New-York Daily Tribune newspaper,
April 23, 1905.
JEWS IN NEW
TREMENDOUS GROWTH IN THEIR NUMBERS AND THEIR WEALTH
Them Here than Ever Before Lived in One Place—
Won Respect from Gentiles—To Celebrate Their Coming.
The 700,000 Jews in this city, together
with about 700,000 more of their kinsfolk in other parts of the United
States, are preparing to celebrate their first coming to this country,
two and a half centuries ago. The occasion is to be one of rejoicing,
for never in all their memorable history, even including the glorious
days of King Solomon, have they prospered as they have here. Never since
the dispersal of their race have they enjoyed greater liberty or won a
higher degree of respect from those with whom they live.
For many reasons the coming festival will
center in this city. It was here that the first actual Jewish settlement
in this country was made. Here, too, the Jews founded their first
religious society in the United States. Here they fought their first
battles for commercial and civic freedom and won. Here they have
increased in numbers faster than in any other community of either the
Old or the New World, until at the present time New York contains more
Jews than have ever before lived in one place. Jerusalem today has a
population of about 50,000, of whom only one-half are Jews.
Accordingly, it would take twenty-eight
Jerusalems all crowded together to become the home of as many Hebrews as
have found an abode in New York. On an average one man in six met in
this city nowadays is a Jew, and if the tide of immigration from Russia
and Southeastern Europe continues as in the past the proportion of
Hebrew citizens here will be still greater. In the twenty years prior to
1904 there arrived at Ellis Island 694,172 Jewish immigrants, of whom
504,181 remained here.
In this city also the Jew has amassed
wealth faster than elsewhere. When the twenty-three Jews who formed the
first Hebrew colony in this country landed in New Amsterdam in 1654
their baggage had to be sold at auction to pay their passage. In the
year 1888 the Hebrew statistician Markens estimated that his people
owned real estate in this city valued at $150,000,000, and that their
wholesale trade alone amounted to $280,000,000 a year. At the present
time it is estimated that the Jews here have increased their property
holdings so that they represent an investment of $870,000,000, and their
annual wholesale trade now is rated at $950,000,000.
In the minds of most Jews their prosperity
and growth of power in this country are regarded as a rightful
inheritance. As told by a writer in "The Jewish Encyclopedia," the Jews
not only furnished the discoverer of America with important astronomical
books and instruments which helped him to guide his ships through
unknown seas, but they even bore most of the expense of his first and
second voyages. The books, for example, which afforded him great aid
were "De Luminaribus et Diebus Criticis," by Abraham Ibn Ezra, and the
Latin "Perpetual Almanac," by Abraham Zacuto. The quadrant which
Columbus used was the invention of Levi ben Gerson, and was called by
him "Jacob's Staff."
Jewish money came to the assistance of the
great navigator in two widely divergent ways. When Columbus was seeking
the assistance of the Spanish Crown, to equip him with vessels and men
for a journey which most sages of the time scoffed at, Luis de Santangel,
Gabriel Sanchez and Juan Cabrero, all of them of Jewish descent, urged
Queen Isabella to grant his request. Chief among these men was Santangel,
a farmer of taxes, head of a commercial house in Valencia and the
Chancellor of Aragon; and when the Queen became persuaded that Columbus
should go, and said she would pawn her jewels to aid his quest,
Santangel told her, according to "The Jewish Encyclopedia," to keep her
gems, for he would advance the money out of his private treasury,
without interest. The sum needed was $20,000, or what would amount to
$160,000 at the present time. Six Jews accompanied Columbus on his first
voyage. They were Luis de Torres, Alfonze de la Calle, Rodrigo and
Gabriel Sanchez, Marco, the ship's surgeon, and Bernal, the ship's
doctor. According to Jewish authorities, Torres was the first European
to tread American soil, and it was he who first discovered that tobacco
was used by the Indians.
