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October 13, 2015 / 30 Tishri, 5776
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Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

The Jews Of Martinique And Guadeloupe

Wednesday, September 5th, 2007

      Note: This article is based on The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean by Mordechai Arbell, Gefen Publishing House, Jerusalem, 2002. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes are from this source.


      Martinique and Guadeloupe are two small islands located between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Martinique is north of Trinidad and Tobago, whereas Guadeloupe is southeast of Puerto Rico.
      “The Jewish history of Martinique and Guadeloupe is relatively short, spanning only about 60 years. It began with the first arrivals from Amsterdam in the 1620s who came to manage Dutch interests in Dutch commercial outposts established on the island and continued until the expulsion of the Jews in 1685.”
      In 1635 the French conquered and occupied these islands. Upon their arrival in Martinique they found a number of Jews who had arrived earlier from Amsterdam and who served as agents and managers for various Dutch enterprises.
      “The French did not disturb the resident Dutch Jews, whose number was not significant. They were dispersed among the warehouses, plantations, and stores all over the island and, as far as is known, did not form a community. The Jews were able to work and prosper under twenty years of French rule, tolerated and protected by the French governors, who needed their commercial and financial acumen and whose services they used.”
      However, the successes of the Jews gradually aroused the jealousy of the French settlers and merchants. “At the same time, the growing number of Catholic monks and priests arriving in the colony could not bear to see Jews residing in French-ruled territory.”
      Things changed dramatically for the Jews after the recapture of Recife, Brazil by the Portuguese in 1654. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews left Brazil in fear of what might happen to them under the Inquisition. Ships loaded with Jews roamed the Caribbean looking for places for these refugees to resettle.
      When a ship carrying Jews anchored not far from Martinique, Governor M. du Parquet was inclined to grant their request to settle on the island. The Jesuit fathers residing on Martinique would not hear of it.
      The governor of Guadeloupe, M. Houel, learning of the refusal to allow the refugees to settle in Martinique, welcomed them to settle on his island. Many former Jewish inhabitants of Tamarica (Itamarica), Brazil, an island not far from Recife, were allowed to settle on Guadeloupe. They were granted the same privileges as the other residents of the island.
      Under the terms of surrender between the Dutch and Portuguese in Brazil, the Dutch and the Jews were allowed to leave Brazil with their movable property and their money. Thus, the Jews who came to the Caribbean seeking places to resettle came with means. The residents of Guadeloupe naturally anticipated that the new arrivals would spend lots of silver and gold as they established themselves in their new home. They were not disappointed.

      When Governor du Parquet of Martinique saw that he was losing a rare opportunity, he expressed his anger to the Jesuit fathers. The Father Superior went to Guadeloupe and tried to convince Governor Houel to expel the Jews. Houel told the Father Superior to mind his own business, and the Jews were allowed to stay. Shortly afterward, another ship carrying a number of Jewish refugees arrived in Martinique. This time Governor du Parquet received them with open arms.



      The permission given to the Jews to settle in Martinique and Guadeloupe attracted some French Jews of Spanish-Portuguese origin from Bayonne and Bordeaux, most often related to those who had come from Brazil, increasing the number of Jews in the French islands.
      It is difficult to evaluate the exact number of Jews in Martinique and Guadeloupe in 1658. A conservative estimate might be about 300 among a population of about 5,000 whites.
      The Jesuit fathers, who saw the settlement of Jews as a battle they had lost, did not rest and continued with incessant efforts to rid the island of Jews.
      The Jews, immediately after settling, began to establish commercial houses, sugar cane plantations, and sugar plants on a large scale. This brought a period of prosperity to the impoverished islands and profits to their owners, Houel and du Parquet.
      On 2 April, 1658, the Sovereign Council of Martinique issued a decree “prohibiting the Jews from dealing with commerce on the islands,” but due to the intervention of the governor – Seigneur du Parquet – a new decree several months later “reestablished the privileges given to the Jews to deal with commerce,” canceling the previous decree.
      The main Jewish contribution to Martinique and Guadeloupe was in agro-industry. The French islands were relatively late in developing sugar production. It was only after the settlement of the Jews from Brazil, who were experienced sugar refiners and merchants, that the sugar industry started picking up. In 1661 there were 71 sugar plants in Guadeloupe with Martinique lagging behind. However, Martinique in 1671 had 111 sugar plants with 6,582 workers and slaves working in them and by 1685 reached 172 plants.

      One of the most prominent sugar producers was Benjamin d’Acosta de Andrade, a Jew born as a converso in Portugal, who had settled in Dutch Brazil and had reached Martinique in 1654. He was the owner of two of the largest sugar plants in Martinique (the site is still shown to tourists visiting the Island). D’Acosta de Andrade is known and remembered as establishing the first cacao processing plant in French territory. Cacao processing was started in Spanish colonies in America, but the processing in Martinique was advanced, modernized, and transformed into chocolate.


Discrimination and Expulsion


      The prosperity of the Jewish community drew inordinate envy from the French planters of Martinique and Guadeloupe.



