The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birmingh

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birmingh

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 1:41 am

The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite
by Stephen Birmingham
© 1971 by Stephen Birmingham

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For Roger H. Klein, in Memory

Sephardim: "... Many sufferings, which they had endured for the sake of their faith, had made them more than usually self-conscious; they considered themselves a superior class -- the nobility of Jewry."

-- The Jewish Encyclopedia


Table of Contents:

• Inside Cover
• Author's Note
• 1. The Book
• 2. Who Are They?
• 3. "Not Jewels, But Jews..."
• 4. The Twenty-Three
• 5. "These Godless Rascals"
• 6. Little Victories
• 7. "Gomez, the Onions Begin to Smell!"
• 8. "Make Your Way to the Windward Coast of Africa"
• 9. Allarums and Ravages
• 10. Misalliances and Misunderstandings
• 11. First Ladies
• 12. Legends and Legacies
• 13. The Firebrand
• 14. The New Jews Versus the Old
• 15. The U.S. Navy Surrenders at Last!
• 16. The Jewish Episcopalians
• 17. "Nathans Don't Cheat" -- But Do They Kill?
• 18. "Cardozos Don't Cry
• 19. The Embattled Sisters
• 20. "Foul Deeds"
• 21. "An Altogether Different Sort"
• 22. Small Gestures ... and a Hush at Chatham Square
• Sources
• Index
• Photographs

THERE MAY HAVE BEEN some in the American Jewish community who approved of Uriah Phillips Levy's well-publicized squabbles with the Navy, and the focus he had managed to bring to bear on the fact of anti-Semitism in the New World. But most did not approve, and felt that Levy's behavior had done the Jews more harm than good. As it is with any problem, it had been easier for Jews to pretend that it did not exist. The Jewish community was still small, and news and opinions within it traveled rapidly. Some of Levy's contemporaries praised him for his insistence on Old Testament justice to the bitter end. To the younger generation, however, he was merely old-fashioned and excessively "stiff-necked." Uriah Phillips Levy had, among his other accomplishments, helped define the split between "old Jews" and "new Jews."

The split was more than generational. The prejudice of the old against the new was also directed at newer immigrants, who were now being looked on as troublemakers. There was nothing new about this particular form of Jewish anti-Semitism. Jews have always resented, and looked askance at, Jewish newcomers. "A few of us," to the world's scattered Jewish communities, has always seemed just about enough. In Philadelphia, for example, as early as the 1760's, the Jewish congregation had swelled to such a size, from eager immigrants, that it was considered in "grave danger." Jews rolled their eyes and muttered dark thoughts about an "infestation of Jews" from other lands. Mathias Bush was a partner of David Franks in the candle business, and both men were immigrants to Philadelphia. Yet when Franks traveled to London on business in 1769, he received a letter from Bush bemoaning that "These New Jews are a plague," and beseeching his partner, "Pray prevent what is in your power to hinder any more of that sort to come." Mr. Bush clearly considered himself an Old Jew. He had come to America exactly twenty-five years earlier. And the scale of his alarm can be judged by noting that, at the time of the "infestation," there were no more than thirty Jewish families in Philadelphia.

Quite naturally the newcomers resented the snobbery of the older group -- and its prosperity -- and so the battle lines were drawn. At one point the squabble in Philadelphia grew to such proportions that families of the refractory new migration held separate services during the high holy days. At the same time, it was charged that the more recent arrivals were not being properly loyal to their faith, and it was certainly true that the newcomers -- hungrier, more eager to get on with the business of earning livelihoods for themselveshad less time to spend on piety.

Older families of Philadelphia looked with disapproval at newer Jewish communities springing up in other cities. New Orleans was getting a particularly bad reputation for religious laxity. Why was it, for example, that New Orleans' Jews were having to come, hat in hand, begging for funds to build a synagogue, to the Jewish communities of Philadelphia, New York, and Newport? Why weren't wealthy New Orleans businessmen such as Jacob Hart and Judah Touro -- both of whom were sons of great Jewish leaders -- willing to contribute money to this cause, and why were they giving instead to Christian philanthropies?

The newer immigrants were poor, they needed baths, they worked as foot peddlers, they spoke with accents. They lacked the social status that the Jewish first families had achieved, the breeding, the education, yet they called themselves brethren. They judged a man by the success of his enterprises rather than by his "engagements with God," as pious people such as Rebecca Gratz would have preferred, yet they called themselves Jews. They were an embarrassment. By the early 1800's, they were threatening to fling the fabric of Jewish society in America apart, threatening the "tribal" feeling that is at the heart of all feelings of Jewishness.

But the real trouble was that most of the "new Jews" were Ashkenazic Jews, from central Europe. They could not trace their ancestry back to Spain and Portugal. The Sephardim pointed out that the Ashkenazim used a different ritual, and they did -- somewhat. The pronunciation of Hebrew was slightly different. The Sephardim spoke with a Mediterranean inflection, the accent often falling on the last syllable. (The Sephardim say Yom Kippur, for example, not Yom Kippur, as the Ashkenazim do.) Sephardic ritual also included some Spanish prayers, and Sephardic music-bearing traces of ancient Spanish folk music, reminiscent of Hamenco -- was distinctive. These differences, which may seem very slight, began to loom as all-important in the 1800's.

The Ashkenazim spoke "heavy, ugly" languages such as German, and an "abominable garble of German and Hebrew" called Yiddish, instead of "musical, lyrical" Spanish and Portuguese. They even looked different, and it was pointed out that German Jews had large, awkward-looking noses, and lacked the elegant refinement of the highly bred, heart-shaped, olive-skinned Spanish face. But the greatest difference of all, of course, was that the Ashkenazim came from countries where to be a Jew was a disgrace. The Sephardim descended from lands where, for a while at least, to be a Jew had been to be a knight in shining armor, a duke or duchess, the king's physician -- the proudest thing a man could be. From the beginning, the two groups were like oil and water.

In 1790, a Savannah gentleman named De Leon Norden, of Sephardic stock, had written in his will that "None of the Sheftalls need be present" at his funeral. The Sheftalls were German. Even before that -- in 1763,across the sea in France -- the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of Bordeaux had succeeded in persuading the king to sign an edict expelling all German and Avignonese Jews from Bordeaux. In America, many of the new arrivals had names containing combinations of the word "schine" or "schien," and so the label "sheeny" was attached to them -- an epithet of Sephardic origin. The word was picked up and used generally in the press, and when a fight broke out right in the synagogue in Montreal -- with top-hatted gentlemen having at each other with walking sticks and furniture -- between old and new Jews, a Montreal newspaper headlined an account of the battle with the words "Bad Sheenies!"

Three things were happening, all interconnected, and all at the same time. The Ashkenazim were beginning to outnumber the older Sephardim, and it was only a matter of time before majority rule would mean that Ashkenazic ritual would have to prevail in synagogues in most American cities -- while the Sephardim who insisted on retaining the old would withdraw into their own tight groups, with doors closed to the Germans. Also the first stirrings of the Reform movement were being felt in the land. Reform -- with rebuke for existing forms inherent in the very word -- was by its nature incompatible with traditional Sephardic orthodoxy. Reform, an attempt to bring Judaism "up to date," to make Judaism appear to be at home with existing American religious patterns, was attacked by traditionalists as a subversive attempt to "Christianize" Judaism. Under Reform, women would come down from their secluded balconies in synagogues, and worship side by side with their husbands. Men would take off their tall silk hats. Synagogues would look more like churches. English would replace Hebrew.

And while all this was happening, the oldest Jewish families were watching with dismay as their children and grandchildren seemed to be slipping away from the faith. It is an ironic fact that the heirs and assigns of men and women who had made such an arduous journey to America in order to preserve their faith should have begun to abandon it once they were here. But that was happening. Grandchildren of old Sephardic families had begun, by the early 1800's, to marry into the Ashkenazic group, but some of them were doing something even worse than that. They were marrying Christians, and converting to Christianity.

The granddaughter of a wealthy Jewish businessman was suing to break her grandfather's will, which provided that she could not partake of a large family trust if she married a non-Jew. She wanted her share of her grandfather's money, none of the clumsy entanglements of his religion, and her Christian fiance. It might have happened yesterday in Manhattan. It happened in Charleston in 1820. She won her case.

And was something else happening to the Sephardim? Were the long inbred centuries exacting a quirky genetic toll? Certainly, by the nineteenth century, eccentrics were no rarity among the Old Guard, and few families were without their "strange" members. More and more, moving down the laddered generations in Malcolm Stern's huge book, the notation "Insane" appears next to various names, as does the comment "Unmarried." Spinster aunts and bachelor uncles were becoming the rule now, rather than the exception. The families, once so prolific, seemed on the verge of becoming extinct.


-- The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birmingham
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

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Inside Cover

When Stephen Birmingham’s “Our Crowd” was achieving immense popularity, a small segment of America’s Jews was less than happy with the book – the Sephardim. “We didn’t know those people,” one of them commented at the time, “and frankly we didn’t want to. We considered the German Jews pushy, aggressive, offensive.”

Back in medieval Spain and Portugal, to which they trace their origins, the Sephardic Jews considered themselves the elite, “the nobility of Jewry.” They still do. In Iberia, the Sephardim were not only the bankers and financial advisers to the royal courts; they were also Spain’s scientists, physicians, jurists, philosophers, and poets. The sultan of Turkey, when he heard that Ferdinand and Isabella had ordered the Jews expelled, commented, “The King of Spain must have lost his mind. He is expelling his best subjects.” And yet the Jews were expelled, and Spain has never been the same.

Neither has the United States, whither the first tiny band of twenty-three Sephardim wandered in 1654, to be met by a hostile Peter Stuyvesant. Their history in America has been rich and varied and, in The Grandees, Stephen Birmingham tells the fascinating story of these bewilderingly interrelated families. Here we find tales of fortunes made in the fur trade, long before the Astors, and in slavery, right along with others of the “best people.” We find revolutionary heroes and heroines and Haym Salomon, the banker, to whom the U.S. government may (or may not) still owe a fortune for funds loaned to George Washington. We also find the poetic spinster Rebecca Gratz, thought to be Scott’s model for Rebecca in Ivanhoe, and her party-loving cousins the beautiful Franks sisters of Philadelphia, who were responsible for elevating the family into the ranks of the British nobility. And we see the Navy’s fiery Uriah Levy, who made an issue (and then another issue, and then another) over anti-Semitism – to the dismay of all his relatives.

It is fascinating history, spiced with gossip and the gentle rattling of family skeletons as, here and there, they tumble out. And through it all emerges a picture of a proud, haughty people, who have chosen to remain aloof from the hordes of later-arriving Jews from Europe. By the late nineteenth century, for example, the only Jews admitted to such exclusive New York clubs as the Union and the Knickerbocker were the Sephardim. Germans had to found clubs of their own. And the Sephardim have also staunchly refused to be swept along by the vast (and German-sponsored) movement of Reform Judaism, preferring to be one of the last holdouts of Orthodoxy, with services that have remained virtually unchanged for centuries.

In The Grandees the author of “Our Crowd” reveals a new dimension of his gifts, brilliantly weaving the lights and shadows of medieval Europe into his tapestry of certain extraordinary Americans past and present.

Jacket design by Seymour Chwast
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 1:53 am

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Stephen Birmingham and his son Carey

AUTHOR'S NOTE

There are a number of people whom I would like to thank for their gracious and generous help to me in the gathering of information for, and preparation of, this book. I am particularly indebted to Mrs. Lafayette A. Goldstone of New York, who turned over her large-and very comfortable-library to me, as a temporary office, where I was able to study her collection of Sephardic Judaica. I am also indebted to Mrs. Goldstone's son, Mr. Harmon Hendricks Goldstone, who was also helpful with anecdotes, family documents and reminiscences, as well as a vast amount of genealogical detail. Thanks are also due to Mrs. Henry S. Hendricks, and her sister, Miss Emily Nathan, for insights into the Hendricks-Nathan-Seixas- Solis family complex, and for access to the Hendricks Collection of family papers. In this connection, I am also deeply grateful to Dr. James J. Heslin and his staff at the New-York Historical Society for their courteous assistance.

For their help and suggestions, I am also grateful to Mr. Piza Mendes, Mrs. Leonard J. Wolf, Mr. and Mrs. Frederic S. Nathan, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd P. Phillips, all of New York, and to Dr. Solomon Gaon of London, Mr. Edouard Roditi of Paris, Mr. Ralph A. Franco of Montgomery, Alabama, and the late Mr. Thomas J. Tobias of Charleston, South Carolina. Rabbi Herbert C. Dobrinsky of Yeshiva University deserves a special word of thanks, as do Dr. Jacob Marcus, Director of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, Mr. Victor Tarry of New York's Shearith Israel Congregation, and Mrs. Peter Bolliouse of the Newport Historical Society.

I would also like to add a personal note of thanks to my fellow writers and friends, Geoffrey T. Hellman and James Yaffe, who both took time to offer useful suggestions and to point me in rewarding directions.

It was Mr. John L. Loeb, Jr., of New York who first called my attention to Dr. Malcolm Stern's extraordinary book, which became in a sense the cornerstone of my book. I am also particularly grateful to Mrs. Godfrey S. Rockefeller for reminiscences and documents pertaining to the Gratz family, and to Dr. Frank A. Seixas for information about the Seixas family. I would also, at this point, like to thank once again my friend and agent, Carol Brandt, who guided the project from the start, and Miss Genevieve Young of Harper & Row, whose editorial taste is as faultless as her eye is finicky. I would also like to thank the librarian and staff of the Rye Free Reading Room, for letting me keep books long after their due dates, thus adding gentle encouragement to the project; and I want to thank Dr. Rachel Dalven for scholarly assistance, Sra. Elena Zayas of Rye, who translated a number of letters from the old Spanish, and Mrs. Mildred Dicker of New York, who typed the manuscript in record time.

While all these people were an enormous help to me, and while the book could not have been written without them, I alone must stand accountable for any of the book's errors or shortcomings.

S. B.
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 1:59 am

1. THE BOOK

IN 1960, there appeared what must have been one of the least heralded books in the history of American publishing. It was called Americans of Jewish Descent, and was put together -- not "written" exactly -- by a scholarly New Yorker named Malcolm H. Stem. The book consisted almost entirely of genealogical charts, and represented a labor of mindboggling proportions.

Americans of Jewish Descent weighs close to ten pounds and is beautifully bound and printed on heavy, expensive stock. It is just over three hundred pages long, including an elaborate index, and traces the ancestry of some 25,000 American Jewish individuals back into the eighteenth, seventeenth, and even the sixteenth centuries, under family headings that list everyone from the Aarons to the Zuntzes. It was never intended to be a best seller; a limited first edition of just 550 numbered copies was printed. Nonetheless, though unheralded, unacclaimed by the critics, and unnoticed by the vast majority of the American reading public, the book created an immediate and profound stir among a small group of American Jews who had long considered themselves an elite, the nobility of Jewry, with the longest, richest, most romantic history: the Sephardim. They were the oldest American Jewish families, and they traced themselves back to the arrival of what has been called the "Jewish Mayflower," in 1654, and even farther back to medieval Spain and Portugal, where they lived as princes of the land. Despite its price -- forty dollars -- and its size, the book was soon gracing the coffee tables and bookshelves of some of the most elegant and prestigious houses in the country and a second printing was ordered. The book was suddenly The Book, and was being studied for the tiny errors that appeared, almost inevitably, in a volume of this one's size and scope -- three centuries of interconnected family trees.

The Book created no stir at all among Sephardic Jews who lived not at elegant or prestigious addresses but in Sephardic communities in such places as Cedarhurst, Long Island, and The Bronx. These Sephardim had no Jewish Mayflower to trace back to, no ancestors who had fought in the American Revolution. They had arrived in the United States, under quite different circumstances and after a quite different history, during the first three decades of the twentieth century and as refugees from the fires of revolutions in Turkey, the Balkans, and Asia Minor. They had spent the first generation of their emigration struggling to emerge from the ghetto of New York's Lower East Side. Had they had access to Malcolm Stern's book, it would merely have confirmed the impression among these Sephardim that the old Sephardim were the ultimate snobs, who treated all Jews of lesser vintage with condescension, aloofness, and utter disdain. Americans of Jewish Descent includes only those Americans descended from Jews who arrived in the United States before 1840. All who arrived since are thereby automatically excluded from the vellum pages and, as it were, the club.

What Dr. Stern had done, intentionally or not, was to compose a curious combination of a Jewish Who's Who and Social Register -- fatter than the former, much harder to get into than the latter. The Book immediately emphasized a distinction which everyone knew existed but which most people preferred not to talk about, between the old, established Jewish families and the Johnny-come-lately arrivals, the distinguished upper crust and the brash parvenus. With its 1840 cutoff date, Dr. Stern's book eliminates, as he explains in a preface, "the large migration of German Jews in the 1840's, which achieved its greatest impetus following the European revolutions of 1848." Dr. Stern says that this date is "arbitrary," but it isn't really, because it eliminates those Jews to whom the Sephardim consider themselves specifically and emphatically superior. These are the "upstarts" -- Kuhns, Loebs, Schiffs, Warburgs, Lehmans, Guggenheims, and their like -- who achieved such importance in banking and commerce in the latter part of the nineteenth century; who, by the sheer force of their money, grew to dominate the American Jewish community; and whom the older-established Sephardim therefore looked down upon and actively resented. The Germans have been not only upstarts but usurpers.

Though he does not make a point of this, the 1840 cutoff also makes it possible for Dr. Stern himself to slip under the wire and into the privileged pages. He descends from one Jacob Stern, who emigrated to Newark in 1837 -- from Germany, of all places.

With the publication of Dr. Stern's book, small nuances of Jewish social position were reversed overnight. In New York, for example, there had always been a difference in social weight between the two unrelated Loeb families who headed two rival banking houses -- Kuhn, Loeb & Company and Loeb, Rhoades & Company. The former were considered "old Loebs," and the latter "new Loebs" (they were sometimes labeled "real Loebs" and "not real Loebs"), since one family had arrived perhaps thirty years earlier than the other. Dr. Stern's book, however, sensationally revealed that the new Loebs were actually older than the old ones, by virtue of a grandmother who was descended from an old, genteel, if slightly impoverished, southern family named Moses. This didn't make the Loebs Sephardim exactly, but it got them in The Book, and the old "old" Loebs were not admitted. The banker John L. Loeb, of the new "old" Loebs, promptly bought a number of copies of The Book and sent them to friends -- including quite a few Christians whom, in his researches, Dr. Stern had discovered to be of Jewish descent. To a few of the latter Dr. Stern's book must have come as something of a shock.

Who would expect, for example, to find the Rockefellers in The Book? They are there, along with such old-family members of American society as the DeLanceys, the Livingstons, the Goodwins, the Stevensons, the Ingersolls, the Lodges, the Ten Eycks, the Tiffanys, the Van Rensselaers, the Hopkins, and the Baltimore McBlairs.

The Book made it clear that there were also two kinds of Lazaruses -- the old and the new. The old, who include the poet Emma Lazarus, and who for many years were among the very few Jews who summered splendidly in Newport, are prominently in The Book. The new, who include the wealthy owners of Federated Department Stores, are not. Similarly, though the name Levy is now a common Jewish name in America, there are certain Sephardic Levys who stem from an extremely old family. One of the first Jews to set foot on American soil was one of these Levys; they went into fur trading, banking, and government service, and had nothing to do with making rye bread.

Barnaby Conrad, the author, was startled to find his name in The Book. His family, socially prominent in San Francisco, had always boasted of its descent from Martha Custis, whose second marriage was to George Washington. Yet one of Conrad's many-times-great grandfathers was one of those early Levys. Discovering this, Mr. Conrad had his genealogy Xeroxed and mailed to several of his family -- proud relatives. His mother's comment was: "At least we were good Jews."

In New York society, a rumor had long existed that the Vanderbilts were Jewish. Dr. Stern's book was no sooner out than it was confirmed that some of them indeed were. Mrs. William A. M. Burden, whose husband had recently been appointed U.S. ambassador to Belgium by President Eisenhower, was in The Book. Mr. Burden's mother was the former Florence Vanderbilt Twombly, and of course the Burdens were members of a long list of New York clubs that traditionally have been closed to Jews, including the Brook, the Links, the Racquet and Tennis, and the River. Once again, it was those Levys at work high up in Mrs. Burden's family tree. In 1779,it seemed, Abigail Levy married a Dr. Lyde Goodwin. Was Dr. Goodwin also Jewish? Perhaps, because for some reason one of his sons, Charles Ridgely Goodwin, changed his name to Charles Goodwin Ridgely. He married a Livingston; their daughter married a Schott; their daughter manied another Schott; and their daughter married a Partridge, Mrs. Burden's father. When this was pointed out to her, and that Jewishness is said, by tradition, to descend from the distaff side of a union -- as it would appear to do in her case -- Mrs. Burden said politely, "Thank you very much for telling me."