Jewish wealth came to the aid of Columbus
the second time, not as a voluntary loan, but as the result of
persecution. Much of the money for his second voyage was raised by the
sale of property and chattels confiscated from the Jews by King
Ferdinand at the time he drove three hundred thousand of them out of
The Jews of today are good fighters in the
courts, and so were they at the very beginning of their history on
Manhattan Island. The first Hebrew settlers who came here in a body
numbered twenty-three, and they arrived aboard the St. Catarina, in
September, 1654. They were refugees from the oppression of the
Portuguese, and came originally from Brazil, by way of the West Indies,
but they had no sooner landed than they started a series of lawsuits.
Some of them said they had no money to pay their passage, and
accordingly their baggage was seized, to be sold at auction, while at
the same time the authorities ordered two of them imprisoned pending the
payment of the money. To complicate matters still further, Asser Levy,
who afterward distinguished himself as a fighter in the law courts for
the rights of his people, brought suit against a woman member of the
party for money which he said he had lent her at the beginning of the
trip. Indeed, the quiet of New Amsterdam had not been broken by so much
litigation since it had been founded, forty years before.
While these cases were still pending some
more Jews landed. They were of more wealth than their predecessors, and
it is believed they must have aided their poorer kinspeople, for the
lawsuits seemed to have been settled out of court.
The New York Jews of the seventeenth
century, like those of the twentieth century, generally succeeded in
overcoming whatever obstacles blocked their progress. The first
settlers, for instance, would doubtless have been promptly driven out
had it not been for friendly kinspeople who owned stock in the Dutch
West India Company. When Governor Stuyvesant saw more Jews coming in he
took alarm and decided to evict them all. He wrote to the directors of
the Dutch West India Company, accordingly, to obtain their permission,
but, much to his disappointment, his request was rejected. The director
told him that a large amount of Jewish money was invested in the shares
of the company, and that such persecution of the New Amsterdam Jews
would be exceedingly unwise. The directors also instructed the Governor
to let the Jews "sail to and trade in New Netherlands and to live and
remain there, provided the poor among them shall not become a burden to
the company or the community, but be supported by their own nation."
The Jews stayed, but their oppression
continued, as was shown in many ways. They wanted ground for a cemetery
and asked simply for the right to purchase an appropriate piece of land.
The Governor thought some time over this request, and at last refused
it, saying that for the present they did not need a cemetery. Within a
year, however, one of their number died, and Governor Stuyvesant
permitted a Hebrew burial ground to be laid out in a district then
outside the city, but now in the center of the lower East Side. When the
Jews began preparations for the building of a synagogue they were also
told that they could not have one. When they tried to sell goods at
retail they learned that the directors of the company had refused them
this right. When they wanted to buy real estate they were informed that
this was against the law. All these privileges, however, they obtained
later, after persistent fighting for them.
The refusal of the Dutch to let the Jews
carry on a retail trade had a profound effect not only upon these
people, but also on the commercial development of the whole city. As
told by Max J. Kohler, the Hebrew historical writer, the first Hebrew
merchants, became importers, and to this line of business they have ever
since devoted so much attention that they now carry on most of the
wholesale trade of New York. At the present time their stores and
offices crowd Broadway for miles. More recently, too, they have forged
far ahead in the retail business, most of the department stores in this
city being now in the hands of Jews.
As the Dutch afterward found out, much to
their chagrin, the foreign trade into which they drove the Jews proved
to the latter far more lucrative than any other kind of business. The
most profitable commerce carried on from this port at that time was with
the West Indies and South America, with which the Jews were especially
familiar, as most of them had come from those countries. They at once
got in touch with Jewish relatives and acquaintances at Curacao,
Surinam, St. Thomas, Jamaica and the Barbados, and it was not long
before they had lines of ships running to those ports.
It was from a Jew that John Jacob Astor
obtained his first lessons in the wholesale trade. His employer at one
time was Hayman Levy, an importer of furs.
Had the wishes of the directors of the
Dutch West India Company been carried out New York today might have had
a real "Ghetto," instead of a semblance of one. It was the desire of
these Hollanders to have all the Hebrew inhabitants of New Amsterdam
live apart from the rest of the community, and one of their letters of
instructions to Peter Stuyvesant contained these words:
"They (the Jews) may exercise in all
quietness their religion within their houses, for which end they must
without doubt endeavor to build their houses close together in a
convenient place on one side or the other side of New Amsterdam—at their
choice—as they have done here."
