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Currentfilm.com Review:

A series by David Grubin, "The Jewish Americans" is a very interesting and insightful 6-hour program that takes a deep, rich overview of the Jewish culture in America over the decades, starting with a set of refugees who fled to the country seeking safety. The refugees coming off the boat did not exactly get a warm welcome, but they were eventually allowed to stay. From there, the series splits its time trying to provide an overview of the history of the Jewish people (and - more specifically - the history of Jews in America), as well as providing profiles of Jewish Americans and some of the successes they've had and discrimination they have faced.

We learn about how Jewish communities grew in major cities (Chicago, St. Louis and many other major cities, as well) across the city as development and transit increased. Many Jewish settlers grew their businesses during this time - businesses including Spiegels (whatever happened to Spiegels, is that still around?), Levi Jeans and Lehman Brothers.

The documentary also discusses in-depth the early years of Israel, and how American Jews were a strong source of support - financial and otherwise - in these early years. There is also an interesting section devoted to how many Jews fought for civil rights for African-Americans, and the reactions (both positive and negative, including ), as well as the tragedies that occured. Despite a desire for positive change, the relationship between the Jewish and African-American communities began to fall apart, to the sadness of some. The series also devotes a large portion of the running time to the Holocaust and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The documentary also takes a look at prominent figures, such as Bess Meyerson, who became the first Jewish Miss America in 1945. She refused to change her name to one that sounded less Jewish and faced discrimination after her win. Not long after, she took on civil rights causes, and served as National Commissioner to the Anti-Defamation League.

Grubin's four-part series is exceptionally well done, in terms of both the scope of the program (350 years of history is covered with grace and depth, while also having time to provide some interviews that are touching, insightful and occasionally funny) and in terms of the technical side (research is impressive, cinematography is fine for this sort of a program and the documentary was able to pull together a remarkable amount of archive photos/clips.)

1/24/2008: Home
1/17/2008: The Best of Times, the Worst of Times
1/10/2008: They Came to Stay; A World of Their Own
1/10/2008: They Came to Stay; A World of Their Own


VIDEO: "Jewish Americans" is presented by Paramount in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and the episodes look nothing short of marvelous. Sharpness and detail are above expectations throughout the show, as the picture often appeared crisp and detailed. Understandably the archive footage does look somewhat softer, aged and worn, but not beyond what one would reasonably expect, given the age of the material. Colors appeared natural and accurate in new interviews.

SOUND: The show's stereo soundtrack is crisp and clear, with well-recorded dialogue and crisp score.

EXTRAS: A short interview with director David Grubin, as well as a short piece on Jewish cooking with Gil Marks. We also get a Rosh Hashanah ceremonial scene. The interview with Grubin isn't particularly in-depth due to the length, but it does convey the immense challenge of trying to piece together a remarkable amount of archive material and new interviews into a series that runs 6 hours.

Final Thoughts: Overall, I was greatly impressed with "The Jewish Americans", as it provided a comprehensive and insightful look at Jewish history. The archive footage and research that was obviously put into the production is remarkable, and the presentation is not dry. The DVD presentation doesn't offer much in the way of extras, but audio/video quality is fine. For an excellent 6-hour series, the price of $19.99 at most stores is a great value. Recommended for those interested in the subject matter.

DVD Information

The Jewish Americans
Paramount/PBS Home Entertainment
Dolby Digital 5.1
6 Hours
Subtitles: English
Rated NR
Dual Layer:Yes
Available At Amazon.com: The Jewish Americans: Complete Series DVD