History of the Jews in New York

The history of the Jews in New York began as early as the 17th century. In August 1654, the first known Jewish settler, Jacob Barsimson, came to New Amsterdam. The Dutch colonial port city was the seat of the government for the New Netherland territory and became New York in 1664.

Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn, New York

The first significant group of Jewish settlers came in September 1654 as refugees from Recife, Brazil to New Amsterdam. Portugal had just conquered Brazil from the Dutch Republic and the Spanish and Portuguese Jews there promptly fled. A group of 23 Jewish immigrants in New Amsterdam was greeted by director general Peter Stuyvesant who was at first unwilling to accept them.

The Jewish population in New York City went from about 80,000 in 1880 to 1.6 million in 1920. By 1910, more than 1 million Jews made up 25 percent of New York's population and made it the world's largest Jewish city.[1] As of 2016, about 1.1 million residents of New York City, or about 12 percent of its residents, were Jewish. New York state has about 1.75 million Jews, comprising approximately 9 percent of its total population.[2]

Early Jewish immigration

Jacob Barsimson: The First Jewish Immigrant

Jacob Barsimson was the first Jewish immigrant to arrive in New Amsterdam on 22 August 1654[3] on the Dutch West India Company ship, the Peartree (de Pereboom).[3] He received the appropriate permissions and met no opposition by then Governor Peter Stuyvesant or his council upon arrival.[3] He along with Asser Levy fought to allow the first wave of 23 Jewish immigrants to stay in New Amsterdam.

The First Wave of Jewish Immigrants

The first significant group of Jews to arrive in New York after Jacob Barsimson was a group of 23 Jewish immigrants in September 1654 fleeing from the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. Following the mass expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and the forced conversions of some 100,000 Jews in Portugal, many had fled to different regions of Europe and the New World.[4] Dutch Brazil proved to be a haven for many and a colony in Recife grew to be a prosperous Jewish Community.

In the 1650s Portugal took control of Dutch Brazil, and the Inquisition soon followed. After the Portuguese occupation of Pernambuco many of the Jewish residents of Recife fled in an attempt to return to New Amsterdam.[4] One ship, the St. Charles, was forced to divert its course after encountering Pirates on their course to Holland. After attempting to land in multiple Spanish ports, they eventually arrived at New Amsterdam without passports.[4]

These immigrants were forced to sign a contract with the Captain of the St. Charles to bring them to New Amsterdam.[4] Upon arrival they did not have sufficient funds to pay for their transit. Their remaining possessions were auctioned by Governor Peter Stuyvesant. Because the immigrants still did not have sufficient funds to pay the fees, two individuals were imprisoned.[4]

Upon their arrival, Governor Stuyvesant objected to their settlement because they did not have the required passports or funds to sustain themselves.[4] representatives of the Jews living at that time in New York sent a remonstrance to the Dutch West India Company, advocating to allow the immigrants to settle in the new colony. They argued that land was plentiful and adding more loyal individuals would help to facilitate the Dutch West India Company's goal of expanding their colony.[5] Jewish stockholders in the Dutch West India Company convinced the company to pressure the governor into accepting the arrivals, but the latter still imposed numerous restrictions and taxes on his Jewish subjects. Eventually, many of these Jews left.[6] The Governor's objections were overruled by the Company in an order issued February 15, 1655 and Jews were allowed to travel, trade and live in the New Amsterdam Colony.[4]

Asser Levy - A Prominent Member of the Original 23

Asser Levy was the poorest of the first twenty three Jewish Immigrants. He helped to file petitions that won the 23 immigrants the right to reside in New Amsterdam.[7] As an advocate for Jews in the colony, the earliest mention of Asser Levy in a Court Record from New Amsterdam is September 15, 1654 as a plaintiff against unfair treatment of the Jewish immigrants.[7] For example, Levy protested the policy of the exemption of Jews from enlisting in the army and being forced to pay an additional tax instead.[7]

New York Jews in the 1800s

The second period in American Jewish history was dominated by German Jewry. Jewish people looking for peace and new life, and especially in the 1800s, New York was somewhere to do it. Many settlers started careers in the arts, business, literature. Between the 1830s and 1880s, a growing number of middle class German Jews escaping from discrimination arrived in New York, seeking fame and fortune. As the city continued to grow, so did the Jewish population. In 1848 German Jews in New York established Bnai Brith, the first major secular organization.

Before the Civil War, Jews were not very split about abolition. They either stayed silent or opposed it.[citation needed] When the war started however, Jews fought on both sides, of about 7,000 who fought for the Union and about 1,500 for the Confederacy.[8] After the Civil War, New York Jews were more religiously split with a Reform movement rising in popularity.[9]

The Great Wave

Lower East Side, New York City

Between 1880 and 1924, 2.5 million Ashkenazi Jews from the Russian Empire, Romania, and Austria-Hungary came to the United States and nearly 75 percent took up residence on the Lower East Side.[10] The Jewish population in New York went from about 80,000 in 1880 to 1.5 million in 1920[11] This new mix of cultures changed what was a middle-class, acculturated, politically conservative community to a working-class, Yiddish-speaking group with a varied mix of ideologies including socialism, Zionism, and religious orthodoxy. The population of Jews eventually hit over one million by the 1900s and crowded into Jewish neighborhoods.[12] The less-fortunate began to make the Lower East Side their own district as an influx of Jews reached the city between the 1870s and early 1900s.[8]

The Jews of Central and Eastern Europe faced economic hardship, persecution, and social and political changes in the 1800s through the early 1900s, causing them to flee to the United States.[13] In Russia, there were waves of pogroms between 1881 and 1921.[8]

20th-century New York

In 1940, 90% of New York state's 2,206,328 (1937 figure) Jews resided in the city. However, the next two decades saw a flow to the suburbs.[14]


Jewish culture

Jewish people also found ways to carry on their same traditions and introduce some cultural aspects to New York City.

