Page 9 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

Basic HTML Version

AFTER THREE HUNDRED YEARS
The Literary Legend of the Jew — and the Reality
By
S
ol
L
i p t z i n
n p H E three hundredth anniversary of the first Jewish settlement
-*־ in the United States is being celebrated in 1954. This celebra-
tion offers a suitable occasion for a review of the Jewish past on
the American scene, a survey of the Jewish present, and a prog-
nosis of possible developments in the years to come.
There is no doubt tha t, despite discomforts, prejudices, diffi-
culties and resentments, we Jews in America are now experiencing
a healthier relationship with our neighbors, a happier coexistence,
than at any time anywhere in the Christian world during the past
thousand years. Utopia is not with us — not even around the
corner. Ups and downs may still await us. Greater knowledge
should, however, help us in our quest for a continuing satisfactory
relationship in the years ahead. The Jewish Book Council of
America, in its activities, which reach their climax annually in
Jewish Book Month, seeks to add to our knowledge of historic
Jewish values, to further our insight into contemporary Jewish
problems, to make us aware of the many complexities involved in
our survival as a minority cultural group in the midst of a non-
Jewish majority.
For a thousand years, from the early Middle Ages up to the
founding of the United States, Jews and their neighbors lived
distinct lives, separated from each other by religious and historic
differences. There could be no question of complete integration
of Jews into Christian Europe, because neither side desired it.
Jews did not eat with their neighbors and certainly did not inter-
marry with them, and Christians a t best accepted the Jews in
their midst as a necessary evil. When Jews fulfilled certain eco-
nomic functions, they were tolerated; otherwise, they were mas-
sacred, forcibly baptized, or expelled.
In 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain. In th a t year Amer-
ica was discovered. But it was not until more than a century and
a half later, th a t the first group of Jews landed in the territory
th a t is now the United States. They were Sephardic refugees
fleeing from the Inquisition. They came from the colony of Recife,
Brazil, where the Portuguese had succeeded the Dutch and re-