Today in NYC History: Asser Levy Becomes First Jewish New Yorker To Receive Full Rights (1657)

The basketball courts at Asser Levy Park in Gramercy.

The basketball courts at Asser Levy Playground in Gramercy.

Our story about Mayor La Guardia pushing back against the federal war on drugs was kind of the “Today in NYC History” post for the day, but reader Carrie Chess sends in a good one that I felt like posting just under the deadline.

According to the site Jewish Currents, on April 20, 1657, Asser Levy became the first Jewish burgher (citizen with rights) in New Amsterdam. Levy was one a handful of Jews who arrived in New Amsterdam prior to a larger group of Sephardic Jews that came as refugees from Recife, Brazil. A butcher by trade, he became one the village’s most prominent citizens, with turns as a real estate investor, tavern keeper and attorney.

Jewish Currents notes that there was considerable resistance to granting Jews full rights in New Amsterdam, but pressure may have been applied by Jewish investors in the Dutch West India Company, which oversaw the New Amsterdam colony until the British took control in 1664.

Today the name Asser Levy lives on in “Asser Levy Place”, which intersected with East 23rd street at what would be Avenue A, near the FDR. Asser Levy Place was closed to traffic permanently in 2013 to make way for the expansion of Asser Levy Playground, part of a complex that includes the Asser Levy Pool and Asser Levy Recreation Center. PS 19, in the East Village, is also named for Asser Levy, as is a park in Coney Island.

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