Book Minute

Sign Up For Book Minute
December 14, 2020

Early Jews in America

In 1655, a very special package arrived in New Amsterdam, the Dutch settlement that would later become New York City. Its arrival was a global occurrence. The package came from Amsterdam to a group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who had recently arrived from Brazil. They were members of the first Jewish congregation in American history—Congregation Shearith Israel. This congregation had an impact on the city of New York much larger than its size. Decades later, this congregation played an important role in the founding of institutions like the New York Stock Exchange and Mt. Sinai Hospital. For all this impact, the most significant moment in the history of the congregation may have been that day in 1655, when the package arrived. What was in the package? A Torah scroll wrapped in a delicate green and purple cloth. The presence of a scroll is a defining feature for any Jewish congregation. Even though this scroll was on loan, it gave the young community a center and sense of sacred space. The scroll was later returned to Amsterdam, but its arrival in Congregation Shearith Israel represented a pivotal moment for American Judaism.

Explore Other Book Minutes

Click Here