      The Brazilian Jews did not only have the expertise, but also were able to finance their sugar plants, which needed a considerable initial investment. The majority of the French planters continued planting tobacco and gradually became more and more impoverished. Their need for cash indebted them to Jewish moneylenders. The Jews were also accused of investing their profits outside Martinique, therefore depriving the islands of their cash liquidity. Thus, a coalition formed by the Jesuit fathers and the French planters and merchants went into action to limit Jewish life and bring about the expulsion of the Jews.

      The coalition managed to force the hand of Governor Prouville de Tracy to issue, in 1664, an act in which a paragraph is included saying that “those of the Jewish Nation must purchase and sell on the day of Sabbath, unless otherwise ordered by his Majesty….” The unhappy de Tracy wanted clearer instructions from France. He received ambiguous ones, namely “The King does not want to alter what has been practiced till now towards the Huguenots and the Jews…” De Tracy’s only recourse was to close his eyes to the transgressions of his own act. The Jews continued keeping the Sabbath.



      The only religion officially permitted on Martinique was Catholicism. As a result, Judaism was not practiced openly. In 1676 the community acquired a Torah from the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam.



      Theories have been put forward that a synagogue existed in Martinique, and several possible sites have been indicated. However, the prayers were supposedly conducted in a private house, transformed into a prayer-house, which gradually became an improvised synagogue.

      The happy and quiet Jewish existence of the Martinique Jews continued until the death of Governor de Baas in 1677. His replacement, Count de Blenac, a devotee of the Jesuits, had served as confessor of [King] Louis XIV. His main aim was the expulsion of the Jews from Martinique.



      As conditions deteriorated for the Jews of Martinique, they began to abandon the island. On Guadeloupe there were many political upheavals, and, here too, the Jews left in considerable numbers.
      In 1685 Louis XIV issued an order expelling all Jews from the Caribbean islands under French control. Most of the Jews who left Martinique went to Curacao. When they left, they took their Torah and other religious objects used in their improvised synagogue.
      A few Jews managed to circumvent the Black Code (Edict of Expulsion) as a result of their special connections with the authorities. Indeed, in 1732 there were still as least ten Jews residing on Martinique. But “by the time of the French Revolution there was, for all practical purposes, no serious Jewish presence in Martinique or Guadeloupe.”

      Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at  llevine@stevens.edu.


Hooked On American Jewish History

Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

One of the most well-kept secrets in Flatbush is the Yosef Goldman Collection of American Jewish Books and Manuscripts. Area residents no doubt would be surprised to learn that this private collection is one of the most comprehensive in the world.

Yosef Goldman looks like many other residents of Brooklyn, unassuming and completely devoid of airs. But just mention to him anything about American Jewish history and you quickly discover his expertise. He recently published the book Hebrew Printing in America, 1735-1926, A History and Annotated Bibliography.Once this beautifully illustrated two-volume set appeared, it became the resource for information about Hebrew books published in America from the beginnings of Jewish life here through 1926.

How Yosef became a collector of books dealing with American Jewish history is a story that is almost as interesting as the topic itself.

Yosef’s father, Rabbi Lipa Goldman, was the rav of Neipest (now known as ?jpest, a district of Budapest located on the left bank of the Danube River). Before the German invasion, his father was able to secure papers for the family identifying them as non-Jews – a ruse that enabled them to live on a farm disguised as gentiles and thereby escape deportation by the Nazis.

In 1950, Rav Goldman, his wife, and their eight children arrived in America. Rav Goldman thanked God for bringing him to a land where he was free to choose how he could support his family without necessarily serving as a rabbi. He made his living as a dayan and a publisher of books, putting out a Shas as well as many individual seforim. He also dealt to some extent with used seforim. As a result, Yosef grew up in an atmosphere permeated with Jewish books.

The genesis of Yosef’s remarkable collection of books and manuscripts was one of pure happenstance. “I always liked old things,” he told me. “I ran an ad in the paper looking for old furniture. An old woman in Boston responded telling me that she did not have any furniture for sale, but that she did have bookcases to sell.”

Upon arriving at her home Yosef found that her bookcases were filled with many seforim. She told him that her late husband was the son of Rav Zalman Friederman, who came to America in 1892 and three years later was called to serve as rabbi of Boston.
Rav Friederman was the son-in-law of Rav Yaakov Lipschitz, who served as secretary to Rav Yitzchak Elchanan.

“The son had inherited these seforim from his father,” said Yosef. “So I not only bought the bookcases, but I also bought most of the books she had.”

Yosef quickly realized there was a market for such books. He began to run ads in newspapers expressing his interest in buying old Jewish books. In the late 1960’s there were a number of people – mainly the children of rabbonim who had passed away – who had inherited seforim from their fathers. Many of them, sadly enough, had no interest in these seforim and were happy to sell them.

This became a parnassah for Yosef and led to his specific interest in American Jewish history. He started to read about various personalities who had played key roles in American Jewish history. He was hooked.

