MADRID (Dec. 16)
In what may be his last appearance of the year, Christopher Columbus is back. But this time he’s a full-fledged Jew.
It’s true many people have suspected it until now but if Israeli shipping magnate Elie Schalit has his way, the closing act of Sepharad ’92 — which commemorates the 500th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain – – will give the final and conclusive proof that the elusive sailor really was a member of the tribe.
"The discovery of America has been presented as something completely non- Jewish, and that’s absolutely ridiculous," Schalit said on a recent visit to Spain to finalize the details of an exhibit on Columbus the Jew, which will be shown in Madrid from Dec. 16 until Jan. 15.
Two identical exhibits will be taken to Tel Aviv for Passover 1993 and to Miami in the summer.
Schalit, who has spent over $1 million of his own funds on the project, commissioned an in-depth study of all documents which might lead to a better understanding of the role of the Jews in the discovery of the New World.
He came up with a set of facts that, separately, might not say much but taken together will at least add an important dimension to the discovery.
These are some of the findings which the exhibit will feature:
* Navigation was traditionally a Jewish trade. One hundred years before the discovery of America, Yaacov Corsino compiled, in Hebrew, the first navigational tables in history, which laid the foundations of the trade. The originals are kept in the national libraries in Vienna.
Abraham Zacuto compiled the navigational almanac. Zacuto, who had ties to the University of Salamanca, went to Portugal at the time of the expulsion and apparently died in Damascus. One of his major contributions was the invention of the copper astrolabe.
* The key mapmakers were all Jews. The most famous, Abraham and Yehuda Cresques, established a school of cartography in Palma de Mallorca.
* The first voyage was financed for Queen Isabella by Luis de Santangel — the monarch’s modern–day equivalent of a finance minister — and by Luis (Azariah) Ginillo, whose father was burned at the stake in Zaragoza.
The second trip, which was the largest with 17 ships, was paid principally from the proceeds of the sale of property owned by the expelled Jews.
As far as Columbus was concerned, Schalit has this proof:
* In the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence stands the only portrait painted by an artist who knew Columbus in real life. "He looks like a Salonika Jew," Schalit said.
* Although some people have argued that Columbus was demonstrably Christian because his surviving journals are replete with invocations of the names of Christ, Mary and the saints, this may be proof that he actually was a Jew, since he needed to conceal his true identity.
"He had every reason to be as Catholic as possible," said Schalit.
* Columbus left for the New World in time for the deadline given to the last Jews who chose not to convert, and he began his "report" to Santangel with a reference to the expulsion.
* Schalit is not the only believer of the Columbus-is-a-Jew theory. Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal, among others, in his book, "The Sails of Hope," suggests that the sailor was out looking for a place for the Jews to resettle, since Morocco and Turkey would be only temporary havens.
* When the Franciscan friars went to spy on Columbus during his botched attempt to administrate the New World islands, he and his brother are described by the monks as behaving like "Faraones" (Pharaohs), a nickname for converted Jews.
* Columbus was an avid reader, and he often wrote notes in his books. In one, "History of the World," written by Pope Pius II, Columbus makes note of two calendar dates and "translates" their equivalent to the Hebrew calendar. He also uses two phrases never used by non-Jews: Bayit Rishon and Bayit Sheini (The First Temple and Second Temple in Jerusalem).
On top of the pages in his diary, he wrote the Hebrew letters standing for b’ezrat Hashem (with the help of God), which, when analyzed, have been proved to have been written from right to left.
"At the times of Columbus, it was not common to find a man whose reading and writing abilities were immense, who knew languages, culture, religion, navigation. His was a trained intellect, and where does the poor son of an Italian weaver come up with such a complete education?" asked Schalit.
"Only if his family had been extremely rich or he had joined a monastic order as a child. But these elements make sense if you identify him as Jew because Jews did receive this sort of education then."