I am not Jewish and was shocked to discover that my ancestors were. They were some of the first American colonists who settled in New Amsterdam and the forebears of many prominent and sometimes famous families. Like thousands of other Jews they fled European persecution often going through France, Italy or Germany first, before going to Amsterdam, a city that Abba Eban says “evokes a special intimacy and affection in Jewish hearts”.
As the identity of these ancestors becomes apparent, why is it that the mere mention of it on the genealogical message boards often brings dead silence and sometimes hostility? What’s wrong with being a Jew? Early American Jews were highly moral, hard-working virtuous families having all the qualities that Americans strive for and admire. In fact, my research has brought me to the revelation that these “silent Jews” helped form the basis for what we’ve often thought was the “Protestant work ethic” or “Christian values”. Whether you find comfort in it or not, an investigation into the origins of some of the family names woven deeply into the fabric of early American history show they were originally Jews.
Historians and genealogists will all tell you that Colonial parents gave their children Biblical names not because they were Jewish but because it was fashionable. I always accepted that but today I am not so sure. I think we should reopen our family albums and look deeper into the meanings in our family tree and coats of arms. Names such as Levi, Jacob, Rebecca, Rachel, Benjamin and Ezekiel may have been the last opportunity Colonial American Jewish parents had to lay claim to a heritage that stems back thousands of years and has the biblical stories to accompany it. I come from numerous generations of Christians but before that many of them were Jewish and I ask you now with an open heart, what’s wrong with that?
Suellen Ocean is the author of Secret Genealogy, a how-to for finding your Cryptic Jewish ancestry, available at Amazon.