May 1, 2003
350th Anniversary of Jewish Life in America Medal

A committee has been established to choose the design of the official medal celebrating the 350th Anniversary of Jewish Life in America, which will be celebrated nationally from September 2004 through September 2005.

The Chairman of the 350th Anniversary Medal Committee is Mel Wacks, Founding Director of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame, President of the American Israel Numismatic Association, and a judge for Krause Publications’ COTY (Coin of the Year) Award. The other members of the Medal Committee are Dr. Ira Rezak, a major collector of Judaic medals and a member of the Medals and Decorations Committee of the American Numismatic Society; and Daniel Friedenberg, the Dean of Judaic Numismatics, former Curator of Coins and Medals for The Jewish Museum, author of Jewish Medals from the Renaissance to the Fall of Napoleon, Jewish Minters & Medalists, Great Jewish Portraits in Metal, etc.

The Medal Committee will invite a small group of American Jewish medalists to submit designs, and will choose the most appropriate to be sculpted for the medal. The medal will be 3” diameter, the same as the official 250th and 300th Anniversary medals. They will be made in limited editions of bronze, silver and gold to be presented to public officials, participants in the celebration, and contributors.

In the tradition of financier Jacob Schiff defraying the cost of the 250th Anniversary of the Settlement of the Jews in the United States medals 100 years ago, David Berley, President of Walter & Samuels, has generously underwritten the 350th anniversary medals.

The Jewish-American Hall of Fame Division of the American Jewish Historical Society will coordinate the production and distribution of the official medals celebrating the 350th Anniversary of Jewish Life in America. To receive further information e-mail or write to Jewish-American Hall of Fame, 5189 Jeffdale Ave., Woodland Hills, CA 91364.

Official medal commemorating the 250th Anniversary of the Settlement of the Jews in the United States, designed by Isidore Konti, issued in 1905.(Photo courtesy of Dr. Ira Rezak.)

Official medal commemorating the American Jewish Tercentenary, issued in 1955, obverse designed by William Metzig (1893-1989) and reverse designed
by Nancy Dryfoos (1918-1991).

Dr. Michael Feldberg, Director of the American Jewish Historical Society, describes the tortuous journey of those first settlers in “Blessings of Freedom” (KTAV Publishing House, 2002):

The Dutch had captured Brazil from the Portuguese in 1630, and Jews from Amsterdam had settled in the new colony (of Recife), where they openly practiced their religion. When Portugal recaptured Brazil in 1654, it expelled the Jews. The twenty-three who landed in New Amsterdam had set out for Amsterdam on a vessel called the Ste. Catherine. En route, after stops in Jamaica and Cuba, the Ste. Catherine was captured by a Spanish privateer and the passengers were stripped of their valuables.

A return to Europe was now out of the question. The refugees struck a deal with the ship’s captain, Jacques de la Mothe, to take them to New Amsterdam, which they thought would be a hospitable destination. De la Mothe agreed to divert his ship for a fee of 2,500 guilders.

When the Ste. Catherine landed in New Amsterdam (in the first week of September 1654), Captain de la Mothe sued his propertyless passengers for failure to pay the balance of their passage. Peter Stuyvesant (1592-1672), the Dutch colonial governor, seized the Jews’ meager remaining possessions and ordered them sold at auction to meet their debts. When the auction failed to raise sufficient funds to pay Captain de la Mothe, Stuyvesant jailed two of the refugees and wrote to the Dutch West India Company in Amsterdam asking permission to expel the entire group. Noting that the Jews’ indigence might make them a burden to the community, Stuyvesant “deemed it useful to require them in a friendly way to depart.”

The Jewish community in Amsterdam petitioned the company on behalf of their fellow Jews in New Amsterdam, noting that Jews were allowed to reside in Holland, even to invest in the company, and thus should be allowed to reside in New Amsterdam. In April 1665, the company granted Jews permission to live in New Amsterdam (New York) “so long as they do not become a burden to the Company or the community.”

Click here for information about the Jewish-American Hall of Fame’s tribute to the First Jewish Settlers.

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