Making a history of UK Jews for the BBC was so daunting, reveals Simon Schama

By Jenni Frazer, August 28, 2013
Simon Schama (Photo: David Shankbone)

Simon Schama (Photo: David Shankbone)

The historian Simon Schama, writer and presenter of an ambitious five-part BBC series, The Story of the Jews, has admitted he was "daunted" by the immensity of the project .

But London-born Professor Schama, who teaches history and art history at Columbia University in New York, added that he was "enriched" by the experience, saying: "It has made me clarify the relationship between Jewish culture and traditions, and made me think again about the relationship between Jewish life and the wider world which is inhabited by Jews. And also to rethink the norms of what Jewish life was like.

The BBC series, to be screened on BBC2 throughout September, begins on Sunday, September 1. The first episode takes in a dizzying tour around the Jewish world, from Sigmund Freud to the Elephantine Jewish garrison in Upper Egypt, from present-day Israel to Titus's Arch in Rome.

Each programme has a specific theme but the unifying one, said Professor Schama, "is what is peculiar to the Jews."

One programme looks at the Enlightenment movement of the late 18th and early 19th century, while another highlights the Chasidic world. The last programme takes the viewer up to the present day, focusing on the impact that the Holocaust has had on the modern state of Israel.

To tie in with the series Professor Schama has written a two-volume book, the first of which is published on September 12. An extract from the book and an interview with Simon Schama will be published in the JC's New Year supplement.

Last updated: 8:39am, August 28 2013