Yet there is no evidence that the Jews all
lived together in those days any more than they do now. Consequently,
the city today has no quarter which may be strictly called a "Ghetto."
There is a constant shifting of the Jewish population on the East Side,
and as fast as possible the more prosperous members of that community
move uptown, settling in Lexington and Madison Avenues and in Harlem,
both east and west of Fifth Avenue. At the present time the wealthiest
Jews have homes in the most aristocratic districts, and many of the
houses in "Millionaires' Walk" opposite Central Park are owned by them.
For the reason that many of the first
Jewish settlers of this city had been accustomed in Spain and Portugal
to observe their religious rites in secret, the command to "exercise
their religion within their houses" was not such a hardship to them as
might be supposed. In Spain the Inquisition brought out the fact that
numbers of Hebrews had publicly professed Christianity and attended the
Catholic Church regularly, who in secret still worshipped God in their
own way. At any rate, the Jews did not make the same fight for the
privilege of erecting a synagogue as they did for other rights, which
sooner or later they obtained. The first reference to a public house of
worship for Hebrews was in 1695, more than forty years after their first
settlement. A map of the town made by Chaplain John Miller in that year
showed a synagogue on the south side of Beaver Street near Mill Street
(now South William Street), with an accompanying note that Saul Brown
was its rabbi, and that the congregation consisted of twenty families.
From this congregation originated the religious organization which is
known today as Shearith Israel, or the Spanish and Portuguese
Congregation of the City of New York. It now has a home in a marble
synagogue in Central Park West. The rabbi of this congregation, the Rev.
Dr. H. Pereira Mendes, himself descended from Spanish Jews, is one of
the prime movers in the plan for the coming anniversary celebration, in
regard to which he said yesterday to a Tribune reporter:
"The pages of history record few passages
more interesting than those which tell of grit and integrity, and
certainly the first Hebrews in New York showed both. They were Sephardic
Hebrews, cultured sons of cultured sires, and doubtless superior in
refinement to the doughty Hollanders, who did not like their coming. For
centuries in Spain they had produced philosophers, physicians,
grammarians, poets and merchant princes.
"New York's first Jews manfully stood for
their rights against Stuyvesant, rights which the authorities in Holland
supported. They met for worship in a private house next to a mill, then
in a frame building, then in a real synagogue in Mill Street. They
formed a congregation which exists today, known as the Spanish and
Portuguese Congregation. The migrations of their synagogue since it was
first established in Mill Street have been to Crosby Street, then to
19th Street, and finally to 70th Street and Central Park West.
"About 1824 the English and German Jews
began to come, and they have been followed by Hungarians, Austrians,
Russians and Poles, and have hundreds of synagogues, while the Sephardic
Hebrews have only the one.
"The growth of the Jewish community
has been wonderful, and truly New York Hebrews have good reason to
rejoice at the developments of the last two hundred and fifty
The growth of most of the Jewish
congregations in size and wealth has kept pace with the commercial
progress of their members. The splendid Temple Emanu-El, in 5th
Avenue, for example, is the outgrowth of a humble association,
organized only sixty years ago.
The first meetings were held in a
room of a private dwelling house at Grand and Clinton Streets. The
seats for the first year were sold for $7 for men and $3 for
women. In Temple Emanu-El pews are valued on an average at $300,
and the building and ground represent an outlay of about $700,000.
Greatest Synagogue. Interior of Temple Emanu-El, at 5th Avenue and
43rd Street, whose congregation sixty years ago met in one room of
an East Side dwelling house.
Jews are to be found among the founders of
the New York Stock Exchange in 1782. Of the nineteen men who entered
into an agreement to buy and sell stocks only to each other, two were
Jews, and two more were admitted to the association a short time later.
When the Revolutionary War broke out the
Jews helped the patriots both with men and money. Haym Solomon furnished
funds for the Continental army when it looked as if its defeat was
inevitable. After New York was taken by the British he was thrown into
the Provost Prison, which later was the old Hall of Records, and
condemned to death. He only effected his escape by bribing the jailers
with a large sum of gold. It is recorded that he advanced money to many
prominent men in these critical times, and it was of Solomon that James
Madison wrote to his friend, Edmund Randolph, as follows:
"The kindness of our little friend in
Front St., near the coffee house, is a fund that will preserve me from
extremities, but I never resort thither without great mortification, as
he obstinately rejects all recompense."
