A few years ago I stayed with Shona at a friends home in Amsterdam, a beautiful home, our room was on the top floor overlooking the grand canal and the old Jewish quarter beyond, once outside the city walls, sodden and cold. The docks were there too. The Dutch accepted these Spanish speaking Sephardim Jews of 1493 who had escaped from the newly won Catholic Spain, taken back from the Moors.

Muslim Spain welcomed anyone with knowledge who could add to their society.  They had built Mosques throughout their kingdom and every Mosque had a school, it was a period of growth and knowledge while the rest of Europe struggled on through their Dark and Middle Ages.

In 1492 they were all finally pushed out, some of the jews went to Leghorn (the city of Livorno in Tuscany),  and the kingdom of Naples where they were accepted, some ended up at the port of Genoa where they all had their throats slit while waiting to disembark.  Others went to the New World, the port of Jamaica, while many went to Portugal, the inquisition welcomed them like twigs to a bonfire, so they moved again, this time to Amsterdam and Jodenbuurt.  They were joined a few decades later by the Ashkenazi jews arriving from Germany and by 1579 all of the Dutch Republic was given religious freedom, the first time in all of Europe as law of the land. The Jews were now calling their home by the Hebrew name ‘Mokum’ meaning place.

Holland has just lost its war with England in 1784 when Asher Caspar and his wife Sarah Rodish, pregnant with Ellis, walked to the port near Mokum to board a boat for London.  They had been sent a letter from the head of the Goldsmid bank, Aaron Goldsmid, a Dutch Jewish merchant who had left for London in 1763  and was now the Goldsmid banker, to come and claim possession of an inheritance in Jamaica left to them in a will.

1783 had been a terrible year for Jamaica with three hurricanes devastating the island. There was disease and mayhem throughout the land, Sarah would have none of it so they stayed in London and set up shop. Ellis was born in 1784.

The Portuguese Synagogue in the middle of the former Jodenbuurt in an engraving from the Fouquet-Atlas ( 1760-1783 )

Next – ‘Bevis Marks’

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