Shomrim History

The first Jewish police officer in North America was Asser Levy. He was a Portuguese Jew who lived in Recife, then the capital of Dutch Brazil. Many Portuguese Jews fled the Inquisition of Spain and Portugal by moving to the then Portuguese colony of Brazil. Others fled to Protestant Holland where Jews were allowed to openly practice their faith. When the Dutch conquered several areas of Brazil in 1620, they were warmly welcomed by the Jews who had been forced to live as Conversos by the Catholic Church. Thirty-four years later, when the Portuguese re-conquered Brazil, and re-introduced the Inquisition, the Jews were severely persecuted and large numbers were killed for the assistance they rendered to Holland during the wars. The Jewish community of Recife, five thousand strong, fell apart and scattered. Some returned to Holland, others lived as best they could as Conversos and many abandoned all and fled to nearby Caribbean islands. A small number took a ship to the Dutch colony in North America, New Amsterdam. Twenty-three of them arrived there, penniless, in September of 1654. One was Asser Levy.

He and his co-religionists were denied Dutch citizenship in the colony. Levy was also denied the privilege to serve in the Burgher Guard, a volunteer type of community militia (and was therefore taxed to pay for his protection). Jews had been living in Holland since 1492 and had prospered. Despite some restrictions, the Jews received far more liberal treatment from the Dutch than that found in other European countries. By 1654 many Dutch Jews, originally from Portugal, were investors in the Dutch West India Company (sponsors of the investment colony of New Amsterdam) and influential members of the community of Amsterdam. Peter Stuyvesant, governor of the colony, met their resistance when he tried to deny admittance to the twenty-three Portuguese Jews fleeing from Recife, among them Asser Levy. In Stuyvesant's letter to the Company he prayed that the deceitful race, such hateful enemies and blasphemers of the name of Christ, be not allowed to further infect and trouble this new colony. The Dutch West India Company overruled their governor and allowed the Jews to remain provided the poor among them shall not become a burden to the Company or to the community, but be supported by their own nation.

Once Levy and the others were allowed to remain, Levy fought all restrictions placed upon him. In 1655 he petitioned the town council to join the Burgher Guard and be permitted to keep guard with the other burghers. His petition was denied and Levy was told he was free to depart whenever and wither it pleases him. But Levy also appealed this ruling to the Company's directors in Amsterdam, who again sided with the wishes of Holland's powerful Jewish community who supported the Jewish colonists. Thus Asser Levy, became the first Jewish watchman in New Amsterdam, winning the privilege of manning the stockades along Wall Street against Indian attacks. (In later years, the only attacks on Wall Street his descendants would fear, were from bulls, bears and the SEC!) Finally in 1657, Asser Levy petitioned for another right. According to the official court record:

Asser Levy, a Jew, appears in Court; requests to be admitted a Burgher (citizen); claims that such ought not be refused him as he keeps watch and ward like Burghers and showing Burgher certificates from the city of Amsterdam that Jews are Burghers there.

On April 21, 1657, New Amsterdam's first Jewish watchman (and our first Shomer) became its first Jewish citizen. Twenty years later Citizen Levy was given a license to operate a kosher butcher shop. Before his death in 1681, in what was then New York, Asser Levy, who began his new life as a laborer and part time Shomer, became a tavern keeper, a real estate investor, trader and civic leader. It wasn't until 1728 that the British permitted the first synagogue to be built in New York. Prior thereto, the houses of public worship allowed were for those that profess the faith of Christ. That first synogogue was built on South William Street (later known as Jews' Alley) and for the first time the Jews of New York could publicly worship their faith.

The Shomrim Society of Maryland was established in September of 1978.

On February 12, 1977, Baltimore Police Officer Dennis Sweren was killed in a car accident, while he was off duty. Police Commissioner Donald Pomerleau immediately contacted Major Theodore "Ted" Weintraub and asked him to assist the police department with making the funeral arrangements. The police department was not sure how to deal with the death of a Jewish police officer.

Following the death of Officer Sweren, Major Weintraub contacted the district commanders across the city to determine how many Jewish officers worked in each police district. Major Weintraub recalled that over the years, he heard complaints from several Jewish officers who had trouble taking off from work during the High Holidays. Major Weintraub then wrote a memo to Police Commissioner Pomerleau requesting permission to form a lodge to represent Jews in the police department. The lodge would be similar to the Sons of Italy and Vanguard Justice Society, which already existed in the City of Baltimore.

Several months later, a group from The National Shomrim Society, traveled from New York to Baltimore to meet with Major Weintraub, Lieutenant Mervin Spiwak, and Major Sidney Hyatt. The meeting was held at a downtown Baltimore hotel and The Shomrim Society of Maryland was created. The Shomrim Society of Maryland held its first meetings in the basement of the Baltimore Jewish Community Center. Now both retired, Major Ted Weintraub and Major Sidney Hyatt are both still active in The Shomrim Society of Maryland and serve on its the Board of Directors.

 

 

 
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