Yosef told me, “In the 1970’s, American Judaica was not really a commodity. People were not very interested in it. I bought and sold all sorts of books and seforim that were printed abroad, but I kept most of the things that were printed in America that came my way.”

This eventually led to the Yosef Goldman Collection, certainly, as stated above, one of the world’s most extensive collections of books about American Jewish history. It includes copies of many books and manuscripts that are available in only a few libraries anywhere.

First Hebrew Handwriting In America

At one point during our interview I asked Yosef to show me the oldest thing he had related to American Jewish history. He casually picked up a very old-looking sefer that had been lying on his desk.

“This is a Paris Tanach, published in 1556,” he informed me. “Written in English on the title page is the name Moses Hart. In Hebrew his name was Moshe Tzvi. In the middle of this sefer in a few places he signed it in Hebrew and wrote ‘here in the city of NY, 1743.’ His son also signed it in Hebrew, ‘Yitzchok the son of Moshe Tzvi, 1748 from the city of Lisa’ (Poland).”

Growing increasingly enthusiastic as he discussed the book, Yosef drew my attention to the handwritten notations.

“Take a look at this signature written fluently in a beautiful Ashkenazic script! You can see from it that Moshe Hart could write Hebrew beautifully. This signature is the oldest Hebrew script that we have on any klei kodesh from America!”

I asked him what he knew about Moses Hart. He told me that a Yitzchok Rivkin, who many years ago was a librarian at the Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote an article in 1937 about the oldest Hebrew writing that existed in America at that time. It was a Tosephos Kesuva written by a Samuel Levy in 1718. Levy’s writing was also in a beautiful Ashkenazic script.

“In this Tosephos Kesuva, Levy designates who the money should be given to,” Yosef explained. “Most of it was to go to his wife, but some of the money was to be given to Levy’s niece’s husband – Moshe Tzvi, Moses Hart! So the oldest writing that we had at one time mentions the name of Moshe Tzvi. I say had, because today we no longer have this Kesuva. JTS does not have it, and no one knows what happene to it. Therefore, the oldest Hebrew handwriting that we have from America is what is in this 1556 Paris Tanach.”

Yosef told me he purchased this Tanach at a Manhattan auction not long ago. There was only one other bidder, and he did not really know what this sefer represented historically. It is hard to describe the pleasure Yosef takes in owning this link to our Jewish past. The same can be said for many of the other items in his collection. To Yosef, each rare book and manuscript has a personality that he relishes.

Yosef suspects that there may well be other books still extant from before 1743. “After all,” he said, “the first Jews who came to New York from Recife, Brazil, must have brought seforim with them. There were no wars here, no devastation. Things could very well still be around waiting to be discovered.”

First Translation Of The Machzor

When I asked Yosef how many volumes he has in his collection, he could only venture an educated guess. “A few thousand – manuscripts, notes, books, etc. Anything that I find that was published up until 1926.”

Yosef showed me a copy of a “volume [that] contains the first translation of the Jewish liturgy into English issued for a Jewish audience.” Evening Service of Roshashanah, and Yom Kippur, or the Beginning of the Year, and the Day of Atonement was authored by Isaac Pinto and printed in 1761. Copies of this book are extremely rare; as far as anyone knows, there are only two other copies still extant.

(Considerable information about this book is to be found page 37 of Hebrew Printing in America. There one can see a copy of the title page as well as another page from the book.)

Evidence Of A Forgotten Jewish Community

The first Jewish community in the New World was established in Recife, Brazil in 1630 when the Dutch conquered part of Brazil from the Portuguese. This community ceased to exist in 1654 when the Portuguese reconquered this area. (See “Recife – The First Jewish Community in the New World” at http://www.jewishpress.com/page.do/19153/Glimpses_Into_American_Jewish_History_%28Part_3%29.html

Yosef pointed out to me that there was at least one other Jewish community in Brazil. He brought out a copy of Sefer Shefa Tal, a kabbalistic volume that was printed in Hanau, Germany in 1612. It contains a handwritten statement of ownership by a Rabbi Jacob Lugarto of a congregation in Tamarica, Brazil. Rabbi Lugarto came to Brazil as a young man and was the author of a volume of aphorisms (copies of which, evidently, no longer exist). The book he showed me is our only physical link to this Jewish community, since there are no other known artifacts from it.

Isaac Leeser

Asked whom he considers the most important American Jewish personality of the nineteenth century, Yosef did not even hesitate. “Isaac Leeser,” he said, without a trace of doubt.

Isaac Leeser was born in Neunkirchen, in the province of Westphalia, Prussia, on Dec. 12, 1806, and died in Philadelphia on Feb. 1, 1868. He received a good Hebrew and secular education as a youth and emigrated to America at the age of seventeen. For several years he worked in his uncle’s business in Richmond, Virginia. In 1829 he became the cantor of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia and held that position until 1850.

