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Jewish Chicago: 1833 TO 1948

At one point the Chicago Stadium was darkened and floodlights turned on and the huge flag of Israel came down. And standing next to me in the aisle was a police officer and he snapped to attention and saluted that flag. That was a very special moment and I'm glad I was there.

On May 16, 1948, tens of thousands of Jewish people packed Chicago Stadium to celebrate the birth of Israel. It was a singularly joyous moment in the history of a community that had seen many triumphs and tragedies over more than a hundred years in Chicago.

Part of the Emmy-winning Chicago Stories series, Jewish Chicago:1833 to 1948 chronicles the joys and sorrows of Chicago's Jewish community from the arrival of the first German Jews in frontier Chicago through the founding of Israel.

Narrated by distinguished stage and film actor Mike Nussbaum, (who was raised in Chicago's once heavily Jewish Albany Park neighborhood), Jewish Chicago: 1833 to 1948 tells the story of Chicago's Jewish community through archival footage and rare photos. Also included in the program are interviews with numerous Chicago residents, including comedian and film director Harold Ramis, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, former Alderman Leon Despres, former Yiddish actor and community leader Maynard Wishner, historians Irving Cutler and June Sochen, Steve Nasatir, President of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago…and many, many more.

Jewish Chicago: 1833 to 1948 is the story of immigrants who overcame great obstacles to flourish in a new land, beginning with the German Jews who settled in this muddy frontier town in the 1830s. As they prospered and expanded to the South Side, they established such congregations as KAM and Sinai and became community and business leaders, forming outstanding charitable and social service organizations.

The program also traces the history of Jewish immigrants who came from Eastern Europe around the turn of the 20th Century, recreating a shtetl in the historic Maxwell Street district. The output of their lively Yiddish culture included newspapers, literature, theater and music. We trace their movement to the West Side as they thrived in Chicago. The program looks at early conflicts between German and Eastern European Jews, including labor struggles, and the way the community sought to heal itself through the Jewish obligation to offer a helping hand to those in need.

It is the story of a very diverse community—German and Russian, Reform and Orthodox, Socialist and Capitalist. The differences among Chicago's Jews have, at times, been greater than the similarities. Ultimately, though, this is the story of the larger forces that have bound Chicago's Jews together.

In the course of this program, viewers will:

  • Visit a Yiddish class.
  • Discover the secret of making the perfect bagel.
  • Hear reminiscences from former Jewish enclaves of Maxwell Street, Lawndale and South Shore.
  • Listen to a wide variety of music, from Klezmer, to folk and jazz.
  • Learn about Chicago's response to the Holocaust and the founding of Israel.

Chicago Stories: Jewish Chicago is written and produced by Geoffrey Baer and Dan Protess. Original music is by Chris Ussery, whose previous work at WTTW11 includes the music for Chicago's North Shore. He also composed the music for the Jewish television series The Magic Door. Collaborating with Ussery is Russian violinist Alex Koffman, a member of the Maxwell Street Klezmer Band. Series Producer of Chicago Stories is Mary Field and the Executive Producer is VJ McAleer.

Your $40 Gift Membership will include:

  • A one-year subscription to the Guide.
  • The WTTW11 Card – your ticket to a variety of members only discounts.
  • The great feeling of a gift that keeps giving.
  • Much more!

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