The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000

By Hasia R. Diner | Go to book overview
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In September 1654, twenty-three Jewish refugees from Brazil stepped ashore in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. They had not journeyed there intentionally. They simply knew they had to get out of Brazil, which had recently been snatched by the Portuguese from the Dutch, who allowed Jews religious and economic freedom. Memories of past Iberian inquisitions and massacres compelled these Jews to flee, and the captain of the Sainte Catherine, which happened to be heading for the Dutch colony at the mouth of the Hudson River, agreed to take them. Two other Jews, Solomon Pieterson and Jacob Barsimon, actually had preceded them to New Amsterdam. But they had stayed there only briefly, and more important, they sojourned there as solitary individuals who took no steps to live as Jews in a community.

Those who made the journey on the Sainte Catherine did so as the nucleus of what would become the first Jewish community in the New World. To live as Jews in a Jewish community and in such large numbers required the approval of the local authorities, namely, the governor of the colony, Peter Stuyvesant, a devout member of the Dutch Reformed Church, and his superiors in Amsterdam, the Dutch West India Company. Stuyvesant had no desire to let the Jews stay. They would, he believed, engage in “their customary usury and deceitful trading with the Christians. They would destroy the Christian character of the colony by practicing their religion, since Jews were “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ. and their poverty, he claimed, would make them a burden to the community. 1 Stuyvesant conveyed these sentiments


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