April 20 - Freedom of Religion in New Amsterdam!

Posted on April 20, 2020

I don't ever want to hear this: "They killed Jesus!"

One of the awful and ironic tragedies of the Christian religion is that Jesus's death - even though it was Roman soldiers who carried out the execution - is often blamed on the Jewish leaders who (according to the story) asked that he be put to death. 

And then somehow many Christians blame ALL Jews for his death. Even though Jesus himself was a Jew! Plus, his disciples and supporters were all Jews!

It seems that too many people use any excuse (no matter how unreasonable or counter-factual) to hate other people.

Hatred of Jews is called anti-semitism, and history has seen far too much of it. 

But today's historical anniversary is a little bit of positivity in the story of anti-semitism:

When Portuguese forces conquered Recife, in Brazil, in 1654, the Jewish people of Recife faced oppression. Several Jewish families fled Brazil aboard a ship, but in the Caribbean they either ran into a storm and were stranded in Spanish Jamaica, or their ship was was attacked by a Spanish pirate (I've seen different reports!). Whatever happened, those Jews were fearful of facing the Spanish Inquisition - which was big-time religious bigotry, in which non-Catholics were forced to convert or die. 

The Jews of Recife, Brazil, in the 1600s: various
groups went to Dutch and English colonies in South
America and the Caribbean Sea, one group went to
the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, and the bulk of
the Recife Jews went all the way back to the Netherlands.

The 23 desperate Jews were finally allowed to sail to a Dutch colony in North America. They hoped to find a welcome there - a place where they could worship as Jews, settle and work and become a community.

That Dutch colony - called New Amsterdam - was ruled by Director Peter Stuyvesant, and he did not welcome the Jews. Their perilous journey had resulted in them coming pretty empty handed, and Stuyvesant thought they would become a drain on the colony. 

This logo of the Dutch West India
Company appeared on its flags.
However, under pressure from Jewish folks living in the Netherlands, leaders of the Dutch West India Company ordered that the Jews be given refuge in the colony.

"Refuge" means shelter, a safe place. "Refugees" are people who need shelter because they had to flee their homes to escape harm or death.

The Jewish families settled in New Amsterdam, and their freedom to worship their own religion was safeguarded on this date in 1657.

One of the 23 Jews from Recife, Asser Levy, was the first Jew known to own a home anywhere in North America.

Asser Levy Public Baths, located on Asser Levy Place in
Manhattan, NYC. This facility is named after Asser Levy, one
of the most prominent of New York Cities early Jewish citizens.

In 1664, the British invaded the colony of New Amsterdam.  The Brits took over and renamed the town New York. 

Nowadays New York has grown to be the largest city in the U.S. and one of the most important cities in the world! It's also the city with the most Jewish citizens in America.

Also nowadays: many of us push back whenever we spot anti-semitism.  

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