If you’ve noticed the matzoh displays in your grocery store, you’ll know that Passover is coming up soon. New York’s metropolitan area is home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside of Israel, beginning in 1654, when twenty-tree Jewish refugees established the Congregation Shearith Israel in New Amsterdam. It was the first Jewish congregation in North America. But did you know these refugees came from Recife, Brazil?
Recife is home to the oldest synagogue in the Americas, estimated to have been built in the 1630s. Then parts of Brazil were under Dutch control, and many Sephardic Jews had fled the Inquisition Spain and Portugal to seek religious freedom. However, the Portuguese in Brazil revolted against the Dutch, and by 1654 the Portuguese had gained control of the Brazilian colony, causing the Jewish population to seek religious freedom elsewhere.
The settlement of New Amsterdam had a longstanding policy of religious tolerance, and the refugees founded the Congregation Shearith Israel. A selection of the Congregation’s objects and documents can currently be seen in our Luce Center.