Pushcarts and Plantations: Jewish Life in Louisiana
One Hour Television Documentary

This program explores the 300-year history of Louisiana Jewry. From its beginnings in the 17th century to its emergence into the 21st, this community has been an important part of the American Jewish experience. It has also developed a unique culture amid the Cajun and Creole influences of the state.

In the early 1700s, Sephardic traders journeyed up from the Caribbean and became the first Jews to settle in Louisiana. The small community thrived despite of the infamous "Black Code" of 1724 that officially expelled all Jews from the French colony.

A second wave of immigration (1820-1870) deposited German peddlers in virtually every small town in the state. Jacob Bodenheimer, one of the first Jews to settle in northern Louisiana, came to America as a castaway. He encouraged other German Jews to follow and soon there was a substantial Jewish presence in the area. Because they were among the first of any faith to settle this region, northern Louisiana has experienced little antisemitism.

The arrival of Eastern Europeans marked the third great wave of immigration (1870-1920). During this periodís high water mark--the first decade of the 20th century--Louisiana found itself with a substantial Russian and Polish community. The traditionalism of these newcomers contrasted sharply with the assimilated French and German Jews. They often were a source of embarrassment to those who had worked so hard to blend into the styles and customs of the Gentile world. They maintained their traditions, however, and established thriving orthodox communities throughout the state.

Throughout the documentary, both young and old come together to describe the traditions, customs and experiences that make their communities unique. They explain what it means to be Jewish in the South and how southern culture has helped shape their food, music, and religious expression. They also explore the unique relationship that exists between southern Jews and their Gentile neighbors. Problems and conflicts do arise; but what develops is often opposite of what stereotypes would suggest.

"Poignant...with evocative voices and images."

"A thoughtful and compassionate documentary."


Broadcast Premiere: 1998
Presenting Station: WYES/New Orleans

Buffalo Jewish Film Festival
Magnes Film & Video Festival
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Toronto Jewish Film Festival
Tuscon Jewish Film Festival