Rev. Leeser was a visionary in all things Jewish. In addition to being a cantor, he was an author, preacher, translator, editor, and publisher. He introduced the giving of an English discourse during services on Shabbos at Mikveh Israel. He was a strong proponent of Jewish education for youth, and one of the few of that era who saw that a proper Jewish education could only be given in a “day school” environment.

In short, he was the most active proponent for Orthodoxy in America during his lifetime.

Rev. Leeser pioneered the publishing of many religious Jewish books. His publications included translations of the siddur into English, a Hebrew spelling book, a Jewish Catechism, his discourses, and a translation of the entire Chumash into English. He began publishing the Jewish monthly journal The Occident in 1843 and served as its editor until his death.

The reader should keep in mind that all of these endeavors broke new ground in the United States. Further, Rev. Leeser had to overcome considerable obstacles while he pursued his varied activities. He was an idealist who devoted himself totally to the preservation of Orthodoxy in America. To do justice to his life would require a lengthy article unto itself, and it is this author’s plan to publish such an article in a future issue of The Jewish Press.

Magnum Opus

Yosef spent about 15 years writing Hebrew Printing in America, 1735-1926, A History and Annotated Bibliography.Previously he had published catalogues dealing with, among other subjects, Ladino, Judeo-Arabic, and Jewish children’s books.

“I have a problem with the way books about books are written,” he told me. “Ordinary reference books are written strictly for ‘book’ people. They describe the physical features of a book. My book about Hebrew books gives all of this and more.

“I have tried also to include the ‘environment’ in which the book was published. How does a given book fit historically with other books published at the same time? What motivated the author to write the book? These sorts of things give one a ‘feel’ for the ‘soul’ o a book beyond its physical characteristics.

“My book tells you how a given book fits into American Jewish culture. It is not strictly for book’ people. Anyone interested in American Jewish history will benefit from reading my book.”

Yosef’s book catalogues more than 1,200 items, covering all Hebrew books published in America prior to 1926. As one can imagine, a prodigious amount of research went into the preparation of this work. He was in contact with libraries throughout the world in order to guarantee accuracy.

Books are categorized by subject. The sections include Bible, Liturgy, Haggadah, Christian Hebraism, Bible Studies, Reference Works, Education and Pedagogy, Drama, Fiction, Humor and Poetry, Bibliography and History, Rabbinica, Derash, Periodicals, Zionism, Miscellaneous, Christian and Missionary, Americana, as well as an Addendum.

Many of the sections have interesting historical introductions that provide the reader unusual insight into the listed books. Wherever possible there is a picture of the title page of each book. In many cases there is also a picture of a page or two from the book under discussion.

America And The Jews

At the conclusion of our interview Yosef noted that until the establishment of the state of Israel, no country in the world other than the United States had welcomed Jews from the day of its founding.

“Our first president, George Washington, wrote a laudatory letter to the synagogues that were in existence during his presidency expressing his belief that Jews were free to practice their religion in America,” he said.

“Jews have been unbelievably fortunate to live in a country where this positive approach to religious freedom has continued uninterruptedly until today.”

Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. His monthly Jewish Press feature “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

The Jewish Community Of Surinam

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

     The discovery of the Western Hemisphere opened new opportunities for Jews. Here was a chance to escape the repressive conditions that most Jews lived under in Europe, and, at the same time, to considerably improve one’s economic situation. It is therefore not surprising that by the middle of the seventeenth century several Jewish communities already existed in South America. These communities existed in areas controlled by the Dutch, British, and French. On the other hand, areas of Central and South America under Portuguese or Spanish rule were most inhospitable to Jews. Indeed, in such places, more often than not, one also found the Inquisition with its brutal policies of rooting out anything Jewish.
      Part 3 of this series dealt with the Jewish Community that existed in Recife, Brazil from 1630 until 1654 (“Recife – the First Jewish Community in the New World,” Jewish Press, June 3, 2005). Jews left Recife in 1654 when the Portuguese captured the city from the Dutch. Many of them returned to Amsterdam. Some, however, settled on the nearby islands of the Caribbean. The relatively large numbers of Jews arriving from Brazil marked the beginning of definite Jewish communities in the Caribbean.
      This article focuses on the Jewish community of Suriname. Suriname (or Surinam), formerly known as Dutch Guyana, is located in northern South America, bordering the North Atlantic Ocean, between French Guiana on the east and Guyana on the west.


                        Various sources give evidence that the first group of Jews already settled in Suriname in 1639. They came from Holland, Portugal, and Italy. These first Jewish colonists lived in the old capital of Suriname, Thorarica, on the left bank of the Suriname River, approximately 40 kilometers south of Paramaribo. They at once started to lay out a number of sugar plantations. In 1652, together with the Englishman Lord Willoughby, a new group of Jews arrived in Suriname, who settled on the savannah, situated near the Cassipoera creek. This area is nowadays known as ‘Jodensavanne’. In 1664 a third group of Jews arrived in Suriname, when the French took possession of the Dutch colony Cayenne.[i]


      On August 17 1665, the Jewish community in Suriname was granted several very important privileges by the British colonial government. These included freedom of religion, a private civic guard, and permission to build synagogues and Jewish schools. A start was made immediately with the building of some schools and a wooden synagogue at Cassipoera. This synagogue was consecrated in 1671 by the Joodse Burgerwacht Compagnie (Jewish Civic Guard). When the Dutch captured Suriname in 1667, the Dutch commander left the privileges given to the Jews by the English untouched.
      During this period, Jodensavanne developed rapidly, becoming a small community of its own. Jewish knowledge of planting and finance were beneficial for the country as a whole. Suriname became a flourishing agricultural colony with important exports of sugar and timber. In 1674 the Jews shipped the first 8,000 pounds of sugar to Amsterdam.


      In 1685, a second synagogue was built at Jodensavanne, this time in bricks. It was called “Beracha Ve Shalom” and it is the remnants of this synagogue which have presently been uncovered again. The Jews used the lower lying front part of the synagogue as a court of justice. [ii]


      Rabbi David Pardo arrived from London to serve as spiritual leader of the new synagogue. He died in Surname in 1713 (according to some sources in 1717). “He was, without doubt, the most distinguished Rabbi the Surinam congregation has ever had. While he was still in Europe, he published Sepher Shulchan Tahor (containing extracts from the first and second part of the Shulchan ‘Aruch) [Amsterdam, 1686].”[iii]
      During the days of its prosperity no one could have foreseen that Jodensavanne would not continue to be a permanent settlement for the Jews in Suriname. However, in 1712 the French Admiral Cassard invaded the country. The residents, fearing that he and his men would plunder their plantations, paid him an enormous levy instead. The responsibility for paying most of this tax fell to the prosperous Jews. As a result, this pirate made off with enormous quantities of sugar, hard cash, and other resources. The country never recovered completely from this debacle and the resulting total disorganization.
      Another cause of the decline of the Jewish position in Suriname was the bankruptcy of the Amsterdam business house Dietz in 1773. Moreover, the decrease in value of sugarcane by the introduction of beet sugar in Europe also played an important part in this matter.
      The city of Paramaribo began to develop economically, and inhabitants of Jodensavanne left to settle in the new capital. A major attraction was that Paramaribo is more centrally located than the relatively isolated Jodensavanne. At first it was only the well-to-do who left Jodensavanne for Paramaribo, taking advantage of the excellent business opportunities that the capital afforded that were not available in Jodensavanne.
      With the passage of time no more than twenty – mostly poor families – lived at Jodensavanne. They supported themselves mainly by doing small business with the officers and men who occupied the Cordonpad (a wide bridle path with military posts at regular distances that was set up for the protection of the plantations). “Many homes where uninhabited and became ramshackle by lack of upkeep.” [iv]
      While the center of Jewish life was now focused in Paramaribo, some Jews did return to Jodensavanne to celebrate the festivals there. They felt strongly attached to Jodensavanne, given its long Jewish history and the fact that their ancestors were buried there. They nostalgically recalled that Jodensavanne was at one time known as the “Jerusalem by the river-side.”
      Jodensavanne fell more and more into decay, and the Jewish community dwindled. Nonetheless, there are records showing that the synagogue was regularly maintained more than a century after it was built. There are, for instance, rather detailed documents from the years 1824-25 in which extensive repairs on the roof are mentioned, as well as the installation of new windows on the western facade. Proper attention was also given to the interior. At one point a new aron was installed as well as new seats for the synagogue’s governors.

      Today there are perhaps seventy Jewish families residing in all of Suriname. Nevertheless, some Jewish influence is still noticeable in the country. For instance, there are some who bear Jewish-sounding family names such as Eliazer and Emanuels. There are street names such as Jodenbreestraat Street and Sivaplein Square that are of Jewish origin. Sadly, these faint echoes are all that is left of what was once a dynamic, vibrant Jewish community.

[ii] Ibid.


[iii] The Jewish Congregation of Surinam, by Dr. B. Felsenthal, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 1894, 2, pages 29-30. This article is available at http://www.ajhs.org/references/adaje.cfm.


[iv] http://www.ujcl.org/surinam.html


Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Jews Settle In New York

Friday, July 1st, 2005

In 1654 the Portuguese recaptured the city of Recife, Brazil from the Dutch. This marked the end of the vibrant Jewish community that had flourished under the Dutch beginning in 1630. Those residents of Recife who were originally Marranos (Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity) fled for their lives, fearing the re-establishment of the Inquisition. The Jews of Recife who were not Marranos also chose to leave rather than live under a Portuguese government that would be anti-Jewish.

Arnold Wiznitzer writes, “Jews who had never been Christians before had the possibility of remaining in Brazil in 1654, but chose not to do so and all openly professing Jews left Brazil before April 26, 1654.”[1]

A total of 16 ships transported the Jewish and Dutch colonists from Recife. Some claim as many as 5,000 Jews left Recife at this time. Most of these Jews returned to Holland; some relocated to colonies in the Caribbean.

Twenty-three of the Jews aboard one of these ships eventually arrived in Nieuw Amsterdam (New Netherland/New York) on September 7, 1654. There are at least two versions of the story of how these Jews came to settle in Nieuw Amsterdam. One version is that the original ship was captured by pirates at one point. The Jews were subsequently taken aboard the French ship the St. Charles, and this ship brought them to Nieuw Amsterdam. According to Wiznitzer, there was no capture by pirates. Instead, the Jews were driven by adverse winds to Spanish-held Jamaica. From there they boarded the small French frigate, Sainte Catherine, which took them to New Amsterdam.[2]

No matter what the true tale of their journey is, the problems of these Jews were far from over when their ship docked. This band of twenty-three probably “consisted of four adult men, six adult women and thirteen young people and children.”[3] They had to have been exhausted from more than four months of arduous travel. In addition, they were penniless and could not pay the exorbitant passage fee that they had been forced to agree to. Indeed, shortly after they arrived, their personal possessions were put up for auction to satisfy the demands of the frigate`s captain. This auction did not raise sufficient funds to cover their fare. The captain, seeing that he would not collect all the money he demanded, finally gave up and sailed from Nieuw Amsterdam.

The troubles of this forlorn group were still not over, because Peter Stuyvesant, the dictatorial director-general of the colony, did not want them to stay. Since none of the group had passports, Stuyvesant, left to his own devices, might well have been successful in forcing them to leave.

When the Jews arrived, Stuyvesant sought permission from Amsterdam to keep them out altogether. The Jews, he explained, were “deceitful,” “very repugnant,” and “hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ.” He asked the directors of the Dutch West India Company to “require them in a friendly way to depart” lest they “infect and trouble this new colony.” He warned in a subsequent letter that “giving them liberty we cannot refuse the Lutherans and Papists.” Decisions made concerning the Jews, he understood, would serve as precedents and determine the colony`s religious character forever after.

Forced to choose between their economic interests and their religious sensibilities, the directors of the Dutch West India Company back in Amsterdam voted with their pocketbooks. They had received a carefully worded petition from the “merchants of the Portuguese [Jewish] Nation” in Amsterdam that listed a number of reasons why Jews in New Netherland should be permitted to stay there. One argument doubtless stood out among all the others: the fact that “many of the Jewish nation are principal shareholders.” Responding to Stuyvesant, the directors noted this fact and referred as well to the “considerable loss” that Jews had sustained in Brazil. They ordered Stuyvesant to permit Jews to “travel,” “trade,” “live,” and “remain” in New Netherland, “provided the poor among them shall not become a burden to the company or to the community, but be supported by their own nation.” After several more petitions, Jews secured the right to trade throughout the colony, serve guard duty, and own real estate. They also won the right to worship in the privacy of their own homes.[4]

All was not total gloom for this small band of Jewish refugees when they arrived, since hey actually found other Jews who had already settled in the colony.

In so far as their names have come down to us in the court records, four men: Abraham and David Israel, Moses Ambrosius (Lumbrozo), and Asser Levy; and two women, Judicq de Mereda and Rycke Nounes, and others making up the twenty-three, found in Nieuw Amsterdam two other Jews. One of these was Solomon Pietersen, of whom we seem to know no fact other than that he was designated to act as counsel for the new arrivals. The other was one Jacob bar Simson. He had come from Holland some two weeks before the arrival of those who came from Brazil. He bore with him a passport issued by the Dutch West India Company in July. Isolated Jews had preceded them in coming to what is now the United States. These scattered individuals left no mark on the American Jewish story. But Solomon Pietersen, Jacob bar Simson, and the twenty-three other Jews who came to Manhattan in 1654 may truly be called the “Jewish Pilgrim Fathers,” for their settlement on the North American continent became the nucleus of a congregation and of a community with historic continuity.[5]

It appears that the authors of the above quote regarding Solomon Pietersen are wrong, because according to Jonathan Sarna, we do know one more sad fact about him:

The most difficult challenge facing New Amsterdam`s nascent Jewish community – one that American Jews would confront time and again through the centuries – was how to preserve and maintain Judaism, particularly with their numbers being so small and Protestant pressure to conform so great. From the earliest years of Jewish settlement, a range of responses to this challenge developed. At one extreme stood Solomon Pietersen, a merchant from Amsterdam who came to town in 1654, just prior to the refugees from Recife, to seek his fortune. In 1656 he became the first known Jew on American soil to marry a Christian. While it is not clear that he personally converted, the daughter that resulted from the marriage, named Anna, was baptized in childhood.[6]

One of the first orders of business that the new arrivals attended to was the fulfillment of their religious obligations. Arnold Wiznitzer tells us:

The twenty-three were not ex-Marranos but in part Ashkenazic Jews from Germany and Italy, and in part, Sephardim born as Jews. Together with the boys above the age of thirteen among them, the Ashkenazim, Jacob Barsimson and Salomon Pietersen and probably with some others already present, they could have congregated as a minyan to conduct divine services on Rosh Hashanah, 5415 (Sept. 12, 1654), the first to be held on the island of Manhattan. Sephardim and Ashkenazim together formed Congregation Shearith Israel, the first Jewish congregation and the first Jewish community in New Amsterdam which, for valid reasons as we have shown above, included from its very foundation Ashkenazic and Sephardic members of the earlier Congregation Zur Israel of Recife.[7]

So began the first chapter of Jewish Jewry in what was to become the United States.

[1] The Exodus from Brazil and Arrival in New Amsterdam of the Jewish Pilgrim Fathers, 1654, Arnold Wiznitzer, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 44, 1-4 (Available online at www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm). Reprinted in The Jewish Experience in America I: The Colonial Period, Ktav Publishing House, Inc, New York, 1969, page 32.

[2] An Old Faith in the New World, David and Tamar de Sola Pool, Columbia University Press, New York, 1955, page 8.

[3] The Jewish Experience in America I: The Colonial Period, Ktav Publishing House, Inc, New York, 1969, page 31.

[4] American Judaism: A History, Jonathan D. Sarna, Yale University Press 2004, pages 2 & 3.

[5] An Old Faith in the New World, David and Tamar de Sola Pool, Columbia University Press, New York, 1955, page 12.

[6] American Judaism: A History, Jonathan D. Sarna, Yale University Press 2004, page 8.

[7] The Jewish Experience in America I: The Colonial Period, Ktav Publishing House, Inc, New York, 1969, page 32.

Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press whose “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month, is a professor in the department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. He can be contacted at llevine@stevens-tech.edu.

Recife – The First Jewish Community In The New World

Wednesday, June 1st, 2005

Many people know that on September 7, 1654, twenty-three Jews arrived in New Amsterdam (renamed New York after the Dutch left). Most are not, however, aware of the fact that these Jews came to America from Recife, Brazil. Recife, now the capital of the state of Pernambuco, is located on the northeastern shore of Brazil. It has a fascinating Jewish history of its own.

Brazil was originally under Portuguese rule, and Jews first arrived there some time after the year 1500. They were active in making Recife a prosperous center for the production of sugar in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Many if not all of the Jews who came to Recife before 1630 were “New Christians,” that is, Jews forced to convert to Christianity during the Inquisition. These Jews were also known as Marranos. They most likely came to the New World for two reasons. First, there were attractive economic opportunities in Brazil that were not available in Europe. Second, and at least as important to these Jews who secretly clung to the faith of their ancestors, is the fact that until 1580 the Inquisition was not as prevalent in Brazil as it was in countries that Spain controlled.

With the unification of Portugal and Spain in 1580, the Inquisition spread with full force to Portugal and to the areas controlled by it in the New World.

Though the Inquisition was never established in Brazil, it had its “familiars” in that country, who spied upon secret Jews, and, in case of detection, seized them and sent them to Lisbon to be tried by the tribunal there. On the other hand, a favorite method of punishment by the Inquisition of Lisbon was to transport convicted relapsed Jews to the colony of Brazil, it is said, twice every year. The earliest notice of Jews in the country refers to some who had been thus banished in 1548. In the same year, however, several Portuguese Jews transplanted sugar-cane from Madeira to Brazil, and Jews were connected with the sugar industry of the country for the following two centuries. During the twenty years following the arrival of the first Jewish settlers they were joined by many volunteer exiles of the same faith, until their prominence in trade became noticeable; and edicts were issued by Don Henrique, regent of Portugal, on June 20, 1567, and March 15, 1568, forbidding Marranos to settle in Brazil. This edict, however, was repealed for the sum of 1,700,000 crusados ($714,000) given by the Marranos of Lisbon and Brazil, and the privileges of residence and free commerce were granted to Neo-Christians by an edict of May 21, 1577.[1]

New Christian Jews, while forced to practice Christianity publicly, did whatever they could to maintain their Judaism secretly. They attended Catholic mass regularly and did their best to appear as “loyal” Christians to their neighbors. However, whenever possible, they clandestinely gathered to daven. In order to avoid the ever watchful eye of the Inquisition, the servants of New Christians often did not work on either Saturday or Sunday. The simple act of bathing on Fridays or wearing nicer clothes on Shabbos could be construed as “a lapse into Judaism,” possibly setting in motion an inquest certain to end badly for the accused. We should keep in mind that the simplest and safest thing for New Christians to do would have been to forsake Judaism entirely. Yet, despite the risk of barbaric punishments and even a horrible death, many tenaciously clung to as many Jewish practices as they could.

In 1630 the Dutch occupied Pernambuco. Holland had a tradition of granting Jews a good deal of religious freedom, and this same freedom was now extended to Recife and its environs. So promising was the position of the Jews in Brazil that Ephraim Sueiro, brother-in-law of Manasseh ben Israel, emigrated to that country in 1638, and was to have been followed by Manasseh himself, who dedicated the second part of his “Conciliador” to the community at Recife (1640). Two years later no less than 600 Jews from Amsterdam embarked for Recife. Included in this number were Rabbi Isaac Aboab da Fonseca, a well-known Amsterdam rabbi, and scholar Moses Raphael d`Aguilar. They came to Brazil as spiritual leaders to assist the congregations of Kahal Kodesh Tzur Yisroel in Recife and Magen Abraham in Mauricia. By 1645, the Dutch Jewish population of Recife was about 1,500, approximately half of its European population.

Synagogue records show a well-organized Jewish community with a high level of participation by Jews as well as New Christians, who were finally able to openly return to the practice of Judaism. There was an elementary level Talmud Torah and an upper level yeshiva in which Gemara was taught. These records also indicate the existence of a tzedaka fund and an overseeing executive committee. The community was, not surprisingly, in general observant. Each adult male was required to stand guard on a regular basis. There are documents that show that Jews were exempt from doing guard duty on Shabbos. They were, however, required to hire gentiles who served in their stead.

The life story of the Rabbi Aboab is most interesting.

Rabbi Aboab da Fonseca was born in Portugal in 1605 into a family of New Christians. After settling in Amsterdam he returned to Judaism and eventually became a rabbi and a friend of Menashe Ben Israel. (When Rabbi) Aboab joined the Amsterdam Jews in Recife as their hakham, (he became) the first American rabbi.

He continued for 13 years as the spiritual mainstay of the community. After the repulse of the Portuguese attack on the city in 1646, (Rabbi) Aboab composed a thanksgiving narrative hymn… the first known Hebrew composition in the New World that has been preserved.

While in Recife, Rabbi Aboab also wrote his Hebrew grammar, Melekhet ha-Dikduk, still unpublished, and a treatise on the Thirteen Articles of Faith, now untraceable. After the Portuguese victory in 1654, (Rabbi) Aboab and other Jews returned to Amsterdam, where he became a prominent leader of the local Jewish community.[2]

Held in high esteem by his former Amsterdam congregants, (Rabbi) Aboab was reappointed as hocham in the synagogue and made teacher in the city`s talmud torah, principal of its yeshiva and member of the city`s bet din, or rabbinic court. He died in 1693 at the age of 88, having served the Jewish community of Amsterdam for 50 years after his return from Recife.[3]

The bereavement of their spiritual guide was so keenly felt by Amsterdam Jewry that for many years the name of Rabbi Aboab and the date of his death were incorporated in the engraved border of all marriage contracts issued by the community.[4]*

During the twenty-four years that Recife was under Dutch rule the Jews developed a vibrant community. Recife became the first place in the New World where Judaism was practiced openly. Its members were doctors, lawyers, peddlers, and merchants. Many Jews prospered in the tobacco, precious gems, wood, and sugar trades. It even had a street called the Rua dos Judeos (Street of the Jews) on which the synagogue Tzur Yisroel was located. Indeed, in 1999 archeological investigation located the exact site of the synagogue when its bor and mikvah were found. The site has been restored and is now a featured tourist attraction of the Recife community.

Everything changed in 1654 when Portugal reconquered Brazil. Fearing the reenactment of the Inquisition, the Jews of Recife either returned to Holland or fled to Dutch, French, or English colonies in the Caribbean. Jews mainly of Sephardic descent (collectively known as “La Nacion”) had recently established small but flourishing economic enclaves in Parimaribo, Barbados, Curacao, Jamaica, Hispaniola and Cayenne.

A total of sixteen ships transported both Jewish and Dutch colonists from Recife. Fifteen arrived safely; however, the sixteenth was captured by Spanish pirates only to be overtaken by the St. Charles, a French privateer. After much negotiating, the master of the St. Charles agreed to bring a group of twenty-three Jewish men, women and children from the captured ship to New Amsterdam for 900 guilders in advance and 1,600 on arrival.[5]

These twenty-three refugees arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654. They, together with at least two other Jews who had arrived not long before, were the founders of the Jewish Community of New York.

*After finishing this article I discovered that Rabbi Isaac Aboab da Fonseca was apparently a follower of Shabbtai Tzvi. (See www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view. jsp?artid=344&letter=A#810, The Sabbatean Prophets by Matt Goldish page 33, and Sabbatai Sevi by Gershom Scholem, pages 520-522.) To put it mildly, I was shocked, given the greatness of Rabbi Aboab. However, it made me realize how strong the messianic movement in the 17th century must have been to gain adherents of Rabbi Aboab`s caliber.

[1] www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=990&letter=S

[2] www.bh.org.il/Communities/Synagogue/Recife.asp

[3] www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/Fonseca.html

[4] http://www.bh.org.il/Communities/Synagogue/Recife.asp

[5] www.cjh.org/about/Forward/view_Forward.cfm?Forwardid=13

Dr. Yitzchak Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the department of Mathematical Sciences Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. He may be contacted at llevine@stevens-tech.edu).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/recife-the-first-jewish-community-in-the-new-world/2005/06/01/

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