Americans of Jewish Descent is, in a sense, a cross-reference to The Social Register, since whenever names listed in Americans are also listed in the Register, this fact is noted. But Americans contains information that is a good deal more personal and gossipy, and states its facts with much more bluntness, than its non-Jewish counterpart. For example, spinsters are pointedly labeled "Unmarried," and as deaths have occurred not only the fact but the manner of death is indicated. Next to the name of the deceased one can find such notations as "Drowned," "Suicide," or "Murdered." As listees in The Book have become baptized, this has been noted, but sometimes the information provided is quite arbitrary. Next to the name of Rebecca Franks, for instance, in addition to her dates -- "B. 1760, Philadelphia, D. Mar. 1823, Bath, England" -- and her marriage to Sir Henry Johnson is the cryptic comment "Meschianza," which turns out merely to refer to a large party that Miss Franks attended during the American Revolution. Some of Dr, Stern's remarks seem to verge on the libelous. The word "Insane" appears after a number of names. Again in the Franks family, he notes that CaIman Solomons was "in bad repute with Jacob Franks," who was his uncle but obviously some family father figure. Referring to Calman's brother Moses (a bad strain in the Franks family here, quite obviously), Americans of Jewish Descent advises that he died "in Charleston, S,C. Debtor's Prison, 1745," Dr. Stern also makes, or appears to make, social value judgments such as when, in the case of DeWitt Clinton Judah, he notes that Mr. Judah was married, but omits the wife's name with this comment: "An Irish cook."

The Book shows that the earliest generations of Sephardim in America were astonishingly prolific, with twelve, fifteen, and even twenty children to a marriage. When Ziporah Levy Hendricks died in 1832, she had fifteen children and no less than seventy grandchildren. Remembering family birthdays was no problem because one occurred nearly every week. Frances Nathan Wolff had, in the Hart-Seixas-Nathan-Hendricks family complex, ninety-nine first cousins. Gershom Mendes Seixas, born in New York in 1746, one of a modest brood of eight children, eventually fathered sixteen of his own. His younger brother, Benjamin, not to be outdone, had twenty-one. As a result, today there are thousands who can claim some degree of kinship to one or more Seixases.

From the very beginning, a tight pattern of intramural marriages was formed. Today the intermarriages between members of the Jewish first families present a dizzyingly labyrinthine design. Amelia Lazarus, for example, nee Tobias, had six brothers and sisters, no less than four of whom married Hendrickses. One brother married a Hendricks first then, for his second wife, he chose another Tobias. The Hendrickses, meanwhile, were every bit as loyal. Uriah Hendricks, whose first wife was a Gomez, and whose second was a Lopez, had ten children, two of whom married Gomezes. In the next generation, the thirteen children of Harmon Hendricks married, among others, two Tobias sisters, two Tobias brothers, a Gomez first cousin, and two Nathans. And consider the descendants of Abraham de Lucena, one of the earliest arrivals. In the nrst American generation of the distaff side -- his daughter married a Gomez -- there were three Gomez-Hendricks marriages; in the next, there were four Hendricks-Tobias unions, two Hendricks-Nathan marriages, two Gomez-Dreyfous marriages, and one Gomez-Nathan marriage. Meanwhile, Gomezes were marrying other Gomezes, and a disturbing pattern of insanity -- clear from Dr. Stern's book -- that began to appear did not seem to discourage these close unions.

A measure of the intricacy of the interrelationships may be grasped by considering that the 25,000 individuals listed in Malcolm Stem's book are all grouped under a little more than two hundred family dynasties. It is no exaggeration to say that, today, all the descendants of the early Jewish families are, in some way, related to one another. The late Lafayette Goldstone, a retired New York architect, was so fascinated with his Sephardic wife's elaborate ancestry that, suspecting that she was indeed related to everybody else, he attempted to plot all the American Sephardim on one large, all-encompassing chart. Years, and hundreds of charts, later, he was forced to admit that the tightly inter-knotted families had presented him with a task that could not be executed.

Dr. Stern's book also reveals how, through the long corridor of years, the Sephardic Jewish community in America -- from the tightknit, proud entity it once was -- has steadily lost members as Sephardim have turned from Judaism to Christianity. The Book shows that prior to 1840 more than 15 percent of the marriages recorded were between Jews and Christians, and that of the total number of mixed marriages only 8 percent involved the conversion of the non-Jew to Judaism; members of only another 5 percent showed any indication of wishing to remain identified as Jews, or as members of the Jewish community. At the same time, as the years pass, and the Sephardic family trees stretch their branches downward into the present, one begins to see another phenomenon. The old Sephardic names with their Spanish and Portuguese musicality -- Lopez, Mendes, Mendola, de Sola, de Silva, de Fonseca, Peixotto, Solis -- begin gradually to be replaced by the somewhat harshersounding Ashkenazic, or German, names, as the old Iberian families feel the influx of the Germans throughout the nineteenth century, as the Sephardim and Ashkenazim intermarry and the Germans -- as the Sephardim complain -- try to "dominate" with their stiff-necked ways.

But the processes of Germanization and Christianization have by no means been complete. The old Sephardic families continue to compose a tight-knit, proud, and aristocratic elite who know who is "one of us" and who is not; who see each other at weddings, coming-out parties, and funerals; and who worship, with their own particular variations in the orthodox Jewish service, at the Spanish and Portuguese synagogues such as New York's Shearith Israel, the oldest in the United States. They lead lives of wealth, exclusivity, privacy, a privacy so deep and so complete that few people remember that they still exist -- which is just what the Sephardim prefer, for the Sephardim have by nature been shy, reticent, the opposite of showy.
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 2:08 am

2. WHO ARE THEY?

How MUCH each person knows and understands about the past is one of the great preoccupations of the Sephardim everywhere. With some, it is a hobby; with others, an obsession. This is very Jewish. After all, the concept of zekhut avot, or ancestral merit, is said to provide the spiritual capital of the Jewish people. In this is embodied the idea that the past must be correctly interpreted in order that it can be passed on to enrich future generations. But there are also strong overtones here of a belief in predestination -- that meritorious ancestors offer a kind of guarantee that their descendants will be meritorious also.

When one is dealing with hundreds of years of family history, and when family history relates to political and religious history, confusions and contradictions are bound to arise. And when family histories interconnect and tangle in such a variety of ways as they do within the Sephardic community, and as they have done for centuries, there are bound to be jealousies and rivalries and no small amount of bickering. This makes the Sephardic community a lively place. Where everyone professes to be an expert on the past, and where everyone wants to claim the best ancestors -- and where there are many claimants for the same people -- everyone must be on his toes.

Take New York's Nathan family. The Nathans are indirectly descended from Abraham de Lucena, one of the first Jews to set foot on American soil in 1655,and, in the process of their long history in this country, the Nathans are now "connected," if not directly related, to all the other old families -- the Seixases, the Gomezes, the Hendrickses, the de Silvas, the Solises, and Philadelphia's distinguished Solis-Cohens. Like Massachusetts Adamses, Nathans have managed to produce men of stature in almost every generation. These have included such figures as the late New York State Justice Edgar J. Nathan, Jr., who was also Manhattan borough president under Mayor La Guardia, and United States Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, and -- looking further back -- Rabbi Gershorn Mendes Seixas, called "the patriot rabbi," who was the spiritual leader of Shearith Israel during the American Revolution. During the war, he closed his synagogue in New York and moved the congregation to Philadelphia rather than ask his Hock to pray for George III. Later, he assisted at George Washington's inauguration. His niece, Sarah, married a cousin, Mendes Seixas Nathan, a banker who was one of the little group who gathered one day under a buttonwood tree in lower Manhattan to draw up the constitution of the New York Stock Exchange. Annie Nathan Meyer, the founder of Barnard College, who was a granddaughter of Isaac Mendes Seixas Nathan, once wrote: "Looking back on it, it seems to me that this intense pride, accompanied by a strong sense of noblesse oblige among the Sephardim was the nearest approach to royalty in the United States. The Nathan family possessed this distinguishing trait to a high degree." As a child, she recalled, the subject of cheating at school came up. She never forgot her mother's clipped comment: "Nathans don't cheat."

Nathans are also proud to assert that "Nathans have never been poor." The first Nathan arrived in New York with a comfortable amount of money given him by his father, a prosperous merchant in England. So it has been for as far back as Nathans can trace their lineage, which, according to some members of the family, is a long way indeed. Once a Nathan was asked: "Is it true that your family traces itself to King Solomon?" The reply was: "At the time of the Crucifixion, it was said so."

Today, nearly two thousand years later, there are still prominent and active Nathans. Emily de Silva Solis Nathan is an attractive, Spanish-looking woman with an oval face and olive skin, and an air of quiet cultivation and scholarly efficiency. She heads a New York public relations firm which represents such distinguished clients as Washington's Smithsonian Institution. Her brother was Justice Nathan, a cousin was Justice Cardozo (the family law firm was Cardozo & Nathan), and another cousin was Emma Lazarus, who wrote, among others, the poem ("Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses . . .") that is engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty. A nephew, Frederic Solis Nathan, also a well-known New York lawyer, is first assistant corporation counsel to Mayor Lindsay. Nathan men, quite clearly, favor the law. Emily Nathan lives in a large, airy apartment filled with antiques and the quiet feel of "old money," overlooking Central Park. A few blocks to the north, she can see the handsome colonnaded facade of Shearith Israel, which her ancestors helped found.

Emily Nathan's growing-up years were properly private schooled, governessed, servant tended. The Nathans were a large and -- rather typically of the Sephardim, who tend to feel most comfortable when in each other's company -- extremely close family. With the Nathan children and their parents in the big old brownstone in West Seventy-fifth Street lived not only a grandmother, Mrs. David Hays Solis (whose maiden name had also been Nathan), but also a maiden aunt, Miss Elvira Nathan Solis. Aunt Ellie, as she was called, was a sweet-faced, blue-eyed, fragile-looking lady who dressed with spinsterly restraint and always smelled of sachet. The children loved the smell of Aunt Ellie's closets and played hide-and-seek there among the neatly hung rows of dresses. Aunt Ellie was of indeterminate age, either older or younger than her sister, the children's mother -- they never knew. Age was a taboo subject in the Nathan household; the children were told it was bad form to ask people how old they were and, as Emily Nathan says, "There were no drivers' licenses in those days." (Not even Dr. Stern was able to uncover Aunt Ellie's birth date for his book.)

Aunt Ellie was a great favorite of the children. In the evenings, while the children were being given early supper, she would often leave the adult company in the drawing room to join the children in the dining room and tell them stories. They were tales of Revolutionary heroes and heroines -- of brave soldiers who plotted to blow up British ships in New York Harbor, of a woman who slipped through enemy lines to carry food to Revolutionary troops, of a sailor imprisoned at Dartmoor during the War of 1812 who later rose to occupy the highest rank in the United States Navy, though he started as a cabin boy sleeping on a folded sail. Aunt Ellie's stories were rich with the smell of gunsmoke, the slash of cutlasses, colored red with blood spilled in patriotism's great cause.

In those days, the Nathan family portraits were arrayed in the paneled dining room of the Nathan brownstone, where the children ate, and only gradually did Emily Nathan begin to relate Aunt Ellie's stories -- "which at first seemed to me to be nothing more than wonderful eighteenth- and nineteenth-century fairy tales" -- to the faces on the dining room walls.

"Was that a relative?" Emily Nathan would ask in the middle of one of the stories.

"Yes, we are connected," Aunt Ellie would reply.

The sense of history, and the sense of a certain long continuity between family past and family present, gradually began to give the little girl a sense of pride and a sense of security. "Later on," Emily Nathan says today, "when certain things happened to me as a Jew that might have upset some people -- when I encountered prejudice, for instance, or heard of acts of bias and anti-Semitism -- I was able to view them with a certain understanding. Things that would bother other people didn't bother me because I knew, thanks to Aunt Ellie's stories, where I fit into the scheme of things. I was able to rise to occasions."

Gradually, as Emily Nathan grew up, the dining room portraits seemed to grow until they loomed not only over the big room but over the entire Nathan family. Implacable, with, for the most part, stem and unsmiling faces, the old pictures seemed to dominate the Nathans' lives, reminding them daily of what it was to be a Nathan. Some of the ancestors, Aunt Ellie reminded the children, had not always been on the best of terms with one another. One of Aunt Ellie's whimsical little jokes was to say, at breakfast, looking up at the portraits: "I see your great-great-grandfather has a black eye this morning. He's been quarreling again with your cousin Seixas."

For years the Nathan children, and eventually the grandchildren, clamored for more of Aunt Ellie's stories. She seemed to have an endless supply, and could hold them spellbound for hours. Backward and backward she went, back into the Middle Ages, back into Moorish courtyards that dripped with bougainvillea and the splash of stone fountains. For now she was telling of Nathans who had flourished in Spain and Portugal during the centuries of Moorish rule, and of Nathans who had struggled to survive after the Catholic Reconquest. There were Nathans who had seen their synagogues desecrated, who had stood trial for "Judaizing" before Inquisitional courts in the plazas mayores of Seville and Toledo during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, who had gone to the stake proudly rather than relinquish their faith. There were other Nathans who had pretended to accept Christianity, continuing to worship as Jews in secret places, and there were others who had escaped -- some to Holland, some to England, whence the earliest American Nathan emigrated in 1773.

The children liked Aunt Ellie's Spanish stories best, for they were more colorful, peopled as they were with beautiful ladies wearing tall combs and mantillas, royal courts with armored knights in swords, horse-drawn chariots pulled through the night on desperate missions, dukes and princes sighing for maidens' hands. She also told of doubloons being buried by moonlight in a garden, of men thrown into dungeons to be forgotten for years, only to make brilliant escapes; of a man warned by cryptic messages from his king that the Inquisition was at hand; of another whose servants were able to smuggle him to the safety of his ship by hiding him in a sack of laundry. On and on Aunt Ellie's stories went, weaving a vast, rich tapestry of gold and royal purple threads, heroic in size and wonder, spanning more than a thousand years of time, filling the minds of the little Nathans with visions of, quite literally, castles in Spain.

"Yes, we are connected," Aunt Ellie would assure them. "We are connected."

When Emily Nathan's parents died, the family portraits were divided between Emily and her sister, Rosalie. Today half the collection (many of which are very old and precious) hangs in Emily's apartment, and half is in that of Rosalie, who is now Mrs. Henry S. Hendricks. Like her sister's, Mrs. Hendricks' apartment overlooks the park (it is in one of New York's "great" apartment buildings, on Central Park West), and it is similarly filled with antiques and family treasures in porcelain, old books, and heavy antique silver. Mrs. Hendricks is very much a grande dame in New York's Sephardic community. There are even some who would insist that she is the grande dame. Rosalie Nathan Hendricks not only has her Nathan heritage working for her, but she is also a Hendricks -- by marriage as well as by virtue of the fact that several of her own cousins are Hendrickses -- and the Hendrickses are every bit as grand a family, if not even grander, than the Nathans. The Hendricks family -- in Spain the name was Henriques -- founded the first metal concern in America, a copper-rolling mill in New Jersey which processed copper that was mined around Newark. The Hendrickses sold copper to both Paul Revere and Robert Fulton, and became America's earliest millionaires, in fact, before there was such a word.

Not long ago, Mrs. Hendricks (who has two daughters), realized that the name, with her husband's death, has died out in the male line. In order that the Hendrickses and their works on this earth should not be forgotten entirely, Mrs. Hendricks gathered together a collection of Hendricks family account books, ledgers, business and personal letters, many written in the Spanish cursive script, and other memorabilia that had been collected for over two hundred years, and presented everything to the New-York Historical Society. The Hendricks Collection is an astonishing one, consisting of more than 17,000 manuscripts and dating as far back as 1758, and at the time of her gift there was considerable comment in the press. Who were the Hendrickses? everyone wanted to know. The name didn't seem to ring any sort of bell. Reporters rushed to the New York Public Library. No Hendrickses are listed in the central file, and they are in neither the Dictionary of American Biography nor its predecessors, the National Cyclopaedia of American Biography and Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography.

This, it turns out, is exactly how the Hendrickses have preferred it to be. "The Hendrickses never liked personal publicity," says Mrs. Hendricks, a compact lady in her seventies. "Some people just say they don't like publicity. We meant it. We considered publicity a preoccupation of commonplace people. We were quiet people who did what had to be done in a quiet way. We left publicity to the lightweights."

When Mrs. Hendricks was gathering together her vast gift -- it occupies two dozen file boxes -- a number of her relatives, and other members of the Sephardic community, expressed the opinion that the papers should rightly go to the American Jewish Historical Society. But Mrs. Hendricks, a determined woman who, one suspects, does not spend much time on opinions that run counter to her own (when she enters receptions or synagogue functions, the way parts before her like the waters of the Red Sea), was adamant. The recipient should be the New-York Historical Society. 'I thought they belonged here, in the general community, since we are an old New York family," Mrs. Hendricks says.

Mr. Piza Mendes, a smooth-faced man past seventy who looks at least twenty years younger (he has not a trace of gray hair), does not think Mrs. Hendricks knows much about Sephardic history, and does not hesitate to say so. Mrs. Hendricks, meanwhile, thinks little of Mr. Piza Mendes' historical theories. Though the two are distantly connected (via the pre-Revolutionary Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas), grew up together, and see each other often at the same parties and committee meetings, they are nearly always politely but firmly at loggerheads. Anyone about to discuss the Sephardic past is warned by Mrs. Hendricks to "Watch out for Piza!" Mr. Mendes, meanwhile, says airily, "Rosalie doesn't usually know what she's talking about." It has been this way for years. Mr. Mendes, comfortably off, keeps a midtown office where he manages the affairs of his estate, and spends his spare time studying Sephardica.

People like Mrs. Henry Hendricks feel that Mr. Piza Mendes spends entirely too much time trying to elevate the memory of his father, the late Reverend Henry Pereira Mendes, who for nearly half a century, from 1877 to 1920, was rabbi of the Shearith Israel congregation. Mr. Mendes, the feeling is, is trying to raise his father to a kind of sainthood, a position inappropriate to a religion that does not have saints. Certainly no man reveres his father more and, in this regard, Mr. Mendes offers an elaborately illuminated chart of his father's ancestry. This family tree, less dispassionate than those of Dr. Stern, concentrates mostly on ancestors who achieved positions of merit or heroism. One grandfather, for example, David Aaron de Sola of Amsterdam, is noted to have been a "voluminous scholar." But a closer scrutiny of the Mendes family tree revealsin a kind of capsule history, as it were -- the story of the Sephardim, where they came from, and what they endured. The earliest Mendes ancestor uncovered was Baruch ben Isaac Ibn Daud de Sola, who lived in the ninth century in the Spanish kingdom of Navarre, then a desolate region whose rise to prominence and power was still more than a hundred years away. In the next generation, however, we find Michael Ibn Daud de Sola, who has moved to the southern city of Seville, a great Moorish capital, where he has achieved the title of "physician." From here on, in Mr. Piza Mendes' family tree, we can watch the de Sola ancestors rise to positions of prominence in Moorish Spain. One ancestor was a "scholarly Hebrew author," and another was a "rabbi and Hebrew poet." At last, in the late thirteenth century, we see a de Sola given the ennobling "Don." He was Don Bartolome de Sola, and was given his title by Alexander IV of Aragon.

For several generations, all goes well with the de Solas. (One was "Rabbi of Spain.") Then, in Granada, in 1492, we see that Isaac de Sola was "banished," and "fled to Portugal." Through the long Inquisitional years, the de Solas vanish from record, and we imagine them wandering across the face of Europe, from city to city, trying to find a place to put down roots. In the sixteenth century, a de Sola turns up in Amsterdam. But, in the meantime, some de Solas must have remained in Portugal, somehow able -- helped by pretending to convert to Christianity -- to escape the Inquisitors, because, as late as 1749, we see Aaron de Sola, born in Portugal, escaping to London, where he "threw off his Marrano name," the Christian alias he had used to keep his pursuers at bay. That same year his son also fled from Lisbon, but he chose to go to Amsterdam. From here on, in both Amsterdam and London, and eventually New York, we see the de Sola family regathering its strength down to Eliza de Sola, who married Abraham Pereira Mendes II, father of the rabbi whom Mr. Piza Mendes reveres so much.

Meanwhile, on the Mendes side of the family tree, there were equally colorful figures. There was Dona Gracia Mendes, for example, a great beauty who was known in Portugal by her Christian alias, Lady Beatrice de Luna. When her wealthy husband died, she went -- still as Lady Beatrice -- to Antwerp, where, with her looks and money, she became a great social figure. She lived in a palace and gave great balls to which all the titles of Belgium including the king vied for invitations. She also proved herself to be a shrewd businesswoman and, trading her husband's fortune on the Antwerp bourse, she vastly increased it. At a masked ball a hooded stranger in a black cape whispered to her, "Are you a secret Jewess?" -- an unpopular thing to be in Belgium at that time. It was warning enough to Lady Beatrice, who withdrew her money the next morning from her Antwerp banks and went to Amsterdam, where an enclave of well-placed Sephardim was rapidly gathering. Here it was safe to resume her real name of Dona Gracia Mendes, and she did so -- and prospered in the Dutch stock market.

