The Production of "350 Years of Jews in America"

The Board

The Board of Directors of Our Heritage, Inc. (a registered not-for-profit organization) will produce and distribute this five-part series. The television series will comprise five one-hour episodes that will be translated and broadcast throughout the world. Video and CD-ROM formats will be made available to schools, institutions of higher learning, and religious institutions of all denominations. An instructional guide will accompany the educational version. The release of Part One, depicting the events from 1654 to the Revolutionary War, will coincide with the 350th anniversary of the first American Jewish congregation.

  • Executive Producer Dr. Zvi Almog creator and producer of the acclaimed television documentary "Israel: A Nation is Born — with Abba Eban" in 1992, a co-production with Channel 4 (UK), and in association with WNET (US). The film continues to air nationally on PBS and other stations.
  • Dr. Eli Faber, author of the recently published book, A Time for Planting; the First Migration, will serve as the series' chief historical consultant.
  • Rabbi Dr. Marc D. Angel will serve on an advisory board of distinguished historians; research scholars, filmmakers, educators and leaders in academia and American Jewish communities will ensure a balanced and accurate account of the history of American Jewry.
  • H. Chaim Lauer, Executive Vice President of the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York and Roy Pinchot, educational audio-visual and textbook consultant will produce the Educational Versions and the Viewers' Guide for the five part program "350 Years of Jews in America".

Funding this Important Project

The executive committee of Our Heritage, Inc., has authorized an initial fundraising campaign to raise a development budget of $350,000 for research and pre-production costs. The estimated cost for production and promotion of each segment is approximately $625,000. The board will review the proposed budget for the entire five-part series before launching a major fundraising campaign. The executive committee will contract independent writers, producers and film editors, and will negotiate distribution contracts with reliable and experienced firms. In addition, the executive committee will contact organizations, institutions, individuals and archives to provide relevant footage, portraits and photographs, recordings and other historical documents.

The series will be funded by charitable contributions from individuals, foundations, and corporations. Sponsors' names will be included in the credits of each segment. Our Heritage, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) tax-exempt organization under IRS code. Contributions to this project are tax deductible as provided by law.

Resources and Methodology

The series will be narrated, for the most part, except where interviews and voice-overs are used to describe important events and relationships. Original documents, recordings and pictures will be used when available, enhanced by appropriate sound effects and music. Dramatic enactments may be employed to illustrate specific events such as the arrival of the Sainte Catherine in New Amsterdam, the trials of the first arrivals, confrontations with Peter Stuyvesant, and Asser Levy's public struggles for equality and religious freedom, etc.

As the narrator's visual "eye", the camera will place events in visual context by visiting actual sites where important events took place as they are being described. When it has dramatic significance, the narrator will appear on screen and on location (such as in The Little Synagogue when talking about congregation Shearith Israel's first assembly place, and at the Touro Synagogue in Newport Rhode Island, when introducing President Washington's famous letter, etc.).

The participation of witnesses is perhaps the most important aspect of the film. Witnesses are not merely talking heads, but characters who are related to or who personally participated in historic events, and can describe their first hand experiences and direct observations. Their first-person testimonies and recollections make the program immediate and personal. They may be known personalities, field experts, or ordinary persons caught in a particular occurrence of historical import (such as a Holocaust survivor, the first Jewish commander to enter the death camps, etc.). Witnesses will be filmed on location when possible. Their narratives add variety, tempo and surprise while upholding the "living history" approach of the film.

The series will trace the genealogy of founding families to today's American Jewish communities from coast to coast. We will locate descendants of the early pioneers, and conduct interviews to record their family histories.

Much research has been done toward finding the right witnesses and collecting original and rare film and photographic archival material, staying away from overly familiar footage. We have located nearly all of the visual material we will need, including maps and graphics to illustrate the events of the 150 years covered in Episode One.

When reading this outline, it is important to remember that the final film will be a visual spectacle, telling the exciting story of America's Jews for the very first time. The presentation of a wide range of unbiased views and sources will reflect the evolution of the way Jews have been perceived by American Presidents, Congress, and society at large. History springs from the screen in this vividly dramatic historical documentary. Through careful research and supervision the film's absolute integrity will be insured.