Hester Street, A Visit To A World That Has Left Us

In 1975, the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century was a memory. That year, the movie Hester Street premiered and the memories of that world and the people who lived in that world became vivid and real.

In 1896, Jake (Steven Keats) is a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe who has remade himself into an American.  He is excited when his wife, Gitl (Carol Kane) arrives with their young son.  But his excitement dissipates quickly when he sees that his wife still clings to the old traditions. As the marriage begins to show signs of wear and tear, he turns to Mamie (Dorrie Kavanaugh), a dancer who has fallen in love with and has, like Jake assimilated into the American culture.

This movie is like a time machine. Through the lens of the characters, the viewer is taken to a world that does not exist anymore and whose denizens are long gone.   It is in black and white, with subtitles (some of the actors having lines in both English and Yiddish).  It is a story of the age old dance of staying true to your faith and culture versus assimilating into a new culture.  The slow death that is Jake and Gitl’s marriage feels very authentic, like it could be replayed at any time and place when faced with the issue of immigration and the fear of assimilation.

I recommend this movie.

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