The First Jew in America
de Torres was the first Jew in America, which was named after Amerigo Vespucci.
Torres came to Cuba with Christopher Columbus in 1492. Columbus asked him to
come along because de Torres spoke Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, French, Latin,
Spanish, and Portuguese. Columbus believed he would reach Asia, where these
languages would be spoken by the natives.
Torres had been an interpreter for the governor of the province Murcia, which
contained a large number of Jews.
day before the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria sailed frm Lisbon on August 2, 1492,
de Torres converted to Catholicism, since he would otherwise not been allowed to
make the voyage.
soon as Columbus landed in Cuba, he sent de Torres to explore the island and
find “The Great Khan” and all the gold reputedly located there. De Torres
instead found an Indian village with 1,000 inhabitants and no gold. The
newcomers were greeted in a friendly manner and saw how the Indians smoked
are several stories concerning what happened to de Torres thereafter. One story
clams that he remained in the village and married several native girls, and that
he was granted land and slaves. Later he was granted an annual pension by King
Ferdinand of Spain, living a long and prosperous life in Cuba.
story claims that he and thirty-nine Spaniards were murdered by the Indians
because the Spaniards had abandoned the native women.
has also been claimed that the first word addressed to the natives of Cuba was
there is one synagogue in the Bahamas, called the De Torres synagogue.
Eric Ericson, in a book about the life of Columbus, claims that Columbus
was a descendant of “Conversos ,” i.e. Jews who sought to escape persecution
by the Spanish inquisition by becoming Catholics and then moving to Genoa in
Italy. Ericson found that Columbus inserted Hebrew words and letters into the
margins of his autobiography. Even if that means that Columbus was of Jewish
origin, he was not Jewish but a devout Catholic.
there were no Jews in the northern part of America, although some Jews had
settled in Recife, a province of Brazil when it was a Dutch colony. The
Dutch were Protestants. However, in 1654 some thirty Jews fled from Recife
because the Portuguese had invaded Recife and driven the Dutch out. The
Portuguese installed the Inquisition. The Jews the
traveled all the way to the Dutch colony of New Ansterdam, later invaded
by the Duke of York, who called it New York. There the first synagogue called
Shearit Yisroel, “The Remnants of Israel,” was founded.