We Came For Freedom
Published on March 10, 2005 By Larry Kuperman In History
This the 350th Anniversary of the first Jewish community in America, an event not really recognized outside of the Jewish community. Yet it symbolizes what America has to offer.

The story of Jews in America begins in 1492. In that year, the last Moslem city in Spain fell, Columbus set sail to find India (being a man, he refused to ask for directions and so ended up in Puerto Rico) and the Inquisition began in Spain. Soon the Inquisition spread to neighboring Portugal as well. Jews living in Spain were either killed, tortured, banished or forced to convert. Spanish Jews who converted were known as conversos, unless they were suspected of having slipped back to their Jewish ways, in which case they were called Murranos. A charming term, meaning "pigs."

A group of Jews fled to Recife, a Dutch colony in Brazil. When Portugal was granted control of Brazil, some of the Jews took flight to the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. As Dutch citizens fleeing religious oppression, they were granted asylum by Peter Stuyvesant- NOT! Some were thrown in jail, others told that they would have to pay a special tax. They took their plight before the Dutch West Indies Company, for whom Stuyvesant worked. They were granted a compromise called the Stuyvesant Pledge: The Jews could remain as long as they could care for their own. They could and did and thrived in the new colonies.

When Roger Williams was forced by the Puritans to leave their colony of Massachusets, he founded what would become Rhode Island. The new colony was based on religious freedom. Word spread and many Jews moved to the area around Newport. Soon they founded the Touro Synagogue. See http://www.offbeattravel.com/touro.html

Jewish life in America has not been without hardship and prejudice. We have had our enemies, people who wished to put us down and destroy us. As always. But we have also had our friends. Jews supported the American Revolution and won a friend in George Washington. Our first President wrote to Moses Seixas, warden of the Touro synagogue that "The Citizens of the United States have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts."

Today, it is estimated that there are 13 million Jews in the world. About half live in America, more than live in Israel. America has been our home and more welcoming than not. We came here for freedom.....and found it.

on Mar 11, 2005

Fascinating read!  I knew most of it, but your story telling is very good!  Thanks for Sharing.  I had not realized that Jews were such late (relatively) arrivers.  Stupidly, I just assumed there were Jews on the Susan Constant, GodSpeed and Discovery.  Thanks for the education!

on Mar 11, 2005
Stupidly, I just assumed there were Jews on the Susan Constant, GodSpeed and Discovery. Thanks for the education!

Silly man... there wasn't kosher meals on those....
on Mar 11, 2005

Silly man... there wasn't kosher meals on those....

I doubt there was much kosher anything on those early ships!  Including the smell!