Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Stuyvesant pegged!

Posted by jlifer on October 5, 2006

New York City today is the second largest Jewish city in the world, following Tel Aviv by a half-million people. Around 12 percent of the city is Jewish, and claims one-third of all American Jews. Manhattan serves as worldwide headquarters for many Zionist organizations. New York City.

But Jews didn’t always have it so well in New York City.

Back in the day, when the island we know and love as Manhattan was owned by the Dutch, it was called New Amsterdam.

When a Brazilian colony fell out of Dutch control, fewer than two dozen Jews fled the scene.

They made a deal with a ship captain to take them to New Amsterdam, another Dutch colony, where they thought they’d be welcomed.

But lo and behold! In 1654, the refugees landed in New Amsterdam only to find a rampant anti-Semite in control. Peter Stuyvesant, the colony’s governor, found the Jews’ arrival most irksome. He started his tirade by having the Jews’ few possessions taken and auctioned off, and jailed two members of the group for failure to pay debts owed to the ship captain.

Adding insult to injury, the anti-Semitic governor wrote to the Dutch West India Company, the colony’s financier, requesting to expel the Jews.

Letter from Peter Stuyvesant to the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch West India Company, from New Amsterdam, dated September 22, 1654.

The Jews who have arrived would nearly all like to remain here, but learning that they (with their customary usury and deceitful trading with the Christians) were very repugnant to the inferior magistrates, as also to the people having the most affection for you; the Deaconry also fearing that owing to their present indigence they might become a charge in the coming winter, we have, for the benefit of this weak newly developing place and land in general, deemed it useful to require them in a friendly way to depart; praying also most seriously in this connection, for ourselves also for the general community of your worships, that the deceitful race – such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ – not be allowed further to infect and trouble this new colony.

The Jews, in turn, appealed to their Jew-homies back in Holland. They argued that Jews were allowed to live in Holland and invest large sums of cash in the company, therefore they should be allowed to take residence in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam.

In short: money talks.

The Company responded to Stuyvesant’s appeal in 1655, and allowed Jews to live in the colony, “so long as they do not become a burden to the company or the community.”

But Stuyvesant didn’t stop there. Angered and insulted, as defeated anti-Semites often are, he took to different means to discourage the spread of American Jewry.

He banned Jews from serving on the colony’s security force, but required they pay for others to serve in their place.

But Jews were on ball once again. Asser Levy and Joseph Barsimon petitioned that Jews either be allowed to serve with fellow Americans or drop the tax. The courted rejected the request, but Levy and Barsimon fought for two years in courts, emerging victorious. Levy moved on to be a leader of Jewish rights in New Amsterdam and in the colonies.

But alas, persistence ran strong with Stuyvesant. He excluded Jewish colonists from trade by not issuing them permits. Levy fought back: He wrote to the powers that were in Holland calling the governor on his obvious discrimination, and Stuyvesant was sent to his room for being a bad boy.

The company outlined the rights of Jews from then on: Jews could trade and own property, but they couldn’t take public office, open a shop or establish a synagogue. No Jew-churches allowed.

That’s OK, though. Levy wasn’t to be deterred. He was granted a trading permit early on, but wasn’t allowed to practice a trade. He fought and won against this injustice. He was even exempted from slaughtering pigs when he received his butchers license. Ha!

Then the English came, and New Amsterdam was renamed New York in 1664, and the shit hit the fan for Stuyvesant, who clung separately to his Jew-free utopia that once was New Amsterdam.

Jews were allowed the same rights they had won under the Dutch, and see how the tables have turned for Jews in New York City. Mwah-ha-ha. We run the place. Some even say it was called “Jew York,” but because of those funky Olde English letters, it was badly translated to “New York.” Land of the Scarlet Aleph.

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One Response to “Stuyvesant pegged!”

  1. Oy Bay! said

    […] Stuyvesant pegged! […]

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