Sept. 13 conference explores role of Jews in Columbus’s voyage to the New World

By Terry Gallagher
News and Information Services

The role of Jews and converted Jews in Christopher Columbus’ exploration of America will be the subject of a conference here Sunday (Sept. 13). The conference, “Jews and Conversos in the Encounter,” is part of a year-long observance of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage to the New World.

“Conversos (sometimes called New Christians, Marranos or Judeo-converts) were a class of people who came into existence in Spain during the Middle Ages due to intense pressures on Jews to convert to Christianity,” says Judith Laikin Elkin, a historian at the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and conference director.

“Midway between Judaism and Christianity, conversos usually remained in their traditional trades, including seafaring, and several conversos sailed with Columbus. Conversos also helped create the first maritime links between Europe and America,” Elkin says.

Speakers include Yitzhak Navon, a former president of Israel and currently a member of the Knesset, “who is a noted scholar as well as one of Israel’s premier statesmen,” Elkin says. Navon will speak on “The Sephardi Heritage” at 7:30 p.m. Askwith Auditorium, Lorch Hall. Zvi Y. Gitelman, the Preston R. Tisch Professor of Judaic Studies, will moderate a discussion following Navon’s talk.

An afternoon session on “Jews and Conversos in the Encounter” will begin at 1 p.m. in Askwith Auditorium. Featured will be talks on “Columbus and the Conversos” by Brooklyn College Prof. Angel Alcala, and “Jews and New Christians in Trans-Atlantic Trade” by Prof. Jonathan Israel of University College, London. A discussion to follow the talks will be moderated by Miriam E. Bodian, assistant professor of Judaic studies.

Other sessions in the year-long series, which is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, will take place on Nov. 8–9 and Dec. 6. For information, call the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, 763-5857.


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