First Shearith Israel Graveyard
Location: 55-57 St. James Place
New Amsterdam was a company town, a money-making enterprise, not a city upon a hill like the Boston of Puritan vision. Petrus Stuyvesant tried hard, though, to impose a strict kind of Calvinism over the colony, hounding the adherents of all faiths not consonant with the Dutch Reformed Church. He was not especially fond of Jews. The first ones arrived in the summer of 1654, with a group of twenty-three Sephardic Jews arriving later that year, fleeing the city of Recife after it had been recaptured by Portugal. When he tried to expel them, the Dutch West India Company rebuffed his efforts, reminding him that these Jews had defended Dutch interests in Brazil, and had non-trivial investments in the company. A victory? A small one. Jews wouldn’t have public worship until 1730, long after New Amsterdam became New York, and most of the settlers would eventually move away anyway. Nonetheless, they formed the nucleus of the Congregation Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. This was their cemetery—in spite of its name, the second. The location of the first (1656) has been lost to time; this one was hacked down to its present size thanks to multiple encroachments of building and street. Both were established well outside the comfort of city walls.
A great detail from the National Register of Historic Places nomination form about Walter Jonas Judah, “the first American-born Jew to enroll in medical school”:
Consistent with the Jewish aversion to the making of graven images, decoration [of graves] is limited to such stylized motifs as floral scrolls, rosettes, a pair of hands raised in benediction or a hand cutting off a flower. The one notable exception is a view of the angel of destruction branding a flaming sword over the city, whose silhouette is clearly depicted, while an ax, wielded by a hand emerging from a cloud, hews down the tree of life. This stone commemorates Walter Judah, a young medical student at Columbia College who sacrificed his life at the age of twenty in caring for victims of the yellow fever plague of 1798.