This Day in Jewish History / August 22

In 1654, Jacob Bar Simson was the first Jew to arrive in New Amsterdam. He never could have imagined that one day it would host one of the largest Jewish communities in the world and be commonly known as New York.

On this day in 1654, Jacob Bar Simson arrived in New Amsterdam on the ship Pear Tree, becoming the first Jewish immigrant in what is today New York. He arrived as an emissary of the Jewish community of “old” Amsterdam, on a mission to find an alternative destination for Jews wanting to leave Europe. At the time, the Dutch had lost their colony in Brazil to Portugal, who intended to introduce the Inquisition there.

Indeed, a month later, in September 1654, a group of 23 Jews arrived in New Amsterdam from Recife, Brazil, establishing the first Jewish settlement in the city. They were greeted upon arrival by Bar Simson and Solomon Pietersen, another Dutch Jewish immigrant who arrived around the same time (Pietersen later married a non-Jew, which may explain why the honor of being the city’s first Jew usually goes to Bar Simson.)

Bar Simson was one of those who petitioned the Dutch governor for the right to serve in the local militia (the alternative to which was paying a tax).  He was unsuccessful in that attempt but in 1658 was excused, on religious grounds, for not appearing in court as a defendant because the court was meeting on a Saturday. Nevertheless, Pieter Stuyvesant, governor-general of the colony, fought to deprive Jews, a “repugnant race,” from receiving full rights in the city, partly our of fear that welcoming them might encourage Catholics and other religious minorities to seek refuge there as well.