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Whoopi Goldberg

I. “…The Jews who arrived…are a deceitful race…praying they be not allowed further to infect and trouble the new colony…” (translation by Samuel Oppenheim, The Early History of the Jews of New York).

This shameful letter, composed on September 22, 1654, was written by Peter Stuyvesant, the last director general of New Netherlands, who led New York City when it was known as New Amsterdam.


Indeed, all over this great city, Jews see remnants in name and in form of those who wished that this land be free from them.

Our revenge, however, is not in tearing these statues down, or renaming buildings or jurisdictions (Bed-Stuy, anyone?) but is in having hordes of little yarmulke-clad boys play hide-and-go-seek on Shabbos afternoon around Stuyvesant’s statue.

By 1655, Stuyvesant not only forbade Jews from aiding in the colony’s protection, but he demanded they pay a tax for those legionnaires who were allowed to fight in their absence.

It was a Jew originally from Vilna called Asher/Asser Levy, who appealed back to Holland arguing for receiving his and every willing Jew’s right to fight, arguing that no member of this colony should be treated differently simply based on their race.

On April 26,1655, the leadership in Holland officially replied to Levy’s petitions and Stuyvesant’s defenses of them:

“…your wishes and request that the new territories should be no more allowed to be infected by the people of the Jewish nation… but after having further weighed and considered the matter we observed that this would be somewhat unreasonable and unfair…

“…we have finally decided…that these people may travel and trade to and in New Netherland and live and remain there…”

In October of 1655 Stuyvesant once again appealed to Holland, maintaining that “to give liberty to the Jews would be detrimental.

Stuyvesant’s stubbornness would not allow him to cede the matter. He appealed to Holland two more times, in the second predicting that Jews would take too much of the fiscal and trade pie:

What they [the Jews] may be able to obtain from your honors time will tell.

Many Jews would leave New York for Roger Williams’s free-er colony in Rhode Island, Providence Plantations, which Williams declared a home of religious freedom for all. Indeed, more Jews lived in that colony in the 18th century than all of the land of Israel combined.

Yet some stayed in New York and would soon become part of the tapestry of nations and creeds that would build this city into the melting pot that it is today.


II. Just a few miles from where The View is filmed sits Asser Levy Place, a remembrance in this great city to the man who fought so that this New World be one for all races. Both Whoopi and I owe him much.

Lamentably, this history has become important to review.

I do not consider Goldberg a bigot like Stuyvesant, nor do I believe that she wishes ill toward the Jews. As her own mother shared, she herself chose the name Goldberg due to the perception that those of that race get more auditions.

She didn’t choose an act of Jewish faith to demonstrate her “Jewish” bona-fides (say, wearing a tallis), but a last name. In other words, her attempted connection to Jews was racial, as hard to define as that term may be.

Indeed, it is Whoopi’s expressed love for our community that I hope will awaken her to the fact that she has been treading in very dangerous, and tired, waters with her latest fracas.

Throughout history, our enemies would choose between our being a race or a religion – whichever would bring us more harm. Hitler would go back generations to find any Jewish blood, no matter how Germanized and secular one may claim to be. The Syrian-Greeks in the story of Chanukah, on the other hand, focused more on our faith. The Spanish took this same tract.


III. Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, Cardinal O’Connell and 116 others saw this cancer for what it was and wished to stop it from metastasizing.

And so, on January 17, 1921, the readers of the New York Times were met with a short and crisp warning to the American people. “Probably no similar document ever bore such a distinguished array of signatures” commented the Times.

Note how they mention the very dichotomy Whoopi missed (bold emphasis added).

The undersigned, citizens of Gentile birth and Christian faith, view with profound regret and disapproval the appearance in this country of what is apparently an organized campaign of anti-Semitism, conducted in close conformity to and co-operation with similar campaigns in Europe. …thus introducing into our national political life a new and dangerous spirit…American citizenship and American democracy are thus challenged and menaced…From the foundation of this Republic down to the World War, men and women of Jewish ancestry and faith have taken an honorable part in building up this great nation and maintaining its prestige and honor among the nations of the world…Anti-Semitism is almost invariably associated with lawlessness and with brutality and injustice…We believe it should not be left to men and women of Jewish faith to fight this evil, but that it is in a very special sense the duty of citizens who are not Jews by ancestry or faith. …In particular, we call upon those who are molders of public opinion – the clergy and ministers of all Christian churches, publicists, teachers, editors and statesmen – to strike at his un-American and un-Christian agitation.”

Also note their purposeful focus on both faith and race, nation and religion. These wise men left no room for quibble.


IV. It is true, a gentile may choose to become Catholic. However, a third-generation Kansan cannot become Irish-Catholic. A white Scandinavian may wish to be Christian, but not a Black Christian.

Judaism, however, does allow others to not only join our faith, but our race as well. Indeed, Jewish law allows a convert to say “Elokei avosienu” (G-d of my forefathers) and “v’tzivanu” (commanded us at Sinai). This is a miracle of Yiddeshkeit, and speaks to the holiness of the converts among us.

Not only does a convert join our race but they are named “daughter of Sarah” or “son of Abraham” so as to highlight this miracle of ancestry. (Of course, Judaism still demands fidelity, honor, love and awe toward their birth parents. That never goes away.)

Meanwhile, Jews have lived with cultural appropriation – a contemporary buzzword – for millennia. The Sabbath, Messiah, the list goes on. Even Isaac’s Sacrifice has been turned into that of Ishmael’s. All major religions took from us.

We were always the world’s muse. Throughout all of this, we have remained quiet.


V. I hope Whoopi keeps her job. I hope she learns a lesson. I hope she studies history.

America is a unique experiment. Without patience and understanding we have no hope to continue this grand test. Let us continue to learn from each other and from our own unique histories.

(No matter one’s race, we are all made in the image of G-d, Jew and Gentile alike (see Ohr Hachaim, Bereishis 2)).

In today’s era of hyper-vigilance toward many and any prejudices, in an age of neologistic terms of sensitivity, I fear that certain bigotries are seen as too passé to protest, too outmoded to focus upon, and people too uneducated to even understand.

Whether it’s American crime statistics, or simply daring to risk walking the streets of almost all of the countries of the world while wearing a yarmulke (I dare the Gentile reader to try it), one must be blind to ignore the scourge of antisemitism being alive, well-fed and waiting to revisit the world with great horror, as it always has throughout history.

As the 100-year old op-ed stated, such ignorant beliefs about the Jews is the beginning of a problem, not the end. Let us not let it metastasize.

And I hope the readers go to Asser Levy Place and say thank you.

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Rabbi Moshe Taub is rabbi of Young Israel of Holliswood and former director of BVK Kosher.