The new documentary "The Jewish Journey" covers massive time (almost four centuries) and geography, ranging from Eastern Europe to Egypt and Iraq. At its core, however, are intimate, personal memories. The film shows up at different times in March on public-TV stations; here's the story I sent to papers:
By MIKE HUGHES
For Andrew Goldberg,
this documentary seemed like familiar turf.
Previous films --
“The Armenian Genocide,” “The Iranian Americans” -- took him
to other worlds and other cultures. But “The Jewish Journey:
America” -- now showing on public-TV stations -- reflected stories
he'd heard at family dinners.
great-grandmother had emigrated in steerage with four kids. The
oldest (his grand-uncle) was 5 and had a steep responsibility: “He
had to go upstairs and be a cute little kid, so he could steal food
for the rest of the family,” Goldberg said.
So the subject of
Jewish emigration seemed familiar to him ... yet brought surprises.
-- The reasons. The
most massive influx was economic, he found, not directly spurred by
persecution. Russia and Eastern Europe simply had little money, food
-- The diversity.
“In some countries, notably Egypt and Iraq, Jews were very
assimilated,” Lital Levy of Princeton University says in the film.
That ended in the 1950s, propelling emigration.
-- And the effect on
the people left behind. “The parents knew they would never see them
again,” Rabbi Marc Angel says in the film. “They were gutsy
went to a new world, expecting to never return. For their parents,
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield says in the film, this was final. “You'd
realize it was the last hug you would ever get.”
welcomed these newcomers, Goldberg said, but there were exceptions.
Henry Ford was openly anti-semitic; in 1920, a front-page headline in
his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, read “The International
Jew: The World's Problem.”
In 1924, new
immigration rules harshly limited the arrival of Jews. Fewer than
150,000 were allowed during World War II (compared to six million who
were killed in Europe), he said, only another 150,000 after the war.
“The U.S. ... could have saved countless lives.”
But many of the
people who did arrive prospered. In the film, Holocaust survivor
Melvin Fedebush recalls his father telling him: “You honor us by
living, not by crying,”
It's a philosophy
Goldberg, 46, heard often. “My father always said the best revenge
was living well.”
And many immigants
did. Jewish families brought an emphasis on education and on books,
he said. “In Judaism, people are required to read” instead of
simply having religious leaders read to them.
His dad became a
psycho-analyst in Chicago. Goldberg graduated from Northwestern, got
a Master's degree from Chicago University, then made documentaries
about subjects both distant and familiar.
-- “The Jewish
-- On public-TV
stations (check local listings) at various times in March