The Historical Becomes Personal
The five-hour PBS series “The Story of the Jews With Simon Schama” sweeps across some 3,000 years of Jewish history. But late last month, when the Center for Jewish History in Manhattan showed excerpts from the documentary, the post-screening questions for Mr. Schama didn’t gravitate toward history, but toward current affairs: the status of today’s Israel and what should the response be to the rise in ultra-Orthodoxy there.
“Education,” Mr. Schama replied in the course of a longer discussion. “The answer is PBS.” Some of his reasons for doing the series and its companion two-volume book, he said, were “to give the sense of the extraordinarily dynamic complexity of Jewish life,” to expand the definition of what constitutes orthodoxy, and to provide something with which both younger Jews and non-Jews will want to engage. In his review this month in The New York Times, Dwight Garner called the book’s first volume “exemplary popular history.”
“It’s engaged, literate, alert to recent scholarship and, at moments, winningly personal,” he added. The second volume is scheduled to be published in the fall....