PBS series to cover 3,000 years of Jewish history

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A new PBS documentary highlighting 3,000 years of Jewish history has its U.S. premiere this month.

The Story of the Jews, which first aired on BBC last year, is narrated by British Jew Simon Schama, a history professor at Columbia University.


The five-episode documentary, which will air in two parts, follows Schama — an Emmy winner and award-winning author who has produced 50 documentaries on history, art and culture — as he travels from Russia and Ukraine to Egypt, Spain and Israel. During his travels, Schama discusses the extensive history of the Jewish people and the impact Jewish culture has had on society, and the drama of suffering and revival that has come with it.

Primary sources involved in the documentary include fifth century BCE manuscripts presenting the lives of Jewish soldiers and their families in Egypt, records of disputes between Spanish Christians and Jews, and interviews with living witnesses, including Yakub Odeh, a Palestinian who fled his village in 1948 during Israel’s War of Independence.

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Other significant locations featured in the series include the decorated cemeteries of Ukrainian chasidic rabbis, parlors of Moses Mendelssohn’s Berlin and the streets of New York City.

The series also serves as a personal journey for Schama, who’s been engrossed with Jewish history since his postwar childhood.


“If you were to remove from our collective history the contribution Jews have made to human culture, our world would be almost unrecognizable,” Schama said in a statement. “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: a weave of cultural strands over the millennia, some brilliant, some dark, but resolving into a fabric of thrilling, sometimes tragic, often exalted creativity.”

Episodes 1 and 2 air March 25, 8 p.m.-10 p.m. ET; Episodes 3 to 5 air April 1, 8-11 p.m. ET.

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