Like the haggadah, the traditional “telling” of the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt that is read at the Passover seder, cinema offers a valuable text from which to gain an understanding of the social, political, and cultural realities of Jews in America. In an industry strongly influenced by Jewish filmmakers who made and continue to make the decisions as to which films are produced, the complex and evolving nature of the American Jewish condition has had considerable impact on American cinema and, in particular, on how Jews are reflected on the screen. This groundbreaking study analyzes select mainstream films from the beginning of the sound era to today to provide an understanding of the American Jewish experience over the last century.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Hollywood’s movie moguls, most of whom were Jewish, shied away from asserting a Jewish image on the screen for fear that they might be too closely identified with that representation. Over the next two decades, Jewish moviemakers became more comfortable with the concept of a Jewish hero and with an overpowered, yet heroic, Israel. In time, the Holocaust assumed center stage as the single event with the greatest effect on American Jewish identity. Recently, as American Jewish screenwriters, directors, and producers have become increasingly comfortable with their heritage, we are seeing an unprecedented number of movies that spotlight Jewish protagonists, experiences, and challenges.
By Eric A. Goldman
Eric A. Goldman is Adjunct Associate Professor of Cinema at Yeshiva University and the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is a film educator who lectures on Yiddish, Israeli, and Jewish cinema, and is founder and president of Ergo Media Inc., a video publishing company specializing in Jewish film.
"Goldman's work provides an absorbing narrative of the ways that certain cinematic moments are part and parcel of a long and complex history of Jewish American identity-making and storytelling."
—Tahneer Oksman, Jewish Book Council
“For those who don’t often read academic criticism, this book may prove an enlightening way of rethinking how to experience a film. Goldman’s style isn’t too Ivory Tower as to not be inclusive, plus the stories of Jewish icons like Barbra Streisand and Jewish film producers are good and juicy.”
—Jordan Hoffman, The Times of Israel
"Goldman (Visions, Images and Dreams: Yiddish Film Past and Present) offers readers a superb, thought-provoking analysis tracing the metamorphosis of the image of the Jew as portrayed through 80 years of American cinema....Goldman paints a powerful portrait of the Jewish image by focusing his study on nine films that had a profound influence on the American public….A well-referenced, well-researched contribution to any film studies collection."
—Richard Dickey, Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC, Library Journal
"The aim of this comprehensive photograph-filled book is to show how films portray the American Jewish experience. This is a herculean task, for it needs not only a knowledge of films made over the decades but a mastery of American Jewish history, literature, sociology, politics and religion. But Eric A. Goldman has the all-encompassing grasp to tell this story, both on a broad canvas and in fascinating anecdotal portraits. This is a wonderful book for any lover of American films."
—Curt Leviant, Hadassah Magazine
"In his thoughtful and provocative new book, The American Jewish Story Through Cinema (University of Texas Press), Eric A. Goldman refers to Hollywood films about American Jewish life as 'a Haggadah,' the Passover text that is savored and studied annually."
—George Robinson, The Jewish Week