Mr. Piza Mendes credits his father with helping to found New York's Montefiore Hospital; he was also influential in the establishment of the New York Guild for the Jewish Blind, whose annual fund-raising ball has become the most fashionable event in the city's upper-crust Jewish life. Perhaps his most significant deed was choosing his successor, the beloved Dr. David de Sola Pool, who was also Shearith Israel's rabbi for almost half a century. Rabbi Mendes spotted the young scholar, who happened also to be a relative, when he was a student at Heidelberg.

Dr. Pool, who is now rabbi emeritus, has himself been deeply interested in the Sephardic past, and he is the author of two massive volumes: An Old Faith in the New World, a history of the American Sephardim, and Portraits Etched in Stone, a series of biographical sketches of the Sephardic Jews who repose in America's oldest Jewish cemetery, in New York's Chatham Square. Dr. Pool, now in his eighties, has an oval, high-foreheaded, serenely contemplative face and a white beard. It has been said that when he passes through the synagogue he looks like the figure of God Himself.

"Dr. Pool wouldn't like me to say this, but he is a Christlike figure," says Lloyd Peixotto Phillips, a member of Shearith Israel, with a twinkle in his eye. Mr. Phillips is a bustling, vigorous, outgoing man who is a trader on the New York Stock Exchange. Today he has a few outside customers, but he busies himself primarily with his own portfolio -- on the telephone all day, buying and selling stocks in considerable quantity and, one gathers, with considerable success; the Phillipses have an East Side apartment, a country home in New Jersey, and a winter place in Palm Beach. One would not expect a man like Lloyd Phillips -- who gives the impression of being all business -- of caring much about his Sephardic family past. But he does. He has shelf after shelf of old books, family papers, and family trees, showing how the Phillips family started out in eighteenth-century Newport, and how his mother's family, the Peixottos, trace themselves back to Portugal, and an escape into Holland and the Dutch West Indies. In the process of their evolution, both the Phillips and Peixotto families became variously connected by marriage to the other old families, and the names Gomez, Hendricks, Seixas, Nathan, Hays, and Hart all turn up in a multitiered Peixotto-Phillips family tree. Mr. Phillips likes nothing better of an evening than, over a glass of Scotch, perusing the old family documents, diaries, newspaper clippings yellowed with age, letters, scraps and bits of family history.

All this leaves his pretty, non-Sephardic wife, Bernice, whom he calls Timmie, somewhat at a loss. "I never realized any of this," she said with a little laugh not long ago. "When we were married, and I was having informal cards printed up, I was at Tiffany's and realized I didn't even know how to spell Peixotto. I couldn't understand how that could get to be a Jewish name." Mrs. Phillips shrugged a little self-effacingly, smiled again, and said, "We were French Jews, you see, and they -- well, the French Jews never amounted to all that much."
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 2:25 am

3. "NOT JEWELS, BUT JEWS ... "

THE SPANISH-PORTUGUESE part of their collective past is of enduring importance to the Sephardim of America. It is what gives these old families their feeling of relevance, of significance, of knowing where they "fit into the scheme of things," as Emily Nathan puts it. This is because, in both Spain and Portugal in the years before they were forced to flee, the Jews -- as a people, a race -- had been able to reach heights of achievement unlike anything that had happened elsewhere in their long history. Their position was unique in the world. Who, after all, were the passengers of the Mayflower? "Ragtag and bobtail," Aunt Ellie used to say with a sniff. On the other hand, the first Jews who arrived in America, in 1654,were members of ancient noble families, people of consequence, men and women of property and learning who, for reasons over which they had no control, found themselves on the opposite side of the Atlantic from where they had intended to be. It is also true that, had it not been for their Spanish heritage and experience, the Sephardim would never have found themselves in America at all. And it is interesting to speculate why -- considering the vast disparities of time, of place, of culture -- the Jews can be said to have found their greatest successes and their fullest freedoms within the context of the two civilizations of modern America and medieval Spain.

The word Sephardim stems from Sepharad, the land where the Hebrew wanderers are said to have settled after Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians and their Temple was destroyed. Generally -- though the truth is lost in myth and mystery -- the Sepharad is thought to have been a region in Asia Minor. The Book of Obadiah is tantalizingly vague: "And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south." Over the centuries, however, Jewish tradition -- a relentless and often illogical force of its own -- has associated the Sepharad with another peninsula, thousands of miles to the west, the Iberian. It has even been suggested that the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who have for so long considered themselves the grandest of the grand, simply appropriated the Sepharad for their own. They said it was Spain and Portugal, and therefore it was.[/b]

Spanish-sounding names do not necessarily indicate Sephardic Jews, though they sometimes do. (The singer Eydie Gorme is a Sephardic Jew, though not of a "first cabin" family.) Spanish and Portuguese Jewish ancestors can often be spied under various disguises of nomenclature. The name Alport, for instance, was in some cases formerly Alporto, meaning "from Portugal," and the same is also true of such names as Alpert, Rappaport (which itself is spelled a variety of ways), and even Portnoy.

The Seixas family, who do have a Spanish-sounding name, offer an example of what can happen to Jewish names. After escaping from Spain during the Inquisition, some of the Seixases made their way to what is now Germany, where the name became Germanized to Sachs, Saks, and even made its royal way into the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha complex. Meanwhile, some Seixases remained in Spain as secret Jews, while others became honest converts -- or so we are to suppose, since there is no way now of testing their sincerity -- to Catholicism, and actually aided the Inquisitional courts against their own kin and former brethren. Today, Jewish Seixases and Catholic Seixases may be excused, when they come in contact, for eyeing each other a trifle warily. (Vie Seixas, the tennis player, has resisted efforts from New York's Seixas and Nathan families to draw a connection with him; he has not answered their letters. The Seixases slyly point out that Dr. Stern's book lists a certain Victor Montefiore Seixasin the nineteenth century -- so the name Victor was in the family even then.) "Not all Seixases are real Seixases," Aunt Ellie used to say. On the other hand, she was not above mentioning certain prominent Catholic families -- in both the United States and Europe -- and reminding the children, "We are connected with them also."

Jose Fernandez Amador de los Rios, the Spanish historian, would have agreed with Aunt Ellie's appraisal of her family. He has said: "It would be impossible to open the history of the Iberian Peninsula, whether civil, political, scientific or literary, without meeting on every page with some memorable fact or name relating to the Hebraic nation." Even that is an understatement. For six hundred years -- from roughly the eighth through the thirteenth centuries -- the Jews were Spanish history.

There had been Jews on the Iberian Peninsula since pre-Christian times. There is a tradition that Jews founded the city of Toledo, the name of which, scholars say, derives from the Hebrew toledot, meaning "generations."
During the Dark Ages following the fall of the Roman Empire, Spain consisted of a shifting collection of primitive Visigothic city-states, governed by a multitude of undistinguished kings, each of whom had his tiny region which he tried to control, and was usually battling for power against local nobles and bishops of the Church, sometimes winning bloodily, sometimes being overthrown. The condition of the Jew depended on the whim of the king, who either persecuted the Jew or used him in the tradition of the "court Jew" -- as a financial middleman through whom money passed in its endless journey from the pockets of the peasant class into the vaults of the royal exchequer. Taxes on Jews were quaint, arbitrary, and capricious rather than confiscatory. In Portugal under Sancho II, for example, Jews were required for a while to pay a "fleet tax," and had by law to "furnish an anchor and a new cable for every ship fitted out by the Crown." In one of the many Spanish kingdoms, the Jews were taxed on such basic foods as meat, bread, and water. In another, there was a Jewish "hearth tax," and in another there was a "coronation tax" plus a regular yearly tax "to pay for the king's dinner."

This was nothing like the heavy pressure of taxation Jews faced elsewhere in Europe, where the Jew had, it must have seemed, to pay for every act of his life from the first to the last.
Jews were taxed for passing through certain gates, for crossing certain bridges, for using certain roads, for entering certain public buildings. They were taxed for crossing the borders of the tiny Rhineland states, for buying or selling goods, for marrying. Jewish babies were taxed at birth, and no Jew could be buried until his burial tax was paid. Jewish houses were taxed according to the number and size of their rooms, which encouraged families to crowd together in as small a space as possible. In peacetime, soldiers were billeted in Jewish quarters, and houses of prostitution were placed there, in an attempt to break down Jewish family life. To rape or kill a Jewish child was considered no crime.

By contrast, the Jewish quarters of such Spanish cities as Seville, Cordoba, and Granada were the best neighborhoods of their cities, occupied by the most beautiful houses -- gracefully built around airy courtyards -- and Christians vied with each other to buy houses there. It was a far cry from the ghettos of the Rhineland, where streets were too narrow for a wagon to turn around, where open sewers ran, where the Jew paid a tax to leave his quarter and another to return, and in which he was locked at night. Jews in the rest of Europe, who had heard of the life their brothers lived in Spain and Portugal, looked longingly and enviously at what lay across the Pyrenees.

Then, at the beginning of the eighth century, came the Moors.

It is popular in Spain today to speak of "the years of Arab occupation," leaving the implication that these Arabs were no different from the nomadic illiterates who wander the African desert on camels and wear burnooses. It is hard, even today, for a Spaniard to accept the fact that the Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was the first conquest since Roman times of an inferior land by a superior people. Other invaders of Europe -- the Huns, the Turks, the Normans -- were barbarians. But the men who, in 711, overcame the scattered city-states of Spain were the bearers of the great Islamic culture which had flourished in such sophisticated cities as Damascus and Alexandria. They brought with them the flow of knowledge from northern Africa to southern Europe -- sciences Spain had never been exposed to before, including algebra, chemistry (or alchemy), architecture -- and even introduced such unheard of amenities as indoor plumbing.

The Moors, during their half millennium of rule, turned the city of Cordoba -- one of several Spanish cities that responded strongly to the Moorish impact -- into one of the most glittering and exciting in the world, with its great mosque, its libraries, gardens, palaces, university buildings, and what were then the most opulent private houses in Europe. Muslim historians claim that at one point under Moorish rule the city had a population of over a million; now it has shrunk to 190,000. There are said to have been more than 3,000 palaces, public baths, and mosques, plus over 80,000 shops. The main library had a collection of over 400,000 volumes. In Granada, the Moors created the incomparable Alhambra, that shimmering complex of towers, pavilions, courtyards, pools, fountains, and gardens, each arched window of each great hall designed to frame a particular picture of exquisite beauty. The Alhambra is a triumph of Moorish aesthetics, and its fountains, an engineering miracle -- their graduated upward thrust dependent on gravity, with a water source located high on a mountainside above -- operate with the same precision today as they did seven hundred years ago. In a room off the Courtyard of the Lions, a mosaic Star of David is prominently displayed on one wall, a reminder that the Jews and the Moors were both Semitic peoples, with ancient shared pasts.

Until recent times, in fact, when opposing nationalistic aims turned the two peoples apart, the followers of Judaism and Islam had deep interrelationships. Never in their history did Jews have a longer and more meaningful encounter with another religion than in Spain. As the Moors surged forward and upward in Spain, achieving power and grandeur, they bore the Jews upward with them. As the Moorish occupation moved northward -- at its height, in 719, the Moors held nearly the entire peninsula -- the Jews helped the invaders by opening towns and fortresses to them, enabling them to go on to further victories, and for this the Jews were rewarded with high positions. The role of the Jews in the Arab conquest would be remembered, of course, later on when the tide began to turn the other way.

Immediately, the Jewish and the Moorish respect for education and culture recognized each other and went hand in hand. The Jewish and the Moorish skills in politics and the arts were kindred, and instantly in sympathy. Under Moorish rule, the Jews of Spain were no longer restricted to the narrow roles of moneylenders or tax collectors. In the list of popular Jewish occupations we see "bullion merchant" drop to twelfth place, well behind such humdrum trades as "lion tamer," "juggler," and "mule seller." Leading the list, by contrast, is "physician," followed by "public official," and "clerk of the treasury." Moorish sophistication and breadth of mind encouraged Jews to become inventors, artisans, soldiers, lovers, mystics, scholars -- out of the darkness and solitude an "outsider" always feels, into the shining circles of magic and poetry.

By the eleventh century, the Jewish stamp was firmly on the land, and the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries in Spain and Portugal represent a kind of golden age for Jews. From 1200 on, Jews virtually monopolized the medical profession, a fact that was to cause serious trouble for both Jews and Christians later on, and in the kingdom of Aragon it was said: "There was not a noble or prelate in the land who did not keep a Jewish physician." Jews adorned the other professions, and Jewish advocates, judges, architects, scientists, and writers were heavily relied upon by the courts of both Aragon and Castile. Jews were equally important in their financial service to the kings of Spain, where, in one report, we find them "in key positions as ministers, royal counsellors, farmers of state revenue, financiers of military enterprises and as major domos of the estates of the Crown and of the higher nobility." In addition, Jews provided the country's apothecaries, astronomers, map makers, navigators, and designers of navigational and other scientific instruments. Jews were also prominent as merchants dealing in silver, spices, wine, fur, timber, and slaves.


There were isolated outbreaks of anti-Semitism from time to time. The Crusades of the eleventh and twelfth centuries frequently provided excuses for local pogroms, the rationale being: "Let us purify our own home as well as the land of the infidel," and the number of these occurrences increased as Christian Spain began its long push southward again, dividing the land more equally between Christianity and Islam, and as the Moorish influence began to wane. But in general, through these centuries -- 1100 to 1390 -- fresh breezes of tolerance and intersectarian understanding seemed to blow across Iberia.

This was partly because Christian kings tended to follow the enlightened examples of their Moorish predecessors. Having seen what the Jews had done for the Moors, the Christian kings were eager for Jewish favor. A number of kings considered themselves the protectors of the Jews, and in many places the Jews literally belonged to the Crown. Two of the greatest kings, James I of Aragon and Ferdinand III of Castile, were decidedly pro-Semitic. Ferdinand III was fiercely possessive of what he called "my Jews," and was quick to put down any attempt to persecute them. He often described himself as a "king of three religions" and, in proud reply, a Castilian rabbi declared to his congregation: "The kings and lords of Castile have had this advantage, that their Jewish subjects, reflecting the magnificence of their lords, have been the most learned, the most distinguished Jews that there have been in all the realms of the dispersion; they are distinguished in four ways: in lineage, in wealth, in virtues, in science." When Ferdinand III died, his son, Alfonso X, erected a monumental mausoleum for his father, and ordered the dead king's eulogy inscribed upon it in Castilian, Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew. After death, Ferdinand became known as Ferdinand the Saintly.

His son, known as Alfonso the Wise and Alfonso the Learned, was in many ways more remarkable than his father. He patterned his rule after that of the Moorish king Abdulrahman III, whose reign had been majestic, broad-minded, and tolerant, and Alfonso's may have surpassed Abdulrahman's in its magnanimity and influence. In his researches, Alfonso always turned to Jewish scholars, "the best," and he founded the celebrated center of astronomic learning at Toledo. Part of the scientific output of this institution, the Alphonsine Tables, were to figure importantly in the navigational thinking of the young Christopher Columbus.

Up to Alfonso's time, the official language of the royal court, of diplomacy, and of the universities had been Latin. Since it was the language of the Church, of their persecutors, it was a tongue that the Jews instinctively regarded with aversion. The upper-class Jews preferred Castilian, and the lower classes spoke Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, written in Hebrew characters, among themselves. Alfonso and his Jewish scholars codified Castilian, abolished Latin, and declared Castilian the official language of Christian Spain, to the great rejoicing of the Jewish community. [ i]

These were years when, according to the historian Americo Castro: "In the commercial sphere no visible barriers separated Jewish, Christian, and Saracen merchants. . . . Christian contractors built Jewish houses, and Jewish craftsmen worked for Christian employers. Jewish advocates represented gentile clients in the secular courts. Jewish brokers acted as intermediaries between Christian and Moorish principals. As a by-product, such continuous daily contacts inevitably fostered tolerance and friendly relationships, despite the irritations kept alive in the name of religion." In the south, in Andalusia, still under Moorish control, it was the same: a civilized society that made no distinction as to creed, where Jew, Moor, and Hidalgo lived in accord and mutuality, though it is interesting to note that the term "blue blood" originated here. In those with light skin, the blue veins of hands and wrists showed through the skin. The Moors were not Negroes but they were dark and tanned from the sun. Their ''blue'' blood did not show.

During these years, Spanish Jews enjoyed the privilege, almost universally denied to Jews elsewhere, of wearing arms. Contemporary accounts describe dashing Jewish knights, elegantly fitted out, riding through cities on horseback, swords glittering in the sun. Many bore elaborate multiple names, and had been given the title of "Don." From Portugal, a report to King John II remarks: "We notice Jewish cavaliers, mounted on richly caparisoned horses and mules, in fine cloaks, cassocks, silk doublets, closed hoods, and with gilt swords." Jews organized their own sports and amusements, participated in jousts and tournaments of their own, and these often had a particularly Jewish flavor. In one popular pastime, Jewish knights, to the blare of horns and bugles, tilted with wooden staves at an effigy representing Haman, the Biblical enemy of the Jews in the Book of Esther, and, at the termination of the game, burned Haman on a mock funeral pyre while everybody sang and danced.


Then why did it end? What caused three tranquil centuries to turn suddenly into something so different, so violent and bloody, and so prolonged that it has continued into modern times? What sent Spain hurtling in a new and terrible direction? Actually, it was a combination of many forces, some obvious, some subtle, some planned, some accidental that changed life totally for the Jews of Spain. True, Moorish power, which had helped bring the Jews to power, was on the wane. By 1480, Granada was the last Moorish stronghold on the peninsula. But long before that, factors had begun to accumulate and align themselves against the Jews.

Though Spain and Portugal were isolated and cut off, emotionally as well as geographically, from the rest of Europe, they cannot have been unaware of what was going on elsewhere, where conditions for Jews were steadily worsening. There was the problem of dress, of identification. When Pope Innocent III introduced the Jewish badge in 1215, he particularly stressed that his reason was that Jews had been dressing and looking far too much like other people, that intermarriages with Christians had occurred as a result. The prevailing feeling was that Jews were "different," and that their difference must be made unmistakable. The yellow badge became the Jews' greatest insult, "the mark of the beaten, reviled, scorned, abused by everyone," according to one medieval writer. The position of the Jew in various lands could be gauged by the size of the badge each country prescribed. In France and Italy, the circular badge was relatively small. Germany required the largest badges and in the most reactionary city-states of Bavaria the badge was soon deemed not degrading enough, and laws were passed enjoining Jews to wear only the colors yellow and black, and to walk barefoot.

At the Spanish Jews' heated insistence, the papal bull decreeing the badge was not enforced in thirteenth-century Spain. (In some cities, Jews were allowed to buy exemptions from the badge; in others, the edict was simply ignored.) For many years, Jewish scholars and rabbis had worn the cope -- a long embroidered cloak, open at the front and clasped at the throat with a brooch -- when they walked the streets. They considered the cope an appropriate ecclesiastical vestment, even though it belonged specifically to the costume of the Christian Church.

Still, the Jews must have been aware that the tide was beginning to run against them. Many Spanish moneylenders were still Jews, as were tax collectors -- two professions that have never rated high in popularity among the general populace. The old dark myths began to be unearthed again of the abominations that supposedly took place in synagogues, that on Good Friday the Jews crucified young Christian boys and drank their blood. By unhappy coincidence, while these rumblings and mutterings were being heard, the Black Plague marched across the European continent, and Jewish doctors, helpless in its path, were accused of poisoning their Christian patients. Bigotry, fed by fear, flourished.

The Seventh, and last, Crusade ended unsuccessfully in 1270. The spirit of the Crusades had always been as much commercial as religious -- with the profitable sacking and looting of the land of the infidel just as important (if not a good deal more so) than the claiming of his immortal soul. The Seventh was a failure in terms of loss of both life and money and, all over Europe, the prevailing mood toward the infidel grew harsh and bitter. Purification of the blood and homogeneity of faith became twin preoccupations.
If the infidel of the East was now too costly to reach, then where could he be found? Eyes turned homeward, and there he was. The century following 1270, then, can well be labeled a Home Crusade, with ridding the homeland of "outsiders" a major theme.

Meanwhile, Moorish power in Spain was declining. The Islamic hand that had pulled the Jews upward was no longer outstretched. Both Jews and Moors who saw the writing on the wall began converting to Catholicism, and now the Conversos, or New Christians, created a problem all their own. It was often the Converso who became the greatest enemy of his former religion, the most virulent anti-Semite, who took it upon himself to lead the attack against the "reprobate Jews." Such a Converso was Don Pablo de Santa Maria, who, before his conversion in the early 1400's, was named Selemoh ha-Levi. [ii] The former chief rabbi of Burgos, he now became the bishop of Burgos. It is a monstrous irony that this ex-rabbi, famous throughout Spain for his scholarship, should have become the scourge of the Jews.

Don Pablo's specialty was accusing the Conversos, of which he was one, of secretly betraying their faith, of "Judaizing." He was the first to draw the distinction between "faithful" Conversos and the "faithless" ones, between true Christians and false. The more Christian zeal a Converso displayed, Don Pablo pointed out, the greater was the likelihood that this Converso was a secret Jew or Marrano -- literally "pig" in Spanish. (It has also been said that these Jews were called Marranos because they "ate pork in the streets," so badly did they want -- and need -- to be taken for true Christians.) Don Pablo obviously did not intend his own extreme zeal to be considered in this light.

