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
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
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
for colonies with -
to the refugees from Recife, to seek his
Levy's was the
fortune. In 1656, Pietersen became
the first known Jew on American soil
to marry a Christian.
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-
entailed in being a Jew in early
grants to America's shores-, she vanished
America and the possibilities
into the Protestant mainstream.
Asser Levy stood at the opposite end
3 1/2 centuries, mil-
of the spectrum. An Ashkenazi Jew
the ocean to
from Vilnius who briefly had sojourned
in Amsterdam and perhaps Brazil, he
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.
that New Amsterdam's Jews did:
In 1655, he protested when
Judaism in the face of pres-
Stuyvesant and local officials required
Even religious liberty
Jewish males ages 16 to 60 to pay a
that they could ever
special tax in lieu of guard duty.
Stuyvesant had cited "the disinclina-
tion and unwillingness" of local resi-
dents to serve as "fellow-soldiers" with
To look back upon this history in
the Jewish "nation," and "to be on
anniversary year is to recall the
guard with them in the same guard-
of human potential, the ability
house." Levy insisted, however, that as
Jews — young and old,
a manual laborer he should be able to
alike — to change
stand guard like everybody else.
and transform a
Initially thwarted, Levy succeeded
within two years in standing "watch
American Jewish history, properly
and ward like other Burghers."
is not just a record of events;
Thereupon he promptly petitioned for
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
350 years of American Jewish life
by "the Worshipful Lords" of the
the lesson that we too can
Dutch West India Company, the
that the future is
decision was reversed and Jews' rights
to "burghership" were guaranteed.
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