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Tonight on PBS: The Story of the Jews

posted by Nell Minow

Starting tonight on PBS: Simon Schama hosts #StoryofTheJewsPBS – 3000 years of Jewish history, culture & identity.

Prize winning author of fifteen books and Emmy-Award winner Simon Schama brings to life Jewish history and experience in a new five-part documentary series The Story of the Jews with Simon Schama premiering Tuesdays March 25th 8-10 p.m. ET (episodes 1 and 2) and April 1st, 8-11 p.m. ET (episodes 3, 4 and 5) on PBS (check local listings)The five-hour series follows Schama – who has written and presented 50 documentaries on art, literature and history and is a Contributing Editor of the Financial Times, as he travels from Russia and the Ukraine to Egypt, Israel and Spain, exploring the imprint that Jewish culture has made on the world and the drama of suffering, resilience and rebirth that has gone with it.

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The series is at the same time, a personal journey for Schama who has been immersed in Jewish history since his postwar childhood; a meditation on its dramatic trajectory, and a macro- history of a people whose mark on the world has been out of all proportion to its modest numbers.“If you were to remove from our collective history” said Schama, “the contribution Jews have made to human culture, our world would be almost unrecognizable. There would be no monotheism, no written Bible, and our sense of modernity would be completely different. So the history of the Jews is everyone’s history too and what I hope people will take away from the series is that sense of connection: a weave of cultural strands over the millennia, some brilliant, some dark, but resolving into a fabric of thrilling, sometimes tragic, often exalted creativity. “

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The Story of the Jews draws on primary sources which include the Elephantine papyri, a collection of 5th century BC manuscripts illuminating the life of a town of Jewish soldiers and their families in ancient Egypt; the astonishing trove of documents – the Cairo Geniza – recording the world of the medieval Jews of the Mediterranean and Near East; the records of disputations between Christians and Jews in Spain, correspondence between the leader of the Arab revolt during the First World War, Emir Feisal and the leader of the Zionist movement Chaim Weizmann.

PBS has made a wide range of online resources available to supplement the series and is sponsoring a high school essay competition to encourage high school aged students across America to examine how stories shape our identities.  Some of the local affiliates have produced their own supplemental programs about the Jews of their communities as well.   

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