He rose rapidly and became tutor to Prince John, the future John II of Castile, father of Isabella. He also placed in high positions in the Church and government many members of his large family, many of whom shared his anti-Semitic obsession. (His wife and sons, on the other hand, renounced him.) Don Pablo repeatedly urged the reenactment of old Visigothic laws under which a new Christian relapsing into Judaism could be punished with the death penalty, and he wrote these grimly prophetic words: "I believe that if in this our time a true inquisition were made, numberless would be those who would be given over to the fire amongst those who would really be found judaizing; who, if they are not down here more cruelly punished than public Jews, will be burnt forever in eternal fire."


And, of course, the fact is that he may have been right. "Numberless" Jews may indeed have made the gesture of converting only because they considered it prudent, and had simply taken their old religion underground. Others who may have been sincere converts at the outset may have suffered second thoughts. The Converso immediately found himself an object of extreme suspicion since, thanks to the efforts of Don Pablo, "New Christian" had become synonymous with "false Christian." The Converso's former coreligionists had little use for him and so the Converso became a sort of social outcast. Whereas he had had status as a Jew, he must have begun to think little of a religion that treated its converts with so little charity. Who could blame him for returning, in private, to his old faith?

Don Pablo used the pulpit, the most effective medium of communication of his day, to spread his views. When one of his coagitators declared, in a sermon, that he possessed positive proof that one hundred circumcisions had been performed on sons of Judaizing Christians, the prelate was rebuked and called a liar by the king, but the episode demonstrates another force that was working against the Jews. Medieval Spain was a ceaseless battleground for power, not only Christian versus Moorish but a three-way struggle between the kings, the bishops of the Church, and the feudal nobles. The Moors and, in turn, the kings, had been the Jews' protectors. Now, as Spanish cities grew and became more important, the dukedoms of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were coalescing. The kings had used the Jews and the bourgeoisie in their struggle against the lesser nobles; the nobles, meanwhile, were aligned with the Church. Now the nobles sided with Don Pablo de Santa Mana and other bishops to wrest the Jews away from the kings.

At the heart of the billowing anti-Semitism was, of course, envy -- a human trait and a trait predominant in what has been called the Spanish temper. The Jews had simply become too rich, too powerful, too important in too many walks of life. Just as the Crusades had been of a mixed religious and commercial motivation -- conversion of the infidel no more important than pillaging his fields and emptying his vaults -- so did the episodes of prejudice and the scattered anti-Jewish pogroms that broke out in the fourteenth century have only partly to do with matters of faith. They were undertaken in jealousy, with intent to get back, by force, what less fortunate non-Jews believed to have been unrightfully taken away from them. As Chancellor Pedro Lopez de Ayala wrote in his diary after a particularly savage pogrom in Seville, in which the rich Jewish quarter of the city was looted and many were murdered: "And it was all cupidity to rob, rather than devotion."

The pogroms spread like brush fire, and it was clear that a terrible twilight was at hand. In 1390, the Jews of Majorca were forbidden to carry arms. The question of the Jewish badge -- "yellow, in circumference four fingers, to be worn over the heart" -- became specific. Riots took place in several cities, and suddenly in 1391 in Seville -- in direct defiance of orders from his king -- a priest named Don Ferran Martinez led an armed mob into the juderia. After scattering the king's soldiers, Martinez and his men massacred more than four thousand Jews, looted and burned their houses. Pogroms were now an institution across the face of Spain, and they erupted in Toledo, Valencia, Barcelona. After each pogrom, forcible mass baptisms and conversions were inflicted on the Jewish survivors. These Jews, presented with a faith that wielded a cross in one hand and a knife in the other, were also called Conversos, and, needless to say, went into a category all their own.

Through the next twenty years conditions grew steadily more severe, and thousands of Jews emigrated from Spain, scattering across the face of Europe.
In 1421, Saint Vincent Ferrer and the Chancellor of Castile dictated a long series of anti-Semitic and anti-Moorish laws. Jews and Moors alike were required to wear identifying badges; they were forbidden to hold office or to possess titles; they were excluded from such trades as those of grocer, carpenter, tailor, and butcher. They could not change their residences. They could not hire Christians to work for them. They could not eat, drink, talk, or bathe with Christians under the new laws. They were forbidden to wear anything but "coarse clothing." One Jew complained:

They forced strange clothing upon us. They kept us from trade, farming, and the crafts. They compelled us to grow our beards and our hair long. Instead of silken apparel, we were obliged to wear wretched clothes which drew contempt upon us. Unshaved, we appeared like mourners. Starvation stared everyone in the face. . . .


However, the legislation did have the effect that it claimed it desired. Conversions stepped up markedly, while the line between "faithful" and "faithless" Converso became very dim. In the years following Don Pablo de Santa Maria, it was easier to suppose that everyone was faithless, and bloody battles continued -- in Toledo in 1467, in Cordoba in 1473, and, in 1474, an incredible uprising where a young Converso led a bloodthirsty crowd in Segovia in a raid against other Conversos. In the middle of this maelstrom, this tumult of cross -- and countercurrents, of warring factors and faiths and ideologies, of opposing ambitions and thrusts for power and money, there stepped a youngish pair of royal newlyweds, Queen Isabella of Castile, and King Ferdinand of Aragon.

It was a dynastic union, and had been planned that way by -- the ironies do not cease -- a small group of Jews from the very highest court and banking circles of Spain. The two principal matchmakers were Don Abraham Senior of Castile, and Don Selemoh of Aragon, men of such prominence that they had never taken the trouble to be baptized. ("Yes," Aunt Ellie would assure the children when she spoke of these great men. "We are connected, we are connected.") It was their grand notion to bring the two great kingdoms -- which had been gradually coalescing from the multitude of minor ones -- into a single, even greater whole. Their idea represented an early form of nationalism not unlike de Gaulle's in modern France; both men were intensely chauvinistic, dedicated to making Spain the mightiest nation in the world. It was Don Abraham of Castile who invited Ferdinand to his house and put him up there while Ferdinand paid formal court to Isabella, and who brought Ferdinand on his first secret visit to inspect his bride-to-be. It was Don Selemoh who served as the intermediary in the presentation of a magnificent golden necklace to Isabella, Ferdinand's engagement gift, purchased, of course, with Jewish money. It was Don Abraham who, in conversations with his royal house guest, was the first to suggest that one of Ferdinand and Isabella's future offspring might be wed to a Portuguese prince or princess, thus placing the entire Iberian peninsula under one rule. The two men negotiated on all details involving Isabella's dowry to her husband.


In Granada a splendid catafalque rises above the place where, in simple leaden caskets, the Catholic monarchs rest. The king, or at least his marble effigy, lies with his hands folded on his chest, looking very regal, his head not even denting the stone pillow beneath it -- an indication, it has been said, of his cranial capacity in life. His queen lies at his left, hands folded, and for some reason that has never been explained, her head is turned away from her husband, her eyes seemingly fixed contemplatively on the middle distance, giving her a look that is both thoughtful and estranged, and the disturbing mood created by the pair is one of disunion and disaffection. Certainly this must have been the queen's attitude toward her husband while she lived. He was a perpetual adulterer, and his many mistresses, and the ensuing bastard children with which he scattered the Spanish landscape, must have been a heavy cross for the queen to bear. It was a notably unhappy marriage, with Isabella emerging as the more interesting partner in it.

This stern, practical, pious, thorough woman, who treasured her rents and her "power to be feared," had -- through the efforts of Don Abraham Senior and Don Selemoh of Aragon -- married a man almost totally her opposite. Where Isabella was direct and forthright, Ferdinand was devious and sly. Where Isabella was plain, Ferdinand was dashing and handsome. A contemporary describes his "merry" eyes, and "his hair dark and straight, and of good complexion." For all her jealousy, it was said that Ferdinand "loved the Queen his wife dearly, yet he gave himself to other women." Also, "He enjoyed all kinds of games such as ball, chess or royal tables, and he devoted to this pleasure more time than he ought to have done." At the same time, "He was also given to following advice, especially that of the Queen, for he knew her great competence." Also, she was some two years older than he.

Although history has labeled Ferdinand and Isabella as archenemies of the Jews, it is hard to believe that they themselves were anti-Semitic. The royal household had a very Jewish complexion, and the king and queen were literally surrounded by Jews. Some, like Don Abraham Senior, had not converted, while others were Conversos. These included Hernando de Pulgar, the queen's confidential secretary, and the queen's confessor, Fray Hernando de Talavera. The king and queen depended enormously on these men, and on the guidance and support of other Converso advisers, and before Ferdinand assumed his father's throne he had officially increased the power of the Conversos at court. The general bailiff of Aragon, the grand treasurer, and the rational master, were all members of the Sanchez family, baptized Jews. Conversos also held the three top military posts in Ferdinand's command -- heads of the fortresses of Perpignan and Pamplona, and commander of the fleet off Majorca. The king's private chamberlain, Cabrero, was an ex-Jew.

Isabella's household was no different, and Conversos about her included her closest woman friend, the Marquesa de Moya, who closed Isabella's eyes at her death. It was the same everywhere in Spain. In Aragon, the vice-chancellor of the kingdom, the comptroller general of the royal household, the treasurer of the kingdom of Navarre, an admiral, a vice-principal of the University of Saragossa, were all members of the large and powerful La Caballeria family, as were several pivotal members of Ferdinand's council. Don Juan Pacheco, Marquis of Villena and Grand Master of the Order of Santiago, was descended on both sides from an ex-Jew named Ruy Capon, and Don Juan's brother, Don Pedro Giron, was the equally exalted Grand Master of the Order of Calatrava. Their uncle was archbishop of Toledo, and an ex-Jew -- everyone knew. At least seven of the principal prelates of the kingdom were of Jewish descent, including at least two bishops. Why, then, with Jews and ex-Jews serving them in so many important areas, did Ferdinand and Isabella permit a policy to develop that was so patently destructive and disruptive of their mightiest ambition -- a great and unified Spanish nation? How could a policy of ferreting out, and separating, the true Christians from the false, the faithful converts from the secretly "Judaizing" ones, have possibly been considered practical, much less wise? The crucial, and virtually unanswerable, question became: who was Jewish and who was not? In the three generations that had passed since the massacre of 1391, thousands of Jews had been baptized. Throughout the fifteenth century, many of the wealthier New Christians had married into families of the old Catholic nobility.


Did Ferdinand and Isabella merely surrender to popular sentiment -- which was not at all like them -- or did they actually believe that the Jew had infested Spain and had to be removed? That anti-Semitism had become popular there is no doubt. It is also possible that when the Jewish court physician failed to save the life of one of her sons, the Infante Don Juan, Isabella may have become embittered against the Jews and been reminded of old myths of Jews as poisoners of wells and children. And anti-Semites among the Conversos had begun to tell the monarchs that most of the conversions were only feigned, and recalled an ancient Castilian legend that developed under the reign of Peter I. Peter, it was said, used to wear a waistband given him by his wife, Dona Blanca, who wanted to expel the Jews. His mistress, Dona Mana de Padilla, obtained the waistband with the help of an old Jew who was powerful at court, and the Jew placed a curse on it so that the next time Peter wore it -- at a court ceremony, when he was in his full regalia -- the waistband suddenly turned into a serpent and, before the eyes of the horrified onlookers, coiled itself around the king's neck and strangled him.

The Inquisition was first suggested to the king and queen by the Dominican prior of Saint Paul in Seville, backed by the papal nuncio, Nicolao Franco. The king and queen agreed, it is said, "reluctantly" that an "inquisition," or inquiry, be undertaken, but placed the leadership of it in the hands of the great Cardinal of Spain, the Archbishop of Seville, Pedro Gonzalez de Mendoza, who assured their majesties that the approach to Judaizing Conversos would be evangelical -- through education, argument, and preaching, rather than force. But the lower clergy, the lesser nobles, and the general public quickly became impatient with the cardinal's gentle ways and called for sterner measures. Of the cardinal's methods, the historian Andres Bernaldez wrote: "In all this, two years were wasted and it was of no avail, for each did what he used to do, and to change one's habits is a wrench as bad as death." In 1479, the king and queen -- still reluctant -- gave in to the popular pressures surrounding them and founded the Inquisition.

Anti-Semitism became official, and the rulers embarked upon a policy of systematic expulsion. In 1481, Jews were ordered confined to their juderias. Next, a partial expulsion was ordered of all the Jews in Andalusia. In 1483, Jews were decreed expelled from Seville and Cordoba and, in 1486, from Saragossa, Abaran, and Teruel.

On January 2, 1492, Isabella and Ferdinand arrived in Granada, the last state in Moorish power, to accept its final surrender and receive its keys. Slowly the banner bearing the Cross was raised over the Alhambra while, just as slowly, the crescent of Islam was lowered. It must have been a moment of unparalleled emotion, of momentous impact, as the Moorish King Boabdil the Young moved, on foot, toward the mounted Ferdinand, to offer the symbol of capitulation after over seven hundred years of Moorish sway. His head was high and proud. The Christian Reconquista was complete. Spain's medieval era had come to an end. As the Cross and royal banner rose above the tower of Comares, the royal knights at arms chanted, "Granada, Granada for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella." Around her, the queen's chapel of singers began to sing the solemn hymn of thanks, "Te Deum Laudamus." Granada's fall must indeed have seemed decreed by divine will. The queen, overcome, fell to her knees and wept. She was not quite forty-one years old.

At this stirring moment when the youthful king in his turban walked slowly toward her, carrying the keys, when she Hung herself to her knees convinced she must be witnessing an act of God's holy will, did she remember the old accusations of how, seven centuries before, it was the Jews who "opened the gates" to ungodly Moors? Did she give weight to the powerful and long alliance of the two cultures, and did she now see the Jews and the Moors as inseparable enemy forces? Did she finally convince herself that what the churchmen and the nobles had been telling her was true, that Spain could triumph only if permanently cleansed of all unconverted Moors and Jews? It is more than likely, because three months after Granada's fall the famous Expulsion Edict of 1492 was issued, with the solemn words:

It seems that much harm is done to Christians by the community or conversation they have held and hold with Jews, who pride themselves on always attempting, by whatever means, to subvert our Holy Catholic faith . . . instructing our faithful in the beliefs and ceremonies of their law . . attempting to circumcise them and their sons . . . giving or taking to them unleavened bread and dead meats. . . . We order all Jews and Jewesses of whatever age that before the end of this month of July they depart with their sons and daughters and manservants and maidservants and relatives, big and small . . . and not dare to return.
;

Figures are unreliable, but it is estimated that somewhere between 165,000 and 400,000 people emigrated from the peninsula in the months that followed. Obviously, the figure for those who chose the alternative, and remained to accept baptism, is even shakier, but it is generally placed at about 50,000. As Jews poured out of the country, the Sultan of Turkey, Bajazet II, is said to have commented that he "marvelled greatly at expelling the Jews from Spain, since this was to expel its wealth." He said, "The King of Spain must have lost his mind. He is expelling his best subjects," and he issued an invitation to Jews who so wished to come and settle in Turkey.

It is no coincidence that Columbus' expedition was launched that same calamitous year. It too was an extension, with the same mixed religious and commercial motives, of the Crusades;
after the fall of Granada, the Home Crusade might be said to have been completed. The next logical step was westward, across the Atlantic.

One of the charming legends that have been perpetuated about Queen Isabella is that she impulsively, one might even say girlishly, offered to pawn (or sell -- the stories vary) her jewels to finance Columbus on his voyage. Like so many charming legends, this one turns out to be nothing more than that. True, Isabella's treasury was nearly empty. But her coffers were rapidly filling up with property confiscated from departing Jews. Jews filled other roles in the expedition.

When he first plotted his course, Columbus used charts prepared by Judah Cresques, known as "the map Jew," head of the Portuguese School of Navigation in Lisbon. The almanacs and astronomical tables that Columbus gathered for the trip were compiled by Abraham ben Zacuto, a Jewish professor at the University of Salamanca. It was Senor Zacuto who introduced Columbus and the officers of his expedition to the prominent Jewish banker Don Isaac Abravanel, who was one of the first to offer Columbus financial backing. When still more money was needed, and when Isabella was at the point of abandoning the project for lack of funds, Abravanel turned to other Jewish bankers, including Luis de Santangel Gabriel Sanchez, and Abraham Senior, who had played such an important role in bringing Isabella and Ferdinand to the altar. It is because of these bankers that the expedition was able to leave Spain under the Spanish flag and, as a result of their part in the undertaking, Columbus' first word back to Spain about his discovery was addressed not to the queen -- which would have been courteous -- but to Senores Santangel, Sanchez, and Senior, his bankers, which was practical. As a result of these activities, Professor H. P. Adams of Johns Hopkins has commented: "Not jewels, but Jews, were the real financial basis of the first expedition of Columbus."

There is also a distinct possibility that Columbus himself was a Marrano, the son of parents named Colon, who had escaped from Spain to Genoa during one of the pogroms. He was certainly a very odd sort of Genoese. Why, for example, did he write and speak such poor Italian -- and yet speak Castilian Spanish so fluently that he could move with ease in the highest circles of the Spanish court? Nothing but puzzles and blind alleys surround the actual place and circumstances of Columbus' birth. For centuries, Portugal has refused to honor Columbus, claiming that he was a "foreigner," and yet it is known that for several years before his expedition he lived in Portugal and was married to a Portuguese girl. (In 1968, Portugal remedied the situation by erecting a statue of him on the Portuguese island of Madeira.) Was Columbus a secret Jew? A large school of thought believes so. He certainly surrounded himself with Marranos and Conversos when he was making up his crew. Aboard the Santa Maria, both Mestre Bernal, the physician, and Marco, the ship's surgeon, were Jews. The first man ashore in the New World was probably also a Jew: Luis de Torres, the official interpreter for the expedition. He had been brought along on the voyage because the expedition expected to reach the Orient.


When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:

[They] brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned.... They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms... They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
...

The information that Columbus wanted most was: Where is the gold? ...

There was gold in Asia, it was thought, and certainly silks and spices, for Marco Polo and others had brought back marvelous things from their overland expeditions centuries before. ...

In return for bringing back gold and spices, [Spain] promised Columbus 10 percent of the profits, governorship over new-found lands, and the fame that would go with a new title: Admiral of the Ocean Sea. He was a merchant's clerk from the Italian city of Genoa, part-time weaver (the son of a skilled weaver), and expert sailor.....

One-fourth of the way [to Asia] he came upon an unknown, uncharted land that lay between Europe and Asia -- the Americas. It was early October 1492, and thirty-three days since he and his crew had left the Canary Islands, off the Atlantic coast of Africa... [O]n October 12, a sailor called Rodrigo saw the early morning moon shining on white sands, and cried out. It was an island in the Bahamas, the Caribbean sea. The first man to sight land was supposed to get a yearly pension of 10,000 maravedis for life, but Rodrigo never got it. Columbus claimed he had seen a light the evening before. He got the reward.

[T]hey were met by the Arawak Indians, who swam out to greet them. The Arawaks lived in village communes, had a developed agriculture of corn, yams, cassava. They could spin and weave, but they had no horses or work animals. They had no iron, but they wore tiny gold ornaments in their ears....

[It]led Columbus to take some of them aboard ship as prisoners because he insisted that they guide him to the source of the gold. He then sailed to what is now Cuba, then to Hispaniola (the island which today consists of Haiti and the Dominican Republic). There, bits of visible gold in the rivers, and a gold mask presented to Columbus by a local Indian chief, led to wild visions of gold fields.

On Hispaniola, out of timbers from the Santa Maria, which had run aground, Columbus built a fort, the first European military base in the Western Hemisphere. He called it Navidad (Christmas) and left thirty-nine crewmembers there, with instructions to find and store the gold. He took more Indian prisoners and put them aboard his two remaining ships. At one part of the island he got into a fight with Indians who refused to trade as many bows and arrows as he and his men wanted. Two were run through with swords and bled to death. Then the Nina and the Pinta set sail for the Azores and Spain. When the weather turned cold, the Indian prisoners began to die.

Columbus's report to the Court in Madrid was extravagant. He insisted he had reached Asia (it was Cuba) and an island off the coast of China (Hispaniola)....

Hispaniola is a miracle. Mountains and hills, plains and pastures, are both fertile and beautiful ... the harbors are unbelievably good and there are many wide rivers of which the majority contain gold... There are many spices, and great mines of gold and other metals....


The Indians, Columbus reported, "are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone...." He concluded his report by asking for a little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his next voyage "as much gold as they need ... and as many slaves as they ask." ...

[H]is second expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans' intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor.

Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were "naked as the day they were born," they showed "no more embarrassment than animals." Columbus later wrote: "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."...

In the province of Cicao on Haiti, where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death....

Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.

When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants left on the island.

The chief source -- and, on many matters the only source -- of information about what happened on the islands after Columbus came is Bartolome de las Casas, who, as a young priest, participated in the conquest of Cuba.... Las Casas transcribed Columbus's journal and, in his fifties, began a multivolume History of the Indies. In it, he describes the Indians. They are agile, he says, and can swim long distances, especially the women. They are not completely peaceful, because they do battle from time to time with other tribes, but their casualties seem small....

In Book Two of his History of the Indies, Las Casas ... tells about the treatment of the Indians by the Spaniards....

