Jews and Indians

By Matys Weiser

My attempt to find links and relations between Native Americans and Jewish people is not the first in history. It will be more a long essay than a complete work on this fascinating topic. There is only one purpose to it: to give the reader information about the people we meet over nearly the entire western United States. It will be a trip through time, as we follow the first settlers on this continent and then all those who followed.

Who Discovered America?

According to the Young Earth Creationist model of the history, the American continents separated from the Euro-Asio-African land mass at the time of Great Flood of Noah, as the result of the movement of continental tectonic plates which became fractured at the beginning of the Flood.

It was 1657 years from the Creation of the world according to Jewish calendar when the animals came to this separated land first. Some of them have relatives on other continents; others are unique to the Americas, or to specific regions in the Americas. This resembles the distribution model of the fauna on other continents as well. It is highly possible that a solid land connection existed between Siberia and Alaska for some time after Noah’s Flood. Without a doubt, an ice bridge connected America and Asia during the Ice Age.

It is unclear when the first people came to this continent, but it was certainly after 1996 when Hashem confused the languages of nations of the world. The Dor Hafluga was the last generation of people who all inhabited the same land and spoke the same language.

Native Americans resemble the nations of East Asia physiologically. If we assume that those nations are descendants of Yufes (Japheth), the son of Noah, we may assume Native Americans are, too. They were here first.

It is interesting that many Indian nations, in their oral traditions, have a memory of the Great Flood. Like the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, it only roughly resembles the story known from the Bible. However, the fact that all those stories from around the world speak of a flood of global proportions is significant. One detail told in some of those Indian tales is especially interesting: the role of the dog in saving of people surviving the Flood.

In our tradition, the dog was one of the passengers of the Ark, but was a rather negative character of the narrative. The dog broke the covenant of survival and is cursed with spiritual contamination for all of its descendants. Our tradition emphasizes the animosity between the dogs and chosen people. In Indian stories, it is the dog that informs humans about the coming Flood and, in some variations of the stories, helps them to survive. Among all the animals, it is dog that is remembered as the animal playing a significant role in the history of the Great Flood.

Other element of Native American tradition is of great importance: They have an oral tradition of coming from one place. We will come back to this topic, IYH. Meanwhile, lets dwell shortly on other different traditions. One American nation claims they came from the northwest, crossed the land of ice, then traveled south, and then again traveled in the direction of the sunset. Some of the Indian nations, including the Hopi, have a tradition of coming to these shores from the direction where the sun goes down:

[In] small boats of the reeds... Again they entrusted themselves to the water and the inner wisdom to guide them. For a long time they drifted with the wind and the movement of the waters and came to another rocky island... Alone they set out, traveling east and a little north, paddling hard day and night for many days as if they were paddling uphill.

At last they saw land. It rose high above the waters, stretching from north to south as far as they could see. A great land, a mighty land, their inner wisdom told them... Before long they landed and joyfully jumped out upon a sandy shore....

Looking to the west and the south, the people could see sticking out of the water the islands upon which they had rested. [Frank Waters, Book of the Hopi]


Rocky Pacific Coast

It is almost certain that some of the people came across the Pacific Ocean, perhaps first settling on some of the islands on this biggest of oceans. The earliest American Indian nations divided, but sometimes also merged. Consequently, they have different, sometimes conflicting, stories about the way how they arrived to this land--even within the same tribe. Some even claim they emerged from underground. Needless to say, those stories have no historical value. We can say the same about similar stories from Meso and South American Indians.

Leif Erickson

We all know of the American holiday called Columbus Day. How many of us know about the other discoverer of America—Leif Erickson, also called Leif the Lucky? How many know that October 9 is officially Leif Erickson Day? Erickson left his father’s Viking settlement on the Greenland and sailed along northern east coast of our continent.


Viking Dwellings - at L'Anse aux Meadows - Canada

He established a temporary settlement called Leifsbudir (“Leif’s storages”) on the land which he named Vineland. At least two archeological sites can be possibly identified as Leifsbudir, one in Canadian New Foundland and the other in Waquoit Bay, Massachusetts. Vikings remained on Greenland for approximately five hundred years, and left the island after climate cooled. They did not established steady settlements on the continent—at least not Leif’s group. Other Viking group under the command of Þorfinnur Karlsefn also attempted to establish settlements but sagas describe these efforts as unsuccessful. Leif’s nickname, Lucky--Hinn Heppeni, in Norse--emerged from the story when he rescued another group of Vikings sailing along the North American continent. Did any of them settle on the coast permanently? Not even Norse sagas provide such information. However…

Nahoolo and Ishta

Some of the eastern Indian nations like Choctaw, Chickasaw, and—perhaps better known—Cherokee have in their traditions that some lighter skin people were living in east part of today’s U.S. They were called Nahoolo, Nani, and Ishta, and according to tradition, they were descendants of priests and shamans equipped with extraordinary spiritual powers. Were they descendants of Vikings, living in America for five hundred years before Columbus came to these shores? No one knows.


Jew and Indians (not exactly)

Here, however, comes a twist.

Jewish Indians

A number of researchers, especially those among Native Americans, suggest that the lighter skin people called Ishta (tribe in Native American language) and Nani (people), are the children of the first white European voyagers, and perhaps even settlers from the time after Columbus’s discovery. According to this account, many of them were Conversos: Jews who converted to Chrisitanity under Spanish persecution.  

Some of those adventurers came from Anglo-Saxon lands and supposedly were also of Jewish blood. It is necessary to remember that from 1492--the year of Spanish Expulsion and the discovery of America by Christophoro Colon-Columbus--until the time when British colony Jamestown was established in Virginia in 1607 and the Mayflower anchored at Cape Cod in 1620, there were more than one hundred years of voyages and research expeditions by Spaniards, Portuguese, French, and Britons. Pirates also penetrated this land before any settlement had set root. Some of those people are documented to be Jewish and some remained in the land for some time.  

Columbus and his Jews

There is a serious suspicious that Columbus himself came from an Italian Jewish family that converted to Catholicism just a generation before he was born. Others insist that his family was originally Spanish and only moved to Genoa, Italy for business. Either claim could be true. At the time when tens of thousands of Jewish families were pressed to convert, changed their names, and often emigrated, it is impossible to trace most of the genealogies. It is documented, however, that some of the crew members on Columbus’s vessels were Jewish:

Columbus's connections with the Jews, New Christians, and Marranos, was not limited to court officials. There is the controversial matter that some of his shipmates were of Jewish stock.

Five crew members are generally singled out for this distinction: Alonso de la Calle, a bursar, who eventually settled in Hispaniola and whose very name indicates that he was born in the Jewish quarter; Rodrigo de Sanchez of Segovia, who was related to Gabriel Sanchez, the high treasurer of Aragon; Marco, the surgeon; Maestre Bernal of Tortosa, a physician who had been reconciled by the Inquisition in 1490, but was forced to witness his wife's death at the stake of an auto-da-fe; and Luis de Torres, the official interpreter of the expedition, who had been baptized a few days before the fleet sailed.

Torres had been specifically appointed by Columbus as interpreter because he knew Hebrew, Chaldean, and Arabic. This knowledge was expected to prove useful if the voyagers came across “Asiatic” descendants of the Ten Last Tribes of Israel. [Joseph Adler, Christopher Columbus's Voyage Of  Discovery:
Jewish and New Christian Element


It is also certain that after the arrival of the first Portuguese immigrants, Jews spread across America from the very beginning of the new conquest by western Europeans. Did they leave descendants among Native Americans? Some natives believe so.

Jews in the West

We skip a few hundred years.

After the American Revolution, the Louisiana Purchase, the cession of the western part of the U.S. from Mexico, the Annexation of Texas, and the acquisition of the Oregon Territories, masses of settlers moved west. Gold fever was one of defining moments in American History. This is how it is described by Jerry Klinger in his work, Jews & American West:

White men, black men, Oriental men, Christian, Buddhist, and Jew went to California to follow the golden opportunity. Some Jews were miners, but most were small businessmen and merchants. Some were doctors, some were lawyers. By 1870, 1/6 of San Francisco was estimated to be Jewish. By 1880, there were more Jews living in more small towns in California than in New York State.

Permanent Jewish houses of worship are visible physical facts of the Jews’ presence and participation in a community. If there was a minyan, a quorum of ten men, synagogues grew. Newspapers of the West were filled, especially around the Jewish high holidays, with advertisements for synagogue services. The hunger to maintain a Jewish link and worship G-d, whether in San Francisco or the dangerous silver mining community of Virginia City, Nevada, were a part of the Jew of the West.

Jew helped Jew on the frontier. A Jewish merchant network developed, evolving from itinerant backpacking peddlers to storefront merchants, eventually reaching from the frontier to New York to Europe.


