Hester Street (film)

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Hester Street
Hester Street (1975 poster).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Joan Micklin Silver
Screenplay byJoan Micklin Silver
Based onYekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto
by Abraham Cahan
Produced byRaphael D. Silver
CinematographyKenneth Van Sickle
Edited byKatherine Wenning
Music by Herbert L. Clarke, William Bolcom
Midwest Films
Distributed byMidwest Films
Release date
  • October 19, 1975 (1975-10-19)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
  • English
  • Yiddish
Box office$5 million

Hester Street is a 1975 romantic film based on Abraham Cahan's 1896 novella Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto, and was adapted and directed by Joan Micklin Silver. [1] In 2011, Hester Street was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. [2]


The film stars Steven Keats and Carol Kane, who was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for the role of Gitl.


Hester Street tells the story of Jewish immigrants who come to the Lower East Side of New York City in 1896 from Eastern Europe, and who live on Hester Street in Manhattan. When Yankel first comes to the U.S., he quickly assimilates into American culture, and becomes Jake. He also begins to have an affair with Mamie, a dancer. His wife, Gitl, who arrives later with their son, Yossele, has difficulty assimilating. Tension arises in their marriage as Jake continually upbraids and abuses Gitl. Additionally, Jake continues to see Mamie, which Gitl later discovers through Mrs. Kavarsky, a neighbor. Jake and Gitl ultimately divorce, whereby Gitl takes all of Mamie's money and marries Bernstein, a faithful traditionalist. By the end of the film, she is sartorially and lingually assimilated — walking down the street with Bernstein and Yossele (now known as Joey), speaking English, and showing her hair. But she is now liberated from Jake, who in turn has married Mamie.

The film is noteworthy for its detailed reconstruction of Jewish immigrant life in New York at the turn of the century – much of the dialogue is delivered in Yiddish with English subtitles – and was part of the wave of films released in the late 1960s and through the 1970s which began explicitly to deal with the complexities of American Jewish identity. In addition, Carol Kane's lead character posed a still-provocative synthesis as she discovers her own self-assertion on behalf of her right to maintain a traditional identity in an aggressively modern setting.



Variety was positive, stating that Hester Street "deftly delves into Jewish emigration" and that Silver "displays a sure hand for her first pic". [3] Turned down by multiple Hollywood studios for being "too ethnic," Hester Street went on to earn $5 million at the box office against a budget of only $370,000. [4]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 82% from 28 reviews. [5]

Awards and nominations

Academy Awards [6] Best Actress Carol Kane Nominated
International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg Interfilm Award Joan Micklin Silver Won
National Film Preservation Board [7] National Film Registry Inducted
Valladolid International Film Festival Golden Spike (Best Film)Joan Micklin SilverNominated
Writers Guild of America Awards [8] Best Comedy Adapted from Another Medium Nominated

In 2011, this film was deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the United States Library of Congress, and selected for the National Film Registry. [7] In making its selection, the Registry state that Hester Street was "a portrait of Eastern European Jewish life in America that historians have praised for its accuracy of detail and sensitivity to the challenges immigrants faced during their acculturation process". [7]

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  1. "Hester Street". Turner Classic Movies . Retrieved April 19, 2016.
  2. "Complete National Film Registry Listing". Library of Congress. Retrieved 2020-04-30.
  3. "Review: 'Hester Street'". Variety. December 31, 1974. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  4. Bruce Haring (January 1, 2021). "Joan Micklin Silver Dies". Deadline. Retrieved January 2, 2021.
  5. "Hester Street". Rotten Tomatoes .
  6. "The 48th Academy Awards | 1976". Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  7. 1 2 3 "2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates". Library of Congress. December 28, 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
  8. "Awards Winners". wga.org. Writers Guild of America. Archived from the original on 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2010-06-06.