Monday, July 16, 2007

Asher Levy: American Jewish Hero


Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...

but he left out the most important part--that levy, the first jew to make a permanent home in the north american colonies, was a litvak!

7/16/2007 12:53 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

i guess that's why in some records his name seems to be Asser Levy? :-)

7/16/2007 7:55 AM  
Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...


7/16/2007 10:50 AM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Great post. Thanks for pointing us towards it.

Re Asher vs Asser - Dutch pronunciation may have something to do with it. the sh sound is not common in Dutch except for diminutive postfixes and certain words of Jewish derivation.
But in several dialects the ss sound is pronounced as if it were an sh (sj) sound.

Note, for instance, how Moses becomes shortened to 'Moos' (pronunciation: mows, mose), but if affectionally diminutized 'Moosje' (pronunciation: mose-ya, moshe).

I note also that Asser is not an uncommon name in the Netherlands (and not entirely limited to Jews, either).

But I will not discount a Litvishe geshmak in the Yiddishisms in Dutch or the Jewish element that moved in Dutch circles. It is entirely possible that among the Ashkenazim that flocked to Holland after the first few Sfardim gained residency.

7/16/2007 6:15 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

You have been tagged – see this post:

I have tagged you for two reasons:
1. I really want to see what you will do in response;
2. I also wish to introduce you to the people who regularly read my blog. As the Christmas Poo song from South Park says: "Mister Hanky the Christmas Poo, he loves me and I love you; therefore 'vicariously' he loves you...". It's catching. Now pass the infection along.

7/16/2007 9:38 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Clarification: this post:

It's a meme. I'm a sucker for memes.

7/16/2007 9:43 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

thanks for the interesting Dutch language info... and i'll get to the meme, uh, later... :-P

7/16/2007 11:07 PM  
Blogger Yehu said...

I actually saw his name mentioned on the JPFO (on this page) - under his orgignal Dutch name. But I agree they should give him a more prominent place there. Just as our rabbis should give the JPFO a more prominent place and not hide their heads in the sand.

7/17/2007 10:14 AM  
Blogger thanbo said...

There's an Asser Levy Place; link via thanbook.

7/17/2007 4:01 PM  
Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...


"It is entirely possible that among the Ashkenazim that flocked to Holland"

it is assumed that asser levy was from vilna (though iirc he came to holland via germany?)


"and i'll get to the meme, uh, later"

i recently responded to a meme, after having been tagged 2 months prior. i am considering making my blog meme free.

7/17/2007 11:38 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

Tayere Ari,

Many of the Ashkenazim who entered Holland did so by bailing out of the German lands directly to the east of Holland, particularly the Rhine-Ruhr area. Northern Germany, at that time, was a frighteningly unpleasant place to be non-German..... and everyone who was not German squared was by definition "non-German", including Polonians, Poles, Balts, Prussians, and others who had been surrounded and overwhelmed.

So Asser probably slogged thorugh Germany to get to Holland (a rather liberal place for that era, with enough refugees from the war in the south that locals did not particularly notice other assorted 'foreigners'). But given the fluidity of Europe at that time, long journeys were not that uncommon. The Amsterdam phone-book has names in it from people who, though long settled in the Netherlands, clearly reflect an original non-Dutchness (including Scots, Irish, and Italians, as well as a few Turkish and North-African names from the sixteenth century - or so I've heard).

It therefore may be quite likely that he was indeed a Litauer.

I'll research this matter. It is becoming increasingly interesting.

7/18/2007 12:54 PM  
Blogger Yehu said...

BOTH - what's meme.

BTW - isn't Steg supposed to be off now? (coolest thing about being a teacher!)

Ur theory sounds right, BTW. I don't know about how and where the major fluctuations were at the time, but there was already a Kehila in Lithuania. Then he probably reached the Americas from Portugal. (I guess was no regular cruises from Rottedam and uh, darn, I forgot the name of the big port in Germany. With a D, I think)

7/18/2007 4:04 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


interesting! i didn't know that about Dutch... although i guess considering how |sch| is pronounced in that language (or at least in the American placenames, and other English words, derived from it) i shoulda realized there's not so much SH going around.


i was wondering what the JPFO is... actually, weapon ownership is one of the few 'right wing' causes that i sympathize with ;-)


thanks for pointing us all there... sorry i forgot where i had found out about the Asher Levy article from in the first place :-|


meme-free? where's the fun in that? ;-)

7/20/2007 8:15 AM  
Blogger Ari Kinsberg said...

back of the hill:

there is literature that establishes levy's litvish background and his residency in germany.

iirc the only question that remains unsettled is whether he actually came to new york from brazil or if he came directly from holland.

