VPT film on Burlington’s Jewish history premieres Dec. 6

PRESS RELEASE — Vermont Public Television
Nov.30, 2012

Media contact: Ann Curran at (802) 655-8059, [email protected]

or Jeff Vande Griek at (802) 655-8062, [email protected]

In the late 19th century, many Eastern European Jews sought freedom from repression in North America. Some came from neighboring rural villages in Lithuania to Burlington, Vt., a busy lumber port amid countryside that reminded them of home.

“Little Jerusalem,” Vermont Public Television’s newest documentary about the state’s history, will premiere Thursday, Dec. 6, at 8 p.m. The film combines archival images, and interviews with historians and descendants of the original settlers, to tell the little-known story of a traditional Jewish community that thrived in Burlington’s Old North End from the 1880s to the 1940s.

There will be additional broadcasts Dec. 8 at 5:30 p.m. and Dec. 10 at 9 p.m.

Most of the first Jewish immigrants came to Burlington with next to nothing. With few options for work open to them, many became peddlers, walking miles with back-breaking packs. Determined to preserve their religious traditions, they came home weekly to observe the Sabbath. A French-Canadian cabinet maker let them hold their first prayer congregation, or minyan, in his Old North End shop.

The founding families would go on to build three neighborhood synagogues that became the centers of community life. In a scene from the film, Marshall London visits the original Ohavi Zedek synagogue (now Ahavath Gerim) with its homemade copper ark, recalling his grandfathers at prayer.

Many of the peddlers would eventually start their own businesses. By the early 20th century, the bustling neighborhood was dotted with groceries, junk dealers, bottlers, and stores selling dry goods, candy, clothing and furniture.

People who grew up there recall the quiet beauty and good food of Sabbaths. They speak nostalgically of a tough but simple way of life in the tight-knit community their forebears created.

Historian Jeff Potash explains in the film, “They reproduced Old World Orthodox life.”

As time went on, some migrated to Montreal in search of spouses or jobs, but families maintained close cross-border ties.

VPT’s Dorothy Dickie, producer of the film, said, “I hope viewers will learn that Burlington has a remarkable Jewish heritage that enriches the cultural mosaic of Vermont to this day.”

Major production funding for “Little Jerusalem” is from Jim Wyant, The Schwartz Family Foundation Inc., The Carolyn and Leonard Miller Center for Holocaust Studies at UVM and the Jewish Community Foundation of Montreal. Other donors from the U.S. and Canada have also contributed.

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