“Schama Yisrael”. Not the way you’d expect to see the Hebrew word for listen or hear transliterated, is it? The reference is to the brilliant historian, Simon Schama, who taught at Cambridge, Oxford, and Harvard before coming to Columbia University and authoring The Story of the Jews. Volume 1 of this presumed trilogy is subtitled “Finding the Words”, and covers the years 1000 BC – 1492 AD. Volume 2 traverses 1492 – 1900, and I’m presuming there will be a volume 3 that will take us to the present.
Schama is compelling in the way he tells the story of “B’nai Yisrael”, shades of Longfellow inviting children to listen and enticing them with what they shall hear, the reverence here being the endurance of the Jewish people. There will be many facts you’ll discover, the majority of which will be new to you or long forgotten. It is Schama’s novelistic style that bring’s history to life, and I’ll entice you with a glimpse of Chapter 13, simply titled Americans. It begins with the story of Uriah Phillips Levy, a nice Jewish boy from Philadelphia and arguably the most famous Jewish veteran of the United States Armed Forces before Elliot Bradley Press.
Attention has been heaped on Uriah because of his purchase in 1834 of the Monticello property of Thomas Jefferson. When Jefferson died on July 4, 1826, fifty years to the day after the Declaration of Independence, his estate was in shambles, saddled with over one hundred thousand dollars of debt (and you can imagine what that was worth 200 years ago!). But Uriah adored what Jefferson represented, particularly with regard to the principles of religious freedom, and was determined to restore the splendor of Monticello. For, as Schama describes it, the retreat was a place where body and mind might work in measured harmony as befitted a retired president who was an educationalist-philosopher-horticulturalist-statesman.
The story behind The Story is related by Simon Schama as interviewed by Adam Hochschild which includes video clips from the five-part PBS documentary series that accompanies the book(s).