Watch the full program now:
Lighting candles for Shabbat, preparing for a Bar Mitzvah, the inviting aroma of a holiday meal, seeing a performance of the Yiddish theater: these common experiences helped bond generations of Jews who came to America during the 20th century and made it their home. The dynamic evolution of the legacy of Jewish identity in the United States is explored and celebrated in A LAUGH, A TEAR, A MITZVAH.
The program explores what being Jewish means to millions of American Jews and offers a glimpse of how Jewish immigrant communities assimilated and achieved success in this country. Personal memories and recollections from comedian Jackie Mason; actors Fyvush Finkel and Theodore Bikel; writers Calvin Trillin, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Ted Solotaroff; the late Congresswoman Bella Abzug; Rabbi Marc Gellman of television’s “The God Squad;” and others reflect the experiences of Jewish life in modern times.
Settling mainly in large cities, Eastern European Jews created their own communities and through the years became a part of American culture while retaining their heritage and continuing the familiar gestures of Jewish traditions and celebrations. The sights and sounds of the cities and comfort in numbers made urban areas common places to settle and build the infrastructure of synagogues and cemeteries that would remain for later generations. Publications such as The Forward served as a bridge for immigrants, helping them adjust to the new world while never letting them forget their Jewish identity.
The strength of the family unit, a love of language and an appreciation of the “essential craziness of existence,” as noted by Rabbi Gellman, have served as a foundation of values for Jews in America. A LAUGH, A TEAR, A MITZVAH revisits such fixtures of Jewish life as Yiddish theater, which not only entertained but helped keep the Yiddish language alive in the United States and made words like mensch, oy and kvetch part of the American jargon.
For most American Jews there is an understanding of the traditions, celebrations and heritage of their cultural legacy, regardless of the degree of their religious observance. As illustrated in the program and explained by Rabbi Gellman, age-old religious observances such as the celebration of the Sabbath, Passover, and many other ceremonies of the Jewish year make the home a key part of Jewish life.
A LAUGH, A TEAR, A MITZVAH brings alive the spirit and determination of a group of Americans who have overcome hardship and bigotry. It pays respect to those who have suffered and heralds those who have transcended adversity and contributed to the greatness of the United States.
Produced by WLIW New York. Executive Producer: Roy A. Hammond; Producer/Director: Roman Brygider; Writer: Sam Toperoff; Producer: Ron Rudaitis.
To order a copy of this exclusive home video, go to SHOP 21.