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PBS documentary focuses on ‘Jews of the Wild West’

The film, which is also available on Amazon and iTunes, seeks to revive interest in Jewish contributions to frontier life.

Image from the documentary film “Jews of the Wild West,” 2023. Source: Screenshot.
Image from the documentary film “Jews of the Wild West,” 2023. Source: Screenshot.

Amanda Kinsey, an Emmy-award-winning filmmaker, came up with the idea of a documentary on Jews who lived in the Wild West while digging through the Beck Archives in the basement of the University of Denver library.

“I was blown away by this archive,” said Kinsey. “I just thought these were beautiful stories that deserve to be told.”

The new documentary, “Jews of the Wild West,” tells those stories, including that of silent film star Max Aronson; Sephardic painter Solomon Carvalho; non-Native American tribal leader Solomon Bibo; and Wyatt Earp’s wife, Josephine Marcus Earp, a Jewish actress renowned for her beauty.

By 1912, more than 100,000 Jewish immigrants had moved to the West, according to the documentary, which records that by 1900, most “notorious” Wild West towns had Jewish mayors.

“There is the story of Jewish migration to the Western United States, and then there is the narrative of the Wild West itself,” said Kinsey. “To me, what the strength of the film is, is the intersection of those two experiences.”

“Truly, the Jewish community had a vitally important role in the development of the West—of cities, of commerce, of communities. And they always brought their faith with them,” said Rabbi Joe Black of Denver’s Temple Emanuel, who is interviewed in the film.

Kinsey, who is not Jewish, also hopes the documentary helps combat antisemitism. “I felt that this was really an opportunity to help amplify Jewish voices. And in doing so, my hope is that it helps stand up to that hate,” she said.

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