Inside the NYJFF: Finding Utopia in the Bronx

In the mid 1920s, thousands of immigrant workers escaped tenement life by pooling their resources to build housing collectives in the Bronx. Opening the New York Jewish Film Festival on Wednesday the 14th, At Home in Utopia by Michal Goldman and Ellen Brodsky focuses on the United Workers Cooperative colony–aka, the Coops–the most grass-roots and member-driven of the Jewish labor housing cooperatives, where many residents were Communists or sympathetic to the Communist movement.

New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent Ronit Waisbrod asked Michal Goldman, one of the filmmakers, about the film’s name. “The word utopia means an imaginary place or no place and as I explored the story of the Coops the term came to my mind,” said Goldman. “As a matter of fact, the children of the founders claimed their parents were not utopians. In a sense I did not believe them; the Coops members were very idealistic. But their idea of utopia was not to be removed from struggles of daily life by detaching themselves and move away. They were radical immigrants and they wanted to immerse themselves in the struggle of the days. The film’s name reflects the contradiction in their idealisms. They were all for engaging in urban life, urban jobs, noise, and chaos, but also for having gardens, sunlit apartments, fresh air, exercise for the children, and culture. The ideal was that working people deserve, and can live in a way that they are not exploited and obtain collective strength that will help them in other aspect of life.”

“In term of their Jewishness” Goldman continued, “the members of the Coops were secular Jews and believed that the Jewish working class’ identity is deeply embedded in Jewish culture and the Yiddish language. They emphasized intently issues of culture and high culture, and had budgeted money to support that cause. They had libraries and choruses, they offered Yiddish after school classes to the children and they strongly believed that working people deserve a very best of culture.”

You can see Waiting for Utopia during the New York Jewish Film Festival, Wed Jan 14: 1:30 & 6:15

[New York Times: For a Working-Class Dream, a New Day]

Explore posts in the same categories: festival dispatches, Filmmaker interviews, NY Jewish Film Festival, on @ the walter reade

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One Comment on “Inside the NYJFF: Finding Utopia in the Bronx”

  1. When we selected the film, we did not anticipate how relevant the film is to current issues in 2009: a multiracial Obamanation (the Coops was one of the first housing developments of its kind to actively invite African Americans to join) and an economic crisis that is being compared to the one that Coopniks experienced in 1929.

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