Dutch Connection: The Jewish Saga from Spain to America

Dutch Connection chronicles the history of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 by Catholic King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile. In order to unite the country under the Catholic faith, the monarchs closed their eyes to a heritage built up along centuries. To get an idea of this, as soon as he learned about the expulsion decree, Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Turkish Empire exclaimed: "Ferdinand and Isabella must be crazy: They are expelling the best in Spain."
Among the expelled there were not only bankers and financiers but also apothecaries, craftsmen and scientists, such as Abraham Zacuto, a genius of his day. Still shaken, the sages of the community negotiated a shelter in Portugal, ruled by King John II. However, the Portuguese monarchy had ties of dependency with the Spanish, which exerted pressure against the Jews. A few days after the arrival of those families, the king ordered the sending of 2,000 Jewish children to colonize the island of Sao Tome, in Africa, at that time inhabited only by lizards.
When the king died two years later, his successor, D. Manuel I, asked for a daughter of the Catholic kings in marriage, but they said they would only give her if the Jews were expelled from the country. As D. Manuel I did not want to lose the intelligence and capital of the exiles, he determined the forced conversion of the Jews to Catholicism by means of a royal decree. After that, Judaism resisted bravely, practiced in the underground.
Despite the problems, the community continued making business and partnerships around the world as always. Notwithstanding, the situation would worsen dramatically in 1536, when the Portuguese Inquisition was installed. Its mission was to exterminate the Jews.
Divided into short sections, the narrative continues with the development of the Portuguese Amsterdam Community, the inclusion of Jews in the economic and cultural life of the country. In 1630, a new light of hope appeared when Batavians invaded Brazil in the so-called Sugar War. The Jews were their main allies not only for speaking Portuguese but for dominating the sugar trade.
The project received the name of New Holland and was administered by the Count Maurice of Nassau, a nobleman of humanistic formation. Under his rule in Northeastern Brazil, the Jews had ample freedom, despite the persecutions of Calvinists and Catholics. At the height of Nassau's administration, Recife was a Jewish city, with up to 5,000 Jews, according to some researchers. In this period, they constructed the first synagogue in the Americas, the first cemetery and wrote the first literary text in Hebraic.
The Dutch rule lasted 24 years. After bloody battles, the Portuguese and the Inquisition were back. Expelled again, many made their way back to Holland, others went to the Caribbean, and some set out for the northeastern backlands, away from the clutches of the inquisitors.
However, a group of twenty-three Jews landed in the colony of New Amsterdam - now New York - and became pioneers in the founding of the first U.S. Community. Along the way, they suffered an attack by Spanish pirates, shipwreck, and Inquisition threats. Broken and exhausted, refugees were threatened by the colony's administrator, the radical Calvinist Peter Stuyvesant, who wanted to send them back to the sea. He claimed that in addition to being poor, "these people" practiced an "abominable" religion. On the other hand, the Dutch government warned him to be more careful. According to the letter sent to Stuyvesant, the Jews had proved their loyalty in the war against the Portuguese, as they had stood next to William the Taciturn, regent of the then United Provinces, in the war against Spain a century before. On September 12, 1654, the refugees celebrated the first Rosh Hashanah of U.S. history.
In May 2012, President Barack Obama stated that the Brazilian refugees had found not only a safe haven to land, but also a tradition of freedom that unite forever their history to the history of America.


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