#60 Jewish New York – First Jews in New York

#60 Jewish New York – First Jews in New York

You will learn about the earliest Jewish history in New York in this lesson. The first Jews arrived in the late 17th century, mostly well off Dutch Jews from Europe that had business interests in the New World. In the 18th and 19th century came the big wave of Jewish immigration of poor Eastern European Jews which populated the Lower East Side (see lesson #62: Lower East Side Jews).

#1 WATCH: First Jews in America

#2 STUDY: New York Jews in 1654 

In September 1654, shortly before the Jewish New Year, twenty-three Jews from the Sephardic community in the Netherlands, coming from RecifeBrazil, then a Dutch colony, arrived in New Amsterdam (New York City).

From a population of 1,000–2,000 Jewish residents in 1790, mostly Dutch Sephardic Jews, Jews from England, and British subjects, the American Jewish community grew to about 15,000 by 1840,[4] and to about 250,000 by 1880.

#3 WATCH: The Battle for Independence 1776

#4 STUDY: American Jews in 1776 – the year of Independence

By 1776 and the War of Independence, around 2,000 Jews lived in America, most of them Sephardic Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin. They played a role in the struggle for independence, including fighting the British, with Francis Salvador being the first Jew to die, and playing a role in financing the revolution, with one of the key financiers being Haym Solomon. The highest ranking Jewish officer of the Colonial forces was Colonel Mordecai Sheftall.

President George Washington remembered the Jewish contribution when he wrote to the Sephardic congregation ofNewport, Rhode Island, in a letter dated August 17, 1790: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

#5 The Jewish Community of New York is Born

The first group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews arrived in New Amsterdam in September 1654. After being initially rebuffed by anti-Semitic Governor Peter Stuyvesant, Jews were given official permission to settle in the colony in 1655. This marks the founding of the Congregation Shearith Israel. Despite their permission to stay in New Amsterdam they continued to face discrimination and were not given permission to worship in a public synagogue for some time (throughout the Dutch period and even into the British). The Congregation did, however, make arrangements for a cemetery beginning in 1656.

It was not until 1730 that the Congregation was able to build a synagogue of its own; it was built on Mill Street in lower Manhattan. Before 1730, as is evidenced from a map of New York from 1695, the congregation worshipped in rented quarters on Beaver Street and subsequently on Mill Street. Since 1730 the Congregation has worshipped in five synagogues:

  1. Mill Street, 1730
  2. Mill Street re-built and expanded, 1818
  3. Crosby Street, 1834
  4. 19th Street, 1860
  5. West 70th Street, 1897 (present building.)

The first Jewish school, Polonies Talmud Torah, was established in New York in 1806

#6 Review and Response

1. In what year and from where were the first Jews to arrive in New York?
2. What is the name of the first synagogue in New York? Where is it today?
3. What did George Washington say about the Jews in 1776?
4. What was the name of the first Jewish school in New York? What year?
5. What do you think life was like for the first Jews of New York?

Need some help? We’re here for you. At any time, if you have any questions, please contact one of our teachers so we can help you. Also, at the end of the session, remember to review your responses in your Tamid Workbook so you can get credit for this lesson. Behatzlacha (Hebrew for good luck)! You can reach Sarah at (646)360-0689 or connect@tamidnyc.org