It happened today - April 20, 2016 Tom Lehrer’s sardonic song “National Brotherhood Week” celebrates the various enmities that have long divided human beings including the memorable line “and everybody hates the Jews”. A surprising number of people do, with an irrational and vicious frenzy that does them neither credit nor good. But it wasn’t that way in New Amsterdam.

Indeed, on April 20 waaaay back in 1657 they were granted freedom of religion there. The Dutch Empire, which has always struck me as rather historically implausible, left little impact in North America other than a distinctive pattern of landholding in New York because, speaking of songs, you are of course aware from “Istanbul” that “old New York, it was once New Amsterdam”. And here we see, at almost exactly the same time that Oliver Cromwell permitted Jews to return to England from which Edward I had expelled them in 1290, seeking to draw the rich Jews of Amsterdam to London and steal their trade from Spain, that they were also made welcome in what would later be the second great Anglosphere power.

The policy of toleration was continued after England bagged New York from the Dutch in 1664 and, three years later, the Dutch formally ceded it in return for the rich spice island of Run which you can hardly now find on a map and not on an itinerary. Indeed, Washington’s famous letter to the Hebrew congregation of Newport on August 21, 1790 proclaimed that “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support…. May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

It wasn’t always that way even in Britain and America. And other people were less fortunate than the Jews in America, most notably blacks. But nevertheless it is no accident that the scourge of anti-Semitism, so harmful to Jews and to those societies that mistreat them, was so much less in the open societies of the English-speaking world.

Nor is it any accident that these societies have prospered economically, culturally and militarily far more than closed and frequently anti-Semitic ones. New Amsterdam got it right in 1657, and the British colonists and later Americans did not squander the gift.