West of Hester Street (review)
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 14, Number 4, December 1984
- pp. 91-92
- Additional Information
West of Hester Street Written, produced , and directed by Allen and Cynthia Salzman Mondell. 1983, color, 53 minutes. Allen and Cynthia Salzman Mondell 's hybrid documentarydocudrama , West of Hester Street, illuminates the Galveston Movement, a little-known but fascinating aspect of the history of immigration into the United States. Most turnof - the-century Jewish immigrants congregated in eastern cities, particularly New York City's Lower East Side. By 1906, nearly two thirds of the nation's one-and-one half million Jews lived in New York City. Efforts by Jewish leaders to persuade immigrants to move west had generally failed. Despite increasing urban congestion, most Jewish immigrants chose to remain among fellow religionists within cultural and linguistic ghettoes, rather than moving into the unknown. Aware that the rapid growth of these eastern ghettoes was strengthening the hand of American nativists, who were clamoring for tougher immigration restrictions, Jewish leaders selected Galveston, Texas, as an alternate port of entry for Russian Jews, beginning in 1907. From there, immigrants would be dispersed throughout the less-populated southwest and mi dwest . The plan worked. In spite of growing U.S. government resistance, which resulted in tighter screening of potential Jewish immigrants and the deportation of many who had traveled across the ocean, 10,000 Jews entered through Galveston between 1907 and 1914. However, disappointed by what they considered to be the modest numerical success, Jewish leaders terminated the program in 1914. West of Hester Street presents parallel stories: the overall trajectory of the Galveston Movement and the particular experiences of one young Russian Jewish immigrant. The film also combines styles, alternating between a traditional documentary approach and televisiontype docudrama. The biographical segments are constructed principally from old film footage, well selected photographs, and a few newly-filmed scenes, with Sam Jaffe providing the young immigrant's off-screen first-person commentary. In the docudrama sequences, actors recreate meetings of Jewish leaders, government processing of immigrants at Galveston, and various other "historical events . " 91 This attempt to blend filmic styles proves only partially successful. In the documentary portions, the Mondells deftly integrate film and photographs, while Jaffe's warm and witty narration captures the fulfilled and shattered dreams, the humor and agony of the immigrant experience. In contrast, while occasionally effective, the docudrama portions prove distracting. The Galveston Movement was an intriguing moment in U.S. immigration history. For that reason, West of Hester Street could enrich courses on ethnic history, immigration history, and Jewish history, although its focus might be too narrow for most general courses on U.S. history. Carlos E. Cortes University of California, Riverside 92 ...