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The Story of the Jews: Documentary on Judaism tells a story that deserves to be told

Written By | Apr 8, 2014

MILWAUKEE, April 8. 2014 – Simon Schama’s new PBS documentary “The Story of the Jews” has rabbi and Jewish scholar Mahir Reiss excited.

“Anything that helps get our message out is a good thing. The journey of the Jewish people is an amazing one, and it deserves to be told,” said Reiss.

Schama, an Emmy Award-winner and contributing editor for Financial Times, has written and presented over 50 documentaries on a variety of topics. None, however, may have been as ambitious as this project. Cramming the Old Testament and 3000 years of history into a PBS documentary is a daunting task, but it’s one that the filmmaker gladly undertook.

“If you were to remove from our collective history the contribution Jews have made to human culture, our world would be almost unrecognizable,” said Schama. “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.”

documentary series first aired in the United Kingdom in 2013. It is an Oxford Film and Television Production for BBC and THIRTEEN in association with WNET. British critics applauded it as “an astonishing achievement and a TV landmark.

“What makes it unique and special is the new archaeological research,” said Rabbi Mahir Reiss. “It allows people to better understand our earliest history and discover our many artistic contributions.”

Foregoing large obvious narratives, Schama digs in to artifacts and telling vignettes.

Schama’s inspiration in creating this detailed documentary was the unfinished work of British Jewish Historian Cecil Roth. Roth, who died in 1970, had a different communication style than Schama. The New York Times prefers Schama’s work, because it is “the more user-friendly” style.

Schama’s main narrative is simple.

New York Times writer Judith Shulevitz believes is that that the Jewish people, “were not and are not the rigidly pious self-segregating people Christian invective as well as the theologically dominated research of the late 19th– and early 20th-Centuries made them out to be.”

“It’s important to give people the whole story, good or bad. When people watch this documentary they discover things they may not have known, they expand their opinion and our rich history is told. It’s an important story to tell and I applaud Simon Schama for creating a truly great piece,” said Rabbi Mahir Reiss.