Endless testimonies ... prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives.... But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy....


Total control led to total cruelty. The Spaniards "thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades." Las Casas tells how "two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys."

The Indians' attempts to defend themselves failed. And when they ran off into the hills they were found and killed.... He describes their work in the mines:

... mountains are stripped from top to bottom and bottom to top a thousand times; they dig, split rocks, move stones, and carry dirt on their backs to wash it in the rivers, while those who wash gold stay in the water all the time with their backs bent so constantly it breaks them....


After each six or eight months' work in the mines, which was the time required of each crew to dig enough gold for melting, up to a third of the men died.

While the men were sent many miles away to the mines, the wives remained to work the soil ....

Thus husbands and wives were together only once every eight or ten months and when they met they were so exhausted and depressed on both sides ... they ceased to procreate. As for the newly born, they died early because their mothers, overworked and famished, had no milk to nurse them, and for this reason, while I was in Cuba, 7000 children died in three months. Some mothers even drowned their babies from sheer desperation.... In this way, husbands died in the mines, wives died at work, and children died from lack of milk and in a short time this land which was so great, so powerful and fertile was depopulated ....


When he arrived on Hispaniola in 1508, Las Casas says, "there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. ...

-- A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present, by Howard Zinn


Though the monarchs' Expulsion Edict was quite specific, there was a certain leeway in its interpretation. Bribery was not unknown in the fifteenth century, and Portuguese officials were even easier to bribe than those of Spain, which was saying very little. The first Jews affected by the edict were the poorest, who could afford no bribes; richer and more prominent people could make arrangements. The royal matchmaker Abraham Senior, for example, who had served the king so well -- he had helped the king payoff many of his mistresses, and came to his assistance whenever his amorous adventures threatened to be dangerous -- was among the Jews who were given permission to take whatever personal possessions they wished out of the country, after a few routine donations were made to certain ministers and public causes. The government's debt to Senior -- in the stunning amount of 1,500,000 maravedis -- was also ordered paid. Senior, however, after thinking it over, reported to his old friend and former house guest King Ferdinand that he would prefer to remain in Madrid, and that he would accept baptism as the price. The king was delighted, and the Senior family was baptized in the palace and changed its name to Coronel. Don Abraham, after all, was an old man, and perhaps he had grown weary of the struggle. His friend and former colleague Don Isaac Abravanel, offered the same terms, chose to leave Spain rather than convert, and thus the great Abravanel name was carried out into Europe and, eventually, the United States.

The Jews who could not muster the price of a bribe were herded out of Spain like cattle. They were allowed to take nothing with them. To sell their houses or goods, they were forced to take whatever a buyer might deign to give them, and whatever they received was ordered turned over to the king. According to one chronicler: 'They went around asking for buyers and found none to buy; some sold a house for an ass, and a vineyard for a little cloth and linen, since they could not take away gold."

While Columbus was assembling his Heet in Cadiz, he watched the harbor, which was filled with tiny boats waiting to carry away the Jews. If indeed he was the son of parents who were clandestine Jews, he must have viewed the hectic scene with queerly mixed emotions. The ships assigned to take the refugees were overcrowded, badly managed, and faced late-winter storms at sea. Those who boarded Turkish ships -- sent by the sultan himself -- found the Turkish sailors less hospitable than their leader. Some Jews had hit upon the idea of swallowing gold and silver pieces in order to take their money with them. Of these a rabbi whose father was one of the early exiles wrote: "Some of them the Turks killed to take out the gold which they had swallowed to hide it; some of them hunger and the plague consumed, and some of them were cast naked by the captains on the isles of the sea; and some of them were sold for man-servants and maid-servants in Genoa and its villages, and some of them were cast into the sea."

When Aunt Ellie reached this point in her stories, the children's eyes would be as wide as saucers.

_______________

Notes:

i. Prayer books in Spanish synagogues were promptly reprinted in Castilian, an interesting contrast to the attitudes of American Orthodox Jews of the twentieth century, who thoroughly disapprove of Reform congregations, where English, the language of the country, is spoken.
 
ii. This Converso name change is fairly typical. The Converso felt a need to  advertise his new faith with special enthusiasm, and often selected the name  of a Catholic saint.
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 2:36 am

4. THE TWENTY-THREE

ON THE FIRST DAY of September, 1654, a tiny privateer, the Saint Charles, sailing under the French Hag, appeared in what is now New York Harbor. It was something of a surprise to the fortress colony of New Amsterdam, which had been established on the tip of Manhattan island barely thirty years earlier, to learn that twenty-three of the Saint Charles passengers were Jews.

More than 150 years had passed since the Expulsion Edict, and the Catholic monarchs had long ago been placed in their uncomfortable-looking repose. And yet the twenty-three were victims of the monarchs' edict also, part of a continuing stream of escapees from Inquisitional Spain, Portugal, and all Spanish and Portuguese possessions on both sides of the Atlantic, where the Inquisition had been quickly established.

The dispersion following the Expulsion Edict was chaotic, following no set paths. Jews who refused to convert scattered in all directions -- southward into Africa, eastward into Greece and Turkey, northward into Europe. Only one rule applied: the richer the Jew, the more liberal he could be with his bribes and, therefore, the freer he was in his choice of destination. The poorest Jews fled across the Gibraltar straits into the mountains of Morocco. The richest went to Holland -- and for good reason. This tiny, doughty country had, from as early as the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries -- just as it has today -- a record and reputation of tolerance, of treating "outsiders" with respect and kindness. And so the Jews who escaped to Holland from Spain and Portugal found not only a friendly atmosphere where they could reestablish their congregations, but also a place where they could practice their businesses and professions. The city of Amsterdam was already an important money capital. In Holland the Sephardim were soon prospering again and occupying positions very much like those they formerly had held in Iberia. By the early seventeenth century, the Sephardim were an important part of the Dutch economy.

And the Netherlanders of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the most cultivated people in Europe. This was the great era of Dutch painting, of Frans Hals and Rembrandt and Vermeer. It was an age of opulence and luxury, and in Holland ordinary burghers enjoyed comforts in their homes that were found only in the palaces of princes elsewhere. Across the North Sea, in England, members of the royal courts were still eating with their fingers, throwing their bones to mongrel dogs who roamed, snarling, under dinner tables. They were using their sleeves for napkins, strewing the royal halls with rushes instead of rugs, and had barely begun to discover the use of window glass. The rich of Amsterdam, meanwhile, were living in houses with thick carpets from the Orient and beautiful furniture, eating off porcelain plates with all the table silver of modem times. The affinity between the elegant Dutch and the aristocratic Sephardim was easy to understand.

Because the oldest Sephardic families in America can usually point to a Netherlands interlude in their collective past, they have an added point of pride. As one of the New York Nathans says today: "We were ladies and gentlemen in Spain, and we became ladies and gentlemen in Holland." Cream rises to the top, regardless of its location.

In the years following Columbus' discovery, Dutch explorers, along with explorers from other European countries, fanned out across the Atlantic, establishing colonies in North and South America, the Caribbean islands, Africa, and the Orient. As the Dutch established colonies, Sephardim from Holland followed them, helping the Dutch put their colonies in business. As a result of the Dutch colonial thrust, Sephardic communities can be found today virtually wherever the Dutch had outposts -- Guiana, Polynesia, the West Indies. The oldest Jewish cemetery in the New World is the Sephardic burying ground on the Dutch West Indian island of Curacao.

A particularly important Jewish settlement had been made in Brazil. Discovered by a Spaniard, Brazil was claimed for Portugal in 1500 by the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvarez Cabral. Soon other nations were eyeing this vast and fertile land and its rapidly growing sugar industry. In 1624, the Dutch West India Company -- backed by the Dutch government-launched a full-scale military campaign against Brazil and captured Recife, which brought Brazil into Dutch hands.

Jews, many of them Marranos, had settled in Brazil during the century of Portuguese rule. With the Dutch victory and the abolition of the Inquisition -- along with new arrivals from Holland of Sephardim who followed the Dutch conquest in a now familiar pattern -- there was a great rush of reconversion to Judaism. Ex-Catholics were welcomed back into the synagogue, and before long Recife had a thriving and openly Jewish community.

The position of Jews in Brazil was now equal to that of the Protestant Dutch, with the same rights and privileges, and was considerably superior to that of the conquered Portuguese Catholics, whom the Dutch naturally endeavored to keep powerless. Unfortunately for the Jews, this state of affairs lasted only thirty years. In 1654, after a long and bloody siege by the Portuguese, the Dutch surrendered Recife, and Brazil became once more a colony of Portugal. The Jews' situation had changed utterly. The grim hand of the Inquisition reached out again.

But the leader of the Portuguese invaders, General Barreto, was a reasonably lenient man. He ordered the Jews out of Brazil, but he didn't hurry them unduly.
In his diary, David Franco Mendes, one of the leaders of the Brazilian Jewish colony, and another early member of the ubiquitous Mendes clan, describes the situation:

. . . And it came to pass that in the year 1654, the Portuguese came back, and from the Hollanders took their lands by force. And God had compassion on His people, and gave it favor and grace in the eyes of the mighty ruler, Barreto, who should be favorably remembered, and he caused it to be proclaimed throughout his Army that every one of his soldiers should be careful not to wrong or persecute any of the children of Israel, and that if any should wilfully transgress his command his life would be forfeited. . . .


General Barreto's proclamation pardoned "All nations, of whatever quality or religion they may be . . . for having been in rebellion against the Crown of Portugal. . . . The same shall apply to all the Jews who are in Recife and Moots-Stadt." To find a conqueror in such a forgiving mood is rare indeed. The Jews (and the other Dutch colonists) were given three months to conclude their affairs in Brazil, and were told, according to Mendes' diary, that they

could sell their houses and goods at an adequate price and in the most advantageous manner. And he gave permission to our brethren initiated into the covenant of Abraham (who now number more than six hundred souls) to return to our country here. And he commanded that if there were not enough Dutch ships in the harbor, as many Portuguese ships within his dominion should be given them until a sufficient number should be obtained. And all our people went down to the sea in sixteen ships, spread sail, and God led them to their destination to this land.


"This land," in the case of David Franco Mendes, was familiar and sophisticated Holland. Of the sixteen ships that set sail that May, fifteen arrived at their Netherlands destination. The passengers of the sixteenth had a different fate. Blown off course and separated from its sister ships, it was set upon by Spanish pirates. Its passengers were taken prisoner, its cargo was confiscated, and the ship was set afire and sunk. The prisoners were told that as Jews they would be taken to a Mediterranean port, where they would be sold as slaves. But soon -- it is not clear how many days or weeks later -- the pirate vessel was sighted by the Saint Charles, which was captained by a Frenchman named Jacques de la Motthe. In a skirmish at sea, the pirates were defeated and the prisoners rescued and taken aboard the Saint Charles, which, it turned out, was bound for a place David Franco Mendes describes in his journal as "the end of the inhabited earth," a hamlet that consisted mostly of warehouses, called New Amsterdam.

Captain de la Motthe was not exactly a cordial host, and the Jews may well have wondered if they might have been better off in the hands of Spanish pirates. His boat was small and already overloaded, and de la Motthe insisted that they abandon much of their personal belongings. When his ship dropped anchor in what is now New York Harbor, and when the twenty-three Jews prepared to go ashore, de la Motthe refused to let any of their remaining goods off his ship until every stiver of their passage money had been paid. It is clear that, collectively, the twenty-three Jews had not enough cash to pay for a second set of transatlantic tickets, having already paid for passage from Recife to Amsterdam and wound up in the opposite direction.

The Jews tried to reason with de la Motthe, arguing that they would soon be receiving help from friends and relatives in Holland, but the captain was adamant. Poor, without food, houses, or friends in the new land, but, thanks to their considerable Dutch connections, at least able to speak the language of the Dutch colony, the twenty-three went ashore with only the clothes they wore on their backs. They set up a camp of sorts on the banks of the Hudson, just outside the settlement, and began a long struggle to come to terms with de la Motthe.

On Monday, September 7, 1654, about a week after their arrival, the Jews were ordered to appear before the Worshipful Court of Burgomasters and Scepens of the City of New Amsterdam.
According to the court records, translated from the Dutch:

Jacques de la Motthe, master of the bark St. Cararina [sic], by a petition written in French, requests payment of the freight and board of the Jews whom he brought here ... according to agreement and contract, in which each is bound in solidum, and that therefore, whatever furniture and other property they may have on board his bark may be publicly sold by order of the Court, in payment of their debt. He verbally declares that the Netherlanders who came over with him, are not included in the contract and have satisfied him. Solomon Pietersen, a Jew, appears in Court and says that the nine hundred and odd guilders of the 2,500 are paid, and that there are twenty-three souls, big and little, who must pay equally.


Who was "Solomon Pietersen, a Jew"? He is not included in the pages of Dr. Stern's book, nor does he appear to have been one of the twenty-three Saint Charles passengers. Had he preceded the twenty-three in some way? Perhaps so. His willingness to go before the court in their behalf indicates that he had a certain familiarity with the burgomasters of New Amsterdam, and he obviously spoke fluent Dutch. There is also evidence (his name, for one thing) that Pietersen was an Ashkenazic, [i] or German, Jew, and -- for all his helpfulness -- there are indications that Pietersen's efforts were not universally appreciated by the twenty-three Sephardim, who considered Pietersen's origins decidedly lower class -- a Sephardic- Ashkenazic conflict that would billow in America for centuries to come. In any case, Pietersen's plea got the Jews an extension of time, but not much, for the record continues:

That the Jews shall, within twice twenty-four hours after date, pay according to contract what they lawfully owe, and in the meantime the furniture and whatever the petitioner has in his possession shall remain as security, without alienating the same.


During the two-day moratorium, the Jews' only hope was that help might somehow appear in the harbor from friends in Holland, even though the friends had no idea they were in America, and probably by this time assumed they had been lost at sea. When twice twenty-four hours had elapsed, the court was reconvened and de la Motthe appeared to demand the specific sum of 1,567 florins. He also placed in evidence a list of the Jews' property held on shipboard. The list was pathetically scant, consisting mostly of articles the Spanish pirates had not wanted. Through all this the woebegone little group remained silent.

What were their names, these unwelcomed and unwilling pioneers? The court records mention only one or two specific names, and spellings are offered capriciously. The court preferred to treat the "twenty-three souls, big and little" as a group, and in phraseology ominously reminiscent of the Expulsion Edict. Many records of America's first Jewish community are lost or incomplete and are complicated by Marrano aliases. But from what can be pieced together about them, it seems probable that the twenty-three consisted of six family heads -- four men (with their wives) and two other women who in all likelihood were widows, since they were counted separately -- and thirteen young people. The heads of these families were Asser Levy, Abraham Israel De Piza (or Dias), David Israel Faro, Mose Lumbroso, and -- the two women -- Judith (or Judica) Mercado (or De Mercado, or de Mereda) and Ricke (or Rachel) Nunes.

The court was clearly of two minds about their situation. The colony needed able-bodied men, and had made it a policy to welcome immigrants, indigent or wealthy. But the court could not ignore de la Motthe's fiercely worded petitions, and de la Motthe was eager to be on his way. The solution was a compromise. The court offered the Jews a further delay, of four days this time, and then directed that if their debt was not settled the captain could "Cause to be sold, by public vendue, in the presence of the officer, the goods of Abraham Israel [De Piza] and Judica de Mereda, being the great debtor, and these not sufficing, he shall proceed in like manner with the others to the full acquittal of the debt and no further."

By now the Jews and their predicament had become the talk of New Amsterdam, and the pros and cons of the case were being argued all over the colony. As a result, when the four days had passed, with no salvation in the form of a ship appearing, and when the Jews' property was brought ashore and arrayed on the pier to be sold at auction, a group of New Netherlanders who had been defending the Jews arrived early, began buying up items at nominal prices, and then handed them over to their original owners. It was one of the earliest recorded examples of what might be called Christian charity in America. This was not, however, a development calculated to please M. de la Motthe, who, as soon as he learned what was happening, ordered the sale stopped. He then turned matters over to a young Dutch lawyer named Jan Martya.

Under normal procedure, petitioners before the Worshipful Court of Burgomasters had to bring their cases to the court on days when it was scheduled to be in session, and each case had to wait its turn. But a ruling did exist which stated that in return for "each member of the Council, five guilders; and for the Court Messenger two guilders," the Worshipful Court would hold a special hurry-up session and forget about what other cases might be pending. It was a provision that obviously favored the rich, and Martya, acting in de la Motthe's behalf, paid the necessary guilders and an "Extraordinary meeting" was promptly announced at the Stadt Huys (State House), which was actually a chamber over a taproom where "beer was sold by the whole can, but not in smaller quantities." One gathers that beer had its place in the normal proceedings of the court.

All over again, the case against "David Israel and the other Jews" was recited, and Martya added in sterner tones:

Whereas their goods sold thus far by venue do not amount to the payment of their obligations, it is therefore requested that one or two of the said Jews be taken as principal which, according to the aforesaid contract or obligation, cannot be refused. Therefore he hath taken David Israel and Moses Ambrosius [ii] as principal debtors for the remaining balance, with request that the same be placed in confinement until the account be paid.


This, revealing that legal language has grown no less convoluted over the years, was the first time prison had been mentioned. And the Jews, who had no guilders with which to pay for their share of the court's attention, could do nothing but ask for the mercy of the court. But the court decreed:

. . . having weighed the petition of the plaintiff and seen the obligation wherein each is bound IN SOLIDUM for the full payment [we] have consented to the plaintiff's request to place the aforesaid persons under civil arrest (namely with the Provost Marshall) until they have made satisfaction.


It was not, however, a total victory for de la Motthe, because the decree contained a proviso that may have come as a surprise to him. The order sent the two men to debtor's prison only provided that "He, de la Motthe, shall previously answer for the board, which is fixed at 16 stivers per diem for each prisoner, and is ordered that for this purpose 40-50 guilders proceeding from the goods sold shall remain in the hands of the Secretary, together with the expenses of this special court." Collecting his money was becoming an increasingly expensive chore for de la Motthe.

With two men jailed and the sale resumed, the prospects for the twenty-three were discouraging. September passed, and October nights were growing chilly. Though there was scattered help from sympathetic residents of the little colony, the encampment by the river faced slow starvation. Then Solomon Pietersen -- who had made himself the chief defender of the twenty-three -- stepped to center stage again.

In the small print of the agreement the Jews had signed when taken aboard, Pietersen uncovered a helpful fact. The passage money was not owed to de la Motthe alone. The other officers, and even the crew, of the Saint Charles were entitled to a share. Armed with this, Pietersen went to each officer and sailor and, in individual pleas, asked each to wait for his money until the ship's next call the following year. Each would be paid then, he promised, and with full interest. To de la Motthe he pointed out that the proceeds of the sale nearly equalled his personal share, and this he could keep. On October 26, 1654, the Worshipful Court declared:


Solomon Pietersen appeared in Court and exhibited a declaration from the attorney of the sailors, relative to the balance of the freight of the Jews, promising to wait until the arrival of the ship from Patria. Wherefore he requests to receive the monies still in the Secretary's hands for Rycke Nunes, whose goods were sold, over and above her own freight debt, in order to obtain with that money support for her. Whereupon was endorsed: Petitioner Solomon Pietersen as attorney was permitted to take, under security, the monies in Secretary's hands.


And so, after an ordeal of nearly two months, the settlers who had inadvertently become America's first "minority group" were free -- or at least somewhat free -- to make a living.

And they could practice their religion. With the boys over thirteen, there were probably enough males to form a minyan to celebrate the first Rosh Hashanah in America on September 12, 1654 (5415 according to the Hebrew calendar). Within a year, the congregation of Shearith Israel -- "Remnant of Israel" -- was founded. The settlers were not allowed a house of worship, but they could hold services in their own houses; a few years later, they were permitted to rent quarters for services. At first they were refused land for a cemetery but, by 1656, they had acquired "a little hook of land" for a burial ground. Its exact location is unknown. By 1682, the congregation was permitted to purchase the Chatham Square Cemetery, which exists today. It was not until 1730 that the congregation succeeded in erecting the first synagogue building in America, a tiny structure in Manhattan's Mill Street.

The parnas, or president, of the synagogue that year was Emily Nathan's great-great-great grandfather, as Aunt Ellie would remind the children. A Nathan -- Emily Nathan's brother, Justice Edgar J. Nathan, Jr. -- was pamas until his death in 1965. His son Edgar Nathan III now serves.

Today, New York families such as the Nathans, the Seixases, the Cardozos, and the Hendrickses -- who are all able to locate the names of the earliest settlers far back in the tangled branches of their family trees -- can view the settlers' accomplishments with a certain quiet pride. In the years around the turn of the last century, when Mrs. William Astor was throwing her celebrated balls for the people Ward McAllister had labeled "the Four Hundred" -- and when a later-arriving German-Jewish elite had begun high-hatting Mrs. Astor and calling itself "the One Hundred" -- one of the little Nathans, no stranger to the family's intense sense of hubris, asked his mother, "Who are we?" "We," said Mrs. Nathan with a little smile, "are the Twenty-Three."

