The long first sentence in Howard Rock’s significant new history, “Haven of Liberty: New York Jews in the New World, 1654-1865,” ends with the word hurricane. It seems the 23 Dutch Jews from Recife headed to New Amsterdam in early fall of 1654 aboard the French ship St. Catrina were in great fear that the “rolling waves of the North Atlantic” were the sign of an early season hurricane. Rock says that they huddled together and prayed as they suffered the seas. These refugees from Brazil would become the first group of Jews to settle in North America. Their fears and their courage are so palpable this week — and New York’s island geography is so vivid — as our 387-year-old city faces heartbreaking devastation.
Rock’s book is the first of three volumes in the estimable series, “City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York” (NYU Press).