Setting the Scene
Setting the Scene
This chapter provides a background of the arrival of the Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam in the 1850s and how they created out of nothing a Jewish community that quickly became renowned across the world. The former Conversos, including those of the Portuguese community of early modern Amsterdam, have been called the first modern Jews. As New Christians, they gained a reputation for immense wealth, elegance, and aristocratic style that commanded respect in their new domicile. It is less widely known that the new immigrants from the Iberian peninsula also included paupers, or that some of the immigrants or their descendants later became impoverished in Amsterdam. Because of the economic restrictions Amsterdam imposed upon Jews, many were not able to practise their accustomed occupations and as a result were reduced to poverty. Women, single or at the head of a nuclear or extended family, were particularly vulnerable, as were orphans, the infirm, and the aged. Thus, the Portuguese in Amsterdam built up a welfare system that included provision for displaced persons, and especially paupers, belonging to their ‘nation’. However, in the event they had to cope not only with their own compatriots but also with a host of poor migrants from other parts of the contemporary Jewish world, fleeing various combinations of war, persecution, economic depression, and unemployment and lured to Amsterdam by the reputed wealth of the Amsterdam Portuguese.
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