|Directed by:||Debra Gonsher Vinik;David Vinik||Rating:||TV-PG|
|Release Date:||2004||Running Time:||58 mins|
|More Info:||Diva's description of "Legacy of our Ancestors"||Category:||America|
Before the creation of the state of Israel, Jews from around the world flocked to America as a haven where they could practice their faith freely. Legacy of Our Ancestors brings to life the early history of Jewish Americans who saw the budding nation as a chance for a new beginning.
“Collect together the long scattered people and let their gathering place be in the land of milk and honey,” Myer Moses famously preached to his synagogue in 1806—referring to America, rather than Palestine, as the Jewish people’s bountiful new promised land.
Three hundred and fifty years ago, even while America was still a collections of colonies under British rule, Jews in large numbers from Europe, the Caribbean, and Brazil transplanted their lives to the developing colonies, blindly trusting that they’d find something better in their new home. Legacy of Our Ancestors traces the struggles and successes of the first six Jewish communities in America through the accounts of historians and descendants of the original colonists.
The documentary brings history to life through the exciting stories of key historical figures. Aaron Lopez, a Spanish Jew and one of the most successful merchants of the mid-18th century, had survived the Inquisition by being outwardly Christian and only privately practicing his Jewish faith. So when he and his wife realized they could practice Judaism openly in America, they jumped on the opportunity. As soon as Lopez settled in Newport he had a circumcision performed and remarried his wife in a Jewish service.
There’s no doubt that Jews’ relationship with America was groundbreaking, not only for the freedom the country allowed them but for the loyalty Jews showed to the country — and the Revolutionary War proved it. According to one historian, America’s war for independence was the first time in modern history that Jews had taken an interest in national politics. Although some Jews did fight for the British, most fought on the side of the colonies. As a result, once America became free, gentile leaders viewed Jews as their loyal brothers, who shared in their political ideologies and interests.
In fact, after his election, President George Washington wrote to the Jews in Newport, reassuring them of the equality they were to enjoy in the new nation. “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants,” Washington wrote, marking the first time in the modern world that Jews were embraced by a secular political leader.
Although it documents a time when the country was run by men, Legacy of Our Ancestors also recognizes the contributions of Jewish women. Rebecca Gratz was a sharp leader who established the Female Hebrew Benevolent Association. While many synagogues had sisterhood organizations, Gratz’s association was the first Jewish female organization to operate as an entity independent of the synagogue. The charity group, which focused its attention on poor Jews, created a sense of unity between Jews of all classes and prevented the poor from falling prey to Christian missionaries.
Legacy of Our Ancestors recognizes that the Jews who flocked to America were a unique bunch. Unlike any Jewish community that had come before them, they wanted to fully integrate themselves into secular society while still maintaining their Jewishness. Instead of congregating in a shtetl, they wanted to be active members of secular America AND keep their religious traditions.
Surprisingly enough, little has changed over the past three hundred and fifty years. Many of the challenges that faced Jews living in the new free and tolerant nation years ago are still the same ones that face American Jews today. Intermarriage was a point of contention then, and in the absence of adversity it was easy for Jews to fall away from their faith and assimilate. Intermarriage and assimilation are still two of the biggest challenges for American Jews.
As Legacy of Our Ancestors shows, not only can modern Jews learn from the history of our predecessors, but we can also take comfort in knowing that Jews have been overcoming the same obstacles for generations.