Noted historian, author, and critic Simon Schama explores the Jewish experience from ancient times to the present day in a new five-part series that begins on KUED Tuesday, March 25 at 7:00 p.m. with The Beginning, followed at 8:00 p.m. with Among Believers.
The story of the Jewish experience begins 3,000 years ago with the emergence of a tribal people in a contested land and their extraordinary book, the Hebrew Bible, a chronicle of their stormy relationship with a faceless, formless, jealous God. It was loyalty to this “God of Words” that defined the distinct identity of the ancient Jews and preserved it despite all that history could throw their way — war, invasion, deportation, enslavement, exile, and assimilation.
The story unfolds with a dazzling cast of historical characters: Sigmund Freud dying in exile in London; Victorian evangelicals and explorers following “in the footsteps” of Moses; Jewish mercenaries living, prospering, and intermarrying in the pagan land of Egypt; Messianic Jews dreaming of the Apocalypse; and a Jewish historian, Josephus, who witnessed first-hand the moment when the apocalypse finally came and the Romans destroyed the Jewish High Temple in Jerusalem.
Simon Schama’s epic series continues with the story of medieval Jews struggling to preserve their identity — and sometimes their lives — under the rule of Christianity and Islam. Whether labeled “Christ-killers” by the Christians or dhimmi (non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic community) by the Muslims, diaspora Jews built new lives and invented new ways of being Jewish in exile in the face of discrimination, blood-libels, and persecution interspersed with periods of tolerance, protection, and peaceful co-existence.
Drawing on some of the extraordinary documents they left behind, the second episode offers a vivid portrait of Jewish bankers, merchants, doctors, poets, and artists flourishing in Cordoba, Venice, and Cairo and tells the heart-rending story of their mass expulsion from Spain in 1492.
The final three episodes of the series air back-to-back Tuesday, April 1 beginning at 7:00 p.m. A Leap of Faith explores how the enlightenment allowed Jews to integrate into modern European culture and commerce. Over the Rainbow looks at how the Jewish people of Eastern Europe made their mark on the modern world. The final episode, Return, examines how the Holocaust and the creation of Israel have changed what it means to be Jewish.