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Haven of Liberty

Haven of Liberty: New York Jews in the New World, 1654-1865

Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Haven of Liberty
    Book Description:

    Runner-up for the Dixon Ryan Manuscript Award, New York Historical Association Haven of Liberty chronicles the arrival of the first Jews to New York in 1654 and highlights the role of republicanism in shaping their identity and institutions. Rock follows the Jews of NewYork through the Dutch and British colonial eras, the American Revolution and early republic, and the antebellum years, ending with a path-breaking account of their outlook and behavior during the Civil War. Overcoming significant barriers, these courageous men and women laid the foundations for one of the world's foremost Jewish cities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-4521-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxiv)

    “[O]f all the big cities,” Sergeant Milton Lehman of theStars and Stripesaffirmed in 1945, “New York is still the promised land.”¹ As a returning Jewish GI, Lehman compared New York with European cities. Other Jews also knew what New York offered that made it so desirable, even if they had not served overseas. First and foremost, security: Jews could live without fear in New York. Yes, they faced discrimination, but in this city of almost eight million residents, many members of its ethnic and religious groups encountered prejudice. Jews contended with anti-Semitism in the twentieth century more than...

    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    In the late summer and early fall of 1654, twenty-three Dutch Jews huddled together on the French ship St.Catrina, suffering the rolling waves of the North Atlantic while praying that they not fall victim to an early season hurricane. They were one of the last contingents of Dutch Jewish settlers to leave the Dutch colony of Recife, Brazil, following its fall to the Portuguese. But unlike their compatriots, who had chosen to return to the homeland, these souls had decided to venture what wealth they had to remain colonists in still another Dutch outpost, New Amsterdam. Why? Recife had...

  7. CHAPTER 1 A Dutch Beginning
    (pp. 5-23)

    On a sultry early August morning in 1492 at the port of Huelva in southern Spain, Christopher Columbus sailed on the first of three epic voyages. On those same docks, a resident might have viewed hundreds of Spanish Jews, part of the 150,000 expelled from the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The conjunction of these world-shattering events proved pivotal in Jewish history. The Jews of Spain, known as Sephardic Jews, equipped with mercantile skills and close family networks from centuries of Iberian residency, became significant factors in the new world. As states that became...

  8. CHAPTER 2 A Merchant Community
    (pp. 25-41)

    During the seventeenth century, the British and Dutch, so close in religious leaning, parliamentary maturity, commercial entrepreneurship, and imperial ambition, entered into wars over dominion of the Americas, particularly the Caribbean. The American coastline from Massachusetts to South Carolina housed a series of British colonies differing in government, culture, and religion but all professing allegiance to the Crown. The one gap was New Netherland, a key English rival. An isolated enemy colony could not stand, and in 1664 the Duke of York, brother of Charles II, sent an expedition to New Amsterdam, whose residents, seeing a British fleet in the...

  9. CHAPTER 3 A Synagogue Community
    (pp. 43-69)

    In 1682, under English rule, New York’s Jews began to gather for private religious services. (The mayor and Common Council banned public worship until 1691.) The return of British rule in 1691 following Leisler’s Rebellion opened public worship to the Jewish community. Tradition places a religious meetinghouse in the mid-1690s at a home on Beaver Street. The first evidence of a synagogue is a house on Mill Street on the site of a horse mill. Tax rolls indicate that the Jewish community leased it as a place of worship in 1703, using it continuously from 1709. Assessment rolls term the...

  10. CHAPTER 4 The Jewish Community and the American Revolution
    (pp. 71-91)

    In 1760, the 250 Jews in New York City were, like most colonists, patriotic citizens of the British Empire and proud of the recent military conquest of Canada in the French and Indian War. Yet between 1765 and 1775, the majority of the Jewish community, like their Christian counterparts, turned from loyal Britons to rebellious Americans. In a long encounter that deeply altered the outlook and way of life of America’s foremost Jewish community, many of the city’s Jews endured exile and took to arms against their once-beloved mother country.

    Most New York Jews prospered during the late 1750s and...

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Jewish Community of Republican New York
    (pp. 93-111)

    When Washington took his oath, six years aft er British troops evacuated the city, New York’s population had reached 33,000, of whom around 350 were Jews, slightly more than 1 percent. By 1810, the city’s population had grown to over 96,000, but the Jewish population, at 450, had declined in proportion to 0.5 percent. Fifteen years later, a mere 500 Jews lived in a city of 166,000 inhabitants, about 0.3 percent. Jews were becoming an even smaller minority, their immigration limited by continuous wars in Europe.

    In 1790, the city still centered on today’s Lower Manhattan, stretching only a few...

