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'Jewish Americans': 'Wilkommen' to Berlin

January 10, 2008 By:
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The Berlin wall of sound may provide the quintessential centerpiece for the "Jewish American" series. "Irving Berlin," says David Grubin, its exec-in-charge, "is a perfect example" of what the series attempts to show.

"He was Jewish down to his toenails. Yet here is someone who wrote some of the best known Christmas songs ('White Christmas') and was so assimilated into society."

And if the American Dream had a real wake-up call for Jews, the alarm went off in the 1950s, a decade, says Grubin, in which anti-Semitism took an uppercut that cut through the hatred of old.

"Not that it dissipated," says Grubin of its resilience to come back off the ropes. "But things did get better for Jewish Americans after that. And if you were the right guy, the right woman -- it was the right time."

A rite of passage? "Society has become more tolerant, more civil," says Grubin. The Orthodox mix with the unorthodox: "Jews are flourishing here better."

Not bad for a people "who started on the margins" of society and have since come into the mainframe. Once singled out for their differences, have Jews been singled out for acceptance? Have they been given an enduring endowment of social security? "America has been good to all of its minorities, with the exception of African-Americans," avers Grubin.

"It's been good to its Jews, to Italians, to Poles."

Jews today and those of yesteryear are poles apart in the way they are now treated. Who has taken their place in the social spectrum of struggling and gaining acceptance?

"That would be the Hispanic," the modern-day Jew. "It's wonderful and amazing to watch how the Hispanic people are integrating themselves into the culture."

And Jews are more acculturated and accustomed to coming out of their own closets -- religiously speaking. "There is a real revival in religion; people are searching today for meaning. It is no surprise that the Orthodox movement is doing so well."

Grubin had a bottomless well to draw on, a drip of history that allows those unfamiliar with Jewish American history to now draw their own conclusions, with understanding underscored by fact not mythtakes. "As [playwright] Tony Kushner says in the series, it shows we don't have horns."

But we certainly have trombonists and pianists, and the arts come off particularly well in the series, with Jews having done just fine for themselves in this field of dramatic dreams.

But there is also an art to diversity and, accommodating that frame of reference, Grubin is grateful for a nation that nurtures and nourishes. "We are a strong country, one that can accommodate all our differences."

Is there nothing we can't do?

Grubin laughs: "Just asking that question shows the opportunities we have here as Jews, to live in a society with economic and educational opportunities."

Indeed, "The Jewish Americans" is an education and an entertainment -- and will be out on DVD, with add-ons, on Feb. 5. And the Melting Pot? It's come full boil.

"By the way, that Melting Pot?" And Grubin chuckles. "It was a Jewish American who coined that phrase."   

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