Subscribe to The Jewish Standard free weekly newsletter

 
font size: +
 

Film explores the role of Jews in Civil War

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 
image
Image from the film “Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray.” The National Center for Jewish Film

As America marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, a new film highlights the role Jews played in the conflict that pitted North against South. The 86-minute film, “Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray,” was produced by the National Center for Jewish Film of Brandeis University. It was screened locally on July 13, at Cong. Beth Tikvah/New Milford Jewish Center.

“Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray” was written by Jonathan Gruber, with an assist from Robert Marcus. It was directed by Gruber. It relies on interviews with Civil War historians such as Shalom Lamm and Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer and descendants of Jewish soldiers, as well as original letters and records stored in museums, archives, and private homes. Approximately 7,000 Jews fought for the Union; approximately 3,000 fought for the Confederacy.

The screening attracted a wide audience, including many from outside the congregation. Ken Morrow of Dumont said he had always been curious about Jewish soldiers serving in the Civil War. “This is a subject most people are not informed about.”

Bob Mark, rabbi of the New Milford congregation, noted in his opening remarks that most history textbooks ignore the contributions of Jews to the early history of the United States.

Although more than twice as many Jews fought for the North than the South, the film explores the myth that the North was friendlier to the Jews. Said one expert interviewed in the film, “The lines of division in the South were more racial than religious.”

The film discusses the career of Judah P. Benjamin, one of the first Jews to serve as a U.S. senator. The Louisiana native, known for his “incredible oratorical skills,” was a leader of the secessionist movement that created the Confederate States of America. He served as “Jefferson Davis’ right-hand man,” said one historian featured in the documentary, was appointed secretary of state among his other positions, and his face appeared on the Confederate two-dollar bill.

Also highlighted was Eugenia Levy Phillips, who was imprisoned for spying for the Confederacy.

Other notable Jews highlighted by the film include Alfred Mordecai, a major in the U.S. Army who refused to fight for either side during the war and resigned his position in protest of it; Rabbi Max Lillienthal, a vehement abolitionist; and Lt. Jacob Ballantine, who fired some of the first shots on Union soldiers at Fort Sumter.

The movie also discussed the Concordia Guard, reportedly an all-Jewish company of 96 men that was part of the 82nd Illinois Infantry.

Evidence of Jewish involvement in the war rests not only in the archives and the descendants of soldiers, but also on the field. A cemetery in Richmond holds the remains of dozens of Jewish soldiers who served in the Civil War. Additionally, a 19th-century Jewish activist, Simon Wolf, published a directory in 1895 containing the names of 7,000 Jews who fought on either side during the conflict. After being given a copy of the directory — “The American Jew as Patriot, Soldier, and Citizen” — Mark Twain publicly recanted a statement he made criticizing American Jews for refusing to fight in the Civil War.

The film also explores anti-Semitism in America at the time. One bright spot in the film was a discussion of President Lincoln’s strong support for the Jewish community. Lincoln’s voice in the film was more familiar to most people in the audience as belonging to Manhattan District Attorney Jack McCoy, the “Law & Order” character portrayed by the actor Sam Waterston.

Immediately after the screening, there was a brief discussion led by Rabbi Mark. He said he hoped that viewers had discovered “something you never knew before.”

“Pass this information on to your children,” he told the audience.

“Jewish Soldiers in Blue and Gray” was produced by Indigo Films, with funding from the Shapell Manuscript Foundation .

For more information about the film or to schedule a screening, call the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University, (781) 736-8600, or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

 
|| Tell-a-Friend || Print
 
 

Stay tuned for the return of comments

 

‘Wish I Was Here’

How could a Standard reader help but root for Zach Braff’s continued success?

He’s a nice Jewish guy from South Orange, who had his bar mitzvah at Congregation Ohab Shalom and then went out into the world and defied showbiz odds by becoming the star of “Scrubs,” a hit TV show that ran for nine years, from 2001 to 2010. I wasn’t surprised that Mr. Braff, now 39, managed to get backing for a small indie film he had written in 2004, while “Scrubs” was at the height of its hipness mojo.

A lot of hit sit-com actors manage to get somebody to back a vanity film when they are hot. But Mr. Braff pleasantly surprised me, as well as almost all other critics, with 2004’s “Garden State,” the first film that he wrote and directed. This tale of a young actor (played by Mr. Braff) returning to New Jersey for his mother’s funeral wasn’t a perfect film, but its failings were those, it seemed, of a young first-time director.

 

Rockets fall, but the show must go on!

The 31st annual Jerusalem Film Festival

The moment I heard the siren go off outside the seminar room in Tel Aviv, I knew that my visit to Israel would be altered dramatically.

Etgar Keret, the writer and film director, changed his prepared talk and started instead by reading one of his short stories, “Pastrami,” about how in the midst of a rocket attack, he and his wife pulled off to the side of the road and comforted their frightened child by playing a game. By doing this, he reassured all of us. Later that afternoon I learned that that there had been red alerts all across the country, including Jerusalem, and I understood that my plans for the next week were now in flux.

I was to attend the opening of the 31st annual Jerusalem Film Festival at Sultan’s Pool last Thursday, preceded and followed by a variety of fun receptions that make Oscar parties pale in comparison — well, maybe I am exaggerating a bit! The annual festival opening is an event to which I always look forward, with hundreds in attendance at this incredible open-air film screening, just below the walls of the Old City.

 

Movie Jews

Local film maven looks at cinematic Hebrews

A Lebanese-Christian playing a cantor’s son in the lesser-known version of “The Jazz Singer”?

This and other priceless cinematic lore forms the basis for the latest “Projected Image” on Turner Classic Movies. The popular series focuses on “The Jewish Experience on Film” in five segments that will air from Tuesday, September 2, through September 30.

The ambitious effort was guided and influenced in large part by Eric Goldman of Teaneck. Dr. Goldman, the Jewish Standard’s film critic, teaches American Jewish history as reflected through film at Yeshiva University’s Stern College. He joins longtime TCM host Robert Osborne in introducing, discussing, and contextualizing the 22 pictures that made the final cut.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Movie Jews

Local film maven looks at cinematic Hebrews

A Lebanese-Christian playing a cantor’s son in the lesser-known version of “The Jazz Singer”?

This and other priceless cinematic lore forms the basis for the latest “Projected Image” on Turner Classic Movies. The popular series focuses on “The Jewish Experience on Film” in five segments that will air from Tuesday, September 2, through September 30.

The ambitious effort was guided and influenced in large part by Eric Goldman of Teaneck. Dr. Goldman, the Jewish Standard’s film critic, teaches American Jewish history as reflected through film at Yeshiva University’s Stern College. He joins longtime TCM host Robert Osborne in introducing, discussing, and contextualizing the 22 pictures that made the final cut.

 

Showbiz meets shtetl

When it comes to chasidic characters in movies, film consultant Elli Meyer believes that the real deal trumps a random actor in costume.

But that approach isn’t without its challenges.

Mr. Meyer, a New York-based Lubavit­cher chasid, recounted one occasion when he was hired to cast extras for a film but refused upon learning that shooting would take place on Yom Kippur.

“Who told you to hire Jews?” one of the producers said, according to Mr. Meyer, though ultimately the shooting was postponed.

Mr. Meyer is among a handful of Jews from charedi Orthodox backgrounds who have carved out an unusual niche in show business as occasional consultants on films and TV shows aiming to depict chasidic life authentically.

 

Documentary

 
 
S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30