Jewish Settlement in the New World

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk




On August 22, 1654 Jacob bar Simson arrived in Nieuw Amsterdaam on the ship Pear Tree, from the West Indies or the Caribbean, named after the Carib Indians. He was the first Jew ever to set foot on what was to become the United States of America.

One month later, the French ship St. Charles arrived in the same Dutch port with 23 Jews from Brazil. These Jews had emigrated from the Netherlands to Brazil because the Dutch had founded a number of colonies there beginning in 1623. The Dutch had done this because they were Protestants in a country occupied by the Spanish under the rule of Phillip II, who introduced the Inquisition into the Netherlands, including Belgium, in 1568. That led to a revolt by the Dutch and war with Spain which did not end until 1648, i.e. eighty years later.*

The Dutch colonies in Brazil angered the Portuguese a great deal, not only because the Dutch were Protestants but also because the Pope had awarded all of Brazil, sight unseen, to the Portuguese in 1494, before any part of South America had been explored by Europeans. The Pope gave all of the rest of South America to Spain. To this day Portuguese is spoken in Brazil.

Well, the Portuguese came to Brazil with a large navy and army and fought the Dutch over a number of years until, in 1654, the Dutch lost and the Portuguese introduced the Inquisition into Brazil. Therefore the Dutch Protestants and the Jews fled from there. 1450 Jews had lived in the colony of Recife and it was from there that they returned to the Netherlands or came to the nearest Dutch colony, i.e. the present New York.

The governor of Nieuw Amsterdaam was the bigot Peter Stuyvesant, who demanded that the Jews leave his province. However, the Amsterdam Jews still in Europe were heavy investors in the Dutch West India Co. which owned the colony and therefore the company told Stuyvesant that the Jews could stay provided they did not practice their religion.

After the English seized Nieuw Amsterdaam from the Dutch in 1664, the Jews were still not permitted to build a synagogue (Syn=together; agogein= to assemble). It was not until 1728 that the Jews of New York finally received permission from England to build a synagogue. It was inaugurated in 1730 and named Shearith Israel or The Remnant of Israel.

The second American synagogue was established in Newport, R.I. in 1763. It is called Jeshuath Israel or the Salvation of Israel. It was the Rhode Island congregation which received the famous letter of George Washington which told them and all Americans that in this country all may worship as they please (Go ahead. Look it up in your Jewish history book.)

Indeed, the U.S.A. has become Jeshuath Israel. Not only for us but also for the People of Israel, our brethren, who are facing Arab hatred and murder every day but who are surviving not only because of their own courage but also because our people and government under George W. Bush, may G’d bless him, are standing together as we and the Christian community remember that the Torah teaches that those who bless Israel are indeed blessed and those who curse Israel are cursed.

May our Arab cousins and all mankind learn that lesson now and in our day, Bimhayro v’yomaynoo.

Shalom u’vracha.


* Remember that eight years after the Dutch finally expelled the Spanish, the great Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated from the Jewish community in Amsterdam (1656). There is a tremendous literature concerning Spinoza in all libraries. Please read it all. If you want only a few pages on Spinoza, go to the Audubon library and borrow my latest book Man’s Ascent to Reason. It has a brief summary of Spinoza’s life and work.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2002).

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