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History in the Film Making

Barbara Bensoussan

When Marlene Mamiye volunteered for her children’s school, she never imagined it would lead her to create a documentary series of the Syrian Jewish Community. This accidental cinematographer has discovered not just a slew of hidden talents but also previously unrevealed layers of her community’s history.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

film strip All of us are familiar with those grainy black-and-white photos of the crowded, early 20th-century streets of the Lower East Side: pushcart peddlers; women in shawls fishing pickles and potatoes out of barrels; wagons loaded with blocks of ice; young boys hawking knife sharpening or shoe repair.

Most American Jews can count some of their ancestors from among those teeming throngs that poured into New York from Eastern Europe. The numbers were so great that the city’s population at the time is estimated to have been one-quarter Jewish.

But not all of those Jewish immigrants came from Eastern Europe. A tiny percentage of them spoke no Yiddish, knew nothing of gefilte fish, and pronounced their prayers with an accent that rang strange to Ashkenazic ears. “The Syrian Jews stuck together because they weren’t really accepted by the other Jews. They had to rely on each other,” says Marlene Mamiye, who helped create The Syrian Jewish Community, a documentary series produced by Joseph J. Sitt and the Sephardic Heritage Museum, and now up to its fifth installment.

Marlene, a Flatbush mom, never imagined that one day she’d be involved in helping produce a documentary. She saw herself simply as a person who liked to get involved with community work. But one project led into another, and before she knew it, the germ of a book idea led into learning the ropes of filmmaking. In the process, she discovered that her own family and community had a rich, fascinating history she’d known very little about. 



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