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Medal by Alex Shagin, First Jews in America - Asser Levy (1999).

First Jewish Settlers (1654)

The first group of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jewish settlers arrived in New Amsterdam in September 1654, following their escape from the onslaught of the Inquisition in Recife, Brazil. But they did not receive a warm welcome in Dutch New Amsterdam. Peter Stuyvesant tried to refuse haven to the penniless refugees, and protested to the Dutch West India Company against the "deceitful race" who professed an "abominable religion." Fortunately he was overruled thanks to the influence of some of the directors of the Company who were Jewish.

Asser Levy (?-1681)

Jews were initially denied the distinction of serving in the militia because of the "disinclination and unwillingness of fellow-soldiers to be on guard with said nation." Instead, Jews were required to pay an insulting tax. Asser Levy, one of the first Jewish settlers, fought and won the right to participate in the citizens' guards in November 1655. After Levy also won the right to carry on trade in the community, he built a prosperous business in real estate and opened a Kosher butcher shop ... becoming the most prominent New Yorker of the 17th century.

Earliest Synagogues (1730 & 1834) and Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851)

Probably in deference to Stuyvesant, the Jews were not permitted to build a synagogue. However, this situation changed after the surrender of New Amsterdam to the British in 1664. While there is some evidence that services were held in a private home as early as 1695, the first congregation - Shearith Israel - was organized around 1706. Circa 1730, they erected a small synagogue on Mill Lane. At this time there were only about 30 Jewish households in New York City. The synagogue was expanded and rededicated in 1818, when Mordecai Manuel Noah delivered a speech in which he proclaimed that "Until the Jews can recover their ancient rights and dominions, and take their rank among the governments of the earth, this is their chosen country; here they can rest with the persecuted from every clime, protected from tyranny and oppression, and participating of equal rights and immunities." When the congregation outgrew its Mill Lane building, they moved uptown and built a new synagogue on Crosby Street, which they occupied from 1834 to 1860. Historic remnants of the first synagogue can still be seen in Shearith Israel's current building on West 70th Street.

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