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Nine-part Series Documents the Jewish Experience Through Three Millenia of Western Civilization

September 21, 1984
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An extraordinary five years in the making public television series documenting the course of the Jewish experience through three millenia of Western civilization was previewed for several hundred persons at a gala celebration last night at Lincoln Center.

The nine-part weekly series, “Heritage: Civilization and the Jews,” is hosted and narrated by Abba Eban, the Israeli Labor Party MK and former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations. The series will begin airing on public broadcasting stations throughout the country next month.

Produced by WNET in New York, the series is also to serve as a centerpiece for a national historical study — in colleges, high schools, churches, synagogues and homes — through a large-scale distribution of books, viewers’ guides, instructional posters and other materials, including a trade book published earlier this month.

The preview, in Alice Tully Hall, amounted to a series of clips from the nine 60-minute programs. It preceeded a $250 a plate dinner at the Library and Museum for the Performing Arts. After the preview, Eban was presented with WNET’s first Ethan Allen Hitchcock Award for distinction in electronic communication, named after the station’s chairman emeritus of the Board.


In accepting the award, Eban noted the significant role played by television in the creation of the Jewish State in 1948. He also pointed out the ability of television to captivate and to educate, and in this regard, cited his reasons for supporting such a project tracing the civilization of the Jewish people and their culture.

Governor Mario Cuomo, in a brief but emotionally charged address, noted the persistent ability of the Jewish people throughout civilization to fight persecution and indifference. He issued a call for mutual tolerance and urged all people to fight bigotry and anti-Semitism.

Funding for the Heritage series originated with a $1 million grant from the Charles Revson Foundation in 1979 and has since been financed by additional funds from that Foundation and other public and private organizations, and many individuals.


As an indication of the scope and enormous efforts undertaken by the production team, it was pointed out that the Heritage film crew travelled to 19 countries on four continents to record key parts of the story. These locations included New York City’s lower East Side and Ellis Island, as well as East and West Germany, and Morocco and Egypt.

Rare archival newsreel footage, unearthed historical photographs, ancient and modern artwork and sculpture, religious artifacts and vintage records and texts were all used to aid in the presentation of the series. The series begins in the ancient Near East in Mesopota- mia and describes the culture from which the Jews emerged and recalls the prophets and judges whose vision transformed the Israelites from a loose confederation of tribes into a united nation.

The series, after spanning the many years in Jewish history and culture, concludes in modern Israel, examing the Jewish people today and their hopes and dreams of the future.

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