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April 09, 2004 - Image 47

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-04-09

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

00„

Buy 1 pound of Our Famous

Of course, local
records still denominat-
ed Levy as "a Jew,"
ensuring that this char-
acteristic would define
him. Nevertheless, he
enjoyed considerable
success as a butcher —
'excused from killing
hogs, as his religion
does not allow him to
do it" — merchant and
real estate entrepreneur.
Among the Jews who
HAN D. SARNA
immigrated to New
Amsterdam in 1654,
In his new book,
Levy was the only one
`American Judaism,"
who stayed, maintain-
author Jonathan Sarna
ing a home in the city
chronicles the 350-year
until his death in 1682.
history of the Jewish
For long, lonely
religion in America.
stretches as Dutch rule
waned and the rest of
just prior
the
Jews
departed
for colonies with -
to the refugees from Recife, to seek his
more
sun
and
promise,
Levy's was the
fortune. In 1656, Pietersen became
only
Jewish
family
in
town.
The
the first known Jew on American soil
inventory
of
his
estate
suggests
that he
to marry a Christian.
resolutely
observed
at
least
the
princi-
While it's not clear that he personally
pal rituals of his faith, including the
converted, the daughter that resulted
Sabbath and Jewish dietary laws, with-
from the marriage, named Anna, was
in the precincts of his home.
baptized in childhood. Like the descen-
Levy's life epitomized both the hard-
dants of many subsequent Jewish immi-
ships
entailed in being a Jew in early
grants to America's shores-, she vanished
colonial
America and the possibilities
into the Protestant mainstream.
of
surmounting
them.
Asser Levy stood at the opposite end
Over
the
next
3 1/2 centuries, mil-
of the spectrum. An Ashkenazi Jew
lions
more
Jews
crossed
the ocean to
from Vilnius who briefly had sojourned
America.
Like
New
Amsterdam's
first
in Amsterdam and perhaps Brazil, he
Jews,
a
large
number
came
as
refugees
arrived in New Amsterdam in 1654
seeking a new home.
totally impoverished but deeply com-
They also faced the same central chal-
mitted to maintaining his Jewish faith.
lenge
that New Amsterdam's Jews did:
In 1655, he protested when
to
preserve
Judaism in the face of pres-
Stuyvesant and local officials required
sures
to
assimilate.
Even religious liberty
Jewish males ages 16 to 60 to pay a
was
not
something
that they could ever
special tax in lieu of guard duty.
take
for
granted.
They
remained ever
Stuyvesant had cited "the disinclina-
vigilant,
perennially
concerned
lest their
tion and unwillingness" of local resi-
hard-won
freedoms
be
lost.
dents to serve as "fellow-soldiers" with
To look back upon this history in
the Jewish "nation," and "to be on
this
anniversary year is to recall the
guard with them in the same guard-
theme
of human potential, the ability
house." Levy insisted, however, that as
of
American
Jews — young and old,
a manual laborer he should be able to
men
and
women
alike — to change
stand guard like everybody else.
the
course
of
history
and transform a
Initially thwarted, Levy succeeded
piece
of
the
world.
within two years in standing "watch
American Jewish history, properly
and ward like other Burghers."
studied,
is not just a record of events;
Thereupon he promptly petitioned for
it
is
the
story
of how people shaped
burgher rights, or citizenship. Again he
events — establishing and maintaining
was thwarted, but backed by wealthier
Jewish merchants who had emigrated communities, responding to chal-
lenges, working for change.
months before from Amsterdam and
That, perhaps, is the greatest lesson
recalled the promises made to them
that
350 years of American Jewish life
by "the Worshipful Lords" of the
teaches,
the lesson that we too can
Dutch West India Company, the
make
a
difference,
that the future is
decision was reversed and Jews' rights
ours
to
create.
to "burghership" were guaranteed.

AME RICAN
JUDAISM



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2004
47

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