Page 10 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
4
ligious fanaticism had replaced religious tolerance. They arrived
in 1654 in New Amsterdam, a settlement in which the somewhat
familiar Dutch language and Dutch customs held sway. I t is true
th a t the governor, Peter Stuyvesant, was not too happy with the
newcomers and sought to hem them in with pe tty restrictions.
But there was always the possibility of an appeal to his masters,
the Dutch West Indies Company, in which Jewish capital was
invested, and the governor’s decisions were a t times overruled.
In 1664 the English replaced the Dutch and New Amsterdam
became New York. The Jewish settlers were allowed to continue
their trades and professions. They were felt to be an asset, ful-
filling certain needs of the growing colony. They prospered and
increased in numbers. Their ships sailed the seas with precious
cargoes and their trappers roamed the wild hinterland in search
of desirable furs. Their children and children’s children became
integrated into the life of the community. Soon the wall of
religious separatism began to be breached by more and more
individuals, as the spirit of Enlightenment spread from European
centers to the New World.
The story of the Jewish settlers of New Amsterdam repeated
itself in colony after colony until the War for Independence broke
out. During this War, a number of Jews remained loyal to the
British Crown. The majority, however, espoused the cause of
independence.
Between the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars, Jews increased
in numbers and rose in the social scale. The Sephardic Jews,
who were the dominant strain during the Colonial period, con-
tinued to prosper. Their wealth opened all doors to them. In an
atmosphere of freedom they became more and more assimilated
into the American cultural pattern . The Spanish and Portuguese
tongues of the immigrant ancestors yielded to typically American
English and the tragic Marrano-experiences survived only as vague
memories of a remote past. Intermarriage became more frequent.
Conversion to Christianity by the sons and daughters of the most
prominent families threatened the gradual decline and possible
extinction of the Jewish group as an important cultural entity
in America.
From the very beginning, the New World offered a hearty wel-
come and limitless opportunities to Jews who shed their Jewish-
ness. Racial anti-Semitism was undreamed of. The earliest settlers
of New England, the Puritans, were lovers of the Old Testament.
They idealized the Jewish past. Upon the old English legends of
the Jew as Christ-killer and Shylock, they superimposed their own
legend of the angelic, patriarchal Hebrew. Though they did every-
thing possible to keep the living, unconverted Jews away from