Jews In New York 250 Years Part II

 
 

It was from a Jew that John Jacob Astor obtained his first lessons in the wholesale trade. His employer at one time was
Hayman Levy, an importer of furs.

Had the wishes of the directors of the Dutch West India Company been carried out New York today might have had a real
"Ghetto," instead of a semblance of one. It was the desire of these Hollanders to have all the Hebrew inhabitants of
New-Amsterdam live apart from the rest of the community, and one of their letters of instructions to Peter Stuyvesant
contained these words.

"They (the Jews) may exercise in all quietness their religion within their houses, for which and they must without doubt
endeavor to build their houses close together in a convenient place on one side or the other side of New Amsterdam at their
choice as they have done here."

Yet there is no evidence that the Jews all preparations for the building of a synagogue they were also told that they could
not have one. When they tried to sell goods at retail they learned that the directors of the company had refused them this
right. When they wanted to buy real estate they were informed that this was against the law. All these privileges, however,
they obtained later, after persistent fighting for them.

The refusal of the Dutch to let the Jews carry on a retail trade had a profound effect not only upon these people, but also
on the commercial development of the whole city. As told by Max J. Kohler, the Hebrew historical writer, the first Hebrew
merchants became importers, and to this line of business they have ever since devoted so much attention that they now carry
on most of the wholesale trade of New York. At the present time their stores and offices crowd Broadway for miles. More
recently, too, they have forged far ahead in the retail business most of the department stores in this city being now in the
hands of Jews.

As the Dutch afterward found out, much to their chagrin, the foreign trade into which they drove the Jews proved to the
latter far more lucrative than any other kind of business. The most profitable commerce carried on from this port at that
time was with the West Indies and South America, with which the Jews were especially familiar, as most of them had come from
those countries. They at once got in touch with Jewish relatives and acquaintances at Curacao, Surinam, St. Thomas, Jamaica
and the Barbados, and it was not long before they had lines of ships running to those ports.

It was from a Jew that John Jacob Astor obtained his first lessons in the wholesale trade. His employer at one time was
Hayman Levy, an importer of furs.

Had the wishes of the directors of the Dutch West India Company been carried out New York today might have had a real
"Ghetto," instead of a semblance of one. it was the desire of these Hollanders to have all the Hebrew inhabitants of new
Amsterdam live apart from the rest of the community, and one of their letters of instructions to Peter Stuyvesant contained
these words:

"They (the Jews) may exercise in all quietness their religion within their houses, for which end they must without doubt
endeavor to build their houses close together in a convenient place on one side or the other side of New Amsterdam at their
choice as they have done here."

Yet there is no evidence that the Jews all lived together in those days any more than they do now. Consequently, the city
today has no quarter which may be strictly called a "Ghetto." There is a constant shifting of the Jewish population on the
East Side, and as fast as possible the more prosperous members of that community move uptown, settling in Lexington and
Madison aves. and in Harlem, both east and west of Fifth avenue. At the present time the wealthiest Jews have homes in the most
aristocratic districts, and many of the houses in "Millionaires Walk" opposite Central Park are owned by them.

For the reason that many of the first Jewish settlers of this city had been accustomed in Spain and Portugal to observe their
religious rites in secret, the command to "exercise their religion within their houses was not such a hardship to them as
might be supposed. In Spain the Inquisition brought out the fact that numbers of Hebrews had publicly professed Christianity
and attended the Catholic Church regularly, who in secret still worshipped God in their own way. At any rate, the Jews did
not make the same fight for the privilege of erecting a synagogue as they did for other rights, which sooner or later they
obtained. The first reference to a public house of worship for Hebrews was in 1695, more than forty years after their first
settlement. A map of the town made by Chaplain John Miller in that year showed a synagogue on the south side of Beaver street,
near Mill street (now South William street), with an accompanying note that Saul Brown was its rabbi, and that the congregation
consisted of twenty families. From this congregation originated the religious organization which is known today as Shearith
Israel, or the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of the City of New York. It now has a home in a marble synagogue in
Central Park West. The rabbi of this congregation, the Rev. Dr. H. Pereira Mendes, himself descended from Spanish Jews, is
one of the prime movers in the plan for the coming anniversary celebration, in regard to which he said yesterday to a Tribune
reporter.

"The pages of history record few passages more interesting than those which tell of grit and integrity and certainly the
first Hebrews in New York showed both. They were Sephardic Hebrews, cultured sons of cultured sires, and doubtless superior
in refinement to the doughty Hollanders, who did not like their coming. For centuries in Spain they had produced
philosophers, physicians, grammarians, poets and merchant princes.

"New York's first Jews manfully stood for their rights against Stuyvesant, rights which the authorities in Holland supported.
They met for worship in a private house next to a mill, then in a frame building, then in a real synagogue in Mill street. They
formed a congregation which exists today, known as the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation. The migrations of their synagogue
since it was first established in Mill street have been to Crosby street, then to 19th street and finally to 70th street and
Central Park West.


 
Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Jews In New York 250 Years Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

 The New York Tribune April 23, 1905 Page: 2
Time & Date Stamp: