Jewish Americans (The)
R1 - America - Paramount Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Andreas Petersen (3rd March 2008).
The Show

When many people think of the hardships faced by Jewish people historically, their minds tend to rightfully jump to the atrocities of Nazi Germany during WWII. However, many people do not tend to think about the history of the Jewish people as a whole. David Grubin has created a mini-series focusing on the history of Jewish Americans, dating back 350 years. The result is a fascinating documentary that shows that the horrors of WWII are only a fraction of the story. Grubinís documentary, which is told in three two-hour episodes on two DVD's, showcases the resolve, dignity, humility and determination of Jewish Americans in their quest to discover their identity. Grubin achieves this through amazing archive footage, interviews with famous Jewish Americans (such as Tony Kushner, former supreme court member Ruth Baber Ginsburg, among others), all of which is set to beautiful traditional Jewish music, accompanied by narrationfrom actor Leiv Schreiber.
The first disc contains the first two episodes of the mini series. Episode 1 (1:54:59) entitled "They Came to Stay", begins, quite frankly, at the beginning. We are introduced to a ship set sail in 1654 headed to the American colonies, carrying Jews trying to stay ahead of Christian persecution in Europe. Immediately, the Jews on that boat were eager to become a part of colonial life. The Jewish community breaks off into the social elites and the tenants of the lower east side of New York. The episode ends with the death of what is called the ďfirst generation of Jewish immigrantsĒ.
Episode 2 (1:52:57) entitled "The Best of Times, The Worst of Times", brings to light the beginning of anti-Semitism in the United States. Mainstream anti-Semitism was propagated by car mogul Henry Ford, who used his vast wealth to publish a newspaper whose primary function was to slander the Jewish people. Anti-Semitism grows so much that the Jewish community begins to build their own schools, hospitals, and other centers. When the depression roles around, many people blamed the Jews. Soon after, the Jewish Americans watch in horror as news reels of the atrocities of the Holocaust make their way to movie theaters. The terrible truth that the American Jew was now the greatest population of the faith bound the people together stronger than ever.
Episode 3 (1:50:38) entitled "Home", begins to show how after the war, Jews were integrated into mainstream American society. While the Jewish American was accepted more than ever, it didnít stop the majority of them from standing side by side with African Americans in the civil rights movement of the 60ís. Many Jews also spoke out against the treatment of Soviet Jews, and got involved with the feminist movement.
All in all, this is an incredible insight into the evolution of the Jewish people in America. It is poignant at times, but also funny and heart warming at others. It offers a multitude of emotions that seem to coincide with the Jewish peopleís journey for equality in the United States. At the end of my initial viewing, I could hardly believe the whole thing is six hours long, as I was enveloped in the whole thing from start to finish. I highly recommend this DVD to not only to American History buffs, but anyone who wants to better understand one of the most endearing stories in United States history.


The documentary is offered in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality isnít out of this world, but it looks good enough for what the documentary offers. It does however, look better than most PBS documentaries of the past.


The Jewish Americans is offered in English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound only. Like the video, it isnít amazing sound, coming out of the two channels but it suits the needs of the documentary. I loved the music on this documentary, and if anything, I wish it had been presented in 5.1.
There are no optional subtitles available on this disc.


Paramount has included only a few extras on this release all of which can be found on the second disc of this set. The extras included are an interview, a very short featurette and an additional scene. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

An interview with filmmaker David Grubin runs for 5 minutes and 45 seconds, and offers insight into why the director/writer/producer of the series and why he made it in the first place, why he made certain creative choices in what to put in the documentary, and what to omit.

"Jewish Cooking with Gil Marks" is a short featurette that runs for 1 minute and 44 seconds, and is a charming little piece focusing on why Jewish cuisine is the way it is.

"Rosh Hashanah Ceremonial Scene" is an additional scene that runs at 2 minutes and 50 seconds, and shows a group of Jews who use performance art to teach the Old Testament. They use some interesting costumes mixed with some humor to offer a unique spin on an old tale.


The Show: A Video: B Audio: B Extras: B- Overall: B+


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