Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
“The twenty-three Jews who sailed into New Amsterdam harbor on a September day in 1654 were to found the first Jewish community in what is today the United States. They were not the first of their folk in that town; at least one man had come there from Holland earlier in the summer for the purpose of carrying on trade. The careful historian soon comes to the unfailing rule that no Jew is ever the first Jew in any town: there is always one who had been there before him. The earlier settler in this case was Jacob Barsimson, an old-timer, who had been in the colony for the long period of two weeks!
“It has been suggested, with some measure of plausibility, that Barsimson had been sent out by the Jewish leaders of Amsterdam to determine the possibilities of an extensive Jewish immigration to the new colony on the Hudson. With the fall of Dutch Brazil it was imperative for Jews planning to leave Europe to find other new homes.”
“Leaving on July 8, 1654, Jacob Barsimson had crossed the ocean on the Pereboom, and reached Nieuw Amsterdam on August 22.”  Since he came under a passport as one of a party of emigrants from Holland sent by the Dutch West India Company, no objection was made to his stay by Governor Stuyvesant and his city council. However, when Asser (Assur) Levy arrived on September 7 as one of 23 Brazilian refugees without passports, Stuyvesant made an unsuccessful attempt to force him and his companions to leave.
Barsimson and Levy were to become pioneers in the fight for Jewish rights in the New World. It should be kept in mind that both of these gentlemen were, of course, observant Jews. “When in 1658 a charge was brought against Jacob Barsimson, the court records stated: ‘Though defendant is absent yet no default is entered against him as he was summoned on his Sabbath.`”  The inventory of the property that Levy left at the time of his death lists “two ‘dreeping` pans, two brass skimmers, two brass plates, and two pewter ‘basons`” indicate that he kept a kosher home. The listing of “one Sabbath Lamb” shows that he kept Shabbos. Furthermore, “Levy was a butcher. It is likely that he served as the shohet, or slaughterer of animals, for the local Jewry, for the records reveal that he was excused from killing hogs.”
Asser Levy was a pioneer in fighting for the rights of Jews in New Amsterdam.
In 1655 he protested when Peter Stuyvesant and local officials required male Jews between sixteen and sixty to pay a tax in lieu of guard duty. Stuyvesant had cited the “disinclination and unwillingness” of local residents to serve as “fellow-soldiers” with the Jewish “nation” and “to be on guard with them in the same guard-house.” Levy insisted, however, that as a manual laborer he should be able to stand guard just like everybody else. Although initially thwarted, within two years he had succeeded in standing “watch and ward like other Burghers,” whereupon he promptly petitioned for burgher rights (citizenship). Again he was thwarted, but, backed by wealthy Jewish merchants who had immigrated months before from Amsterdam and recalled the promises made to them by “the Worshipful Lords” of the Dutch West India Company, the decision was reversed and the rights of Jews to “burghership” guaranteed.
As a result of these legal actions, Asser Levy and Jacob Barsimson kept “watch and ward” with the other (non-Jewish) male residents of New Amsterdam. In addition, in 1657 all male Jews who lived in the town gained the rights of burghership (citizenship).
Besides being a butcher, Levy was a trader and land owner.
By 1660 he had achieved both financial and social importance. It was in that year that he signed himself Asser Levy Van Swellem. Whether that name was an afterthought, brought on by prosperity, or one belonging to his past, we have no way of ascertaining. Gradually his real estate operations were extended. Among his holdings were two lots on Mill Street which later became the site of the first synagogue.
When in 1664, New Amsterdam was in danger, its wealthiest citizens were called together – Asser Levy among them – for the purpose of raising money to defend the town. He lent 100 florins. It was, as we know, a lost cause. On October 21, 1664, he took the oath of allegiance to England, and later was assessed two florins a week toward the support of the British soldiers.
The change in sovereigns had little effect upon Asser. He continued to gain wealth and land, and to keep the law courts busy. “His suits cover a whole range of law, arrests, attachments, accounts, customs, building contracts and apprenticeship. At times he secures the reprimand of an official for some insult, or the punishment of a careless court officer. So jealous was he of his rights that no man stood so high in authority that he was afraid to begin suit against him.
He did not hesitate to utilize the courts to rectify any injustice he felt was committed against him.
When a man promised Asser to complete his dwelling and left that for more profitable employment, Asser Levy compelled him through legal action to drop his other work and fulfill the terms of contract. When a maid, employed by his wife, left before her term expired, he sued her new employer and won.
One would naturally think that a man with such a litigious nature would have many enemies. However, this was not so.
Strange as it may seem, instead of being despised by his Christian associates, he gained their confidence and respect. His influence was felt not only in New York, but his activities reached Albany, and even Connecticut. His request to reduce the fine imposed upon Jacob Lucena was effective in New England. Such men as Joannes de Peyster and Jacob Leisler (leader of the Rebellion) he knew well, for they were at his request appointed referees in his disputes. When in 1671, the Lutherans built their first church, it was the battling butcher who advanced them money.
As the years went by, Asser Levy prospered more and more.
He was an extensive land operator. He built a slaughter house. He owned a famous tavern in the neighborhood of what is now Wall Street. He was usually his own lawyer, and his arguments as a rule carried enough weight to secure a favorable verdict. So successful was he that he was employed as spokesman for other Jews, and so experienced that Christians often called him in to act as referee in their disputes. His name appears as executor in the wills of Christians, showing that his prestige was not limited to his co-religionists.
In summary we should note that “Asser Levy was just the man for his environment. He was neither refined nor cultured, and certainly he was insensitive to rebuffs. His energy was boundless; his obstinacy tremendous. He was blunt, thick-skinned, pugnacious, generous, fearless, pushing; jealous of his honor and that of his co-religionists – and successful!” 
