Yentl and Liverpool’s Jewish community film stars

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Did you know that scenes in 1983 Hollywood blockbuster Yentl, directed by and starring Barbra Streisand, were filmed on board an Isle of Man ferry on the River Mersey? Local resident Michael Swerdlow has recently contacted us about Liverpool’s Jewish community’s connection to the film and their brush with fame. 

The film tells the story of a young girl brought up by her religious father in 19th century Russia and ends with her travelling to America to start a new life in 1902. These final scenes were filmed on board an Isle of Man ferryboat painted to resemble a cross Atlantic steamer. And who better to act as extras portraying other travelling migrants than members of our very own Jewish community? Many of who were descendants of Russian migrants themselves!

women in period costume by the Liverpool waterfront

Leonie Bracey, Susan Urding, Hilary Glassman and Hillary Swerdlow in costume ready to appear as extras in a scene from Yentl

The casting department for the film advertised for extras at the Liverpool Jewish Youth and Community Centre. Many signed up straight away, including Hillary Swerdlow, then aged around 33.

“I thought it sounded fun and went along. We were picked out straight away. It was a week of very early mornings. We all had specific outfits to wear and had to cross the busy main road to get to the boat in full costume! Most of the time we just sat about laughing. Barbra Streisand was very strict about anyone wearing make up and would meticulously check us over”.

women in period costume on a ship

Andi Solomon, Hillary Swerdlow, Miriam Swerdlow and Leonie Bracey in costume on the ferry

When the film was released, the Jewish Community Centre organised a special premiere at the Odeon cinema, London Road. When the eagerly awaited final scenes came on screen, Michael tells us there were cheers of delight from that section of the auditorium, much to the confusion of the rest of the audience!

Book cover featuring Barbra Streisand in a scene from the film Yentl

Programme from the Liverpool Premiere of Yentl

Another fantastic contribution to Liverpool’s connection to the Silver Screen. Thank you to Michael Swerdlow for kindly donating the programme to the collections of the Museum of Liverpool.