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Before The Deluge: The Jews Of The U.S.

book-Die-Juden-in-der-Velt

The stories in this column are translations by Mr. Nollet from “Die Juden In Der Welt [The Jews in the World]” by Mark Wischnitzer, a long out-of-print book published more than seven decades ago in Germany. The book examines Jewish communities, one country at a time, as they existed in 1935 – a time before the Nazis began their extermination campaign against the Jews and before there was a state of Israel.

The Jews Of The U.S.

On August 22 1654, the Sephardic Jew Jacob Bar-Simson landed in New Amsterdam. It appears he came from Holland. In the beginning of September of the same year, twenty-three Jews set sail for New Amsterdam, refugees from Pernambuco [Translator’s Note: Dutch South America). The ship Saint Charles, which functioned as the Jewish equivalent of the Mayflower for the first Jewish immigration to North America, brought them to the city today known as New York.

The city manager of New Amsterdam, appointed by the West Indies Company, was Peter Stuyvesant, and he was anything but friendly to foreigners. On account of the Jews, Stuyvesant had a lively exchange of letters with the West Indies Company in Amsterdam. The Jewish communities in Amsterdam vouched for their tribal kin who had landed in America. In a letter to Stuyvesant dated April 26, 1655, the West Indies Company wrote, “After much consideration, we have decided upon a petition written by Portuguese Jews to allow them to sail to New Holland, in order to conduct business there, and to live and remain there. It is assumed that they will not become burdens to the West Indies Company, but to their own nation.”

Prior to 1655, Jews had journeyed to Massachusetts and Virginia, but as individuals, whereas this charter recognized their official rights as a group.

The Jews were exempt, via a special tax, from service in the militia. However, the master butcher Asser Levy refused to relieve his militia obligation by paying the fee and joined the militia in 1657, bringing along some other co-religionists with him.

The Jewish pioneers placed a value on preservation of their traditional trades, and sought to solidify these in the new land.

In 1664 New Holland fell under English dominion, and New Amsterdam’s name was changed to New York.

By the time of the Revolutionary War, Jews had settled in the colonies of Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Massachusetts – almost all of the thirteen colonies that sought independence from English rule in 1776. In Georgia, the colony’s founder promoted the settlement of Sephardim.

Jews fought in George Washington’s army. Haym Salomon, who had immigrated in 1772 from Lissa in Poland, financed the operations of the war, which at that time stretched upward to $600,000.

The history of the Jews in North America can be broken up into three periods of immigration. The first, from 1654-1789, was dominated by the Sephardim; the second, which ended around 1880, was the time of the German-Jewish immigration; and the third was the period of the massive immigration from Eastern Europe.

But even during the first period of mainly Sephardic immigration, Jews came to the colonies from Germany and Poland. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Quakers of Pennsylvania advertised and solicited in Germany for immigrants to cross the ocean, and in 1709 the first successful wave of German immigrants arrived in America, German Jews among them.

Gradually Jewish immigrants began making their way to he western and southern states. In his travels through America in 1837, Friedrich Gerstäcker met Jews everywhere. He found Jews in lonely hostels along the Wabash River between Illinois and Indiana; he greeted them on the Ohio; he bought clothing from German Jews in New Orleans. The states of Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri were all meeting places for the Jewish immigrants from Germany. Most of them started out as merchants, and later sent for their families.

For many Jews and gentiles between 1815 and 1848 [the years, respectively, of the end of the Napoleonic wars, and the Europe-wide Revolution of 1848], America was the longed-for land of freedom.

A Jew composed a poem in 1848 that reflected a fundamental general feeling among the American immigrants:

About the Author: Ezra James Nollet is a retired U.S. government chemist living in Poland where he is officer of the local synagogue in Legnica. Before the Deluge appears the last week of each month.


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The Joint Distribution Committee cared for the refugees, directed the care of children, renewed educational facilities, undertook the rebuilding of destroyed houses, etc. Through the year 1930 the Joint Committee distributed over $80 million to the different branches of its relief work, and even distributed aid via affiliated charities to Jewish agricultural settlements in the USSR.

book-Die-Juden-in-der-Velt

The Federation of Jewish Labor by the end of the 1920s consisted of some 125,000 members, of whom 60 percent were employed in the confections industry. After 1929 there was a further rise in the level of Jewish participation in workers’ unions. There were 134,020 Jewish members of the fifty largest trade unions, 34.1 percent of the total number of organized workers, which roughly reflected the level of the Jews in the population of greater New York. In the remaining centers of the garment industry, in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Rochester, almost all the owners were Jews and the workers they employed were mainly Jewish.

The outward orderliness of the new circumstances of life was not without inner quakings of a spiritual crisis. Mixed marriages were extremely frequent in the southern and western states, where Jews were sprinkled in among the Christian populations. They came to about a third of the marriages Jews entered. But after 1881 the picture changed, with the flood of Jewish immigrants into New York. From 1908-1912, only 1.17 percent of marriages involving Jews were mixed.

The (European) press began to busy itself with the problems of emigration. The Austrian Central Body of Jews, which arose in 1848, dedicated itself to this situation. In May of 1848 a Committee for the Promotion of Emigration was started.

On August 22 1654, the Sephardic Jew Jacob Bar-Simson landed in New Amsterdam. It appears he came from Holland. In the beginning of September of the same year, twenty-three Jews set sail for New Amsterdam, refugees from Pernambuco [Translator’s Note: Dutch South America). The ship Saint Charles, which functioned as the Jewish equivalent of the Mayflower for the first Jewish immigration to North America, brought them to the city today known as New York.

Before the beginning of the Common Era, Jews were known to have lived in Sparta, Sikyon, Delphi, Athens, Patras, Mantineja, Laconia, Corinth, Thessalalonika, Philippi, and Beroa. Due to baptism forced on Jews by some Byzantine emperors, a number of Jews emigrated o southern Italy. Otherwise, there was a line of Jewish communities in the 12th century. By itself Thebes housed 2,000 families, Salonika 500 families, and middle-sized settlements arose in Halmyros, Corinth, Drama, Krisa, Naupactos, Ravnica, Arta, and Lamia.

Under the influence of the Age of Enlightenment, the cultural union “Toalet” was formed, which published a number of works of by Hebraic scientists and works of fiction. In recent times, the Jewish-scientific movement has found its stride with the “Union of Jewish Science,” which was founded by S. Seeligmann, a historian and a bibliophile. In its university library, Amsterdam possesses a most valuable Jewish section, the so-called “Rosenthaliana,” which was named after the philanthropist Leiser Rosenthal, who was the father of the Baron von Rosenthal.

The present kingdom of Persia, which recently officially took the name “Iran,” encompasses a region of over 1,640,000 square kilometers with about 15 million inhabitants. The most important cities are the capital Tehran as well Tabris, Mesched, and Isfahan (the former capital).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/feautures-on-jewish-world/before-the-deluge-the-jews-of-the-u-s/2013/06/26/

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