_______________

Notes:

i. From Ashkenaz, a people mentioned in Genesis, who in medieval rabbinical literature became identified with the Germans.
 
ii. Probably Mose Lumbroso.
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 3:10 am

5. "THESE GODLESS RASCALS"

AT THE HEART of the Jews' early difficulties, and a factor that would continue to cause them grief for a number of years, was the openly hostile and anti-Semitic attitude of Governor Peter Stuyvesant. In the land where the Pilgrims, just a few years earlier, had come to find religious freedom, bigotry was no rarer, nor were its expressions much different, than today. At the height of the de la Motthe affair -- on September 22, 1654 -- Stuyvesant had written to the headquarters of the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam to say:

The Jews who have arrived would nearly all like to remain here, but learning that they (with their customary usury and deceitful trading with the Christians) were very repugnant to the inferior magistrates [members of the Worshipful Court] as also to the people having the most affection for you; the Deaconry also fearing that owing to their present indigence they might become a charge in the coming winter, we have, for the benefit of this weak and newly developing place and the land in general, deemed it useful to require them in a friendly way to depart; praying also most seriously in this connection, for ourselves as also for the general community of your worships, that the deceitful race -- such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ -- be not allowed further to infect and trouble this new colony, to the detraction of your worships and the dissatisfaction of your worships' most affectionate subjects.


Peter Stuyvesant, a harsh and despotic man, was a bigot in the classic sense. He had already been reprimanded by the company for his persecutions of Lutherans and Quakers in the colony, and he had made himself generally unpopular with everyone by his efforts to increase taxes and prevent the sale of liquor and firearms to the Indians. What was the basis of his distrust, even fear, of a handful of impoverished Jews? The charge of "usury" was a common one, and Jews had learned, in a grim way, to be amused by it. The ironic fact was that usury was invented by a seventeenth-century Dutch Christian, Salmasius, who published three books on the subject between 1638 and 1640 urging the adoption of usury as an economic tool. His views had been quickly adopted by most Christian, as well as Jewish, moneylenders. Among the Jews, meanwhile, were men who, in Brazil, had been respected businessmen, as they had been in Holland before that. There could have been no real reason to suppose they had come to New Amsterdam to indulge in anything dishonest.

There were, however, certain characteristics of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews that Christians found off-putting. The Sephardim were characterized by a certain dignity of manner, an implacable and unbroachable reserve. They possessed not a little of the Spanish temper. From early portraits we see their high-cheekboned, often haughty, faces. There was a sense of aloofness, of distance, about them that passed for arrogance or extreme self-pride. The records of the de la Motthe hearings all describe the Jews as sitting rigidly in their seats, saying nothing, retreated into the grandeur of silence. But Peter Stuyvesant's attitude shows, more than anything else, that the spirit of the Inquisition had crept, in little ways, all over the world, and that the ancient superstitions and accusations against the Jews had followed it -- that the Jews were sorcerers, ritual murderers of children, poisoners of wells, killers of Christ.

There were others who shared Stuyvesant's views. The Reverend John Megapolensis, head of the Dutch Church in New Amsterdam, had, the same year as the Jews' arrival, succeeded -- with Stuyvesant's full help -- in denying the Lutherans permission to build their own church in Manhattan. A few months later, in a state of alarm, Megapolensis wrote to his archbishop in Holland:

Some Jews came from Holland last summer, in order to trade. Later a few Jews came upon the same ship as De Polhemius; [ i] they were healthy but poor. It would have been proper that they should have been supported by their own people, but they have been at our charge, so that we have had to spend several hundred guilders for their support. They came several times to my house, weeping and bemoaning their misery. If I directed them to the Jewish merchants, they said they would not even lend them a few stivers. Some of them have come from Holland this spring. They report that still more of the same lot would follow, and then they would build here a synagogue. This causes among the congregation here a great deal of complaint and murmuring. These people have no other God than the unrighteous Mammon, and no other aim than to get possession of Christian property, and to win all other merchants by drawing all trade towards themselves. Therefore we request your Reverences to obtain from the Lords -- Directors [of the West India Company] that these godless rascals, who are of no benefit to the country, but look at everything for their own profit, may be sent away from here. For as we have Papists, Mennonites and Lutherans among the Dutch; also many Puritans or Independents, and various other servants of Baal among the English under this Government, who conceal themselves under the name of Christians; it would create a still greater confusion if the obstinate and immovable Jews came to settle here. Closing I commend your Reverences with your families to the protection of God, who will bless us and all of you in the service of the divine word.


Though the Jews petitioned Megapolensis, it is unlikely that they came "weeping and bemoaning." This seems quite out of character. The Jews, who had plenty to weep about and bemoan, and who were under no misapprehensions about the very limited degree of welcome they were being given, were not emotional but methodical in their approach to the problem. Early in 1655 they drafted and sent off a lengthy petition to the directors of the West India Company in Holland. This document is remarkable not only in its cool-headedness and tact, its diplomacy and relentless logic, but also for the clarity with which it defines the political and economic position of the Jews in western Europe in the middle of the seventeenth century.

The petition begins with a deferential salutation "To the Honorable Lords, Directors of the Chartered West India Company, Chamber of the City of Amsterdam" and proceeds to a detailing of the Jews' specific grievances. Stuyvesant had refused to give them passports or to let them travel outside the settlement, making it impossible for them to trade. This, the petition points out, "if persisted in will result to the great disadvantage of the Jewish Nation. It also can be of no advantage to the Company, but rather damaging." The petition reminded the directors that "The Jewish Nation in Brazil have at all times been faithful and have striven to guard and maintain that place, risking for the purpose their possessions and their blood." Next the Jews pointed out the economic advantages to be gained by allowing settlers to disperse about the country. "Yonder land," they wrote, "is extensive and spacious. The more . . . people that go and live there, the better it is in regard to the payment of taxes which may be imposed there." They reminded the "high illustrious mighty Lords" that in the past they had "always protected and considered the Jewish Nation as upon the same footing as all the inhabitants and burghers. Also it is conditioned in the treaty of perpetual peace with the King of Spain that the Jewish Nation shall also enjoy the same liberty as all other inhabitants of these lands."

The petition then made its most telling point.

Your Honors should also please consider that many of the Jewish Nation are principal shareholders of the West India Company. They have always striven their best for the Company, and many of their Nation have also lost immense and great capital in its shares and obligations. The Company has consented that those who wish to populate the colony shall enjoy certain districts and land grants. Why should certain subjects of this state not be allowed to travel thither and live there? The French consent that the Portuguese Jews may traffic and live in Martinique, Christopher, and others of their territories. . . . The English also consent at the present time that the Portuguese and Jewish Nation may go from London and settle at Barbados, whither also some have gone.


The reply from Amsterdam was slow in coming, and the permission it gave was given begrudgingly. Clearly the directors shared some of Stuyvesant's misgivings. But the reminder that there were Jewish shareholders of importance in the company was what turned the vote in their favor. In their letter of instruction to Stuyvesant dated April 26, 1655, the directors said:

We would like to effectuate and fulfill your wishes and request that the territories should no more be allowed to be infected by people of the Jewish Nation, for we see therefrom the same difficulties which you fear, but after having weighed and considered the matter, we observe that this would be somewhat unreasonable and unfair, especially because of the considerable loss sustained by this nation, with others, in the taking of Brazil, as also because of the large amount of capital which they still have invested in the shares of this company. Therefore, after many deliberations we have finally decided and resolve to apostille [i.e., to note] upon a certain petition presented by said Portuguese Jews that these people may travel and trade to and in New Netherlands and live there and remain there, provided the poor among them shall not become a burden to the company or to the community, but be supported by their own nation. You will govern yourself accordingly.


One wonders whether, if the loss of Brazil had not driven the price of West India Company stock down, the directors would have been even this sympathetic. In any case, with this mealy-mouthed and decidedly reluctant verdict, the Jews gained their second important victory in the new land -- only one of many more that were to come.

________________

Notes:

i. Dominie Joannes Polhemius was a Dutch religious who had arrived in New  Amsterdam aboard the Saint Charles. This letter confirms the fact that the  twenty-three Saint Charles passengers were not technically the first Jews to  set foot upon American soil.
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 3:20 am

6. LITTLE VICTORIES

IN HOLLAND, where so many of the better off and the intelligentsia had fled, the phoenix was adopted as the symbol of the Sephardic Jews, representing their rise from the ashes of the Inquisition. In the mid-seventeenth-century Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, however, a creature more symbolic of persistence would have had to be chosen -- the tortoise, perhaps, because the story of the early years of the first Jewish families in Manhattan is one of endurance.

The chief enemy continued to be Peter Stuyvesant, who had called them "godless rascals." A handful more had arrived by the spring of 1655 -- "from the West Indies and now from the Fatherland!" Stuyvesant wrote with alarm, regarding the trickle of immigrants as something akin to an invasion. Among the newer arrivals joining the original twenty-three was one Abraham de Lucena. Though Mr. de Lucena clearly appears to have been some sort of leader in the little Sephardic community in New Amsterdam, his importance has since become more genealogical than historical, since such old New York families as the Nathans and the Hendrickses find in him a common ancestor. Not much is known about the first de Lucena. It was noted that he came to New Amsterdam from "the Fatherland" -- or Holland -- it is also recorded that he could "barely speak Dutch." One assumes, then, that he was a recent escapee from the Inquisition, and that he had not tarried in Holland long during his journey from Spain.

Without a democratic government or a clear body of laws, rules in the settlement were subject to wide interpretation, and Stuyvesant made full use of this latitude. In 1655, the "Jewish problem," in Stuyvesant's eyes, loomed so large -- there were perhaps twenty families -- that he announced that Jews were not wanted as guards or soldiers for the city. This was a devious measure because, in effect, it denied them the right to stand guard over their own homes, which in those days was the most important duty a member of the civil guard had to perform. Stuyvesant based his ruling on what he claimed to be the unwillingness of the colony's regular soldiers "to be fellow-soldiers with the aforesaid nation and to be on guard with them in the same guard house," and he therefore declared "to prevent further discontent" that Jews were to "remain exempt from ... general training and guard duty." He added the galling statement that, for "the privilege of remaining exempt," each male Jew between the ages of sixteen and sixty would have to pay a tax of 65 stivers -- about a dollar in present currency -- per month. It was the Jew tax of Europe all over again.

More anti-Semitic legislation followed. In the summer of 1655, Stuyvesant announced that Jews would not be allowed to own their own houses.
At a public auction in December a young man named Salvador Dandrada bought a small house, in either defiance or ignorance of this order, at what is now the east end of Wall Street. When it was discovered that Dandrada was Jewish, the purchase was declared annulled and the house placed on the auction block all over again, to be sold to someone else.

Laborious petitions were written to the Dutch West India Company in Holland, itemizing the wrongs and injustices the Jews had suffered, and these were dispatched on their slow journey across the sea. The four principal negotiators were now Salvador Dandrada, Jacob Henriques, Abraham de Lucena, and Joseph d'Acosta and, again, it was the weight of the shares in the company owned by these four men -- d'Acosta particularly -- that provided them their best leverage. It was enough, at length, to bring about a letter to Stuyvesant from his superiors. The directors told the governor that they had learned "with displeasure" that he had forbidden Jews "to trade at Fort Orange and South River, and also the purchase of real estate, which is allowed here in this country without any difficulty." The directive did not give the Jews complete equality, however. They were still "not to establish themselves as mechanics ... nor allowed to have open retail shops."

The unwillingness to let Jews enter retailing was based on an interesting economic theory, a holdover from the old world. In seventeenth-century Holland it was thought that Jews, because of their supposed "talent" at international and wholesale trade, should be channeled into these activities, for the good of the country. It is certainly true that contributions of Dutch Jews to international finance helped balance Holland's economic position in relation to her competitors -- England, Portugal, and Spain. It was claimed that retailing "distracted" Jews from their more important international business, and the same focus of their attention was deemed necessary in New Amsterdam as well. Here, after all, trade between the colonies was becoming increasingly important. Why Jews were not wanted as "mechanics" is, however, not entirely clear.

Jews were also ordered to carry on their religion "in all quietness. . . within their houses, for which end they must. . . endeavor to build their houses close together in a convenient place" -- in other words, in a ghetto of sorts. At the same time, the directors rather sternly told Stuyvesant that they expected their orders from now on executed "punctually and with more respect." It was another victory, and led the way a year later, to Jews being given full rights as burghers, or citizens, of New Amsterdam.

In 1664, the Dutch ceded their American colony to the British, New Amsterdam became New York, and the climate changed again. Instead of Peter Stuyvesant, there was a reactionary government in England to deal with. The restrictions continued. Jews were not permitted to indulge in retail trade, nor could they worship in public. It wasn't long, though, before these rules became impossible to enforce. The Jews were becoming too important an element in the colony to be kept out of the mainstream of New York commercial life. They were soon to be a political force to be reckoned with as well.
Moses Levy, who operated a small but profitable general store in Manhattan, became the first Jew in America to be elected to a public office when he was chosen "Constable of the South Ward." Mr. Levy, however, was not impressed by the honor and announced that he did not wish to serve, preferring to pay the five-pound penalty for not serving rather than taking on this time-consuming and low-paying job.

Moses Levy was also one of New York's earliest philanthropists, and in his giving he was laudably ecumenical. In 1711, he was one of seven New York Jews who contributed to a fund for the building of the steeple of the original Trinity Church, the landmark that today stands rebuilt at the head of Wall Street. In 1727, the affiuence of Mr. Levy led to a minor misfortune, and to another "first" for Jews that was somewhat less auspicious. Moses Susman, also Jewish, robbed Mr. Levy of "gold, silver, money bags, rings &c," and was caught red-handed. Little is known of Susman, whose name suggests that he was German, except that he spoke no English and possessed "no goods or Chattles Lands or Tenements." The controversy between Susman and Levy may have been an instance of the hostilities that lingered between the older-arrived Sephardim and the newer-arriving Jews from northern Europe. In any case, Mr. Levy decided to deal sternly with the thief, and the court, finding him guilty, demanded the sentence that was in those days customary for men convicted of this crime -- that Susman be "hanged by the neck till he be dead, and that he be hanged on Wednesday the twelfth of July between the hours of ten and eleven in the forenoon." Thus Moses Susman achieved the dubious honor of being the first Jew in America to be executed. The record notes that a Mr. Noble was ordered paid "two pounds Current Money of New York" for erecting the gallows.

By the early 1700's, two families, the Levys and the de Lucenas, had become easily the two most prominent Jewish families in New York. Abraham de Lucena, who started out trading with the Indians for pelts, soon became one of New York's most important fur merchants and was among the major contributors when donors were sought for the purchase "in trust for the Jewish Nation" of the first Jewish Cemetery in the New Bowery. His son, [i] Abraham Haim de Lucena, was the second rabbi of the Shearith Israel congregation and was able to afford a large and comfortable house of stone -- a sign of advanced status -- with a view of the harbor.

Asser Levy, a "connection" of Moses Levy, offered a similar success story. Six years after reaching Manhattan on the Saint Charles, he had obtained a butcher's license. By 1678 he had prospered sufficiently to build a slaughterhouse at the water gate at the bottom of Wall Street and, adjacent to this, he also opened a tavern. Levy's Tavern was a popular spot because the proprietor was a cordial fellow who also extended a bit of credit here and there. Levy's substantial house stood nearby. In 1671, Asser Levy loaned the Lutherans enough money to build their first American church. He owned the land on which the first synagogue was built, and helped support the congregation by charging them no rent.
When Asser Levy died, in 1682, his estate was valued at the then princely sum of £53 in cash, plus considerable land and a large inventory of goods in which he traded as a sideline, including one otter skin and 504 Jew's harps.

An even more important accomplishment of Asser Levy was that he had managed to form the first business partnership with a non-Jew that has been recorded in America, taking into the slaughterhouse, tavern and Jew's harp business one Garret Janson Roos. Since there were only six licensed butchers in the city, each was required to take an oath of office. Mr. Roos took his oath "on the faith of a Christian." Mr. Levy, however, took "the oath that Jews are accustomed to take," and was also granted special permission "to be excused from killing hogs, as his religion does not allow him to do it." Mr. Roos became head of the hog-killing department.

It must have seemed as though the golden era Jews had enjoyed in medieval Spain was about to return in the new world. Other families were rising to wealth and prominence and, with these, respectability. The Gomez family, wheat merchants, were rivaling the Levys and de Lucenas in importance, to the extent that when a Gomez son married Rebecca de Lucena, Abraham Bairn de Lucena's daughter, it was considered a match of two leading American families, of the highest social order. Gomezes also married Levys and de Leans and Nuneses and Bendrickses. In 1729, the Gomezes became the first Jews to advertise their products on any sort of scale, and the tiny weekly New York Gazette carried the following item:

All persons who shall have occasion for good Stone-Lime next spring or summer, may be supplied with what Quantity they shall have occasion for by Lewis Gomez in the city of New York, at a reasonable Price.


"You notice," one of the Nathans commented in connection with this advertisement -- for Nathans are descended from Gomezes, too -- "what perfect English our family used, even then."

_______________

Notes:

i. Possibly his grandson; the genealogical line is blurred at this point.
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Re: The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite, by Stephen Birm

Postby admin » Tue Jul 24, 2018 3:54 am

7. "GOMEZ, THE ONIONS BEGIN TO SMELL!"

"THEY WALK with heads held high," a contemporary writer said of the members of New York's tiny (perhaps a hundred families in a city of ten thousand) eighteenth-century Jewish community. "These haughtiest of Chosen People must deem themselves the princes of the earth." They may also have walked with a certain feeling of relief. Because, while families like the Gomezes were finding it possible to prosper in the new world, dark and frightening rumors drifted back to them from across the ocean -- tales that their rabbis told them in the synagogue of what Jews who had elected to remain in Spain and Portugal were undergoing. Deep in the background of every American Jew's conscience, throughout those Inquisitional years, was an awareness of what was happening to his relatives and coreligionists in the land the Jews called the Sepharad. It was a frustrating awareness, too, because those who had escaped the Inquisition could do absolutely nothing to help those who had not.

And, once the Inquisition had begun, there seemed to be no way to stop it. It grew like a malignant disease for nearly four hundred years, and when at last it died, its death was slow and hard and painful. It was founded in 1479, and the last public burning took place in 1781, but even then the Inquisition was not over. Executions continued under the Holy Office until as recently as 1826.The last man to hang was a young Valencian, who, in public prayer, was said to have uttered -- witnesses swore they had heard him -- a blasphemous "Praise be to God," instead of the required "Ave Maria," His body swung in the plaza mayor for all to see.

It was not, in fact, until July 15, 1834, that the Spanish Inquisition was officially abolished. But the Expulsion Edict remained firmly in effect, and for years after that there were repeated urgings from the press and from the pulpit for "the restoration of our beloved Inquisition." Even by the 1890's,it seems -- while Americans were dancing gaily at Sherry's and laughing at the antics of Diamond Jim Brady -- Spanish zealots were clamoring to have their Inquisition back, nor had the country seemed to have grasped the fact that, in its long and arduous process, the Inquisition had destroyed Spain utterly, robbed it of all the bright promise it had once had in the years of the conquistadores.

The Inquisition would not die, even though it was based on an unworkable concept. For it set about with fanaticism to perform a labor that could not be done, to erase something that could not be erased, to create something that could not be created, and to solve a problem to which there was no solution, final or even partial. The Inquisition was, by the nature of the visions that bore it, endless, and so, when the end came, Spain lay spent and exhausted and powerless.

Apologists for the Inquisition, and defenders of Isabella, who inaugurated it, point out that the idea was not original with Spain, that Spain's version was based on an earlier Italian effort, and that the punishments it inflicted were no more brutal than those in other countries of the period. The technique of expulsion was not new. In England in 1290 the Jews were ordered out on the grounds that they tried to lure recent converts to Christianity back to "the vomit of Judaism." It has been said that the Inquisition was necessary because Jews had infiltrated Spanish life to such an extent that they had to be removed and that, from the beginning, it had been clear to the Jew that conversion would free him from the possibility of persecution. Also, it has been argued, Jews who were honest about their Judaism were never murdered, tortured, imprisoned, or mistreated in any way. Admission to being a Jew merely resulted in a man's being stripped of his property and bank account, and sent out of the country. But the terrible fact of the Inquisition, regardless of its origins and methods, was that for all its protracted length it was a massive failure. If its aim was to create a homogeneous Spain, its result was the opposite. It tore the country into warring and irreconcilable factions.

The Conversos, or New Christians, quickly reoccupied important positions almost identical to those they had held as Jews, those of physicians, lawyers, financial advisers to the nobility, jobs for which training or learning qualified them. Instead of a Jewish conspiracy, it now seemed like a New Christian conspiracy. Meanwhile, the actual strength of their new faith, the fullness of the conversion, was under heavy suspicion -- and for good reason. The man baptized at sword point was often less than sincere. When Converso doctors lost patients, the old accusations were muttered, and when the government attempted to take untrained men, who happened to be Old Christians, and turn them overnight into brilliant physicians, the results were equally disastrous. In the somewhat lowlier occupation of tax collector, more ironies appeared. When Old Christians took up these tasks they were looked down upon for performing "Jewish" chores, and soon were accused of being Jews in Old Christian clothing. Of this confused situation, a seventeenth-century writer complained:

Formerly all who applied themselves to the gathering of taxes were Jews and people of low origin; yet now, when they are not so, people look down upon them as Hebrews, even though they be Old Christians and of noble descent.


