Search form

PBS to Air “The Jewish Americans” Over Three Weeks on January 9, 16 and 23, 2008

Epic Documentary Follows 350 Years of Jewish American History

Washington, D.C. — PBS and WETA, the flagship public broadcaster in the nation’s capital, today announced the broadcast dates for THE JEWISH AMERICANS, a three-part documentary series written and directed by the Emmy Award-winning filmmaker David Grubin. The series will air on PBS over three consecutive weeks, on January 9, 13 and 23, 2008.

The six-hour series, which is a production of JTN Productions; WETA Washington, D.C.; and David Grubin Productions, Inc.; in association with Thirteen/WNET New York, examines the struggle of a tiny minority to make its way into the American mainstream. While the story of Jewish life in America is emblematic of the American immigrant story, it is also a unique story of ongoing discrimination and stereotyping coupled with some of the most remarkable accomplishments in American history, the arts, commerce, science and academia.

Beginning with the first Jews to arrive in New Amsterdam in the 17th century, the film offers a revealing portrait of a people who epitomize the immigrant experience. Even as they have faced bigotry and rejection, Jews have embraced American culture while keeping alive their traditions and heritage.

Sharon Rockefeller, president and CEO of WETA, said, “THE JEWISH AMERICANS provides us with a much-appreciated opportunity to reflect on the richness of America’s Jewish heritage. Beyond that, it is also a universal story that looks at the hopes and sorrows of a diverse people as they create a home and a place in what often feels like an alien and unwelcoming land.”

Jay Sanderson, CEO of JTN Productions and one of the documentary’s executive producers, said, “This is the American story. We are a country built on the hopes and dreams of immigrants who aspired to make their mark and struggled to keep their identities. It was true 350 years ago, and it remains true today. This series celebrates these people and the country they helped build.”

“Throughout the film there is a recurring theme,” filmmaker David Grubin said. “With each wave of Jewish immigration, Jews expressed an immense desire to become American while retaining their own identity. Out of this struggle emerged not just a Jewish American culture but also the integration of Jewish culture into the larger American landscape.”

The film begins with the story of the first Jewish immigrants to arrive in the American colonies — a group of 23 Jews who fled in 1654 from Brazil to New Amsterdam, where the governor, Peter Stuyvesant, tried to reject them. His superiors in the Netherlands, however, overruled him on the grounds that the Jews would contribute to the economic well-being of the colony.

THE JEWISH AMERICANS goes on to tell the stories of Jews who have participated in major milestones and cultural phases of U.S. history. Among these are: Judah P. Benjamin, who owned slaves and served as attorney general, secretary of war and secretary of state for the Confederacy; Marcus Spiegel, who fought and died for the Union and whose brother later founded the Spiegel Catalogue Company; and Anna Solomon, a 19th century frontier woman who operated a successful store and hotel in an Arizona town that would eventually be named for her family.

Other Jewish cultural and historic figures in THE JEWISH AMERICANS include Hank Greenberg, Detroit’s baseball slugger; Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish U.S. Supreme Court justice; Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only Jewish woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court; Henry Morgenthau, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s secretary of treasury, who pushed Roosevelt to save European Jews from the Nazi concentration camps; Molly Goldberg, the first Jewish character to gain wide acceptance on radio; Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar, Jerry Stiller and other “Borscht Belt” comedians who would define American humor in the second half of the 20th century; Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster, creators of Superman; Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America; Jewish Americans involved in the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s; Betty Friedan, a founder of the modern feminist movement; and Matisyahu, the popular Hasidic rapper who combines hip-hop music with traditional Jewish themes, as well as many others.

The film examines the separation of church and state and how that opened up the door for Jewish immigrants to establish a home in which they were on equal footing with their neighbors and from which they would not have to fear being driven. THE JEWISH AMERICANS also documents a long history of anti-Semitism in the United States, epitomized by the virulent attacks of automotive magnate Henry Ford, who created a newspaper for the express purpose of spreading anti-Jewish sentiment; the lynching of Leo Frank in the South; and the establishment of Jewish quotas at elite universities.

