Jewish Americans

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Season 1, Episode 3 of 3

With Hitler defeated and six million European Jews murdered, American Jews were fighting despair. However, by 1946, with the return of Jewish American servicemen and the crowning of the first Jewish Miss America - Bess Myerson - a new spirit of optimism emerged. In 1948, Jewish Americans actively supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine - Israel - but few chose to live there. By the 1950s, discrimination against Jews in daily life began to abate as quotas at universities and restrictions at resorts and housing gradually disappeared. Jews entered professions such as medicine, law and banking in record numbers, and Jewish American culture went mainstream as Jewish comedians came to dominate the new medium of television. But for all the progress, the old anxieties and vulnerabilities continued to bubble just beneath the surface. The trial of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, two Jewish Americans indicted on charges of stealing atomic secrets, sent shock waves of fear through the Jewish community. By the 1960s, Jewish Americans were directing their political energies elsewhere and a fragile but sometimes untenable alliance for civil rights was forged with African Americans. In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, as Americans began thinking about race, gender and ethnicity, Jewish Americans explored their own concerns with these issues more openly than they ever had before. Jewish women began to question Judaic customs and rituals that had excluded women for thousands of years and they fashioned new ceremonies to give voice to their spiritual lives, focusing on the ordination of women rabbis. Jewish Americans actively worked to help nearly two million Jews in the Soviet Union who were suffering imprisonment, deportation and the brutal denial of their human and religious rights. By the turn of the 20th century, as Americans of other faiths began exploring the limits of their religious traditions, many Jews begin experimenting with innovative spiritual practices as well, bringing Buddhist meditation into their own religious practice while Orthodox Judaism was thriving as it never had before. The youngest generation of Jewish Americans developed their own "hip" Jewish culture, which included a special connection to Jewish music gone mainstream. Matisyahu - a Hasidic Jew with songs blending hip hop, reggae and esoteric Jewish musing - rose to the top of the charts. Today, Jewish Americans continue to weave themselves into the social, cultural, economic and political life of the country. There are a bewildering number of ways of being Jewish, but the age-old issue of negotiating Jewish and American identities remains.

Previously Aired

Day
Time
Channel
12/21/2008
4 p.m.
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