Between Old Christian and New there grew an unbridgeable gulf of dislike and distrust. A number of ex-Jews, obviously supposing that the move would make them safer from the Inquisition, chose clerical careers and some of them rose to positions of importance in the Church. But even the Church's servants were not spared from suspicion that they were secret Judaizers, and before the Inquisition was over, hundreds of nuns, monks, and friars were marched to the stake. At one remarkable auto-da-fe in Coimbra, which lasted over two days and in which over two hundred suspected Jews were involved, the victims included nuns, friars, curates, priests, canons, professors, vicars, and an unfrocked Franciscan who stubbornly refused to confess that he was not a devout Catholic and was therefore burned alive as punishment.

The doctrine of limpieza, or purity of blood, was impossible to enforce from the beginning, with so much of the Spanish nobility already "tainted" with Jewish blood, and so it quickly became nothing more than a tool -- a powerful tool, for it was an instrument of blackmail -- which any noble could use in dealing with his enemies, or which the Church could use in its endless struggle with the nobility, or which one order within the Church could use against another. In 1560, for example, Cardinal Francisco Mendoza y Bobadilla, annoyed that two relatives were not admitted to a particular military order, pettishly and vengefully turned over to Philip II a document, later called the Tizon de la Nobleza Espana (the Blot on the Nobility of Spain), in which he "proved" that the entire nobility of Spain was of Jewish descent. Apparently the Cardinal's proofs were convincing, for the Tizon became a standard Inquisitional reference book, used right up into the nineteenth century, hauled out whenever new victims were needed, republished, and amended at each publisher's whim -- many times. For a price, of course, one could have one's name removed from its list.


Meanwhile, Conversos who had been converted under duress and who were bitter and resentful of the Church became a faction of their own. Outwardly labeled Marranos, they called themselves, in private, Anusim, "the Forced Ones," and continued to practice Judaism.

Soon there was agitated talk of "the Converso danger" and "the Marrano peril," and Conversos, in terror of their lives, fanned the flames by turning informer on Marranos as well as on each other. In Seville, one of the main centers of Conversos, the New Christians, led by Diego de Susan, a wealthy merchant, decided to resist the Inquisition. Diego's beautiful daughter, however, disclosed this secret to her Old Christian lover, who passed it on to the Inquisitors, and many distinguished Conversos of Seville were tried, convicted, and sent to the stake.

It was an endless whirlpool of hate and fear. A list was circulated of the thirty-seven signs by which one could recognize a Judaizer. With dismay, it was quickly noted that a number of the thirty-seven signs applied to everybody. There is no way of telling how many Marranos there were at any given point in time, how many had fled, how many remained. Marranos, it was said -- and no doubt it was true -- worked harder for the Inquisition than most Christians as a way of preserving their disguise. How could you tell the traditional zeal of the fresh convert from what might be smoke screen and deception? There was no way, and the extra-zealous Converso was as much under suspicion and surveillance as the indifferent one. And thus the Inquisition revealed its essential dilemma: It was suspicious even of itself.

When the Inquisitor of Seville wanted to locate the homes of Marranos, he went up on a hilltop on a Saturday and pointed out homes whose chimneys were not smoking. "You will not see smoke rising from any of them," he said, "in spite of the severe cold. They have no fires because it is the Sabbath."

As the Inquisition's power increased, so did the number of fleeing Marranos, and the number of Judaizers discovered and brought to trial. At the Inquisitional tribunal in Toledo, between the years 1575 and 1610, 175 convicted Judaizers appeared for sentencing. Later, between 1648 and 1794, the number had jumped to 659. Though Judaizing was not the only crime the Inquisitional courts dealt with, it was by far the most popular one. Also punished were those found guilty of being secret Moors (or Moriscos), those guilty of blasphemy, witchcraft, heresy, solicitation in confession, and "those who do not consider fornication sinful." It is interesting to note that while the number of convicted Judaizers rose sharply, the number of persons accused of condoning fornication declined -- from 264 in the years 1575 to 1610 to a mere five in 1648 to 1794.

The prisons of Spain filled until there were enough prisoners to hold an auto-da-fe -- literally, an "act of the faith" -- and these autos quickly became a tremendously popular form of public entertainment. Today, the phrase conjures up scenes of human victims tied to rafters and fed into blazing pyres while a bloodthirsty populace screamed approval. In actuality, the autos-da-fe were reasonably sedate affairs, conducted as public expressions of religiosity and pious justice. Fidel Fita, a fifteenth-century Spaniard, describes the ceremony that was held on Sunday, February 12, 1486, and we see that it was a restrained occasion:

All the reconciled went in procession, to the number of 750 persons, including both men and women ... from the church of St. Peter Martyr ... the men were all together in a group, bareheaded and unshod, and since it was extremely cold they were told to wear soles under their feet which were otherwise bare; in their hands were unlit candles. The women were together in a group, their heads uncovered and their faces bare, unshod like the men and with candles. Among these were many prominent men in high office. With the bitter cold and the dishonour and disgrace they suffered from the great number of spectators (since a great many people from outlying districts had come to see them), they went along howling loudly and weeping and tearing their hair, no doubt more for the dishonour they were suffering than from any offence they had committed against God. Thus they went in tribulation through the streets along which the Corpus Christi procession goes, until they came to the cathedral. At the door of the church were two chaplains who made the sign of the cross on each one's forehead saying, "Receive the sign of the Cross, which you denied and lost through being deceived." Then they went into the church until they arrived at a scaffolding erected by the new gate, and on it were the father inquisitors. Nearby was another scaffolding on which stood an altar at which they said mass and delivered a sermon. After this a notary stood up and began to call each one by name, saying, "Is -- here?" The penitent raised his candle and said "Yes." There in public they read all the things in which he had judaized. The same was done for the women. When this was over they were publicly allotted penance and ordered to go in procession for six Fridays, disciplining their body with scourges of hempcord, barebacked, unshod and bareheaded; and they were to fast for those six Fridays. It was also ordered that all the days of their lives they were to hold no public office such as alcalde, alguacil, regidor or jurado, or be public scriveners or messengers, and that those who held these offices were to lose them. And that they were not to become money-changers, shopkeepers or grocers or hold any official post whatever. And they were not to wear silk or scarlet or coloured cloths or gold or silver or pearls or coral or any jewels. Nor could they stand as witnesses. And they were ordered if they relapsed, that is if they fell into the same error again, and resorted to any of the aforementioned things, they would be condemned to the fire. And when all this was over they went away at two o'clock in the afternoon.


Henry Kamen, one of the best historians of the Inquisition, has pointed out that two o'clock is the traditional Spanish hour for lunch, and that 750 transgressors "reconciled" back into the ways of righteousness was most certainly a good morning's work. As the Inquisition progressed, and the number of penitents grew, the autos-da- fe became longer, often stretching into the night and sometimes going on for days. Burnings, however, seldom took place in public in the centers of town, and were performed in the outskirts of cities, away from the eyes of the morbid or curious. Also, since so many prisoners died in confinement before being sentenced, a good proportion of the victims were burned in effigy only.

"Scourging" was a more popular form of punishment. The prisoner was ordered to "discipline his body" with whips, or often given added discipline by being lashed to a mule and "whipped through the streets" by the executioner. In these cases, the public was urged to participate by pelting the victim with stones and garbage. How grateful the prisoner must have been to have returned to the True Faith. Children and old people were subject to identical punishment -- a teen-age youth sentenced to the same number of lashings as a seventy-year-old woman. The number of lashings prescribed varied according to the offense, but a hundred was the usual minimum and two hundred the maximum.

An even more bizarre -- though effective -- device of punishment was the sanbenito, a corruption of the words saco benito, or "holy bag." An odd garment, cut rather like a poncho, the sanbenito fitted over the head and hung to the knees. It was usually of yellow, the color of cowardice, and decorated with crosses, flames, devils, and other reminders of torture. With the sanbenito was worn a tall pointed headpiece, similar to a dunce's cap. A reformed heretic might be required to wear this strange-looking outfit for anywhere from a few months to the rest of his life, and any relapse to his old Judaizing ways while condemned to the sanbenito meant, instantly, the stake. In addition to the humiliation the sanbenito inflicted upon its wearers, there was the further disgrace that when a penitent was permitted to remove his sack it was displayed, with his name attached to it, in the cathedral "in perpetuity."

Tomas de Torquemada, the first Inquisitor General of the Inquisition, was himself of Jewish descent. He was among those who urged Ferdinand and Isabella to establish the Inquisition in the first place. Both monarchs held him in high regard. The queen consulted Torquemada often and sought his advice on religious matters. He visited her frequently at her palace in Segovia in the years before she took the throne, and he became her personal confessor. Later, he became Ferdinand's as well, and must have listened to some startling accounts if Ferdinand confessed all. Torquemada was known for his thoroughness and single-mindedness. He was called "a scourge of heresy, a light of Spain, the saviour of his country, and an honor to his Order," which was the Dominican. Popes Sixtus IV and Alexander VI praised Torquemada for his dedication to ridding Spain of Jews and Moors, and spoke admiringly of the smooth efficiency of his courts.

A strange, austere, overpowering figure of a man, he comes down through history to us as a compound of myths and contradictions. It was said that he never traveled unless he was accompanied by 250 armed guards and fifty horsemen, that he was pathologically afraid of the dark and could not sleep unless an attendant was at his side to rouse him from his terrible nightmares. It was also said that he never ate unless the horn of a unicorn and the tongue of a scorpion were placed beside his plate. Considering the supply of unicorns' horns in fifteenth-century Spain, he must have dined little. He was praised for his extreme asceticism, yet a portrait of him by a contemporary painter depicts him as a full-faced, dark-complexioned, oddly worldly-looking bon vivant. One could describe his face as decidedly Semitic in cast, and this may have had something to do with his attitudes.

It was he, whose own blood was "impure," who first introduced the doctrine of limpieza into a Dominican monastery, the one that he built in Avila and dedicated to Saint Thomas Aquinas. This cold and beautiful building, addressing serene courtyards and gardens, built with money extracted from the victims of his Inquisition, is a major tourist attraction in Avila today.

From the sanguinary sports of the Holy Inquisition; the slaughter of the Coliseum; and the dismal tombs of the Catacombs, I naturally pass to the picturesque horrors of the Capuchin Convent....

Here was a spectacle for sensitive nerves! ... There were six divisions in the apartment, and each division was ornamented with a style of decoration peculiar to itself--and these decorations were in every instance formed of human bones! There were shapely arches, built wholly of thigh bones; there were startling pyramids, built wholly of grinning skulls; there were quaint architectural structures of various kinds, built of shin bones and the bones of the arm; on the wall were elaborate frescoes, whose curving vines were made of knotted human vertebrae; whose delicate tendrils were made of sinews and tendons; whose flowers were formed of knee-caps and toe-nails. Every lasting portion of the human frame was represented in these intricate designs ... and there was a careful finish about the work, and an attention to details that betrayed the artist’s love of his labors as well as his schooled ability. I asked the good-natured monk who accompanied us, who did this? And he said, “We did it"--meaning himself and his brethren up stairs....

Image

“Who were these people?”

“We--up stairs--Monks of the Capuchin order--my brethren.”

“How many departed monks were required to upholster these six parlors?”

“These are the bones of four thousand.”

“It took a long time to get enough?”

“Many, many centuries.”

“Their different parts are well separated--skulls in one room, legs in another, ribs in another--there would be stirring times here for a while if the last trump should blow. Some of the brethren might get hold of the wrong leg, in the confusion, and the wrong skull... You can not tell any of these parties apart, I suppose?”

“Oh, yes, I know many of them.”

He put his finger on a skull. “This was Brother Anselmo--dead three hundred years--a good man.”

He touched another. “This was Brother Alexander--dead two hundred and eighty years. This was Brother Carlo--dead about as long.”...

This business-like way of illustrating a touching story of the heart by laying the several fragments of the lover before us and naming them, was as grotesque a performance, and as ghastly, as any I ever witnessed. I hardly knew whether to smile or shudder.

-- Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain


Torquemada's standards were said to be utterly unimpeachable. In 1484 his pope, Sixtus IV, wrote a letter congratulating him for having "directed your zeal to those matters which contribute to the praise of God and the utility of the orthodox faith." He had a violent temper, and was not even afraid of speaking imperiously to his king and queen. According to one account, Ferdinand and Isabella were offered a ransom of 30,000 ducats by a group of Jews. The king and queen were tempted, and summoned Torquemada for an opinion. When he heard what they suggested, Torquemada is said to have tom his crucifix from his breast, flung it on the table in front of their majesties, and shouted, "Will you, like Judas, betray your Lord for money?"

As the Inquisition progressed over the tortured centuries, it was not always so incorruptible. If the amount of the bribe sufficiently exceeded the amount that could be obtained through simple confiscation, the king was usually willing to listen. In 1602, a group of ex-Jews offered Philip III a present of 1,860,000 ducats, plus handsome cash gifts to each of the royal ministers, if a pardon was issued to "judaizers of their nation for all past offences." And there was more, the king was told, where that came from. The Conversos openly admitted to a hoard of wealth amounting to over 80 million ducats held in a secret hiding place. This offer, more than sixty times the amount that enraged Torquemada, resulted in the issuance of a papal decree of pardon, and 410 prisoners were released from the Inquisition.

Torquemada ruled that those who steadfastly refused to renounce their Judaism and to reembrace the Church must die by fire. Only the penitents were given lesser punishments. The results were some extraordinary cases of martyrdom. One of the greatest was that of Don Lope de Vera, who appears to have become actually unhinged by his zeal to be a Jew even though he had not a drop of Jewish blood in him. He had studied Hebrew and become a pro-Jewish fanatic. Denounced and turned over to the Inquisition by his own brother, Don Lope repeatedly declared to the Inquisitors that he wanted to become a Jew. He circumcised himself in his prison cell and stated that he had renamed himself Judah the Believer. While being led to the stake he chanted Hebrew prayers. He was burned alive.

Torquemada's successor as Grand Inquisitor was Diego Deza. Until he took his post he had been known as a quiet and scholarly man, a friend and patron of Columbus. Like Torquemada, he was of Jewish extraction. He far outdistanced his predecessor when it came to savagery, and under his leadership the Inquisition became more wanton and ferocious than ever before. In 1500 a Marrano woman "of exalted rank" who considered herself a prophetess was arrested at Herrera. Immediately this was seized upon as an excuse for an enormous auto-da-fe. After months of planning, it was held at Toledo and the woman and thirty-eight of her followers -- all of them women -- were burned. The next day, sixty-seven more -- again all women -- suffered the same fate. Under Diego Deza, possession of a trace of Jewish blood was enough to call for execution. The archdeacon de Castro, whose mother was from an ancient Old Christian family, was sentenced, made to perform public penance, and had his considerable fortune confiscated, simply because his father had been a Converso. At one point, 107 people were burned alive; they were said to have been in a church while a sermon containing pro-Jewish sentiments was being preached.

The guides in Genoa are delighted to secure an American party, because Americans so much wonder, and deal so much in sentiment and emotion before any relic of Columbus.... He said:

“Come wis me, genteelmen!--come! I show you ze letter writing by Christopher Colombo!--write it himself!--write it wis his own hand!--come!”

He took us to the municipal palace. After much impressive fumbling of keys and opening of locks, the stained and aged document was spread before us. The guide’s eyes sparkled....

“What I tell you, genteelmen! Is it not so? See! handwriting Christopher Colombo!--write it himself!”

We looked indifferent--unconcerned. The doctor examined the document very deliberately, during a painful pause.--Then he said, without any show of interest:

“Ah--Ferguson--what--what did you say was the name of the party who wrote this?”

“Christopher Colombo! ze great Christopher Colombo!”

Another deliberate examination.

“Ah--did he write it himself; or--or how?”

“He write it himself!--Christopher Colombo! He’s own hand-writing, write by himself!”

Then the doctor laid the document down and said:

“Why, I have seen boys in America only fourteen years old that could write better than that."

“But zis is ze great Christo--”

“I don’t care who it is! It’s the worst writing I ever saw. Now you musn’t think you can impose on us because we are strangers. We are not fools, by a good deal. If you have got any specimens of penmanship of real merit, trot them out!--and if you haven’t, drive on!”

We drove on. The guide was considerably shaken up, but he made one more venture. He had something which he thought would overcome us. He said:

“Ah, genteelmen, you come wis me! I show you beautiful, O, magnificent bust Christopher Colombo!--splendid, grand, magnificent!”

He brought us before the beautiful bust--for it was beautiful--and sprang back and struck an attitude:

“Ah, look, genteelmen!--beautiful, grand,--bust Christopher Colombo!--beautiful bust, beautiful pedestal!”

The doctor put up his eye-glass--procured for such occasions:

“Ah--what did you say this gentleman’s name was?”

“Christopher Colombo!--ze great Christopher Colombo!”

“Christopher Colombo--the great Christopher Colombo. Well, what did he do?”

“Discover America!--discover America, Oh, ze devil!”

“Discover America. No--that statement will hardly wash. We are just from America ourselves. We heard nothing about it. Christopher Colombo--pleasant name--is--is he dead?”

“Oh, corpo di Baccho!--three hundred year!”

“What did he die of?”

“I do not know!--I can not tell.”

“Small-pox, think?”

“I do not know, genteelmen!--I do not know what he die of!”

“Measles, likely?”

“May be--may be--I do not know--I think he die of somethings.”

“Parents living?”

“Im-poseeeble!”

“Ah--which is the bust and which is the pedestal?”

“Santa Maria!--zis ze bust!--zis ze pedestal!”

“Ah, I see, I see--happy combination--very happy combination, indeed. Is--is this the first time this gentleman was ever on a bust?"

That joke was lost on the foreigner--guides can not master the subtleties of the American joke.

-- Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain


The excesses of the Inquisition were reaching such heights that the captain of Cordoba complained that the Inquisitors "were able to defame the whole kingdom, to destroy without God or justice, a great part of it, slaying and robbing and violating maids and wives, to the great dishonor of the Christian religion."

Complaints of atrocities began to reach royal ears and, in 1505, Philip and Juana -- the daughter of Isabella -- ordered Inquisitional activities halted until they should return from Flanders. Then Philip suddenly died, leaving things in Juana's somewhat unsteady hands. Known as Juana la Loca, or Joan the Mad, she stayed, mute and uncommunicative, beside her dead husband's casket during a long macabre journey back across the face of Europe to Madrid. Periodically, Juana would order the casket opened and she would embrace the decaying corpse. While succession was being disputed, the Inquisition was resumed and continued on its dismal course.

Since "reconciled" heretics were being given, they were assured, the gift of eternal life, it was frequently argued that the kindest thing that could be done for a fresh Christian convert was to speed him, with as little to do as possible, out of this world and into the next before he had had a chance to change his mind. From the pen of an Inquisitor who witnessed the auto-da-fe of Logrofio in 1719 we have this chilling account of an accused Judaizer who "with perfect serenity," said:

"I will convert myself to the faith of Jesus Christ," words which he had not been heard to utter until then. This overjoyed all the religious who began to embrace him with tenderness and gave infinite thanks to God . . . a learned religious of the Franciscan Order asked him, "In what law do you die?" He turned and looked him in the eye and said, "Father, I have already told you that I die in the faith of Jesus Christ." This caused great pleasure and joy among all, and the Franciscan, who was kneeling down, arose and embraced the criminal. All the others did the same with great satisfaction, giving thanks for the infinite goodness of God. . . the criminal saw the executioner, who had put his head out from behind the stake, and asked him, "Why did you call me a dog before?" The executioner replied, "Because you denied the faith of Jesus Christ, but now you have confessed, we are brothers, and if I have offended you by what I said, I beg your pardon on my knees." The criminal forgave him gladly, and the two embraced.

And desirous that the soul which had given so many signs of conversion should not be lost, I went round casually behind the stake to where the executioner was, and gave him the order to strangle him immediately. . . . When it was certain that he was dead, the executioner was ordered to set the four corners of the pyre to the brushwood and charcoal that had been piled up . . . it began to bum . . . the flames rising swiftly . . . when the cords binding the criminal had been burnt off he fell through the open trap-door into the pyre and his whole body was reduced to ashes....


Such demonstrations of "the infinite goodness of God" had, over the years, their desired effect. Even Converso families who had been converted with extreme reluctance became, after three or four generations, thoroughly Christianized. An elder might privately consider himself still a Jew, and continue secretly to practice his religion and honor its holy days. But there was a reluctance to pass Judaism on to children for fear of placing them in the Inquisition's relentless path. Often, by the time a child was old enough to be safely told that he was Jewish, he had already been educated to the dogma of another faith and another ritual. Thus the Conversos became, gradually, what they were supposed to be: Christian converts.

