The forgotten independent film that recreated Manhattan’s ancient Jewish enclave



The Yiddish word naches conveys the idea of ​​pride, specifically connoting the unique joy a parent feels over the accomplishments of their offspring. As in “I ran into Maurice and Doris Micklin at the market!” They said their daughter, the director, had just finished her first film. It’s a lot of naches! “

Joan Micklin Silver’s first feature film in 1975 Hester Street, in which the curious vernacular of Jewish socializing figures, returns to theaters this week in a beautiful 4K restoration. Excavated as a result of Silver’s death last December, the film was conceived in part as a tribute of a devoted child to his parents. A couple of Russian Jews who had settled in Omaha before his birth in 1935, they had achieved a considerable share of the American Dream, with Maurice the owner of a family lumber business. Like thousands of others in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, they packed everything they owned and came to the United States, their customs and heritage being the most precious things they carried. Leave behind all they knew, brave the difficult and often fragrant transatlantic journey, start over in a land foreign to the language, dress, and philosophy of their religious orthodoxy – in this, the first American Silver. generation saw courageous courage. , and his work would show him the greatest respect. Unless you become a doctor or a lawyer, it is the greatest honor a young Jew can hope to bring his last name.

Of Hester Street

For Silver, recognition is long overdue. Despite writing and directing some of the most empathetic and realistic comedies of his time, such as the Alternative Newspaper Series Between the lines, the romcom fueled by neuroses Cold winter scenes, and his masterpiece Delancey crossing – she has been under-recognized due to a combination of her pushy indie ethos and standard industry sexism. Cinephiles have come to embrace his work, although more obscure works like his last feature film A fish in the bathtub (currently only available through Tubi, inexplicably) have been hidden away in remote corners of the streaming universe. But retroactive reassessments through festivals like Cannes, where the Hester Street restoration, clarified how themes of Judaism and personal identity would flow through his filmography.

The main characters Yankel and Gitl walk the same path as Silver’s parents, although instead of Omaha they settle in the immigrant capital of the United States. Adaptation of Abraham Cahan’s short story Yekl: A History of the New York Ghetto assigned a setting with a specific profile and history. The turn-of-the-century Jewish enclave of downtown Manhattan offers a small part of the old country in which newcomers may feel a little less out of place. Wealthy Yankel (Steven Keats) walks to his adopted neighborhood like a fish gefilts in water, nicknamed himself “Jake” and trimming his beard into a well-groomed mustache. As the first member of his family to make the trip, he seizes the opportunity to reinvent himself without being encumbered by his wife and child, by cohabiting with the dancer (or maybe the “dancer”) Granny. He earns the equivalent of 24 rubles a week, enjoying the same social game overhaul that turns the positions of a humble peddler and esteemed yeshiva student into boss and employee.

Of Hester Street

Shortly after Gitl – played by a revealing Carol Kane, whose sweetness gradually turns into quiet power – lands on Ellis Island with their son Yossele and disrupts this second act that Yankel designed for himself. She sees all aspects of city life as a challenge to her faith, bewildered by the women walking around without their hair sheitels. The heart of Gitl’s struggle to assimilate relates to reconciling her devotion (rooted as it is in calm, accommodating submission) with her newfound independence as a modern woman. She charts her own path forward, eventually realizing that she can use her agency to preserve the parts of her culture that matter most to her. It brings together the will to file a request get and leave “Jake” for the most pious Bernstein. A painting near the end of the film presents Gitl as the embodiment of a new normal, having formed a reunited family unit with her second husband – a phenomenon unique to the United States at the time.

Hester StreetThe emotional components of s are as elementary as those of the silent melodramas evoked by his black and white photography. The richness of Silver’s cinema lies in its attention to detail and texture, as it recreates a world that had largely vanished by the time she made her home in New York City. Beyond its ambitions to portray the resilience and other virtues of its ancestors, the film had an air of purer historiography, with the production design painstakingly mimicking the matchbox apartments now kept on the Lower East Side. Tenement Museum (which would later make an appearance in Delancey crossing). She fills her soberly constructed slice of past with scraps of everyday life, her camera passing over people playing cards, buying fish, and talking about their plans for the Sabbath. By committing to filming, these memories will not be forgotten or erased – Silver’s highest mitzvah.

The restoration of Hester Street is now playing in select theaters. The film can also be broadcast on various platforms.

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