History of the Jews in New York

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Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn Hasidic Family in Street - Borough Park - Hasidic District - Brooklyn.jpg
Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn

Jews have settled in New York state since the 17th century. In August 1654, the first known Jewish settler, Jacob Barsimson, came to New Amsterdam. The Dutch colonial port city was the seat of the government for the New Netherland territory and became New York City in 1664.


The first significant group of Jewish settlers came in September 1654 as refugees from Recife, Brazil to New Amsterdam. Portugal had just conquered Brazil from the Dutch Republic and the Spanish and Portuguese Jews there promptly fled. A group of 23 Jewish immigrants in New Amsterdam was greeted by director general Peter Stuyvesant who was at first unwilling to accept them.

The Jewish population in New York City went from about 80,000 in 1880 to 1.6 million in 1920. By 1910, more than 1 million Jews made up 25 percent of New York's population and made it the world's largest Jewish city. [1] As of 2016, about 1.1 million residents of New York City, or about 12 percent of its residents, were Jewish. New York state has about 1.75 million Jews, comprising approximately 9 percent of its total population. [2]

Early Jewish immigration

Jacob Barsimson

Jacob Barsimson was the first Jewish immigrant to arrive in New Amsterdam on 22 August 1654 [3] on the Dutch West India Company ship, the Peartree (de Pereboom). [3] He received the appropriate permissions and met no opposition by then Governor Peter Stuyvesant or his council upon arrival. [3] He along with Asser Levy fought to allow the first wave of 23 Jewish immigrants to stay in New Amsterdam.

First wave

The first significant group of Jews to arrive in New York after Jacob Barsimson was a group of 23 Jewish immigrants in September 1654 fleeing from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Following the mass expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and the forced conversions of some 100,000 Jews in Portugal, many had fled to different regions of Europe and the New World. [4] Dutch Brazil proved to be a haven for many and a colony in Recife grew to be a prosperous Jewish Community.

In the 1650s Portugal retook control of Dutch Brazil, and the Inquisition soon followed. After the Portuguese occupation of Pernambuco many of the Jewish residents of Recife fled in an attempt to return to New Amsterdam. [4] One ship, the St. Charles, was forced to divert its course after encountering Pirates on their course to Holland. After attempting to land in multiple Spanish ports, they eventually arrived at New Amsterdam without passports. [4]

These immigrants were forced to sign a contract with the Captain of the St. Charles to bring them to New Amsterdam. [4] Upon arrival they did not have sufficient funds to pay for their transit. Their remaining possessions were auctioned by Governor Peter Stuyvesant. Because the immigrants still did not have sufficient funds to pay the fees, two individuals were imprisoned. [4]

Upon their arrival, Governor Stuyvesant objected to their settlement because they did not have the required passports or funds to sustain themselves. [4] representatives of the Jews living at that time in New York sent a remonstrance to the Dutch West India Company, advocating to allow the immigrants to settle in the new colony. They argued that land was plentiful and adding more loyal individuals would help to facilitate the Dutch West India Company's goal of expanding their colony. [5] Jewish stockholders in the Dutch West India Company convinced the company to pressure the governor into accepting the arrivals, but the latter still imposed numerous restrictions and taxes on his Jewish subjects. Eventually, many of these Jews left. [6] The Governor's objections were overruled by the Company in an order issued February 15, 1655 and Jews were allowed to travel, trade and live in the New Amsterdam Colony. [4]

Asser Levy

Asser Levy was the poorest of the first twenty three Jewish Immigrants. He helped to file petitions that won the 23 immigrants the right to reside in New Amsterdam. [7] As an advocate for Jews in the colony, the earliest mention of Asser Levy in a Court Record from New Amsterdam is September 15, 1654 as a plaintiff against unfair treatment of the Jewish immigrants. [7] For example, Levy protested the policy of the exemption of Jews from enlisting in the army and being forced to pay an additional tax instead. [7]

19th and 20th centuries

The second period in American Jewish history was dominated by German Jewry. Jewish people looking for peace and new life, and especially in the 19th century, New York was somewhere to do it. Many settlers started careers in the arts, business, literature. Between the 1830s and 1880s, a growing number of middle class German Jews escaping from discrimination arrived in New York, seeking fame and fortune. As the city continued to grow, so did the Jewish population. In 1848 German Jews in New York established Bnai Brith, the first major secular organization.

