Page 51 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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AMERICAN JEWISH LITERARY “FIRSTS”
By
L
ee
M.
F
r i e dm a n
I
N THIS tercentenary year when we are commemorating the
arrival in 1654 of twenty-three Jews in New Amsterdam, es-
tablishing the first Jewish community in what is today the United
States, many astonished Americans are discovering that American
Jewish history dates back to the days of Columbus.
Today, United States history is being rewritten. Historians
have come to realize that our history is the study of the weaving
of the different strands of race and creed into a united nation,
the blending of many heterogeneous peoples into something new
and progressive in human experience, which we call Americanism.
In a land of action, of conflicting social, political, economic and
moral experiences, the coalescence of many peoples abolished
insularity and created not only new ideologies but new human
relationships. Differing stocks and races are seen bringing to our
shores their traditions, cultures, philosophies and inherited char-
acteristics into a free competition of ideas and ways of life to
create an Americanism which is the contribution of no one group
in the national makeup. American history may, therefore, be
defined as the study and understanding of this progressive develop-
ment and the contributions of each of these constituent peoples
integrated into American national life.
American Jewish history is thus the presentation and analysis
of Jewish contributions to American life and at the same time
the showing of the changes, development and reaction of the
Jews in America as they became acclimated, free citizens, in-
tegrated into the life of their communities. Therefore, this pre-
sentation of the facts and incidences of Jewish participation in
the founding and developing life of the land, and Jewish contribu-
tions to American thinking, ideals and living standards, should
be the aim of American Jewish historians.
In this American Jewish history, the topic of Jewish “firsts”
is not of vital importance. While it may be interesting to know
of the first Jewish settler in any community, it is of no great
significance to record that Samuel Isaacs was the first Jew to
settle in Texas, or that Simon Valentine lived in Charleston,
S. C., in 1697, or that Alexander Levi was the pioneer Jew in
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