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Jewish Documentary  – Full Film

The first Episode is called, “The Dawn of the Century” and covers 1900 – 1910.

This episode introduces the uniqueness of Jewish history in the 20th century within the

context of world history. At the turn of the 20th century, Jews were scattered across the

globe, representing only ΒΌ of one percent of the worlds population. It was a time of

empires, imperial rule and colonial expansionism. In Russia the masses, including the

Jews, lived in dire poverty which was compounded by grassroots antisemitism. In 1905

the Russian masses revolted and there was a general strike. On Bloody Sunday the

Czar responded with force. The Czar did not abdicate until 1917, which is typically the

date given for the second Russian Revolution, which, in turn, led to increased pogroms

against the Jews. The pogroms and the economic conditions forced approximately

40% of Jewish population to leave the Russian Empire and go to Western countries

including the United States and to Palestine and other countries as far away as South

Africa and Australia.

Emigration and the Enlightenment presented Jews with the dilemma and opportunity to

maintain or reject their traditional Jewish upbringing, and many decided to forgo their

traditional Judaism and blend in with their larger non-Jewish society. Within the

traditional Jewish world, change was occurring as well, with the rise and acceptance of

the Mussar Movement, an ethical approach to Judaism. Because Jews were not

allowed into institutions of higher education in Eastern Europe, most of them went to

study in yeshivas to sharpen their intellect. The traditional yeshiva, unintentionally,

became a breeding ground for all philosophies, Jewish and secular alike. Zionism

grew as a national movement, and was led by secular Jews antithetical to traditional

Judaism. While most rabbis rejected Zionism and its leaders, because of their

nontraditional beliefs, a minority of rabbis developed religious Zionism, which combined

traditional Judaism with Zionist philosophy. The Old Yishuv Jews, who had settled in

Palestine in the late 1800s, were committed to traditional Judaism and rejected

secular, nationalistic ideas of the New Yishuv Zionists.

The Sephardic Jews living in Moslem and Arab countries at the turn of the 20th

Century maintained their own rich Jewish traditions and heritage, which often differed

from those of the Ashkenazim. There was relative peace within the Jewish community

and among the leadership in these Arab and Moslem countries, and although life was

sometimes difficult, these Sephardic Jews did not experience, by and large, pogroms

or the influences of the Enlightenment or Reform Judaism.

In Europe, Jews were the leaders of the Labor and Socialist movements and

spearheaded the establishment of labor unions in America. The challenge of

assimilation in the United States was the greatest difficulty confronting Jewish

immigrants. Attempts were made to stem the tide. Reform Judaism became a symbol

of acceptance into modern American society and Dr. Solomon Schechter initiated the

Universal Synagogue movement which became Conservative Judaism. Also

Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jewish immigrants had to find their respective places within

the Jewish community and in their new host country, the United States, as well..

A small, strong group of American Jewish immigrants managed to cling to their Jewish

traditions and adapt themselves to the new reality in America. Meanwhile, for Jews

around the world, with the threat of WWI looming, the imperial race for supremacy was

escalating.


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