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May 24: Real Jewish Films

May 23, 2016

joan3Independent filmmaker Joan Micklin Silver, one of the first screenwriters and directors to bring unadulteratedly Jewish themes, settings, and characters to the modern screen with Hester Street (1975) and Crossing Delancey (1988), was born in Omaha, Nebraska on this date in 1935. Silver began making educational films in New York during the late 1960s. She and her husband (the son of Cleveland’s Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver), raised the budget of $400,000 to create Hester Street, an adaptation of Ab. Cahan’s novel Yekl, and then had to distribute the film themselves, as it was turned down as “too Jewish” by all the major studios. Ultimately the movie netted $5 million and sparked widespread interest in the Jewish immigrant experience. Her other films, aside from Crossing Delancey, include Chilly Scenes of Winter (originally titled Head Over Heels, 1979), Loverboy (1989), A Fish in the Bathtub (1999, with Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller), and numerous films for television. In 1995, Silver directed a series for National Public Radio called Great Jewish Stories from Eastern Europe and Beyond, co-produced by the National Yiddish Book Center. Her numerous stage productions include How to be a Perfect Person in Just 3 days (1983, with Wallace Shawn and Hermione Gingold) and A... My Name Is Alice (1984). To see a scene from Hester Street, look below.

“My parents were Russian Jewish, and my father was no longer living, but I cared a lot about the ties I had to that world. So that was how Hester Street started.” —Joan Micklin Silver