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Jews in New York City

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Jews in New York City

The first Jewish settlement in what became the United States was in Dutch New Amsterdam, which is now known as New York City.[1]

Jewish shopkeeper in New York, c. 1929

1654 – 1881

The first significant group of Jews to come to New York, then the colony New Amsterdam, came in September 1654 as refugees from Recife, Brazil. Portugal had just re-conquered what is now known of the Brazilian State of Pernambuco from the Netherlands, and the Sephardi Jews there promptly fled. Most went to Amsterdam, but twenty-three headed for New Amsterdam instead. They were greeted by some Ashkenazim who had preceded them by just a few weeks. Governor Peter Stuyvesant was at first unwilling to accept them but succumbed to pressure from the Dutch West India Company--itself pressed by Jewish stockholders--to let them remain. Nevertheless, he imposed numerous restrictions and taxes on his Jewish subjects. Eventually, many of these Jews left.[1]

When the British took the colony from the Dutch in 1664, the only Jewish name on the requisite oath of loyalty given to residents was Asser Levy. This is the only record of a Jewish presence at the time, until 1680 when some of Levy's relatives arrived from Amsterdam shortly before he died.[1]

The first synagogue, the Sephardi [1] Even though by 1720 Ashkenazim outnumbered Sephardim,[2] the Sephardi customs were retained.[1]

An influx of German Jews followed the Napoleonic Wars in Europe. The increasing number of Ashkenazim led to the founding of the city's second synagogue, B'nai Jeshurun, in 1825. Several others followed in rapid succession, including the first Polish one, Congregation Shaare Zedek, in 1839. In 1845, the first Reform temple, Congregation Emanu-El of New York opened.[3]

By this time numerous communal aid societies were formed. These were usually quite small, and a single synagogue might be associated with more than a few such organizations. Two of the most important of these merged in 1859 to form the Hebrew Benevolent and Orphan Asylum Society[3] (Jewish orphanages were constructed on 77th Street near 3rd Avenue and another in Brooklyn). In 1852 the "Jews' Hospital" (renamed in 1871 Mount Sinai Hospital), which would one day be considered one of the best in the country,[4] was established.[3]

1881 – 1945

The thirty years beginning 1881 experienced the largest wave of immigration to the United States ever. Following the assassination of Alexander II of Russia, for which many blamed "the Jews",[5] there was a vast increase in anti-Jewish pogroms there – possibly with the support of the government – and numerous anti-Jewish laws were passed. The result was that over two million Jews emigrated to America,[6]:364–5 more than a million of them to New York.[7]:1076

These immigrants tended to be young and relatively irreligious, and were generally skilled – especially in the clothing industry,[8]:253–4 which would soon dominate New York's economy,.[9] By the end of the nineteenth century, Jews "dominated related fields such as the fur trade."[8]:254

The German Jews, who were often wealthy by this time, did not much appreciate the eastern European arrivals, and moved to uptown Manhattan en masse, away from the Lower East Side where most of the immigrants settled.[6]:370–2 Still, many of these immigrants worked in factories owned by the first class of Jews.[2]


About 1,637,185 New Yorkers (meaning residents of the state of New York) are Jewish. That is about 8% of the residents of the state.
Historical Population of New York City
Year Jewish Population of New York City
1654 23
1750 300
1850 16,000
1859 40,000
1880 80,000
1920 1,600,000
1950 2,000,000
1980 1,642,000
1991 1,420,000
2002 1,412,000[10]
2012 1,540,000[11]

The Census Bureau estimated the total NYC population at 8,336,697 in 2012; thus, if the figures in the table above are correct, Jews were 18.4% of the City's population in 2012. Other sources, like the source that estimated that there were just 972,000 Ashkenazim in New York City in 2002 (as is stated below), apparently believe the number is much lower.

There are approximately 1.97 million Jews (as of 2001) in the New York City Metropolitan Area, making it the second largest Jewish community in the world, after the Gush Dan metropolitan area in Israel. However, Tel Aviv proper has a smaller population of Jews than New York City proper, making New York City the largest community of Jews in the world. The number of Jews in New York City soared throughout the beginning of the 20th century and reached a peak of 2 million in the 1950s, when Jews constituted one-quarter of the city's population. New York City's Jewish population then began to decline because of low fertility rates and migration to suburbs and other states, particularly California and Florida. A new wave of Ashkenazi and Bukharian Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union began arriving in the 1980s and 1990s. Sephardic Jews including Syrian Jews and other Jews of non-European origin have also lived in New York City since the late 19th century. Many Jews, including the newer immigrants, have settled in Queens, south Brooklyn, and the Bronx, where at present most live in middle-class neighborhoods such as Riverdale.

In 2002, an estimated 972,000 Ashkenazic Jews lived in New York City and constituted about 12% of the city's population. New York City is also home to the world headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch, Bobover, and Satmar branches of Hasidism, and other traditional orthodox branches of Judaism. While three-quarters of New York Jews do not consider themselves religiously observant, the Orthodox community is rapidly growing due to the high birthrates of Hasidic Jews, while the numbers of Conservative and Reform Jews are declining.

Organizations such as The Agudath Israel of America, The Orthodox Union, and The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute have their headquarters in New York.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e Peck, Abraham J. "Jewish New York: The Early Years". My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Sussman, Lance J. "New York Jewish History". New York State Archives. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c "New York".  
  4. ^ "Mount Sinai Medical Center".  
  5. ^ Jewish Chronicle, May 6, 1881, cited in Benjamin Blech, Eyewitness to Jewish History
  6. ^ a b  
  7. ^ "New York City".  
  8. ^ a b Rubinstein, Hilary L.; Cohn-Sherbok, Dan; Edelheit, Abraham J.; Rubinstein, William D. (2002). "Jews in Britain and the United States". The Jews in the Modern World: A History since 1750. New York:  
  9. ^ "New York City".  
  10. ^ "Jewish Community Study of New York, 2002". Mandell L. Berman Institute - North American Jewish Data Bank. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  11. ^ Josh Nathan-Kazis (12 June 2012). "N.Y. Jewish Population Grows to 1.5M: Study". 

Further reading

  • Deborah Dash Moore, City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York. In Three Volumes. New York: New York University Press, 2012.

External links

  • Jews of New York
  • Museum of Jewish Heritage
  • History of Jews in New York
  • Jewish Heritage Tours of New York City
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