The first Jews emigrated to the 'New World' with the first explorers and settlers of America from Spain and Portugal.
Jewish Immigration to America: The Reasons for Jewish Immigration to America
Why did people want to leave their homes in Europe and why did they want to move to America? The main reason for the Jewish Immigration to America was religious persecution by the Christian-dominated countries of Europe. Other important early reasons for Jewish immigration was to escape the famine, disease and dire poverty of their home countries. The religious persecution and political turmoil by the highly autocratic monarchies and class systems lead to revolutions, violence and social chaos. Immigration to the United States of America offered escape from oppression, safety and new opportunities. Also refer to Examples of PUSH and PULL Factors of Jewish Immigration.
History of Jewish Immigration to America: Background History of Jews in Europe
By the 10th century in the Middles Ages most of Europe was under the rule of Christian monarchs who made Christianity the religion of their lands. Jews were tolerated to some extent due to their shared devotion to the same God that the Christians worshiped. During this time the Church forbade Christians from charging interest to fellow Christians and the only source of loans were from non-Christians such as Jews. The Crusades, and the introduction of the banking services of the Knights Templar, saw the rise of persecution and the expulsion of Jews from European countries. Judaism was practiced in private to avoid persecution. England became totally intolerant towards Jews when, on July 18, 1290, King Edward I decreed the Edict of Expulsion, driving out all Jews living in England. No Jews were permanently allowed to live in England again until 1656. Other European countries followed suit and Spain, France, Germany, Austria and Italy also expelled Jews. The refugees from Western Europe fled to mostly to Poland and Lithuania, and from there moved across the rest of Eastern Europe. Poland became home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world.
Jewish Immigration to America: The First Settlers
The first explorers and settlers of the 'New World' of America came from Spain and Portugal. A small number of Jews took the opportunity to follow in their wake when the Spanish Inquisition, that demanded conversion to Catholicism, made living in those countries an impossibility. However, the largest number of the first Jewish migrants to America came from Holland which was practically the only Jewish refuge in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Jewish Immigration to America: Jews in New Netherland
The tolerance of Holland towards Jews was extended to her dominions in the New World. In 1614 the first Dutch explorers claimed land which became known as New Netherland (Nieuw-Nederlandt) that covered areas of the Mid-Atlantic States which would become known as New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Connecticut. Amongst the influential stockholders of the Dutch West India Company, founded in 1620, were a number of Jews. In 1624, Dutch merchants, working with the Dutch West India Company, traveled to America and established trading posts and settlements on the west bank of the Hudson. This first wave of Jewish immigration resulted in laying the foundation of what developed into the great New York Jewish community.
Jewish Immigration to America: Jacob Barsimson
In 1653 the first municipal government for the city of New Amsterdam was established in New Netherland, modeled after the cities of Holland. The name of the first known Jewish settler in New Amsterdam was Jacob Barsimson, who arrived on July 8, 1654, in the ship called the "Pear Tree". Jacob Barsimson was followed in September 1654 by a party of 23 Jews who had taken passage in the ship called the "Saint Catarina".
Jewish Immigration to America: Asser Levy
Asser Levy was the name of the first Jew to own land in what are now known as Albany and New York city. Asser Levy became a prominent trader in Fort Orange, present day Albany, and was also one of the first licensed butchers in the colony. Levy became one of the wealthiest inhabitants on Manhattan Island.
Jewish Immigration to America: The 13 Colonies
The 'Great Migration' of English people to America took place between 1620 and 1640 and led to the establishment of the first 13 Colonies. The Dutch surrendered New Netherlands to the English in 1664 and it was renamed re-named as New York. The intolerance of the Puritans made it impossible to establish any other religious communities and Jews were among the first settlers of Rhode Island, established in 1658 by Roger Williams. In the 1700's Religious diversity became a dominant part of religion, especially in the Middle colonies of the Delaware Colony, the New Jersey Colony and the Pennsylvania Colony. William Penn established Pennsylvania in 1681 and a large number of the early Pennsylvania colonists were German Jews. The first known Jewish resident of Philadelphia was Jonas Aaron, who was mentioned in an article entitled "A Philadelphia Business Directory of 1703". By 1776 and the American War of Independence, it is estimated that 2,000 Jews lived in America.
