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The Story of the Jews debuts Tuesday on WV PBS

Story of the Jews with Simon Shama

Written and presented by historian and critic Simon Schama, the five-hour documentary draws on Schama’s immense scholarship, his acute and original viewpoints, and his own family history in a series that is both deeply historical and bracingly contemporary. 

The Story of the Jews with Simon Schama, premiers Tuesdays March 25th 8-10 p.m (episodes 1 and 2) and April 1st, 8-11 p.m (episodes 3, 4 and 5) on West Virginia PBS.

As Schama travels the globe from Spain to California, from Berlin to Tel Aviv, he tells ancient and modern stories that illuminate the passions and perplexities of today.

The series focuses sharply on the interaction between Jewish culture and the rest of the world—the societies in which, for better and for worse, the Jews have found themselves over the millennia.  Beginning with the notion of a single, faceless God, the creation of a written record of His doings, and the implications of those momentous changes, the project hopes to make Jewish history everyone’s history.


The Story of the Jews uses the most recent revelations of archaeology, which have radically changed what we know about the earliest worlds of the Jews.  It is the first series to engage deeply with Jewish art and architecture: from the spectacular synagogue mosaics of the Galilean city of Sepphoris, to the intricacies of stone carving in Jewish Toledo, to the glories of the illuminated books of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, to the fierceness of Jewish modernists like Soutine and Chagall. It is also the first series to look at the challenge of modernity through the eyes and the words of Jewish women—poets, actresses, feminists, social reformers—for whom the invitations of modern life were exhilarating and the ordeals acute. Each of the five one-hour programs speaks to the past, as well as the present.

Episodes 1 & 2, airing March 25 beginning at 8 p.m.:

  • Episode 1 traces how the Jewish adoption of a supreme invisible deity changed the world by taking the form of a portable book, as well as the drive of scholars, adventurers, and archaeologists to discover the origins of the Bible and the degree to which it is historically true.
  • Episode 2 describes what happened to the Jews with the development of Christianity and Islam, and portrays the lives that Jews had in Christian and Muslim worlds through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

 Episodes 3-5, airing April 1 beginning at 8 PM:

  • Episode 3 looks at the explosion of creativity that drove Jews out of the ghetto to help create modern culture.
  • Episode 4 looks at two of the major directions Jews took in that modern world—some following their passion for social justice to work for socialist revolution, others embracing the dynamism of immigrant America to create the department store, the movies, and the great American songbook.
  • Episode 5 explores how the horror of the Holocaust affected, or failed to affect, the rest of the world, and how Jewish history remains the fulcrum on which the peace of the world turns.

The Story of the Jews with Simon Schama is made possible by lead funding from The Paul & Irma Milstein Family. Major funding is generously provided by The Polonsky Foundation. Additional major support is provided by The Pershing Square Foundation, the Joseph S. and Diane H. Steinberg Charitable Trust, James and Merryl Tisch, Mortimer B. Zuckerman, the David Berg Foundation, Daniel and Joanna S. Rose, and the Lemberg Foundation. Support is also provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and PBS.

Visit the official website for the series:  www.pbs.org/StoryoftheJews

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