When the Civil War started about 7,000 jews fought for the Union and about 1,500 for the Confederacy. [8] After the Civil War, New York Jews were more religiously split with a Reform movement rising in popularity. [9]

The Great Wave

Lower East Side, New York City Lower East Side (6467552265).jpg
Lower East Side, New York City

Between 1880 and 1924, 2.5 million Ashkenazi Jews from the Russian Empire, Romania, and Austria-Hungary came to the United States and nearly 75 percent took up residence on the Lower East Side. [10] The Jewish population in New York went from about 80,000 in 1880 to 1.5 million in 1920 [11] This new mix of cultures changed what was a middle-class, acculturated, politically conservative community to a working-class, Yiddish-speaking group with a varied mix of ideologies including socialism, Zionism, and religious orthodoxy. The population of Jews eventually hit over one million by the 1900s and crowded into Jewish neighborhoods. [12] The less-fortunate began to make the Lower East Side their own district as an influx of Jews reached the city between the 1870s and early 1900s. [8]

The Jews of Central and Eastern Europe faced economic hardship, persecution, and social and political changes in the 1800s through the early 1900s, causing them to flee to the United States. [13] In Russia, there were waves of pogroms between 1881 and 1921. [8]

In 1940, 90% of New York state's 2,206,328 (1937 figure) Jews resided in the city. However, the next two decades saw a flow to the suburbs. [14]


Jewish culture

Jewish people also found ways to carry on their same traditions and introduce some cultural aspects to New York City.

The bagel was brought to the United States in the early 20th century and became so popular that it is now a worldwide export. The recipe was fiercely safeguarded by Bagel Bakers Local 338, a union of 300 bagel craftsmen based in New York.[ citation needed ]


Temple Emanu-El Emanu-elNYjeh.JPG
Temple Emanu-El

The first Jewish congregation in the city, Shearith Israel was established in 1654. [15] Founded in 1845, Temple Emanu-El on 5th Avenue in Manhattan's Upper East Side is the oldest Reform Jewish congregation in New York City, which developed into the largest and most prestigious Reform congregation in the country. The Angel Orensanz Center, originally Anshe Chesed Synagogue, is situated in the Lower East Side and was the largest synagogue in the United States at the time of its construction. The building has been standing since 1849, making it the oldest surviving synagogue.

Borough Park's inhabitants are mostly Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. The area in southwestern Brooklyn first began to have a Jewish presence in the early 1900s. The Hasidic immigration started after World War II, with the arrival of survivors from Nazi extermination camps and Eastern European ghettos. [16]


Many Jews studied science and went to New York City, examples such as Otto Loewi, who moved to the United States in 1940, where he joined the faculty of New York University College of Medicine as a research professor of pharmacology. [17] He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1936, which he shared with Henry Dale.

Literature and theater

In the late 1800s to the early 1900s, people of the Jewish faith began to spread their art of theater throughout New York City. The Yiddish Theater was established in the Yiddish language in 1903, used by Jews in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust. The Yiddish theater consisted mostly of Jewish people and settlers in New York performing Yiddish drama, folktale, and expanding theatrical culture throughout the city.

Numerous Jewish actors and playwrights in the 20th and 21st centuries have influenced the theater world. Notable examples include Tony Curtis, Stephen Sondheim, and Barbra Streisand. [8]

Riots and Strikes

Teachers' strike of 1968

In 1968, more than 50,000 New York City teachers went on strike for a total of 37 days. Black New Yorkers had been protesting the conditions in city schools since the early 1960s. Brownsville, a neighborhood located in eastern Brooklyn, had been predominantly Jewish and became 75% black and 20% Puerto Rican. The strike began when the mostly black school board in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district dismissed a set of mostly Jewish teachers. The dismissals were condemned by the American Jewish Congress.

Crown Heights riot

Riots between Crown Heights' Jewish and black communities erupted on August 19, 1991. On the third day of the riots, Al Sharpton was among the leaders of a march through Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The marchers carried anti-Semitic signs, and an Israeli flag was burned.

See also

Related Research Articles

New Amsterdam 17th-century Dutch colonial settlement that became New York City

New Amsterdam was a 17th-century Dutch settlement established at the southern tip of Manhattan Island that served as the seat of the colonial government in New Netherland. The factorij became a settlement outside Fort Amsterdam. The fort was situated on the strategic southern tip of the island of Manhattan and was meant to defend the fur trade operations of the Dutch West India Company in the North River. In 1624, it became a provincial extension of the Dutch Republic and was designated as the capital of the province in 1625.

Peter Stuyvesant 17th-century Dutch politician

Peter Stuyvesant in Dutch also Pieter and Petrus Stuyvesant); (1592–1672) served as the last Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland from 1647 until it was ceded provisionally to the English in 1664, after which it was renamed New York. He was a major figure in the early history of New York City and his name has been given to various landmarks and points of interest throughout the city.

1650s decade

The 1650s decade ran from January 1, 1650, to December 31, 1659.

New Netherland 17-century Dutch colony in North America

New Netherland was a 17th-century colony of the Dutch Republic that was located on what is now the east coast of the United States. The claimed territories extended from the Delmarva Peninsula to southwestern Cape Cod, while the more limited settled areas are now part of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut, with small outposts in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

There have been Jewish communities in the United States since colonial times. Early Jewish communities were primarily Sephardi, composed of immigrants from Brazil and merchants who settled in cities. Until the 1830s, the Jewish community of Charleston, South Carolina, was the largest in North America. In the late 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s, many Jewish immigrants left from various nations to enter the U.S. as part of the general rise of immigration movements. For example, many German Jews arrived in the middle of the 19th century, established clothing stores in towns across the country, formed Reform synagogues, and were active in banking in New York. Immigration of Eastern Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews, in 1880–1914, brought a large, poor, traditional element to New York City. They were Orthodox or Conservative in religion. They founded the Zionist movement in the United States, and were active supporters of the Socialist party and labor unions. Economically, they concentrated in the garment industry.

Recife Antigo neighborhood in Recife

Recife Antigo is the historical section of central Recife, Brazil. It is located on the Island of Recife, near the Recife harbor. This historic area has been recently recovered and now holds several clubs, bars and a high-tech center called Porto Digital.

The history of the Jews in Colonial America.

Spanish and Portuguese Jews, also called Western Sephardim, are a distinctive sub-group of Iberian Jews who are largely descended from Jews who lived as New Christians in the Iberian Peninsula during the immediate generations following the forced expulsion of unconverted Jews from Spain in 1492 and from Portugal in 1497.

The history of the Jews in Pennsylvania dates back to Colonial America.

Jacob Barsimson was one of the earliest Jewish settlers at New Amsterdam, and the earliest identified Jewish settler within the present limits of the state of New York.

As a result of the Alhambra Decree of 1492 and the Holy Office of the Inquisition, many Sephardim left the Iberian peninsula at the end of the 15th century and throughout the 16th century, in search of religious freedom. Some migrated to the newly independent Dutch provinces which welcomed the Sephardic Jews. Many of the Jews who left for the Dutch provinces were crypto-Jews, persons who had converted to Catholicism but continued to practice Judaism in secret. After they had settled in the safety of the Netherlands, many of them 'returned' fully to practice of the Jewish religion.

Dutch Brazil Dutch possession in South America between 1630-1654

Dutch Brazil, also known as New Holland, was the northern portion of the Portuguese colony of Brazil, ruled by the Dutch during the Dutch colonization of the Americas between 1630 and 1654. The main cities of the Dutch colony of New Holland were the capital Mauritsstad, Frederikstadt, Nieuw Amsterdam (Natal), Saint Louis, São Cristóvão, Fort Schoonenborch (Fortaleza), Sirinhaém and Olinda.

Isaac Aboab da Fonseca Sephardi rabbi

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Congregation Shearith Israel Synagogue in Manhattan, New York

The Congregation Shearith Israel – often called The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue – is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. It was established in 1654 in New Amsterdam by Jews who arrived from Dutch Brazil. Until 1825, when Jewish immigrants from Germany established a congregation, it was the only Jewish congregation in New York City.

Jewish disabilities were legal restrictions, limitations and obligations placed on European Jews in the Middle Ages, somewhat analogous to those imposed on Jews in the Muslim world. In Europe, the disabilities imposed on Jews included provisions requiring Jews to wear specific and identifying clothing such as the Jewish hat and the yellow badge, paying special taxes, swearing special oaths, living in certain neighbourhoods, and forbidding Jews to enter certain trades. In Sweden, for example, Jews were forbidden to sell new pieces of clothing. Disabilities also included special taxes levied on Jews, exclusion from public life, restraints on the performance of religious ceremonies, and linguistic censorship. Some countries went even further and outright expelled Jews, for example England in 1290 and Spain in 1492.

Dutch Brazilians

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Jews in New York City comprise approximately 13 percent of the city's population, making the Jewish community the largest in the world outside of Israel. As of 2014, 1.1 million Jews live in the five boroughs of New York City, and 2 million Jews live in New York State overall. Jews have immigrated to New York City since the first settlement in Dutch New Amsterdam in 1654, most notably at the end of the 19th century to the early 20th century, when the Jewish population rose from about 80,000 in 1880 to 1.5 million in 1920. The large Jewish population has led to a significant impact on the culture of New York City. After many decades of decline in the 20th century, the Jewish population of New York City has seen a sharp increase in the 21st century, owing to the high birth rate of the Hasidic and Orthodox communities.

Asser Levy American businessman

Asser Levy, also known as Asher Levy, was one of the first Jewish settlers of the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island.

The Jewish arrival in New Amsterdam of September 1654 was the first organized Jewish migration to North America. It comprised 23 Sephardi Jews, refugees "big and little" fleeing persecution by the Portuguese Inquisition after the conquest of Dutch Brazil. It is widely commemorated as the starting point of New York Jewish and Jewish-American history.


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