September 2004 will mark the 350th anniversary of Jewish communal settlement in
North America. In September 1654, a boatload of impoverished Jews expelled from
Recife, Brazil, landed on the shores of New Amsterdam seeking refuge. They wrote the
first page of an extraordinary new chapter in the annals of the Jewish people. Since that
time, Jews have been an inseparable part of this nation’s history, and America an
inseparable part of Jewish history.
The reception of that first handful and of the millions who were to follow them calls for
commemoration, thanksgiving, assessment, and celebration. As our forebears observed
the 250th and 300th anniversaries of 1654, so too this generation is now called upon to
observe the 350th: to study our history, to reflect upon our present condition, and to
plan for our future.
As we approach this anniversary year, we recall the journeys that have brought Jews to
America from every corner of the earth: Jews of diverse backgrounds and persuasions
– men, women, and children who fled oppression and embraced opportunity, who
escaped persecution and found freedom, who shunned indignity and pursued equality
for themselves and their descendants. Finding their home in this nation of immigrants,
they responded with enthusiasm to the promise of religious liberty and equality of rights,
freely adding their own descant to the varied carol of American voices.
Here they built communities, schools, libraries, hospitals, houses of worship, and
enterprises of every description. Here they developed the determination and capacity to
aid their fellow Jews throughout the world. Here, as participants in America’s civic,
social, economic, and cultural life, they became ardent champions of America’s highest
values, active in great social reform movements, in the pursuit of justice, in the
expansion of knowledge, and in the realization of human dignity.
In extending this call to Celebrate 350, the JCPA recognizes:
- our need to reaffirm the reverence for justice, freedom, equality and respect for diversity that has made America the haven it has been for us and for all Americans;
- our commitment to sustaining America’s role as the champion of freedom and democracy throughout the world;
- our obligation to assess what American Jewry has achieved over the past 350 years, to transmit the lessons of the past to those who will carry on after us, and to shape a vision for the future worthy of our heritage and of the opportunity we enjoy; and,
- our duty to give thanks for having been sustained and enabled to reach this anniversary.
Now, therefore, the JCPA calls on the Jewish community relations field to join with
us in observing this 350th anniversary year, beginning in September 2004 [Elul 5764], as
a time in which to commemorate the history of the Jewish community in America, to
celebrate its achievements, take account of its challenges and shortcomings, recall its
contributions, and reflect on the meaning of America for Judaism and Jewish life.