Yearning to Belong: The North American Jewish Story Through Cinema


The examination of the Jew as creator, producer and subject of cinema provides a most intriguing perspective on North American Jewry. How are North American Jews presented, and by whom?

On March 22, the McGill Department of Jewish Studies had the pleasure and privilege of welcoming Dr. Eric Goldman, a distinguished expert and lecturer on Yiddish, Israeli, and Jewish film. Dr. Goldman has written extensively on the Jewish experience in film and has just completed a book about the American Jewish encounter with cinema, “The North American Jewish Story Through Cinema,” slated for publication in the coming months by the University of Texas Press.

Dr. Goldman’s fascinating lecture covered a diverse range of topics, such as the historical background of early Hollywood, early movies depicting the North American Jewish experience, and the willingness or (more often than not) unwillingness of film company executives of the period to produce material with explicitly Jewish content. Such a stance was even taken by executives who were themselves Jewish.

The reluctance on the part of the early 20th century American film industry to depict the experience of the American Jew changed as Hollywood grew, and American Jews rose in the social milieu. At a certain point in time during the development of American film, Dr. Goldman noted, film producers (both Jewish and non-Jewish) became more comfortable with portraying and “coding” the American Jewish experience.

Dr. Goldman

Such a development can be traced through some key films, and Dr. Goldman’s lecture focused on “The Jazz Singer” (1927), “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947), “The Young Lions” (1958), “Avalon” (1990), and “Barney’s Version” (2011). All of these films depict the North American Jewish experience in unique ways, and the selection spoke to the great diversity of representational experience inherent in the vast corpus of North American film.

What a fantastic lecture and discussion! The McGill Jewish Studies Department would like to thank Dr. Goldman for his wealth of scholarly knowledge and graciousness.


for information on upcoming events in McGill’s Department of Jewish Studies, visit us on Facebook!

for information on the work of Dr. Goldman, visit his website.

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