Ultimately, however, THE JEWISH AMERICANS is an exploration of the opportunities, freedoms and prosperity that Jews have found in America, after struggling through millennia of persecution. As Dr. Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, says in the film, “To be Jewish in America today is to be as free as a Jew has ever been in the modern world.”

THE JEWISH AMERICANS features narration by Emmy- and Tony-nominated actor Liev Schreiber and interviews with prominent Jewish Americans, including playwright Tony Kushner, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, comedians Carl Reiner and Sid Caesar, actor and singer Mandy Patinkin, and numerous other Jewish leaders in entertainment, academia, business and politics who share their personal reflections on what it means to be Jewish American. Accompanying the series will be a companion book, The Jewish Americans, written by Beth S. Wenger and published by Doubleday, that will be on sale nationwide beginning October 23, 2007. The complete six-hour PBS broadcast will be available in January 2008 from PBS Home Video and Paramount Home Entertainment in a two-disc DVD set.

THE JEWISH AMERICANS is a production of JTN Productions; WETA Washington, D.C.; and David Grubin Productions, Inc.; in association with Thirteen/WNET New York. Director/writer/producer: David Grubin; Executive producers: Jay Sanderson of JTN Productions, Jeff Bieber and Dalton Delan of WETA, and Stephen Segaller of Thirteen/WNET; Co-producers: Rachel Buchanan and Amy Brown; Editors: Don Bernier, Susan Fanshel, George O’Donnell and Deborah Peretz; Cinematographer: James Callanan; Narrator: Liev Schreiber.

Funders for THE JEWISH AMERICANS include The National Endowment for the Humanities; Corporation for Public Broadcasting; Public Broadcasting Service; Nash Family Foundation; The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations; The Paul & Irma Milstein Foundation; The Skirball Foundation; The Chais Family Foundation; Harry & Belle Krupnick Endowment Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation; The Cukier, Goldstein-Goren Foundation; Ann B. Friedman; The Jesselson Family; The Annenberg Foundation; Blumenthal Fund; Nancy and Morris W. Offit; Ruth Ziegler; Barbara Zuckerberg.

About WETA

WETA is the third-largest producing station in the public television system and the flagship public broadcaster in the nation’s capital. WETA productions and co-productions include “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” “Washington Week with Gwen Ifill and National Journal,” “America at a Crossroads,” “In Performance at the White House,” “The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo,” and documentaries by filmmaker Ken Burns, including “The War,” coming to PBS in September 2007. For more information on WETA and its programs, visit the website at

About JTN Productions

JTN Productions ( is the most acclaimed producer of Jewish television in North America with 25 years of unprecedented, award-winning success with the largest, most comprehensive library of programming and now the home of the Internet’s first Jewish Online Broadcasting Network,

About David Grubin

David Grubin is a producer, director, writer and cinematographer who has won every major award in his field, including three George Foster Peabody Awards, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards and nine Emmy Awards. As the president of David Grubin Productions, Inc., he has produced more than 100 films on subjects ranging from history to art, and from poetry to science. A member of the executive committee of the Society of American Historians, Grubin has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, has been a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College, and is the recipient of an honorary doctorate from his alma mater, Hamilton College. He is a member of the Directors Guild and the Writers Guild and serves on the board of directors of the Film Forum.

About Thirteen/WNET New York

Thirteen/WNET New York is one of the key program providers for public television, bringing such acclaimed series as “Nature,” “Great Performances,” “American Masters,” “Charlie Rose,” “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly,” “Wide Angle,” “Secrets of the Dead,” “NOW With David Brancaccio” and “Cyberchase” — as well as the work of Bill Moyers — to audiences nationwide. As the flagship public broadcaster in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut metro area, Thirteen reaches millions of viewers each week, airing the best of American public television along with its own local productions such as “The Ethnic Heritage Specials,” “The Thirteen Walking Tours,” “New York Voices” and “Reel New York.” Thirteen extends the impact of its television productions through educational and community outreach projects — including the Celebration of Teaching and Learning — as well as websites and other digital media platforms. More information can be found at

# # #

Welcome back!

Connect with WETA

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest

Press Contacts

Parent Program