The eternal wanderers: Sephardic Jewish genetics and culture

How the scattering of the Sephardim influenced Jews across the world

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Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

- The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus

Millions of Americans can still summon some of these lines from the poem The New Colossus that graces a plaque at the Statue of Liberty’s foot. The passage captures something stirring about the nature of American society, and the sorts of people that streamed to these shores for centuries, fleeing persecution and poverty.

Maybe less well-known is their author, Emma Lazarus. Her ancestors arrived in what became New York City, long before there were these United States and 195 years before Lazarus’ own birth in 1849. Her forebears were themselves refugees, fleeing war and the inquisition in the Portuguese-ruled city of Recife, in modern-day Brazil. That city had been ruled by the Dutch for a generation and attracted an influx of settlers from the Netherlands. But the handful of Portuguese Jews from Amsterdam who had arrived to make their fortune in the New World found themselves under the rule of Portugal again when Recife fell and were given the choice between exile or converting to Christianity. Rather than staying, the small Jewish community fled to the nearest large city still under Dutch rule in the New World: New Amsterdam. And ten years later when the English took over and renamed it New York City, they stayed on.

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