 Early American Jewry Volume I, Jacob Rader Marcus, The Jewish Publication Society, 1951, page 24.
 An Old Faith in the New World, David and Tamar de Sola Pool, Columbia University Press, New York, 1955, page 12.
 Jewish Pioneers in America: 1492-1848, Anita Libman Lebeson, Brentano`s Publishers, 1931, page 50.
 “Asser Levy and the Inventories of Early New York Jews, Leo Hershkowitz, American Jewish History 80 (Autumn 1990), page 30.
 Ibid., page 36.
 Early American Jewry Volume I, page 30.
 American Judaism: A History, Jonathan D. Sarna, Yale University Press 2004, page 9.
 Jewish Pioneers in America: 1492-1848, pages 75-76
 Ibid., page 76.
 Ibid., page 76
 Ibid., page 77
 Most historians do not agree with Sarna`s statement that Levy was the only Jew in New York at some period during the 17th century. They maintain that while the Jewish community was indeed small, numbering no more than 100 souls in 1695, Levy and his wife were never the only Jews residing in New York.
 American Judaism: A History, page 9.
Dr. Yitzchok Levine is a professor in the department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. A frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, his “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at email@example.com.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Comments are closed.
The sage Hillel summarized the entire Torah by saying, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn it.”
Sometimes it is hard to help people, and sometimes you can help people by just using whatever it is you have at the time – even an amazing fishing rod.
Musial told the taunted Jackie Robinson: “I want you to know that I’m not like many of the other guys on my team.”
Brooklyn resident David Siller, currently studying in Israel at Yeshivat Yesodei HaTorah in Beit Shemesh, was awarded a trophy for finishing 3rd in his age group (14-18) in a 5-kilometer race for the benefit of the Benjamin Children’s Library of Beit Shemesh.
Today is day six without a phone.
Besides for feeling slightly isolated, it’s not too bad.
I’ve been doing things that I know I would not be doing if my phone was sitting next to me, shiny screen beckoning.
Is anyone else alarmed by the way extended warranties are sold on just about anything and everything? It means one of two things – either someone has found a great way of getting consumers to part with more of their hard earned dollars or manufacturers have no faith in their own products. Neither of those options is particularly heartwarming.
As I described Gaon in a review in June 2001 (“In Search of Ancestors, Sculpture by Simon Gaon” at Yeshiva University Museum), his Bukharian Jewish roots are deeply embedded on both sides of his family, echoed in his early yeshiva education.
Let me begin by congratulating my dear machatunim, Soraya and Jay Nimaroff, on being the recipients of the Community Service Award at the Sderot Hesder Institutions 18th annual anniversary dinner.
Think of your issues this way: due to those different backgrounds, you have a “shovel” to deal with difficulties while he has a “spoon”.
Do you remember the good old days when kids were kids and there was never anything to worry about? Those days never really existed, but today there are issues kids worry about that weren’t issues for some adults. They include fear of bullying, natural disasters, divorce, and violence.
In Part I talked about celebrating 30 years of Regesh Family and Child Services providing services to children, teens and families. I shared the agency’s origin and the many lessons I have learned through this journey. As I mentioned, it is my hope that my experiences will add to your toolbox of life skills.
Unfortunately, a map of the Middle East with no mention of Israel is nothing new… It is surprising however, that the world’s largest publisher of children’s literature, Scholastic Books, has joined in this trend.
Last month’s column sketched the myriad of social programs in which the Orthodox American communal worker and leader Adolphus S. Solomons (1826-1910) was involved. Adolphus married Rachel Seixas Phillips (1828-1881), a descendant of colonial patriot families and together they had eight daughters and a son.
There are many observant Jews who contributed much to secular and Jewish life in America and yet have, unfortunately, been essentially forgotten. One such man is Adolphus Simson Solomons (1826-1910).
Cholera was officially recognized to be of epidemic proportions in New York City on June 26, 1832. The epidemic was at its peak in July and 3,515 out of a population of about 250,000 died. (The equivalent death toll in today’s city of eight million would exceed 100,000.) Sadly, in 1832 there were no effective treatments available for those who contracted this disease.
As this is our third column on the Reverend Dr. Henry Pereira Mendes, we’ll begin with a summary of his life.
In last month’s column we traced the early career of Reverend Dr. Henry (Chaim) Pereira Mendes and described his extraordinary service to Congregation Shearith Israel in New York where he served as hazan (chazzan) and minister from 1877 to 1923 and then as minister emeritus from 1924 until his passing in 1937.
Beginning around 1840 the Reform movement began asserting itself as a major force in American Judaism. Indeed, with the rising tide of Reform during the nineteenth century it looked as if Orthodox Judaism might disappear. Many synagogues that had been founded by observant Jews and had remained for years true to halacha found their memberships increasingly calling for the institution of reforms and the abandonment of commitment to authentic Judaism.
Last month we sketched the life of Manuel Josephson (1729-1796), who immigrated to New York in the 1740s. Manuel was one of the few learned Jews residing in America in the 18th century. His talents were recognized by Congregation Shearith Israel, and he served on the synagogue’s bet din for several years and as its parnas (president) in 1762. He earned his living as a merchant.
The overwhelming majority of Jews who came to America before the Revolutionary War did not have an extensive Jewish education. One exception was Manuel Josephson (1729-1796), who was born and educated in Germany. His extensive knowledge of Judaism qualified him to serve on the beis din of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/two-founding-american-jewish-fathers/2005/08/03/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: