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April 19, 2014 / 19 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘New Amsterdam’

Two Founding American Jewish Fathers

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005

“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.”[1]

“Leaving on July 8, 1654, Jacob Barsimson had crossed the ocean on the Pereboom, and reached Nieuw Amsterdam on August 22.” [2] 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.`” [3] 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`”[4] indicate that he kept a kosher home. The listing of “one Sabbath Lamb”[5] 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.”[6]

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.[7]

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.[8]

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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

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!” [12]

Among the Jews who immigrated to New Amsterdam in 1654 he was the only one who stayed, maintaining a home in the city until his death in 1682. For long lonely stretches as Dutch rule waned and the rest of the Jews departed for colonies with more sun and promise, his was the only Jewish family in town.[13] Yet the inventory of his estate suggests that he resolutely observed at least the principal rituals of his faith, including the Sabbath and Jewish dietary laws, within the precincts of his home. His life epitomized both the hardships entailed in being a Jew in early colonial America and the possibilities of surmounting them.[14]
 

[1] Early American Jewry Volume I, Jacob Rader Marcus, The Jewish Publication Society, 1951, page 24.

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

[3] Jewish Pioneers in America: 1492-1848, Anita Libman Lebeson, Brentano`s Publishers, 1931, page 50.

[4] “Asser Levy and the Inventories of Early New York Jews, Leo Hershkowitz, American Jewish History 80 (Autumn 1990), page 30.

[5] Ibid., page 36.

[6] Early American Jewry Volume I, page 30.

[7] American Judaism: A History, Jonathan D. Sarna, Yale University Press 2004, page 9.

[8] Jewish Pioneers in America: 1492-1848, pages 75-76

[9] Ibid., page 76.

[10] Ibid., page 76

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., page 77

[13] 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.

[14] 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 llevine@stevens-tech.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.

Kosherfest 2004 Exemplifies Explosive Success Of Kosher Observance

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004

In 1654, 23 Jews fleeing persecution in Portugal landed on the shores of New Amsterdam. Like all new immigrants, they faced the hardships of settling a new land, adapting to a new climate and dealing with hostile neighbors.

However, as Jews they faced additional hardships as well-anti-Semitic prejudice, the intolerance and hostility of another culture and the struggle to remain Torah Jews. That struggle was the hardest as it related to keeping Shabbos and the laws of kashrus. Unfortunately, as the generations passed, it seemed a battle many were destined to lose.

Yet, 350 years later finds us in New York City (the former New Amsterdam) home of the 16th annual Kosherfest, the premier trade show for the kosher food industry. Hundreds of exhibits, thousands of visitors, and foods representing the diversity of the United States as well as Israel, France, Italy, England, South Africa and Australia were all part of the show.

Some highlights:

Cakes and Cookies: Many booths featured whole lines of 100% natural ingredients - some organic, some wheat free, some a combination of both. We enjoyed a homemade carrot/raisin cake by Naturally Delicious from South Fallsburg. At Lilly’s Homestyle Bake Shop we were treated to a black mini cookie – sugar free and low carb. Landau’s Natural Foods displayed their line of organic wheat cookies and a new line of cookies, gluten free – try the chocolate chip. Nana’s Cookie Company has a very unique line of products. Called Nana’s No’s, they feature no refined sugar or dairy and may also be either gluten or wheat-free. They also have a kids’ line that features cookie bars made with 12 vitamins and minerals – and lots of taste. Rhoda’s Best has a wonderful line of sugar free cr?me filled muffins that are low in carbs and taste great. That’s besides their delicious dairy-free cheesecakes. We spent some time by Schick’s Bakery, a Boro Park staple for years. Well known for their line of Pesach baked goods, we were amazed at their “sandwich loaf” which looks like bread and is available for hospitals and nursing homes. They also featured their “pas-nisht” pizza that looks like pizza bagels and is available for retail sales before Yom Tov. They were highlighting their new Diamond line – cakes and cookies you will find in your local grocery and supermarket – reasonably price with the great Schick taste. We also had a chance to shmooz with Cindy at Shabtai Gourmet. Their cakes and cookies are available twice a year, for Rosh Hashana and Pesach. New this year for Pesach is a limited edition brownie pie, an apple pie and a bell ring cake topped with mounds of vanilla cr?me and chocolate icing. Last we visited with our old friend Daniel at Glenny’s where we picked up sample of their all new sugar free cookies and brownies. They are parve and come in four flavors. They also have a line of slim carb bars that are delicious.