7/20/2007 9:25 AM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...


Is any of that available on the internet?

It appears, from everything I've seen so far (much of which is word for word copy-pasting from other sites) that he entered the Netherlands from the east, having come from West Phalia (which might as well be called the doorway to Holland for Eastern-European Jews, given that many more Ashkenazim came from there than could possibly have come from there.

[By necessity, Jewish mobility in sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe encompassed greater distances than much Gentile mobility.]

I suspect that his parents came from Litauen, he was born in West Falen (because he called himself Asser Levie Van Swellem - which suggests to at least one writer that he was Westfalian), and that he and perhaps his parents then moved to Amsterdam, where at some point he took service with the Dutch West-Indies company in a clerical or administrative role, ending up in Brazil when the Dutch still owned the place.

At that time, though the Sfardim were clearly "usefull" {because of linguistic skills and commercial knowledge regarding the Spanish and Portuguese spheres (and also the Eastern Mediterranean)}, West-Indies Company directors may have wanted someone more like themeselves and less like the Iberians (though the peace of Westphalia in 1648 would have ensured the cessation of outright hostilities, the Spanish and Portuguese were still hated rivals).

Asser Levie van Swellem probably spoke and wrote excelllent Dutch - and may have additionally been familiar with all three classical languages that were respected in the Lowlands (Latin, Greek, ..... and Hebrew).

[And that too may have suggested his suitability as a linguist for a distant posting surrounded by gibbering savages.....]

7/20/2007 3:41 PM  
Blogger thanbo said...

also of note, you point to Harold's blog about Asser Levy:

Harold's mother is descended from someone in the original 1654 boatload. Even so, they wouldn't let her into the DAR. No Jews allowed, doncha know.

7/23/2007 3:55 PM  
Blogger Yehu said...

"actually, weapon ownership is one of the few 'right wing' causes that i sympathize with ;-)"

I don't think it's a 'right wing cause'. I also don't really divide the world into right-wingers and left wingers and hassidim and MO and charedim and liberals what have you. Unfortunately they disagree with me :-( . But you can still check this one out.

7/25/2007 3:25 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


notice the scare/sarcasm quotes around "right wing"

7/25/2007 4:22 PM  
Blogger Yehu said...

oh, stop already with your scare tactics, you scarecrow!

7/26/2007 9:51 AM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

sigh... if i only had a brain.

7/26/2007 10:21 AM  
Blogger Yehu said...

And I thought you had two!

BTW isn't there a dinosaur who supposedly had another set of brains between his thighs to maintain his balance? He was like modern people!!!

7/26/2007 5:45 PM  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

ah, the things you find on the internet...

the answer to your question is not quite, although it does involve stegosauri!

7/26/2007 5:53 PM  
Blogger Francisco de Assis Morais da Costa said...

Im brazilian and marrano descendent. My family Morais was originally Levy in Recife and Paraiba state, where im born, in the times of the new holland. Part of the family stood in Paraiba as Morais until about 1760, when part begun to became Levy again. In 1654 february, pai Levy, his wife, two sons and a daugther travelled to Holland with other 15 ships, among 5000 people. The ship with him and 3 other passed in Surinam, and takinkg a way to Holland, they find pirates. The ship whit pai Levy arrived in Jamaica, where he his family and other 19 from Recife, and finally goes to new amsterdam. Arrived in the morning of september 7.
The point is that i was sure pai Levy was Sephardic, son of portugueses marranos (a group in amsterdam since 1505), born in Amsterdam, boy and young in Recife and Paraíba, and Hero in New Amsterdam. Are you absolutely sure he was a Litwack? Where do i can read more about it?

Francisco de Assis Morais da Costa
Brasília - Brazil

8/05/2008 3:57 PM  
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