Ferdinand and Isabella sent Columbus on his voyage in 1492 after they liberated Spain from occupying Muslim forces. Spain’s policies then forced Jews to flee, first to Portugal, then to Amsterdam, where some sailed with Dutch merchants to South America.
When Spain attacked there, they fled again and 23 refugees, on the French ship Sainte Catherine, became the first Jews to arrive in New Amsterdam in 1654. Governor Stuyvesant tried to evict them, not letting them worship outside their homes.
In 1664, New Amsterdam became New York, where the first synagogue was built in 1730. Jewish population in colonial America grew to 2,000 in 7 synagogues from New York to Savannah.
Beginning in 1830, Ellis Island had 250,000 Jews immigrate from persecution in Bavaria. Starting in 1881, over 2 million Jews fled Russia’s pogroms to America. By 2006, Jews comprised 2 percent of U.S. population.
President Woodrow Wilson wrote:
“Whereas in countries engaged in war there are 9 million Jews, the majority of whom are destitute of food, shelter, and clothing; driven from their homes without warning . . . causing starvation, disease and untold suffering – Whereas the people of the U.S. have learned with sorrow of this terrible plight, I proclaim JANUARY 27, 1916, a day to make contributions for the aid of the stricken Jewish people to the American Red Cross.”