Sunday, 6 October 2013

'the story of the jews'

'blog on this one, O historian!'
Alright then, i am.

but it's gonna be rather short.

i've finally watched only 2 of the 5 episodes of simon shama's 'story of the jews'. here's my 2 cents, for all that that may be worth (considering inflation, not a lot).

i think that covering 5000 years in 5 hours forces shama to concentrate only on the broad sweeps and patterns of Jewish history. His theme: that the story of the Jews is that of survival, both physical but, more importantly both to the theme and to Shama himself, religious & spiritual survival. his over-arching message and the thread running through his work is that Jews have always been concerned with keeping the religious flame alive through religious life. Jews have faced the problem of how to keep a religious alive without a land or tangible focal point, and in this documentary he traces how, in each era and in the face of each new threat, Jews have changed and shaped Judaism to keep it vibrant & relevant, and yet recognisably authentic.

To me - and to most of my friends, i expect - the sweep of Jewish history is already familiar. I've most enjoyed the way in which Shama wonders at the beauty of the structures which Jews have built in every land in which we have settled; and yet, as he says, always reaching for the suitcase again. There is an eternal, touching pathos which comes through - of the Jew perpetually packing the suitcase and heading out yet again, but each time we come to rest, we yearn to stay at rest and not to have to pack up again. and so we build these big and beautiful synagogues, but leave them behind with barely a backward glance.

and i've really enjoyed Shama;s personal story of jewishness - the friend he's argued with about gemara, the passion with which he declares his zionism, the sadness as he admitrs that he mourns for all of those jews in 18th-19th centuries who thought that by succeeding in wealth and secular culture, they could rise above their jewishness, only for it end in ashes.

there are a few details i did not know, but mostly i'm enjoying watching an acclaimed secular historian share his Jewish identity, express his passion, and trace a pattern of jewish history over the centuries.

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