Little Jerusalem - in Burlington?
JCF supports VPT with grant for new film
In the late 19th century, many Eastern European Jews sought freedom in North America. Some came from neighboring villages in rural Lithuania to Burlington, Vt., a bustling port amid countryside that reminded them of home.
Vermont Public Television’s newest documentary, Little Jerusalem, captures the history of this early Jewish community. Using archival images and interviews with descendants of the original settlers,the film tells the little-known story of a traditional Jewish community that thrived in Burlington’s Old North End from the 1880s to the 1940s.
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. By the early 20th century, they had formed a neighborhood in Burlington’s Old North End dotted with bakeries, junkyards and stores selling groceries, dry goods, candy, clothing and furniture. They also built three synagogues.
As time went on, some migrated to Canada in search of spouses or jobs, but families maintained close cross-border ties.
Mark Bercuvitz can relate. In the film he explains how his mother came to Montreal to look for a husband and found one. She settled down here, and the family made regular train trips to visit their Burlington relatives.
"People who grew up there recall a tough, traditional way of life in a warm, tight-knit community," says Ann Curran of VPT.
"Little Jerusalem evokes Burlington’s remarkable Jewish heritage -
a heritage that enriches the cultural mosaic of Vermont to this day."
Little Jerusalem premieres Thursday, December. 6, 8 p.m., December 8, 5:30 p.m., and December 10, 9 p.m on Vermont Public Television.
Opening of the Hebrew Free School 1901
Major production funding for Little Jerusalem came from donors in the U.S. and Canada, including the JCF-an allocation from the Foundation's undesignated funds.
Vermont Public Television (VPT), a PBS station, is seen in Montreal on channel 33 from Burlington and on cable services.