Jewish Immigration to America: Polish Jews
It is estimated that about 75% of all Jews lived in Poland by the middle of the 1700's. With the weakening of the Commonwealth and growing religious strife (due to the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation), Polandís traditional tolerance began to decline from the 17th century onward due to Christian reformation movements following the partitions of Poland in 1795 and the destruction of Poland as a sovereign state. Polish Jews were subject to the laws of the partitioning powers that included the anti-semitic Russian Empire which led to a wave of Jewish Immigration to America.
Jewish Immigration to America: Jews in the Russian Empire, the violence of the 'Pogroms' and the Cholera Epidemic
Anti-Semitic riots broke out in the Russian Empire and Jews were attacked and their property destroyed. Many Jews died in 'pogroms', which were violent riots aimed at the persecution and massacre of Jews. During the 1800's and the early 1900's the Russian Empire suffered from terrible cholera epidemics before modern water and sewage treatment systems eliminated its spread by contaminated water. The devastating famine in 1891-92 also hit the Russian Empire. Jewish Immigration to America increased with these events and also coincided with the industrialization of America. From Russia alone Jewish emigration rose from an annual average of 4,100 in the decade 1871-80 to an annual average of 20,700 in the decade 1881-90.
Jewish Immigration to America in the 1800's: US Immigration Laws
Jewish Immigration to America was restricted by the 1882 Immigration Act which made several categories of immigrants ineligible for entry and imposed a 'head tax' of 50 cents on all immigrants landing at American ports. The 1891 Immigration Act regulated immigration further introducing the inspection and deportation of immigrants and on January 1, 1892 Ellis Island immigration center was opened. By 1850 the United States had approximately 50,000 Jewish citizens. Between 1900 and 1924 more than 1.7 million Jewish immigrants arrived in the United States.
Jewish Immigration to America in the 1800's and 1900's:
The Panic of 1893 led to a four year economic depression in America with 20% unemployment. Strikes, demonstration and protests flared and there was a massive backlash against immigration and the US government was forced to take additional action by passing more laws to restrict immigration. The 1907 Immigration Act, led to the establishment of the Dillingham Commission whose highly discriminating report led to further stringent immigration restrictions. Between 1901 and 1910 a total of 8,795,386 immigrants arrived in the United States. By 1910, Eastern and Southern Europeans including many Jewish migrants, made up 70% of the immigrants entering the United States and led to debates on "Old Immigrants" vs "New Immigrants".
Jewish Immigration to America: The Dillingham Commission Report - "Old Immigrants" vs "New Immigrants"
The 1911 Dillingham Commission Report highlighted the differences between "Old Immigrants" and "New Immigrants" to America and their effect of immigration on the cultural, social, economic, and moral welfare of America. The Dillingham report had a damning effect on Jewish Immigration to America as it favored the "old immigrants" who had come from North Western areas of Europe and strongly opposed to the "new immigrants" who came from South Eastern areas of Europe, including the Russian Empire. The report on immigration stated that the "New Immigrants" were inferior, unskilled and uneducated workers who failed to integrate with Americans. The report concluded that immigration from countries in eastern Europe posed a serious threat to American society and should therefore be significantly reduced. Jewish Immigration to America was further restricted by the Emergency Quota Act of 1921 and the Immigration Act of 1924. Jewish Immigration to America was blighted by discrimination and prejudice.
Jewish Immigration to America in the 1900's: World War 1 and the Russian Revolution
Jewish Immigration to America slowed during WW1. Russia was embroiled in the World War and the situation was made worse by the Russian Revolution during which skilled Jews, intellectuals and business owners escaped the Bolsheviks and the Communists and fled to safety of America.
Jewish Immigration to America in the 1900's: The Holocaust
The Great Depression (1929 - 1939) hit America and was followed by the outbreak of WW2 (1939 - 1945). Despite worsening conditions for Jews in Europe, with the rise of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, the immigration quotas remained in place until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. The Holocaust destroyed most of the European Jewish community by 1945. The focal point of American Jewish life is the State of Israel, which was established in 1948. By 2005 there were 5.3 million Americans Jews.
Jewish Immigration to America for kids
This article contains a brief overview of Jewish Immigration to America from the first Immigrants through the 1600's, 1700's, 1800's and 1900's. Important historical events have been highlighted which had a significant impact on Jewish Immigration to America. A helpful educational resource for kids on the subject of Jewish Immigration to America.