Cheeses: The world of kosher cheese expands and grows at an amazing rate. One of the first booths we visited was that of Canterbury Foods who displayed a line called Lemnos, certified by Kosher Australia. This amazing group of cheeses includes three different fetas – including reduced fat, an Indian cheese called Paneer and a number of ricotta dips. We then headed over to Anderson International where Brigitte introduced me to Natural and Kosher’s new stringable cheese and gave me great news about upcoming Monsey Dairy Cholov Yisroel bags of cheddar, mozzarella and a blend. She also gave us the heads-up about a crumbled feta and a shredded swiss coming soon. At Two Tribes LLC, a premier cheese company, we took a look at their pizzas available in your grocer’s freezer or refrigerated section and a new shredded cheddar mozzarella combo they are working on.

Desserts: One of the most amazing sites at the show was Tropical Sorbet Chillers. These delicious desserts are frozen fruit shells filled with real fruit sorbet. The coconut is in a coconut shell, the lemon in a lemon, the mango in a, well you get the point. We tried two – coconut and mango – amazing. Did I say that already? Imagine a Shabbos table filled with company and for dessert you bring out these fruit chillers – elegant and delicious. Strauss Bakery is presenting a new line of mini dessert cups for retail purchase this year. Flavors include tiramisu, chocolate mousse, strawberry mousse and their signature item – silk and satin. Pastel World of Cakes, one of our favorites, was displaying their unique line of individual portion pastries - la bomb, chocolate mousse pyramids, chocolate banana and strawberry meringue, just to name a few. Each one is beautifully decorated and filled with incredible taste. Jerusalem Gourmet Products features Marzipan Bakery Jerusalem’s famous rugelach. Available in microwave and oven packaging, they hope to be on your grocer’s shelf soon.

Drinks and Beverages: Dynamic Health Laboratories featured a line of liquid supplements and juice concentrates, including mango and papaya purees, which are not only good for you but taste great as well. The Wimm-Bill- Dann Group’s Wonder Berry gave out beautiful shopping bags to compliment their line of delicious berry drinks. Called Mors, they are traditional Russian beverages dating back over 1000 years. We sampled the berry mix - a blend of blueberries, cranberries and blackberries – and found the taste to be not too sweet and a real thirst quencher. 4C has added some new flavors to their powdered ice tea line – new light lemon, light raspberry and light decaf made with splenda. We sampled the light lemon and can honestly say it was very good and had no aftertaste. We stopped by Prigat and received a large cup of diet grapefruit drink – a true favorite of ours. And then tried Old Brick imported English Cider. Available in England for over a century, this smooth 4.5% alcohol drink made from the apples will be available in the U.S. on time for Pesach. Wondering how it tastes? To us it seemed similar to beer, with a lighter flavor. At the Kedem booth we tried Stamford Hill diet touch o’ peach iced tea. The line includes a diet lemon, regular peach, regular lemon and kiwi-strawberry. At 99-cents for a 20-oz bottle, they are worth a trip to the store. Last, from South Africa via Israel comes Chilla - a line of Cholov Yisroel flavored hot chocolate and iced coffee mixes.

Of special interest: The Lower East Side Conservancy, an affiliate of the United Jewish Council of the East Side, holds regular tours of the Lower East Side. Besides reconnecting people with a very important part of our heritage, the funds are used to help upkeep shuls standing since the 1800′s. Their latest fundraiser is called “Feast on Tradition” and features two pushcarts brimming with Lower East Side goodies. The Essex Noshcart includes bialys from Kossars, pickles from Guss’, a Lower East Side Trivia game and much more. The Delancy Noshcart contains everything in the Essex noshcart with more food and an award-winning guidebook for the Lower East Side. To order you can call them at 877-pushcart or visit them on-line at www.nycjewishtours.org

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/food/kashrut-scene/kosherfest-2004-exemplifies-explosive-success-of-kosher-observance/2004/11/03/

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