By DANIEL BENSADOUN
In search of freedom to worship and equal opportunities, Jacob Barsimson set sail from Holland to American on July 8, 1654, to become the first Jew to set foot in New York. The Pear Tree docked in New Amsterdam on August 22 that same year, and 23 Jews from Dutch Brazil followed Barsimson’s example and went on to establish the first Jewish settlement in the United States.However, Barsimson and the others found that New Amsterdam was no different from whence they came. Governor Peter Stuyvesant treated them as separate citizens; they couldn't engage in retail trade, practice handicrafts, hold public position, serve in the militia or practice their religion in a synagogue or in gatherings.Along with the other Jews, Barsimson, presented a petition to Gov. Stuyvesant for the right to buy a burial plot, which was denied because there was no immediate need for it. However later, under pressure from Holland's Amsterdam Jews, Stuyvesant granted them this right.On September 22, 1654, Stuyvesant wrote to the Amsterdam Chamber of Commerce to complain about the presence of Jewish refugees from Brazil who had recently arrived in New Amsterdam. He felt that they were blasphemers of the name Christ and that they would infect the colony with trouble.In the meantime, Barsimson and other New Amsterdam Jews kept putting pressure on Stuyvesant for full citizenship rights. They insisted on the right to serve in the militia and guard the walls of the city to protect the settlers and cattle, which were kept inside the walls at night, from the raids and attacks of the Indians and the New England settlers. Thanks to several influential Jews in Dutch West India Company who pressured the Governor, Jews received these rights in April, 1655.In 1664, When the British conquered New Amsterdam and changed its name to New York, the Jewish settlers continued to enjoy their previous rights. However, it was only in 1697 that a Simon Valentine became the first documented Jewish landowner, which entitled him to vote.Thanks to the actions of these brave settlers, today’s New York Jewish population is some two million, second only to Israel.
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