1656: English Jewry's Annus Mirabilis
Tercentenaries are in fashion. Hardly had the excitement of the American Jewish Tercentennial celebration died away, when Anglo-Jewry began its own more modest program, which is now reaching its climax. There is of course no question of imitation. We over here had begun to think of ours perhaps as soon as you decided to embark on yours: and the older among us recall how fifty years ago, too, our respective Two Hundred and Fiftieth commemorations ran neck and neck. At that time, we in England knew precisely where we stood, historically speaking, just as you in America did. The first group of Jews arrived in what is now the United States in September 1654, establishing what is now the world’s greatest Jewish community. In England we were equally sure of ourselves.
The Jews had been expelled from England by Edward I in 1290. For upwards of three and a half centuries, the country had been, with certain reservations, Judenrein. Then, when the Puritan Revolution had engendered a new spirit here, a self-sacrificing Dutch rabbi named Meriasseh ben Israel had come to England on a mission to Oliver Cromwell and secured his sympathy for his dramatic plan for the apocalyptic Readmis-sion of the Jews. Although the Whitehall Conference which met to consider the question in December 1655 was divided in its views, Cromwell himself decided to grant Menasseh’s petition on his own authority, giving him a favorable reply by word of mouth some time between the 14th and 28th of January 1656 (1655 in the “Old Style” calendar). In the early years of this century, certain enthusiastic antiquaries in Anglo-Jewry went so far as to institute a minor annual Yom Tov about this time of year, calling it “Resettlement Day.”
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