The Grandees: America's Sephardic Elite by Stephen Birmingham
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In 1654 a boat full of refugees landed on the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now a days called New York. These 23 families would comprise the original 23 families of the American.Sephardic Elite. Back in Spain they had lived a life of opulence, nobility and dignity. They had a higher culture than the other Jews of Europe. As the Christians reconquered Spain things started turning against the Jews. It was interesting to know that it was Jewish nobility that made the match between Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. They were the royals who authored the inquisition but it was really a project of the Catholic Church. It is worth pondering as to whether the royals we're really that antisemitic. They could have been pressured by the Emperor of Europe or Catholic Church.
As Jews were forced to either convert to Catholicism,die or flee Spain. Many JEws went to Turkey and other Muslim countries. Other Jews made their way to Portugal and then finally to Holland. From Holland the Jews would go to the Dutch colony of Brazil Once the Portoguese retook Brazil the Jews would flee again. Enroute to other parts of the New World their ship would would be taken by pirates. THe captain would ransom them and then demand repayment once trey reached New Yoork. Mayor Stuyesavant would give them problems .
Among the families of Spanish Sephardim were the De Sola Pools, Nathans, Hendricks', Levi, Gomez and others. Together they formed an upper crust elite who stayed quietly amongst themselves and avoided publicity. THey married amongst each other and started their own synagogues. THey also played major roles in all aspect of AMerican life. Some were traders who brought slaves and rum to the New World. Some like Uriah Levy served valiantly in the US navy and still had to battle antisemitism. Many played a part in bringing furs to the colonies. Some bankrolled presidents.
When the German Jews started to arrive they found Sepohardic synagogues already up and running. The Grandees did not always welcomed the German Jews with open arms , in fact they looked down on them at first. OF copuirse intermarriage would take it's toll and they would eventually intermarry with non Jews and German Jews. Eventually the restrictions would relax.
The book is an informative quick read that moves along like a well crafted novel. I managed to read the book in three days. If you are into Sephardic or American Jewish history take a look at this book.
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