America is a nation of immigrants. All ethnic groups and nationalities can trace their pathway and contributions to this country. At the Museum of Jewish Heritage, The National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene is presenting the musical “Amerike: The Golden Land,” a 90-minute story of the Jews in America, beginning with the waves of immigrants from Russia and European countries.
Most of the events are generalized and the story doesn’t follow specific people but rather the patterns many Jewish families followed. After immigration, many moved to Manhattan’s lower East Side where relatives lived. Then, upon finding a measure of prosperity, Jewish families moved up: to the Bronx, Brooklyn and the suburbs.
The musical also covers tumultuous events like the Depression, the fire at the Shirt Waist factory and the World Wars. It touches quickly upon Jewish contributions to the media, like radio and the movies. Most poignant are two scenes set years apart, both dealing with immigration. At the beginning many families are separated when some are found to be ill and sent back to Europe. Later during WWII, despite pleas and protests, the U.S. refused to let the Jews fleeing from Hitler into the country. It is natural to compare it to the Syrian immigrant situation today.
Almost the entire show is presented in word and song in Yiddish and most of the 12-person cast had to learn it for the show. Above the stage is a simulcast of the words in English and Russian. I would have found it less disconcerting to have the words below rather than above the stage, but the language gave the entire show a feeling of authenticity.
The talented performers have fine voices. It would have been good to see some of the stories and characters in more depth and perhaps have some families and personalities developed.
However, there’s a lot of history to cover quickly. Amerike will likely appeal to an extremely small, older niche audience, yet some families brought children with them. One can only hope that for the youngsters, the musical will mark the beginnings of a conversation.