I watched the second installment of the Jewish Americans last night. I believe the producers did a much better job of presenting a complete look at their thesis. This episode, titled "The Best of Times, The Worst of Times," hits the main fear that Jews have in this and any country: fear.
I believe we are currently in a VERY Golden Age of Jewish life in the USofA at the same time that there is always some aspect of otherness that is under the surface. This show did a great job of reinforcing every idea that was presented at Jewish institutions for years. We are other, we want to be more like everyone else, they won't let us, they let us get killed. Mind you I do not believe this to be untrue, just the manner in which it is presented gets very old after a few hours.
Everyone knows that the funders of this documentary want Jews to (as they say throughout the entire thing) "marry within the faith." So many of the Jews who are profiled are non-religious, intermarrying and assimilating. The film makers go out of their way to mention that regardless of their efforts that they weren't considered "Americans," but rather Jews. No kidding!
Like I said in my last post about this series, the agenda of the funders and producers comes through almost too much in the presentation of the facts. I have a degree in Jewish Studies and have worked with experts who deal with the images of Jewish people in the media, so my eye is trained on these issues. While the show was very interesting and in many respects a good PBS special, the constant reminder of otherness made me uncomfortable.
I was not around in the early 20th Century, but I can imagine that the otherness felt by Jews permeated much of everyday life. But I also can imagine the Jews of America were not only driving towards assimilation and acculturation. I can safely say that Kaplan wasn't trying to be an American out and about and a Jew at home, but you never would have gotten that message from this show.
I look forward to see what they do about the present-day American Jewish experience. My guess is that we will spend about an hour and half on the relationship with Israel. Time will tell.