  12. CHAPTER 6 A Republican Faith
    (pp. 113-135)

    Shearith Israel resumed services immediately after the British evacuation, but its future course was in doubt. The concept of the synagogue-community was incompatible with a republican society in which Jews no longer had to seclude themselves around a plainly constructed sanctuary. Could their synagogue redefine itself to remain central to the community? The congregation’s new constitution, completed under the leadership of Jeffersonian Solomon Simson a year after the U.S. Constitution was ratified, attempted to combine both synagogue traditions and republican ideals.

    The charter’s preamble, similar to the opening lines of the Bill of Rights, declared that the congregation had authority,...

  13. CHAPTER 7 New York’s Republican Rabbi and His Congregation
    (pp. 137-149)

    Born in New York of an obscure merchant, Gershom Seixas, under the influence of Hazan Joseph Jeshurun Pinto, gravitated to the synagogue from an early age, becoming hazan in 1768, when he was only twenty-two. Except for the war years in Philadelphia, he served until his death in 1816. During his tenure, Seixas led daily, Sabbath, and holiday prayers; circumcised Jewish boys; taught school; conducted weddings, funerals, and bar mitzvahs; and comforted the sick and bereaved. In addition to being the first Jewish trustee of Columbia College, he also served on the board of the city’s Humane Society. He mixed...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Beyond the Synagogue in Antebellum New York
    (pp. 151-179)

    When Isaac Mayer Wise, the future leader of the Reform movement in America, disembarked in New York in 1846, he recalled witnessing “such rushing, hurrying, chasing, running,” the likes of which he had never seen before. The culture of this “large village” did not impress him. The source of his displeasure stemmed from New York’s entrepreneurial energy as the city, in the three decades before the Civil War, became the nation’s most vibrant municipality. Spurred by the emergence of the Erie Canal as the entrance to the West, by the city’s enterprising merchants, by an industrious workforce, and by a...

  15. CHAPTER 9 Division, Display, Devotion, and Defense: The Synagogue in Antebellum New York
    (pp. 181-203)

    While a great deal of Jewish communal and personal life took place beyond the synagogues in the antebellum era, these venerable institutions remained viable and ever more visible, even if their significance and their role in Jewish life were far more limited than in the colonial and early republican eras.

    Jewish newcomers from Germany, Poland, and other European nations stimulated the rise of new synagogues. From 1730 to 1824, a single congregation served the Jewish community; Ashkenazim and Sephardim coexisted without great difficulty. The founding of B’nai Jeshurun in 1824, however, signaled the growing importance of nationality and immigrant standing....

  16. CHAPTER 10 The Challenge of Reform
    (pp. 205-225)

    While architecturally graceful and opulent sanctuaries announced the growing standing of the city’s Jews, congregations played a diminished spiritual role among the Jewish population. Threadbare attendance at weekly and daily services presaged serious problems. Antebellum New York was not colonial or even republican New York. Its Jewish community was far more diverse and becoming increasingly secular. Moreover, Jews, like the city they lived in, focused on the world of the entrepreneur. How relevant could a synagogue be in such a booming capitalist society?

    Visitors’ reports reveal problems facing synagogues in antebellum New York. Lydia Child, a favorably inclined liberal Christian...

  17. CHAPTER 11 Politics, Race, and the Civil War
    (pp. 227-254)

    Antebellum New York politics, volatile and passionate in the 1850s, reached its tensest moments in the years prior to the Civil War. The city was a stronghold of the Democratic Party. Its earlier and still most popular champion, Andrew Jackson, drew a crowd of over one hundred thousand when he visited New York in 1833; Democrats were prosouthern, standing for laissez-faire economics, states’ rights, free immigration, noninterference with slavery, and hostility to reform movements. Democrats recruited their strongest supporters from the working classes, particularly the immigrant working classes, German and Irish immigrants, and merchants whose major economic ties were in...

  18. Conclusion
    (pp. 255-259)

    Early in this book, I noted that it would have been inconceivable for one of the twenty-three poor Jewish immigrants from Recife living in the lonely community of New Amsterdam in 1654 to envision that this company outpost would ultimately grow to a city of eight million and a Jewish population of over two million. It would have been equally difficult for them to foresee that the city would number over eight hundred thousand in 1860, including a Jewish population of over forty thousand. Their home in Amsterdam, the most hospitable city in Europe for Jews at the time, numbered...

  19. VISUAL ESSAY: An Introduction to the Visual and Material Culture of New York City Jews, 1654–1865
    (pp. 261-298)

    Jews have long been referred to as the “People of the Book,” signifying the importance of ongoing study and interpretation of the Torah. For scholars of both Jewish history and American history, the written word is also central, with such documents as letters, cemetery records, and membership records of burial societies, synagogues, and labor unions constituting their primary sources.

    This visual essay offers a different approach. It explores the beliefs, values, attitudes, and assumptions of early New York Jewish history through an examination of visual and material culture, illuminating what we can learn about this period from man-made artifacts of...

  20. NOTES
    (pp. 299-344)
    (pp. 345-350)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 351-369)
    (pp. 370-370)