In elementary school, upon realizing that Columbus reached the Americas in the same year as the Spanish Inquisition, I proposed to my teacher that perhaps Columbus and his crew were Jews, for if the State and the Church believed the earth to be flat, then surely it would be no loss for the Inquisition to have Jews fall off the edge of the earth, they would not allow Christians to take such risks. I was laughed at for that question. Hard.
Apparently, however, I may now be vindicated!
Estelle Irizarry, a linguist at Georgetown University has published a book which argues that not only was Columbus likely Catalan (not Italian) but he was probably also a Jew. This, she argues, is due to similarities in Colombus' writings with Ladino, a language spoken by the Jews of Spain.
It's not the first time Professor Irizarry has proposed that Columbus was Jewish, but the evidence does seem somewhat dubious: a comment made without the benefit of reading the book. Still, others point out that both the financier of his voyage and his interpreter were both Jews (and were baptized at a later date.) Other arguments, such as Colombus' use of Hebrew letters and refusal to baptize slaves are refuted with relative ease.
Still though, the story is interesting and dramatic, but, perhaps not as dramatic as the story of Esther Brandeau, a name probably unfamiliar to most Canadians. In September, 1738, Esther became the first Jew to arrive in New France, and possibly in any part of what is today Canada.
To make the voyage, alone and at a time when non-Catholics were not welcome in the French colony, Esther actually disguised herself as a man, and got away with it for a while, until she was discovered. When attempts to convert her failed, apparently the King himself took an interest in having her removed from the colony and returned to France.
There it is, two stories of (potential) Jewish History in the New World!
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