The Schmear Chronicles

SOFT-HITTING NEWS: IF IT'S NOT HERE WE DIDN'T COVER IT

Discovering Christopher Columbus
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Christopher Columbus/Wikimedia commons

Was the 15th-century explorer a secret Jew? Recently down-and-out local man says he has indisputable proof, for a price

Christopher Columbus devoted his life to uncovering the unknown — so it’s a surprise to learn he may have lived his days concealing his identity.

The familiar story goes that he was an Italian explorer from Genoa who set sail in 1492 to supply Spanish royalty with riches from the Orient. However, aside from the year he spent “sailing the ocean blue,” 1492 was significant for other reasons: namely it was the year of the Spanish Inquisition when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella ordered the expulsion of all Jews from Spain. In other words: the Jewish people were commanded to convert or get packing … or be executed. Those who embraced Catholicism were called “Conversos,” and those who feigned conversion were called “Marranos” (another word for it was swine). And those who were revealed as practicing Jews were sentenced to torturous deaths.

For centuries, historians have debated over the famous explorer’s origins, but one thing is clear: everyone wants a piece. The Italians claim he was born in Lugano. The Spanish say he was born on Spanish soil. However, a less popular theory is that ol’ Columbus was an MOT.

Spanish scholars Jose Erugo, Otero Sanchez, Celso Garcia de la Reiga and Nicholas Dias Perez have postulated that Columbus was in fact a Marrano, hiding his Jewish background in order to survive, according to a CNN report

Here are some clues that have led these scholars to believe that Columbus was Jewish:

*Personal letters and diary entries reveal Columbus wrote in Castilan Spanish or Ladino, a Jewish vernacular of Spanish akin to what Yiddish is to German, according to linguistics experts.

*Columbus’ personal documents show a monogram at the top of the letters written from right to left. The signature is a traditional Hebrew greeting that is still used by Orthodox Jews today: B.H. or the Hebrew letters “bet” and “heh,” which stand for b’ezrat Hashem (with God’s help).

*At the bottom of his writings was a triangular form of letters, often seen on gravestones in Jewish cemeteries in Spain. When decoded the triangle translates to a prayer in lieu of the traditional Hebrew Kaddish, which was forbidden in Spain.

*One of his wishes upon his death was for one-tenth of his income to go to impoverished young women as an anonymous dowry, an old Jewish custom. Another request written in his will was for part of his money to go to a Jew who lived near the Jewish Quarter of Lisbon. 

*He was originally planning to set sail on Aug. 2, 1492 but postponed the date by one day to avoid embarking on the holiday of Tisha b’Av, the day marking the destruction of the First and Second Holy Temples of Jerusalem. It is considered inauspicious by Jews to travel on that date.

All of these discoveries certainly serve as historic, compelling evidence in the argument that Columbus was Jewish, but one man says he has the real story. Marvin Finkelstein, recently unemployed, claims to be a distant cousin of Columbus and that he has incontrovertible evidence that his relative was a Jew and can “put the speculations to bed,” for a reasonable fee.

Finkelstein, 59, lives in Plainview, L.I., and said he just lost his job as a sporting goods operator. Claiming to have irrefutable and “remarkable” proof of Columbus’ Jewish heritage, he told reporters that he is willing to sell most or all of it to scholars or museums for “the low price of $30,000.” When asked why he is contacting the press now, he said that he just read a piece recently published in Aish, a Jewish education site that he visits regularly, that is recirculating the theories.

“All of those fuzzy facts those historians dug up, yeah they sound good, but who can really tell from documents that are so old? My stuff is better,” he insisted, “and I’m definitely passionate about getting it out there ... specfically selling it,” added Finkelstein, who then went off on a tangent saying that he was forced to shut down his store due to a rent increase just a week ago.

Finkelstein nervously laughed during a phone interview, ignoring the reporter's questions about the historic items as he blurted out that he’s “struggling to make next month’s mortgage payment" and that his "cable just got shut off" completely out of nowhere. When  asked how he discovered his lineage to the legendary explorer, he responded, “I guess it’s Swanson’s microwave dinner on the couch again!” after mumbling something about how his wife hasn’t been home since the business went under.

A self-proclaimed “history buff,” Finkelstein promises to have a bounty of fascinating materials that will finally prove once and for all that Columbus was Jewish, closing a case that’s been continuously revisited for hundreds of years. When pressed to reveal an example, he said, “Of course I’d love to share this incredible information with the world, and I plan to … as soon as a check for, say, $30,000 is made out in my name. Or I can even take cash or credit!” He then asked if by any chance the reporter had any interest in purchasing 50 golf putters and 28 cases of baseballs.

As far as the revealing documents Finkelstein claims to possess, he says it’s his “dream to release to the world this wonderful information,” and to finally resolve the mystery that’s enshrouded his cousin’s posthumous legacy for so many centuries. “You can’t just give these kinds of gems away for free!” he said. Following the call, he emailed the reporter to let her know that he "just got Venmo, so funds can be sent there if that's easier."

At one point, as the journalist was attempting to ask how he came to posses the historical artifcats, Finkelstein gasped and excitedly sputtered, “Linda?!?” as he thought he heard his wife at the front door, but he said through a sigh that it was just the mailman dropping off what was “probably a bunch of bills I won’t be able to pay.”

Finkelstein went on to tell the journalist that it’s his privilege to be able to give such a valuable gift (which he estimates at around “$30,000”), he just, “expects to be fairly compensated as anyone would.” He then added, “Also, if you know of anyone looking to buy a regulation size hockey net or 500 basketballs, please let me know."

Over the sound of punching numbers into a microwave, Finkelstein said, “It’s gonna be worth it. I mean, this stuff is airtight.”

In a follow-up interview after receiving no bids on his offer, Finkelstein said he would be willing to sell “everything” for “just $5,000” or even give it away for free if someone just brought his wife back.

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