Promised Land: Exodus and America

(Uncle Moses, 1932)


It’s been said over and over again this long campaign season: despite its myriad and manifest problems, America these days is still — hopefully always will be — a place to which people the world over long to come, a nation where the new arrival will have a fair shake at a better life.

Starting tonight, the New Center for Arts and Culture presents a four-day festival called  Promised Land: Exodus and America, which is meant to explore how Americans throughout history — be they Puritans or African slaves or the immigrants of today —have “adopted and adapted” the story of Exodus to mirror their experiences in the United States.

The idea is to create a “cross-cultural dialogue informed by the Jewish experience,” in NCAC deputy director Francine Achbar’s words, enabling the public to learn more about Jewish culture through the prism of the Exodus story and the ways its themes of refuge and deliverance are expressed in literature and film.

The festival starts tonight at 8 p.m. with a screening of the 1932 Yiddish-language film Uncle Moses, hosted Rabbi Moshe Waldoks, at the West Newton Cinema.

Tomorrow evening, at 7 p.m., the Coolidge Corner Theatre will play host to a discussion and reading called “Escape! Arrival! Disappointment!” featuring authors Elisa Albert, Janice Erlbaum, and Joseph O’Neill discussing their books, which describe narrow escapes and journeys to new places, and Stephen Levinson screening his animated short, God & Company.

On Saturday, “The Greatest Story: Exodus in Words and Music,” hosted by former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, the African American Institute Unity Gospel Ensemble, and a coterie of Boston’s community leaders, public officials, and media personalities — Ten Point Coalition founder Ray Hammond, authors Anita Diamant and Steve Almond, WBUR’s Bill Littlefield will explore the second book of the Pentateuch. That’s at 8 p.m. at Northeastern University’s Fenway Center.

And finally, Sunday will see a day-long symposium called “Promised Land: Exodus and America,” at which a dozen scholars and writers will “explore how the Exodus story shaped American history and how various Americans have adopted and adapted the Exodus story to fit their own.”

* Gish Jen, Jamaica Kincaid, and Susan Lanser discuss “Promised Lands: The American Immigrant Novel at 11:00 a.m.

* Adam Kirsch, Stephen Prothero, and Elisa New talk about “Exodus: Story of a Nation” at 1:15 p.m.

* Nicholas Lemann, Orlando Patterson, and Beverly Morgan Welch explore Moses’s stature as an African-American Hero at 2:45 p.m.

* Noah Feldman, Jenna Weissman Joselit, and Alan Wolfe discuss “The Ten Commandments in America” at 4:15 p.m.

(It’s all Northeastern University West Village F)

For more information and ticket prices, visit the New Center for Arts and Culture site.

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