Congress celebrated over 360 years in of Sephardic Jewry in America Wednesday, paying tribute to the contributions of the Sephardic community to the United States and Jewish culture.
This historic event brought together Sephardic leaders from across the United States.
The first Jews to arrive to the United States of America were Sephardim, Jews of Spanish and Portuguese descent, many of whom made their journey in order to escape forced conversion in their native lands, around 1550.
By 1776 and the War of Independence, around 2,000 Jews lived in America, most of them Sephardic, of Spanish and Portuguese origin. They played a significant role in the struggle for independence, including fighting the British (with Francis Salvador being the first Jew to die in the war), and playing a key role in financing the revolution, the most important of the financiers being Haym Solomon.
A wide array of members of Congress, including Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah, Senator Chuck Schumer of NY as well as Rep. Michelle Bachmann, Rep. Ileana Ros Lehtinen, and Rep. Grace Meng, connected with the enthusiastic audience, heaping praise on the myriad of Sephardic personalities of yesteryear, the most famous of whom is probably Emma Lazarus whose poem, inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, has inspired millions of Americans.
The event was organized by the Sephardic Legacy Series, an Institute for preserving Sephardic Heritage, founded by Yehuda Azoulay.