By Maria Rocha-Buschel
While states in the South wrangle with whether or not to remove statues of Confederate soldiers, the controversy over monuments has moved closer to home for New Yorkers, with a group of Jewish activists advocating for the removal of Peter Stuyvesant’s name and monuments from city property because the former director-general was anti-Semitic. However, residents of Stuyvesant Town and park-goers in Stuyvesant Square this week weren’t having it.
“It’s all a waste of time,” said longtime Stuyvesant Town resident Don Burkett. “It’s all of this politically correct nonsense. All the problems in the country and they’re worried about a statue.”
The New York Post along with a handful of Jewish media outlets reported last week that the Shurat HaDin-Israel Law Center is demanding the mayor remove all mentions of Stuyvesant from city property in a bid to remove “symbols of hate” from the city.
“It would be like if they wanted to rename Gramercy,” said Peg Reilly, an artist who has been living on Avenue C for the last 20 years. “Who cares at this point? It’s history.”
Residents of Stuyvesant Town and park-goers in Stuyvesant Square alike said they weren’t even aware of Stuyvesant’s anti-Semitic proclivities.
Stuyvesant was said to have resisted Jewish refugees from Brazil from settling in New Amsterdam, and was also known to have been against additional religions other than his own, the Dutch Reform Church, such as Quakers and Lutherans. He also wouldn’t allow Jews to fight in the volunteer militia but then taxed them to have someone else fight in their stead.
Elinor Greenberg, a nanny who comes to Stuyvesant Square Park at least four days a week with the child she watches, said that she hadn’t heard about Stuyvesant’s prejudice.
“I would have to know more (about Peter Stuyvesant) but it doesn’t seem to be in the same category as the Confederate statues,” she said. “I’m unaware of him having a direct impact now when there are so many other things to be upset about.”
Greenberg noted that the issue concerning problematic monuments is more in the forefront in the South because there are cases in which multiple high schools and statues are named after Jefferson Davis, a figure that many view as a symbol specifically representing slavery and the Confederacy.
“But as a Jewish New Yorker, I didn’t grow up with that kind of knowledge of Peter Stuyvesant in my background,” Greenberg said.
Even upon finding out about Stuyvesant’s feelings about Jews, most felt that enough times had passed for it not to matter.
“I would want to know more about Peter Stuyvesant before I really decide but what’s happening (with all the monuments), it’s going too far,” said Ted, a 10-year Stuy Town resident who declined to give his last name. “People want to change everything but history is history.”
Stuyvesant Park Neighborhood Association Vice President Ana Maria Moore said that the positive contributions of Stuyvesant’s descendants to the city since his own era outweighed his prejudices.
“He did not care for other religions, but his view did not persevere,” she said. “What does that have to do with this area that was donated by the Stuyvesant-Fish family, which recognized changes during their lifetime that led to the generous donation of four acres that have become invaluable to the community?”
Moore also noted that the statue in the park was designed by a woman sculptor.
“Why obliterate her work?” she asked. How do we pick and choose from our past. Isn’t it better to give context?”
Rosalee Isaly, president of the SPNA, said that she felt a discussion on removing the statue and scrubbing out Stuyvesant’s name was a waste of time and energy.
“It’s just stirring up trouble based on social thought of three centuries ago,” she said.
Reilly echoed this sentiment, noting that she felt the whole discussion was ridiculous.
“Not that anti-Semitism is ridiculous, but we have so many other important things we should be focusing on instead, like healthcare,” she said. “We all live in distractions and this is a distraction from taking care of what really needs to be done.”