Although there have always been rumors that Christopher Columbus was Jewish, this is the story of the first documented Jewish Americans.
It all started with 23 Jewish passengers originally from Spain by way of Portugal, Amsterdam, and finally Brazil, who arrived in New Amsterdam on the Saint Charles in 1654.*
Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in that year.
The congregation purchased Chatham Square cemetery in 1682 and built the first synagogue in America in 1730 on Mill St. in Manhattan. Unlike many Jewish cemeteries in Spain and Portugal, Chatham Square cemetery remains today.
Shearith Israel relocated to Central Park West at 70th Street where to this day the Rabbi and the Temple President dress in high hat and tuxedo to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the new world.
* Descendents of the 23 and Shearith Israel congregation members include Gershom Mendes Seixas, patriot leader during the American Revolution; Benjamin Mendes Seixas, Ephraim Hart and Alexander Zuntz, founders of the New York Stock Exchange; Emma Lazarus, American poet best known for the poem “The New Colossus”, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty; Dr. Henry Pereira Mendes, Rabbi of the Congregation and founder of Montefiore Hospital and Lexington School for the Deaf; Rebecca Gratz, first Jewish female college student in America, philanthropist and model for Sir Walter Scott’s character of Rebecca in his novel, Ivanhoe; Hayam Solomon, financier who provided the funding for the American Revolution through the issuance of the first United States Government bonds; Uriah Levy, first Jewish U.S. Naval Officer, first Jewish Commodore of the U.S. Navy and restorer of Monticello; and Benjamin Nathan Cardozo, United States Supreme Court Justice.