Jewish Americans

The Best Of Times, The Worst Of Times

Season 1, Episode 2 of 3

As Jewish Americans tried to enter the mainstream of American life, they were frustrated by anti-Semitism even as they developed their own resources, often succeeding in businesses on the margins of American life. Irving Berlin, an immigrant from Russia, began writing tunes just as Tin Pan Alley was taking off, transforming himself into one of America's greatest songwriters with iconic songs such as "White Christmas" and "God Bless America." But in 1918, the year "God Bless America" was composed, America was closing its doors to foreigners and anti-Semitism was on the rise. Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, faced anti-Semitism in his confirmation hearings and then on the court itself. Leo Frank, a Jewish American living in Atlanta, was unjustly convicted by a Georgia court of murdering a 13-year-old girl and lynched. Henry Ford, one of the most powerful men in the country, published strident attacks on Jewish Americans. America's elite colleges and universities limited the number of Jewish students they would admit. Facing a wave of worldwide anti-Semitism and shut out from much of American life, Jewish Americans developed a parallel universe all their own - establishing Jewish fraternities and sororities, summer camps and community centers, hospitals and schools, neighborhoods and vacation resorts - and venturing into new businesses. The Catskills resorts provided an opportunity for Jewish comedians such as Sid Caesar to hone their skills, which they would use one day to reach Americans throughout the country. In the 1920s, Jewish immigrants came to dominate Hollywood, creating the Hollywood studio system and enacting their version of the American dream. Jewish Americans found opportunities in radio, too, with shows such as "The Goldbergs," created by Gertrude Berg, which appealed to Americans all over the country, Jews and gentiles alike. For Jewish Americans, the Depression in the 1930s was a dual misery. Not only did tens of thousands face unemployment, other Americans - from Father Coughlin to Charles Lindbergh - blamed them for the country's problems while Jewish Americans struggled desperately to rescue Jews from fascism in Europe. "The Best of Times, The Worst of Times" also describes the Jewish response to Hitler and the Holocaust, focusing on the relationship between Jewish leaders - in particular Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau Jr. - and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It details the reaction of Jewish Americans to the stories of the death camps that emerged after the war. Nearly all of European Jewry had been destroyed, and American Jews suddenly found themselves the largest and most powerful Jewish community in the world.

Previously Aired

2 p.m.
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