But the Inquisition was never able to stamp out completely the Jewish faith in Spain and Portugal. Marranos continued to meet in secret places, clearings in woods or cellars of houses, to celebrate the Sabbath and holy days. Their lives involved continuous stealth and deception and fear. How many were there? There is no way of telling. Throughout the provinces of Toledo, Estremadura, Andalusia, and Murcia, it was said in 1488 that of the converts "hardly any are true Christians, as is well known in all Spain," and Hernando de Pulgar, himself a Converso, testified that there were "thousands" of secret Jews practicing their religion in Toledo alone. Three hundred years later, in 1787, Joseph Townsend reported after traveling through Spain:

Even to the present day both Mahometans and Jews are thought to be numerous in Spain, the former among the mountains, the latter in all great cities. Their principal disguise is more than common zeal in external conformity to all the precepts of the Church; and the most apparently bigoted, not only of the clergy, but of the inquisitors themselves, are by some persons suspected to be Jews.


The Marranos gradually altered certain aspects of their ritual. After all, for the appearance of things it was necessary that they attend Catholic masses, and over the years Catholic practices made their inevitable way into Marrano Judaism. For instance, Marranos knelt rather than stood in prayer, and prayers were recited rather than chanted. No prayer books were kept, for they could be used as evidence, and Talmudic doctrine and lore were passed along verbally from one generation to the next. Marranos generally abstained from pork. They had secret Biblical names, which they used only among each other. Catholic wedding ceremonies were required, and a private Jewish wedding would be held afterward. More emphasis was placed on fasting than on feasting, and elaborate measures were resorted to in order to keep a Marrano's Christian servants from discovering that a fast was going on. Servants might be sent out on sudden errands at mealtimes; in their absence, plates were greased and dirtied to make it appear that the meal had taken place. A favorite device was to stage a family quarrel just before mealtime. By prearrangement, one member of the family would run out into the street in a feigned fit of rage, and the others would run after him to try to cajole him. When the quarrel was over, everyone would be too emotionally exhausted to eat anything.

The ancestors of Lewis Gomez, New York merchant and advertiser of "good Stone-Lime," appear to have been somewhat luckier than most Inquisitional Jewish families. Because of their services to a series of Spanish royal houses, Gomezes had been able successfully to remain in Spain long after Ferdinand and Isabella's Expulsion Edict.
The Gomezes were connected by marriage to the great Santangel family, Marranos who, before their claimed conversion, had been named Ginillo. The Santangels, with their wealth and power and vast land holdings in Aragon, were natural targets of the Inquisition. Jaime Martin de Santangel was burned in 1488; Donosa de Santangel six months later. Simon de Santangel and his wife, Clara, betrayed by their own son, were burned in Lerida in 1490. A more understandable betrayal occurred when one of the daughters of Luis de Santangel, along with her lover, was turned over to the Inquisition by her husband. A particularly grisly Inquisitional episode took place in Granada in 1491 when Alfonso Gomez, his wife, the former Violante de Santangel, and her brother, Gabriel de Santangel, were all posthumously condemned of heresy and their families exhumed and burned in public.

Perhaps the Gomez tradition of being men of deeds and few words helped them survive the Inquisition for as many generations as they did. As a family, the Gomezes over the centuries have been both industrious and brainy. It appears to have been Gomez brain power, rather than real estate, that made Gomezes so popular and useful to a series of Spanish kings and queens. In any case, Isaac Gomez, born in Madrid in 1620, had developed such a skill with deeds -- particularly money deeds -- that he was made financial adviser to the king, following a family tradition. He was one of the king's great favorites.

The king at this time was the melancholy Philip IV, three-time great-grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella
, and great-great-grandson (on both his father's and his mother's side) of Juana la Loca, who, through the entanglements of royal intermarriage, turned up three more times in the king's family tree as his great-great-great grandmother. A heavy inheritance of her madness had fallen to him. This king was the father of the pathetic incompetent who was to be the last Hapsburg king, Carlos II, called Carlos the Bewitched. Philip himself was once suspected of being the victim of black witchcraft.

This also is the king we see in so many Velazquez portraits regally astride his horse or standing imperiously in lace and ruffles, clutching his huge plumed hat, with a look of disdain on his far from handsome face with its heavy-lidded eyes, large nose, handlebar moustache, and the inevitable underslung Hapsburg jaw, which his son inherited to such an extreme extent that he could not chew his food. The king was a profligate and relentless womanizer, and his court was haunted by furies, real and imagined, from his frail and mentally retarded son to his belief that devils crept frightfully into the royal bedchamber and had secret intercourse with the queen. Quite obviously, the king was a man who needed a financial adviser, and Don Isaac Gomez (who must have used another Christian name in public) filled the bill perfectly.

It is an indication of the persistence of the Gomez family that they had been able to survive nearly a century and a half of Inquisition since the Expulsion Edict as secret Jews. It is also clear that the king, and probably others of his court, knew the Gomez secret. In any case, it suited Philip to protect Gomez from the Inquisition, and in return Gomez honored his king in faithful fashion. When Philip's sister married Louis XIV of France, Isaac Gomez named his first-born son Louis Moses Gomez, in honor of his monarch's new brother-in-law. Though Philip's own son would one day preside over one of the most ferocious autos-da-fe in history, Philip himself was of a gentler nature, tortured by self-doubt, convinced that his adulteries and promiscuity -- over which he felt he had no control -- were to blame for the ills that beset Spain. He once wrote: "These evil events have been caused by your sins and mine in particular. I believe that God our Lord is angry and irate with me and my realms on account of many sins, and particularly on account of mine.... "

King Philip had promised Isaac that if the officers of the Inquisition ever seemed to have come too close for comfort, and if -- the king heard of it before Isaac, the king would issue him a coded warning. At dinner he would say to him, "Gomez, the onions begin to smell."

The day came. Unfortunately, by the time the King's message reached him, there was time only to get Isaac's wife and son smuggled out of the country. Remaining behind to wind up his affairs, Isaac was arrested and thrown into prison. It was several years before he was able successfully to bribe his way out, and by then his friend the king was dead. He was forced to take a familiar route, over the Pyrenees into France, where he joined his family.

In 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked, there was an outbreak of religious disturbances in France, and a new mood of reaction was spreading across the Continent. Isaac prudently decided to move on to England, where he also had friends and family. In London, thanks to his connections, Isaac Gomez was granted a "letter of denization," which literally made him a denizen, or free man of the country. It was an important document for an alien to have, and one not customarily given to Jews. It indicated that Gomezes were persons of privilege, with full rights of British citizenship, except that of holding public office. Despite these advantages, however, Isaac's son Louis -- a young man now -- decided that he wanted to seek his fortune in America.


When word reached New York that a member of the exalted Gomez clan was on his way, there was a considerable stir within the little community of Sephardim -- particularly among the mothers of unmarried and eligible daughters, who immediately began receiving instructions on how to treat a Gomez. It was said that the Gomezes were so grand that they still used their titles, and had to be addressed as "your grace," and "your ladyship." (This was true; they did.) Young Louis Gomez, however, disappointed the mothers by stopping enroute in Jamaica, where he met, by a prearrangement with her family, the daughter of another high-placed Sephardic family, Esther Marques, and married her. The young couple arrived in New York in 1696.

Louis Gomez (in America he anglicized his first name to Lewis) set himself up in a small store in Lower Manhattan selling general merchandise. But soon he saw how important wheat was becoming to the young colony. Wheat, grown in what is now suburban Westchester County, as well as in the West Indies, was being traded back and forth across the Atlantic and was a highly profitable item. Concentrating on the wheat trade, Louis was soon able to write back to his father in London that he was trading wheat "on an enormous scale." He was becoming a rich man.

In 1705, Louis Gomez was numbered among the freemen of the city, and in 1710 a "memorial," which may of course have been in some ways a bribe, from Louis Gomez persuaded the New York City Council to give him permission to ship wheat to Madeira, even though a number of petitions by others had been denied. In 1728, he was elected parnas of the Shearith Israel congregation, an unusual honor since he was, after all, an immigrant and newcomer to the community, among families that had been in New York for two and three generations. It was under his presidency that funds were raised to build New York's first synagogue, in Mill Street. Louis Gomez was as broad-minded in his philanthropies as the Levys: his name also appears on the list of those who contributed to the building of the steeple on Trinity Church.
When Louis Gomez died, in 1740, he bequeathed "a pair of silver adornments for the five books of Moses, weighing 39 ounces," to his oldest son. The bequest has become a tradition in the family, and the silver ornaments, worn smooth by age, have been passed from eldest son to eldest son through seven generations.

Daniel, the third of Louis Gomez' six sons, was even more enterprising than his father. At the age of fourteen, Daniel joined his father in the wheat business and West Indies trade, and in the course of his wanderings he, like his father, met and married a member of an ancient and redoubtable Jamaican family, Rebecca de Torres. When she died in childbirth five years later, Daniel married another West Indian lady, Esther Levy of Curacao.

From Daniel's first entry into it, business was good. Starting with such commodities as wheat and West Indian sugar, he expanded into other goods and commodities. Soon he was trading not only with Madeira but also with Barbados, Curacao, London, and Dublin.
In 1751, an advertisement in the New York Gazette offered a new shipment of Daniel's wares from Liverpool, including:

... earthenware in casks and crates, Cheshire cheese, loaf sugar, cutlery ware, pewter, grindstones, coals and sundry other goods too tedious to mention.


The blase tone of the last phrase is an indication of the advertiser's success.

The list of names of men with whom Daniel Gomez did business reads like a Who's Who of Colonial America, and his customers included George Clinton, Walter Franklin, Robert Livingston, Myndert Schuyler, Isaac Sears, John de Peyster and Cornelius Ten Broeck of Albany; the Vallenburghs of Kinderhook; the Kips of Dutchess County; the Abeels, Brinckerhoffs, Beekmans, Barrons, Bogarts, the Rutgerses, the Van Cortlandts, the Van Wycks. His correspondence and bills went to such then-remote towns outside the colony as New Town, New Rochelle, Brunswick, Goshen, Huntington, Bushwick, Albany, the Hamptons, and Oyster Bay. He traded with other colonies as well, and his dealings extended to Boston, New Haven, Norwalk, New London, Allentown, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Princeton, Maryland, and South Carolina.

Though he concentrated on wheat, Daniel bought, sold, and traded nearly every other imaginable commodity, including stockings, suspenders, ginger, buttons, nightshirts, gunpowder, swords, preserved goods, silk, and sailcloth.
But through all this diversity of business he still seems to have been searching for some product, some area of trade, that would consume him utterly, to which he could devote himself single-mindedly. Suddenly, in 1710, he found it.

Most people know that the great Astor fortune in America is based upon the fur trade. Only a few people know, however -- the few including the old Sephardic families -- that the first John Jacob Astor was preceded in the fur trade -- and by many years -- by a Sephardic Jew, Daniel Gomez. Daniel was, in fact, one of the very first to consider the vast wilderness of the continent that lay on all sides of him, and the numbers of fur-bearing animals that lived there. Daniel was an American pioneer in a business that has consumed adventurers and merchants since the days of the Golden Fleece. He was also the first in America to see how the native Indians could be used in this trade as trappers and skinners.

When, in 1710, Daniel Gomez began buying land in what is now Ulster County, his friends thought he was crazy. He was buying wilderness. Before long, he had acquired nearly 2,500 acres, including most of what is the present-day city of Newburgh, on the west bank of the Hudson River. He was able to buy this land cheaply only because no one else wanted it. It was also said, of all things, that the region was haunted.
At the northwestern head of Newburgh Bay there is a rocky point of land which thrusts craggily into the river, and on a misty evening this peninsula, in profile, can indeed acquire an eerie look, as if possessed by spirits. And on this point, for untold hundreds of years before the arrival of the white man, the Algonquin tribes of what are now the New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania regions would meet at certain seasons of the year to worship, dance, and commune with their tribal gods and with the Great Spirit. This was a sacred place to the Indians, and before any hunting expedition, or any war, they traveled here in great numbers, often over hundreds of miles, to conduct the ceremonies that, they hoped, would improve the outcome of whatever task was at hand.

It has been said that when Henry Hudson sailed up the great river in 1609 he anchored off this point and watched the Indians performing one of their mystic ceremonies, dancing around a tall fire. In the minds of the Dutch settlers, the point quickly became associated with all sorts of dark deeds and, as Christians horrified at the heathen and mysterious evil rites that were said to be performed on the rocky headland, they renamed it De Deful's Dans Kammer (The Devil's Dance Chamber). An old ditty, designed to frighten adventuresome children from visiting the area, went:

For none that visit the Indians' den
Return again to the haunts of men.
The knife is their doom, oh sad is their lot.
Beware! Beware of the blood-stained spot!


All this served to depress local real estate values, and to Daniel Gomez' advantage. He had learned that the "blood-stained spot" also marked the convergence of a number of well-traveled Indian trails, and he selected the Indians' den as a strategic place to establish a trading post.

Attempts had been made since earliest Colonial times to identify the American Indians with the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, and long lists of similarities between Indian and Judaic ritual had been drawn up, in an effort to prove this thesis. It was pointed out that, like the Jews, the Indians tabooed certain animals as "unclean." Like Jews, they had a sense of personal purity; they worshiped a great spirit called Yohovah; they had high priests; they had puberty rites. The Indians had important holy days in spring and fall, corresponding to Passover and Succoth, and a two-day fasting period corresponding to the Day of Atonement. The Indians had a lunar calendar, a similar counting system, and there are superficial similarities between the Hebrew and Indian tongues (both Hebrew and Indian languages make use of hyperbole and metaphor, and possess no comparative or superlative degree). Anthropologists have since dismissed these likenesses as coincidental, but in Daniel Gomez' day they were the subject of serious study. In the early Sephardic community of New York, these matters were discussed at the synagogue. Just in case they should turn out to be distant brethren, the rabbis had enjoined their congregations against mistreating or exploiting the local Indians. In any case, Daniel and the Indians got along famously right from the beginning. "I am able to understand the Indian thought," Daniel wrote to a friend.

For his post, Daniel Gomez selected a site that was near a spring where the gathering tribes regularly stopped for water, and he began, in 1717, to construct a massive stone blockhouse. Trading with the Indians was not without certain obvious hazards, and his trading post was also a fortress. The walls were two feet thick in the front and in the back, from which direction an attack was considered likelier, they were three feet thick. The house contained two vast cellars which were to serve as vaults to store the goods -- knives, hatchets, trinkets, and of course guns and whiskey -- that Daniel intended to sell, as well as the furs he intended to acquire.

He was building in the middle of virgin forest, seven miles from the nearest hamlet, Newburgh, which had been settled only eight years earlier. Trees had to be felled for timber, and stones had to be lifted from the ground for walls. The house took six years to build, but when it was finished Daniel Gomez had built an oasis of strength and also of comfort in the wilderness. In the main parlor Daniel had placed a huge fireplace, eight feet wide and six feet deep, designed for business entertaining during the winter months. Twenty to thirty Indians could gather around the fire's warmth to trade and haggle over the prices of lynx, beaver, otter, black fox, go mink, and muskrat. In a smaller room, another fireplace, equally large, had the same hospitable and commercial function. Contemporary reports describe Mr. Gomez' house as furnished in "the ultimate luxuries which Gomez brought up from New York." Here he and his two sons -- and eventually his second wife -- spent the winter fur-trading season. It must have been a lonely life, but Gomezes had always been self-sufficient types, more interested in deeds than in words.

In 1624 4,700 beaver pelts were transported to Holland, fetching around 27,125 guilders when sold. (Trelease 43) As time progressed so too did the amount of beaver pelts traded. In 1626 a record of shipment from the Dutch West India Company reported an overwhelming 7,246 beaver pelts. (Leach 21) By 1636, that number had more than doubled, with 16,304 pelts shipped to Holland. In that ten year time span the price per pelt rose from 5.77 to 8.21 guilders. (Trelease 43) While the beaver trade increased, it was slowly becoming clear that trade at this volume could not continue forever. Already beavers had begun vanishing from the Hudson Valley region and trappers were pushing west into the territories of other tribes to collect beaver skins....

Tribes found themselves encroaching on each other’s land while trapping resulting in often bloody conflicts. The Mohicans and Mohawks were consistently at war for this, as each longed for the goods that beaver pelts could buy. Native American tribes found themselves devoting more time to their wars over land rather than the actually trapping....

While tribal wars and shrinking demand played a role in the decline of the fur trade, the greatest factor was the disappearance of beavers from the Hudson Valley and surrounding areas. Unlike other hunted animals, beavers do not breed as often and as such the source of beavers in the Hudson River Valley was not replenished. Additionally, Beavers are not traditionally migratory animals, traveling around only 6 miles to find a new home, so once they had been hunted there was little hope of another group moving in (The Humane Society of the United States). It became necessary for Native Americans to push west in effort to find greater sources of beaver, but by 1640 there was little to no sign of beavers from the Hudson River west to the Genessee River. (Leach 98)...

When the fur trade eradicated beavers from the Hudson Valley it disrupted entire ecosystems such as this, creating a chain of events that put several other species at risk and forced to find new habitats. The woodpecker example is just one of dozens, in fact beavers are known as a keystone species, a title given to species that provide the basis of support for an ecosystem. (The Humane Society of the United States) Environmentalists believe that the ponds and wetlands created by beaver dams can be useful in regard to climate change, by providing natural water storage during hot, dry summers.

-- Environmental Impacts of the Hudson Valley Fur Trade in Regard to Beavers, by Gina Figler


The lonely fort became known as "the Jew's house," and local records refer to Daniel only as "Gomez the Jew." Until recent years the stream that ran by Daniel Gomez' house (and that was once navigable, and doubtless transported some of Daniel's goods for barter) was designated on local maps as "Jew's Creek." For thirty years, Daniel Gomez operated his trading post, at the same time keeping close personal and business ties with New York. Like his father, he was elected parnas of Shearith Israel, pledging the then lordly sum of fifteen pounds a year to the synagogue. As early as 1727, he was listed among the "freemen" of New York, but though the title of freeman, or burgher, permitted its owner certain rights, there were others -- including the right to vote -- that could be obtained only through naturalization.

In 1737, in a notorious contested election, the right of Jews to vote for the general assembly had been challenged. Daniel Gomez was among the Jewish voters whose rights were in question, and the outcome was later called by William Seward "a stain in the annals of New York which the friends of rational liberty would wish to see effaced." The objection was upheld, and the Jews' rights were denied. Three years later, however, a Naturalization Act was passed. Daniel Gomez was among the first to take advantage of it and become a voter.

At the outbreak of the Revolution, with the arrival of British and Hessian troops in New York, Shearith Israel closed its doors and most members of the congregation moved to parts of the East held by the Revolutionary cause. Only a few Tory-minded Jews remained. These did not include the Daniel Gomezes. Daniel took his family to Philadelphia, the center of the American patriotic movement. He was an old man now, but he nonetheless became one of the founders of a new Sephardic congregation, Mikveh Israel.

He continued to keep track of his affairs in Newburgh, where one of his sons held the fort. It wasn't long before his son was able to write Daniel that he had hired a teen-age German immigrant as an apprentice, and was teaching the youth to pound the pelts of beaver, otter, and mink that were making their way down Jew's Creek in Indian canoes. The young man's name was John Jacob Astor -- then spelled Ashdor -- and the Gomez firm was paying him a dollar a day. Certainly this early association with the Gomezes accounts for the recurring rumor in New York that the Astors are of Jewish descent. There is no proof of this, but there is plenty of evidence of what young Gomez thought of young Astor -- a butcher's son with a heavy south German accent, a wildly indecipherable handwriting, and atrocious manners (after meals, Astor would wipe his hands on his shirt). Moses Gomez was, after all, a third-generation American and had no taste for this vulgarian. Soon Moses Gomez could take no more of him and, in dismissing him, explained to his father in a letter: "The fool has no head for this business absolutely" -- a remarkably poor appraisal of the man who would found the American Fur Company, and become America's first monopolist.


The Newburgh house still stands. Far from seeming haunted by evil spirits, the house and the lands around it have, over two and a half centuries, had a happy history. There have been a number of owners since the house passed out of the Gomez family, and all have treated it tenderly. One added a second story of brick which contrasts handsomely with the gray stone walls Gomez built -- built without mortar, fitted so perfectly that even today the walls stand straight and smooth. Now, though the acreage around it has been reduced to only twenty-seven, the blockhouse is still an elegant country home furnished in "the ultimate luxuries." The present owners, who have lived in it for over twenty years, speak of it with affection. In 1968, Mrs. Jeffrey Starin, wife of the owner, told a reporter from the New York Times: "The children talk about the house as having great roots. It gives them a feeling of strength and security. It has stood up in all kinds of weather and, a few years ago, when there was all that talk about bombs and shelters, they used to say, 'Our house will still be standing.'''

But alas, the Gomez name -- which withstood so many generations in Spain -- has died out in the United States. It decorates, of course, the higher branches of many Sephardic family trees, including the Nathans', but the last male Gomez, we learn from Malcolm Stern's extraordinary book, died in Franklin, New York, in 1926, without issue. He, Joseph Edwin Gomez, Jr., would have been Daniel's great-great-great-nephew. He was one of five children, and Dr. Stern notes above their names: "Children converted with mother, Feb. 3, 1871." If Daniel's ghost was pacing the house in Newburgh when this news was received, there must have been outraged noises in the night.
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