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April 20: Citizens in New Amsterdam

Lawrence Bush
April 20, 2010

new-amsterdam-3Jews were granted burgher rights — citizenship — in New Amsterdam on this date in 1657. The campaign to win these rights was led by Asser Levy, one of three Jews thought to have arrived in New Amsterdam a month before the bedraggled 23 Jews who came from Recife, Brazil, in 1654, in flight from the Portuguese reconquest of Brazil (which meant the reintroduction of the Inquisition). Even the disembarkation of these Jews was opposed by Governor Peter Stuyvesant, and it took three years for them to gain their rights — a victory enabled by the fact that Dutch Jews were significant investors in the Dutch West India Company, which ran the colony. In 1655, Levy was permitted to help patrol the stockades along Wall Street as part of the Burgher Guard. Full citizenship rights came two years later. An Ashkenazi Jew from Vilnius, he was licensed to operate a butcher shop in 1677 (“excused from killing hogs, as his religion does not allow him to do it”), and eventually became a tavern keeper, real estate investor (in Albany and New Amsterdam/New York), attorney and civic leader.
“For long, lonely stretches as Dutch rule waned and the rest of the Jews departed for colonies with more sun and promise, Levy’s was the only Jewish family in town.” —Jonathan D. Sarna

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.