Friday, October 9, 2009

Was Columbus Jewish? Does it Matter?

Here are three sources for the key arguments that have been made for Columbus' Jewish ancestry:

In the end, does it matter? Well, not long ago I referred to the study claiming that 20 percent of the Iberian peninsula has Jewish ancestry, so it's hardly surprising that he could have been. But what matters more is that Chris's big journey to the Indes be understood in the context of the huge event swirling around it, specifically the expulsion of Spanish Jewry, which took effect one day before Columbus set sail. His crew contained refugees of that calamity. Undoubtedly, his voyage was financed at least in part from the stolen property of Jews. And ironically, just as, on that fateful summer day in 1492 the Jews were shooed away from a place that had been their center and refuge for half a millennium, Columbus' ships set sail for a place that would become a saving refuge for many - Jews and others - and a prime center of Jewish life half a millennium later.

So the Italians, Spanish and others can haggle over who gets to lay claim the guy. He was, after all, not too nice to the natives once he arrived, to the point where my alma mater, Brown University, recently changed the name of this weekend's school holiday to "Fall Weekend" (Remember, Political Correctness was invented there.)

I don't want Columbus. But I want his day to be a reminder to all of the cost of cruelty and the impact of expulsion.

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