When Solomon died it was found that he had
$160,000 worth of certificates of the Loan Office of the government
Most of the Jews that have fought in the
various wars which this country has had came from New York. In the
Revolution there were 45 American Jews; in the War of 1812, 43; in the
Mexican War, 57; in the Civil War, 7,038, and in the Spanish-American
New York seems to have an ever-increasing
attraction for the Jew. One hundred years ago only one Jew in six
settled here. In 1880 about half the Jewish immigrants became New
Yorkers, whereas at the present time five out of six make this city
Most of the Jews in this city have come
here in the last twenty years. There have been several successive waves
of immigration, each bringing in a greater number. Until 1812 the
Spanish and Portuguese Jews predominated, and at the end of that period
there were not more than 500 of them. Then came the English and German
Jews, the latter driven out by the Napoleonic and other wars, and coming
mostly from the small southern towns of the German States. By 1882 the
German Jews vastly surpassed all others, both in numbers and wealth.
Then came the repressive May Laws in Russia, exiling a great army which
has New York as its abiding place. The Russian Jewish element now
outnumbers all others.
New York Jews have attained distinction,
not only in business and the professions, but also in society, politics,
education and music. The first Jewish lawyer was Sampson Simpson,
admitted to the bar in 1802. At the present time about one-third the
lawyers of the city are Jews. Italian opera was introduced into New York
by Lorenzo da Ponte, a Jewish professor of Italian at Columbia College,
and it so happens that grand opera today is produced in the city under
the management of Heinrich Conried, a Jew. "Home, Sweet Home" was the
inspiration of John Howard Payne, whose mother was a Jewess. The "Beau
Brummel" of New York society at one time was Henry Carroll Marks, better
known by some as "Dandy" Marks, whose father was a Jew. One of the
Delancey family married a Jewess, and this city is still talking about
the engagement of a prominent member of the Stokes family to a young
woman of the Ghetto.
New York Jews have held many important
posts in the national, State and city governments. The Minister to
Turkey at one time was Oscar Straus, of this city. Among the members of
the Constitutional Convention of 1894 were Edward Lauterbach, Louis
Marshall, Joseph J. Green, Jacob Marks, Aaron Herzberg, and M. Warley
Platzek. The nomination for Mayor on the Tammany ticket was offered
Nathan Straus in the same year, but Mr. Straus declined to run, a wise
decision, as Tammany was beaten. New York is represented in Congress by
several Jews, and among the Hebrews whom this city has sent to
Washington are Jefferson M. Levy, Henry M. Goldfogle and Montague
Lessler. The president of the Board of Aldermen under Mayor Van Wyck was
Randolph Guggenheimer. The president of Manhattan Borough under Mayor
Low was Jacob A. Cantor. Three Senate districts of the city are
represented at Albany by Jews, Nathaniel E. Eisberg, Martin Saxe and
Jacob Marks. Among the Jews who have been elevated to the bench are W.
N. Cohen, David Leventritt, Samuel Greenbaum and Alfred Steckler. The
Attorney General of the State is Julius M. Mayer.
A majority of the managers of theaters in
this city are Jews, and the writers of many of the popular songs, as
well as the operatic music, of the day are Jews. Among Jewish
playwrights David Belasco has won especial distinction.
In philanthropy the Jews have been
liberal, not only to their own people, but to outside projects of an
educational or eleemosynary nature. Benefactions to Jewish charitable
institutions for 1904 amounted to $8,000,000. The expenditures of the
United Hebrew Charities last year were $228,000, and the society
considered the needs of 10,000 applicants, representing 43,000
individuals. Jews have erected scores of hospitals and homes for
orphans, widows, their sick and their helpless kinfolk. The Mount Sinai
Hospital alone cost $2,500,000.
Adolph Lewisohn and Joseph Pulitzer have
given large sums to Columbia University. Annie Nathan Meyer was one of
the founders of Barnard College.