National Edition

'The Story of the Jews' to premiere on PBS

Published: Tuesday, March 18 2014 4:20 p.m. MDT

Jewish Orthodox men gather to read the Scroll of Esther which tells the story of the Jewish festival of Purim in the town of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, March 15, 2014. Jews celebrate Purim by dressing up in costumes and reading the Book of Esther, which recounts a victory by the Jews over their enemies in ancient Persia.

Ariel Schalit, Associated Press

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"The Story of the Jews," a five-part documentary series that explores Jewish history and culture, is coming to PBS in late March.

The series is led by award-winning British historian (and Jew) Simon Schama, who is best known in the U.S. for his "Power of Art" TV special and French Revolution book "Citizens," reports Robert Bianco at USA Today.

Schama hopes to show throughout this series that Jewish history is not just for Jews, because Jews have greatly affected culture worldwide.

“If you were to remove from our collective history the contribution Jews have made to human culture, our world would be almost unrecognizable," Schama said, according to PBS. "There would be no monotheism, no written Bible, and our sense of modernity would be completely different. So the history of the Jews is everyone’s history, too, and what I hope people will take away from the series is that sense of connection: a weave of cultural strands over the millennia, some brilliant, some dark, but resolving into a fabric of thrilling, sometimes tragic, often exalted creativity."

"The Story of the Jews" uses primary sources such as the fifth-century Elephantine papyri, the Cairo Geniza (which illustrates the world of medieval Jews), records detailing arguments between Jews and Christians in Spain and letters between the World War I Arab revolt leader Emir Feisal and Zionist movement leader Chaim Weizmann, PBS explains.

It also includes "new archaeological research that is transforming our understanding of the earliest world of the Jews, and highlights evidence from the visual arts." It also emphasizes "the glorious music that carried Jewish traditions through the centuries," per PBS.

Schama particularly hopes his work will reach non-Jews who are not well-versed in Jewish history.

“The problem, especially outside of the U.S., is that Jewish history is framed by the Holocaust and the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict. It generates a kind of truculent polemics,” he told Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Schama is telling this story now because he wants to combat anti-Jewish sentiments, according to Bianco.

"Anti-Semitism is not going away in Europe, something we don't always realize in the United States. It's becoming truly toxic, which is one of the reasons I wanted to make this series," said Schama.

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