Do you ever find yourself surprised to discover that certain historical figures are Jewish? Of course you do. Why, just last week, I found out Moses was Jewish! Go figure. Or are you too busy trying to cope with the economy? When I’m not too busy trying to cope with the economy or wondering how Carrot Top has been able to maintain his career, I enjoy thinking about famous Jews. Just to name three – Groucho Marx, Harry Houdini and my uncle Heshie who has a patent on liquid kishke. I started wondering about which other famed historical figures that we usually don’t think of as Jewish actually were Members of the Tribe. What with October containing Columbus Day, I decided to look into the possibility that Christopher Columbus may have been Jewish. Apparently, the facts bear it out:
I decided to look into the possibility that Christopher Columbus may have been Jewish.
- On August 3, 1492, due to the Edict of Expulsion, all Jews were required to leave Spain. Boarding their vessels before midnight, and sailing one-half hour before sunrise, Columbus and his crew set out on his now-famous voyage. In 1492. Coincidence, or persecution? Hey, I’m just reporting the facts, folks.
- As with the Jews, Columbus was constantly leaving his country, in search of a better life someplace else. Even if he wasn’t kicked out or being chased out with the other Jews, perhaps the kicking and chasing were all happening internally. At least according to Dr. Hiram Selwyn, a psychotherapist who specializes in navigators, colonizers and explorers. “Columbus definitely had his demons,” explains Selwyn. “And back then, there was no psychotherapy, 24 Hour Fitness Centers or TiVo to help work out those demons. So one tended to take refuge in either alcohol or, in the case of non-drinking Jews – exploration of other lands.”
- Again, like most Jews, Columbus was terrible with directions. Severely underestimating the circumference of the Earth, he estimated that a westward route from Iberia to the Indies would be shorter and more direct than the overland trade route through Arabia. If true, this would allow Spain entry into the lucrative spice trade — heretofore commanded by the Arabs and Italians. Following his plotted course, and lacking any GPS navigation system, he instead landed within the Bahamas Archipelago at a locale he named San Salvador. Mistaking the North-American island for the East-Asian mainland, he referred to its inhabitants as “Indios.” As if that wasn’t enough, once informed of his mistake, Columbus’s response: “So sue me.” Which was also the first known historical utterance of this famous line.
- Columbus had to ask the woman in his life both for permission to go on his trip, and for money to finance it. On May 1, 1486, Columbus presented his plans to his shiksa goddess, Queen Isabella, who, in turn, in a gesture foreshadowing contemporary business practice, referred it to a committee. After continually lobbying at the Spanish court and two years of negotiations, he finally had success in 1492. According to Columbus’s diary, he celebrated with a bottle of Manishevitz and some whitefish and bialies.
- Many scholars believe that Columbus’s historic voyage was financed by wealthy and influential Jews-many themselves converts-rather than a magnanimous King and Queen of Spain. This is based primarily on a t-shirt Columbus often wore, upon which was the slogan, “God bless the wealthy and influential Jews who finance my voyages.”
- He named his vehicles after women. To stay on Isabella’s good side, Columbus named his ships after females -- Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. “Had it been completely up to me, though,” he writes in his diary, “I had already selected the names, the Gittel, the Miriam, and the Shoshana.”
- Columbus employed peculiar dates and phrases unique to the Hebrew people. Instead of referring to the "destruction" or "fall of Jerusalem," he used the phrase "the destruction of the second house." He also employed the Hebrew reckoning of 68 A.D. instead of 70 A.D. A marginal note dated 1481 is immediately given its Hebrew equivalent of 5241, etc. And instead of the popular term “breakfast,” Columbus was known to refer to it as “a bagel with a shmear, some shmaltz herring, a little whitefish, and some ruggaleh.”
- He boasted that he was related to King David. Some scholars, however, feel that this was solely motivated by Columbus’s desire to impress Jewish women.
- Some of his letters were described as written in an "unknown script,” which many scholars interpret as meaning Hebrew. But this does explain why Queen Isabella seldom responded to his letters – she couldn’t understand them! (Note: there is a school of thought that explains this as Columbus’s temporary interest in becoming a doctor. They theorize that he was trying to write as illegibly as possible to fit in with the typical physician’s handwriting style of the day).
- Columbus is said to have used a unique triangular signature similar to inscriptions found on gravestones of ancient Jewish cemeteries in Spain and Southern France. Granted, he signed his correspondence this way primarily when he was really drunk, but still...
- Whenever he informed people he met that he was Jewish, he’d invariably get the response, “You’re kidding; I would’ve sworn you’re Italian.” And then Columbus would explain that he was, in fact, both, and that being Italian and Jewish are not mutually exclusive. To prove it, Columbus would then give them a taste of his halvah cannoli.
- Finally, though this is far from scientific or historical, add up the numbers in 1492 and you get my Uncle Heshie’s lucky number. I’m just saying.
Columbus was known to refer to breakfast as “a bagel with a shmear,”
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter whether Columbus was Jewish or not. Albert Einstein said, “True religion is real living; living with all one's soul, with all one's goodness and righteousness.” Anyway, I’m already thinking ahead to next month’s Thanksgiving holiday. I have a fairly reliable lead that both Captain John Smith and Pocahontas may have been Jewish. I’ll keep you posted.