six hours introduce many such figures, or dwell in deeper detail on familiar names whose life stories may have grown hazy over the decades: the pioneering beauty queen Bess Myerson, for example, and the songwriter Irving Berlin, who was a cantor's son who became the nation's new standard-bearer, writing "God Bless America" and even "White Christmas." Berlin's story fits within the series's echoing refrain: Many children forged their own identities separate from those of their parents, but still linked to the Jewish struggle.

Over and over during this series, viewers witness this bouncy interplay between a rigid faith and the elastic society that was forever changed by its adherents.

The Jewish Americans is Simply Amazing.

David Grubin, producer, director and writer; Rachel Buchanan and Amy Brown, co-producers; Don Bernier, Susan Fanshel, George O'Donnell and Deborah Peretz, editors; James Callanan, cinematographer; Liev Schreiber, narrator. Produced by JTN Productions; WETA, Washington, and David Grubin Productions Inc., in association with WNET, New York.

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