The bagel was brought to the United States in the early 20th century and became so popular that it is now a worldwide export. The recipe was fiercely safeguarded by Bagel Bakers Local 338, a union of 300 bagel craftsmen based in New York.


Temple Emanu-El

The first Jewish congregation in the city, Shearith Israel was established in 1654.[15] Founded in 1845, Temple Emanu-El on 5th Avenue in Manhattan's Upper East Side is the oldest Reform Jewish congregation in New York City, which developed into the largest and most prestigious Reform congregation in the country. The Angel Orensanz Center, originally Anshe Chesed Synagogue, is situated in the Lower East Side and was the largest synagogue in the United States at the time of its construction. The building has been standing since 1849, making it the oldest surviving synagogue.

Borough Park's inhabitants are mostly Orthodox and Hasidic Jews. The area in southwestern Brooklyn first began to have a Jewish presence in the early 1900s. The Hasidic immigration started after World War II, with the arrival of survivors from Nazi extermination camps and Eastern European ghettos.[16]


Many Jews studied science and went to New York City, examples such as Otto Loewi, who moved to the United States in 1940, where he joined the faculty of New York University College of Medicine as a research professor of pharmacology.[17] He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1936, which he shared with Henry Dale.

Literature and theater

In the late 1800s, to early 1900's, people of the Jewish faith began to spread their art of theater throughout New York. The creation of The Yiddish Theater was established. Yiddish is a language used by Jews in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust. The Yiddish theater consisting mostly of Jewish people and settlers in New York performing Yiddish drama, folktale, and expanding theatrical culture throughout the city.

Numerous Jewish actors and playwrights in the 20th and 21st centuries have influenced the theater world. Notable examples include Tony Curtis, Stephen Sondheim, and Barbra Streisand.[8]

Ethnic tensions in New York

Teachers' strike of 1968

In 1968, more than 50,000 New York City teachers went on strike for a total of 37 days. Black New Yorkers had been protesting the conditions in city schools since the early 1960s. Brownsville, a neighborhood located in eastern Brooklyn, had been predominantly Jewish and became 75% black and 20% Puerto Rican. The strike began when the mostly black school board in the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district dismissed a set of mostly Jewish teachers. The dismissals were condemned by the American Jewish Congress.

Crown Heights riot

Riots between Crown Heights' Jewish and black communities erupted on August 19, 1991. On the third day of the riots, Al Sharpton was among the leaders of a march through Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The marchers carried anti-Semitic signs, and an Israeli flag was burned.

See also


  1. "Howard Community College Library Off-Campus Access". libproxy.howardcc.edu. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  2. "7 things to know about the Jews of New York for Tuesday's primary". 2016-04-18.
  3. Oppenheim, Samuel (1925). "More about Jacob Barsimson, The First Jewish Settler in New York". Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (29): 39–52. JSTOR 43059441.
  4. Warner, R. Stephen; Wittner, Judith G., eds. (1998). Gatherings In Diaspora: Religious Communities and the New Immigration. Temple University Press. ISBN 9781566396134. JSTOR j.ctt14bs976.
  5. "Jewish New York: The Early Years". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 2018-11-19.
  6. Peck, Abraham J. "Jewish New York: The Early Years". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  7. Hühner, Leon (1900). "Asser Levy. A Noted Jewish Burgher of New Amsterdam". Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (8): 9–23. JSTOR 43057561.
  8. Barnes, Ian (2014-01-09). The Historical Atlas of the American Revolution. doi:10.4324/9780203949856. ISBN 9780203949856.
  9. Moore, Deborah. "In New York's History, A Cautionary Tale Of Judaism's Future". advance.lexis.com. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  10. "Mapping the Evolution of the Lower East Side Through a Jewish Lens, 1880-2014".
  11. "Tracing the History of Jewish Immigrants and Their Impact on New York City". Fordham Newsroom. 2017-12-12. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  12. Raphael, Marc Lee (2008-01-31). The Columbia History of Jews and Judaism in America. New York Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press. doi:10.7312/raph13222. ISBN 9780231507066.
  13. Irving, Berlin; Hannah, Arendt; Albert, Einstein; Emma, Lazarus; Albert, Potter; Solomon, Smulewitz; Leo, Rosenberg; M., Rubinstein; Charles, Chambers (2004-09-09). "A Century of Immigration, 1820-1924 - From Haven to Home: 350 Years of Jewish Life in America | Exhibitions (Library of Congress)". www.loc.gov. Retrieved 2018-10-25.
  14. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/new-york-state-jewish-history
  15. Marcus, Jacob R. "Early American Jewry: The Jews of New York, New England, and Canada, 1649-1794." Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1951. Vol. I, pp. 3, 20-23
  16. "Hasidim Live in an Aura of Fear in Borough Park Area". New York Times. April 24, 1973. Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  17. "Howard Community College Library Off-Campus Access". libproxy.howardcc.edu. Retrieved 2018-12-03.