Sephardi Jews, of whom Rambam was one, were scattered all over the world following their expulsion from Spain in 1492, on account of the Catholic Church's inquisition. In 1654, when the Recife in Brazil fell from Dutch hands into the hands of the Portuguese, the Jews of that town had to leave on pain of death. A ship carrying 23 of the Jewish refugees from Recife landed in Manhattan, then a Dutch colony under the governorship of Peter Stuyvesant. The Governor attempted to keep the Jews out of New Amsterdam, and, after they successfully appealed Stuyvesant's ruling, Stuyvesant continued in his attempts to abridge their civil rights. But the Jewish refugees persevered, and, led by Asser Levy, eventually secured their rights on par with the other residents of New Amsterdam.
In 1664, the British took control of the New Netherlands in 1664. The Articles of Capitulation negotiated between the British and the Dutch provided, inter alia, that the Dutch inhabitants of the colony would enjoy freedom of religion under British rule. When the Dutch recaptured the Colony in 1673, the British subjects there were given the same rights that the Dutchmen in the Colony had enjoyed under the British. When the Colony once again came into British hands in 1674, the personal civil rights, including free exercise of religion, persisted. Indeed, when New York became a State, its delegation insisted that the Bill of Rights be amended to the U.S. Constitution so that they would have the same personal freedoms they had enjoyed under British and Dutch rule.
Another Sefardi Jew, Sir Moses Montefiore (1784 - 1885), put much of his wealth towards philanthropy during his long life. Notwithstanding the exiles, there has always been a continuous residual Jewish presence in the Holy Land from the time of Joshua. Sir Moses Montefiore did much to better the condition of the Jewish population of the Land of Israel during his lifetime.
Eastern Europe became a breeding ground for Jewish scholarship, with numerous yeshivas and other educational institutions. These provided rabbinical support for other Jewish communities throughout the entire world. The Nazis were well aware that destruction of the Eastern European Jewish community would have negative impact upon world Jewry, and proceeded with their evil plans accordingly.
After World War II, the surviving rabbinical leaders from the Eastern European yeshivas transplanted their remnants to America, Israel, and elsewhere. In order to restore their decimated yeshivas, the rabbis took the unprecedented step of instituting long-term full-time religious studies for almost all Jewish males in their communities. In addition to the obvious economic ramifications it has wreaked in the communities, there are also the social repercussions. Jonathan Rosenblum compared it to chemotherapy, a drastic measure that poisons the body -- on a temporary basis -- in order to save the life. It has negative effects.
One of these negative implications is that the communities have become more insular. This insularity goes well beyond the distinction between religious Jews and non-religious Jews. Specifically, there are now religious elementary and junior high schools in Israel (and, for that matter, in Brooklyn, Lakewood and Monsey) that discriminate against Sephardim, and will not admit Sephardi pupils. They do not want their children to be exposed to outside influences, even those of different religious Jewish communities.
Along with everything else, this is ingratitude. Were it not for the groundbreaking efforts of Asser Levy, America might not have been tolerant enough to nurture the religious Jewish communities transplanted from the ashes of the Holocaust after World War II. And were it not for Sir Moses Montefiore, the religious Jews who emigrated to the Holy Land in the 19th Century would surely have had a far rougher time there.
Yet, there are certain religious institutions where even the Rambam's daughter would not be welcome!
The end of the calendar year of 2009 approaches. My wife and I am in the process of sending out our final tzedakah checks for the year, so that we can properly claim the charitable deduction on our taxes. We are taking care to not support institutions that discriminate against religious Jews.