1880 Town – South Dakota

Jewish Chief


Here we quote further from the work of Jerry Klinger, as his talented pen describes an incredible story:

Solomon Bibo arrived in the 1860's, joining his brothers and went to work for the Spielgelbergs in Santa Fe. He soon moved to Acoma, New Mexico, an Indian reservation south of Albuquerque. Bibo established a trading center that was respected for honesty and fair dealings by the Indians. Marriageable Jewish women were rare on the frontier. Most of the immigrants were single, young Jewish men. If a man wanted a wife he would have to try and send for a match to the East or even Europe.

For many Jewish men this was not realistic. For Solomon Bibo that was the case--he married a woman from the Acoma Indian tribe. Her name was Juanna. Unlike some tribes, the Acoma Indians elected their tribal chiefs to represent their interests against the encroachments of the outside world. They chose whom they felt would do the best for them. The Acoma Indians elected Solomon Bibo to be their Governor, to be their Chief in 1885. It was an extraordinary choice--a man who spoke Yiddish, Spanish, and Queres--their language. A man who had studied Talmud and Torah stood on the Acoma Pueblo Mesa and looked out over the Indian lands of the Acoma people had become an American Indian Chief.

Conflict soon arose between greedy, white land speculators and Bibo. Bibo was forced out of his position as Chief. He and his wife moved to San Francisco where he set up a small tobacco shop. Juanna converted to Judaism.


Indian Castle in the Neighborhood Where ‘Reb’ Bibo Ruled over the Indian Tribe


North Americans raised on old Hollywood movies believe that the original inhabitants of this land were primitive nomads living in the huts and tee-pees.

It is not well known that those movies were part of a propaganda campaign justifying the extermination of those nations or resettling them in reservations. Certain groups of white men saw themselves as the beacon of civilization and considered other people as unworthy of existence. (We Jews have experienced this first hand.) Beliefs such as these were based on the fact that some of the American nations were technologically unsophisticated. This was not however the case of some Southern-West indigenous nations.

Most known Indian masonry-stone settlements north of the Rio Grande are those of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. However, all over the southwest there are ruins of villages and cities build by Ancestral Pueblans also called Anasasi. Some of these towns may have housed as many as 5,000 inhabitants.


Group of Ancestral Pueblan’s Buildings

While visiting one group of such settlements, we were guided by the park rangers. Each village has rangers trained and taught information to share with visitors. Some of the explanations are aimed especially at elucidating what happened to those Native Americans who at a certain point in time left their villages. It is quite confusing to hear conflicting stories about villages located just few hundred yards apart--all told with the same confidence and certainty. Only in the last of the places we visited, the ranger started his explanation saying, “Today’s theory is as follows… but, I have to tell you that yesterday the story went… and I don’t know what I will be telling you tomorrow.”

Surprised by his honesty, we understood that there is no agreement among researchers and archeologists regarding the interpretation of their discoveries. It is simply impossible to tell a consistent story about civilizations without a written history, in particular when those nations were displaced or even exterminated. Such is the case of some of European civilizations, like Druids or people living in Slavic lands before Christianity, the same applies to American cultures. Viking sagas are an exception to this rule, due to fact that descendants of Vikings are living on the same land, speaking similar language, and the sagas--their oral tradition--was put on paper relatively early.


Face of the Rock Called ‘Newspaper’ covered with pictographs.


In our travels we may encounter a number of nations of "Original Americans" or “First People” as they like to be called.


Four Corners – Interstate and International spot in USA

In the Dakotas, it will be Cheyenne and Sioux people; in Montana, Crow, and Blackfoot; in Wyoming, you may say hello to the members of Shoshone and Arapaho nations. In Oregon and Washington, we meet several, small in number coastal nations, but also twelve nations of the Colville reservation and Yakima people. Colorado and central Utah are home to Ute people, for whom the state Utah takes its name. Most of American Nations, however, live in the southwest part of the country.


Laguna, Zuni, Hualapai, and Tohono are only few of the nations which are lesser known. Hopi, Paiute, Apache and their close cousins, the Navajo, are better known. Three of these peoples we encounter on a journey around the Grand Canyon. Those three distinguished nations once embodied three different modes of civilization.


Ferry across Lake Powell operated by Native Americans

The Southern Paiute

The Southern Paiute, as their name suggest, are a branch of a larger nation. In fact, most of the Paiute Indians are still living in northern Utah, Nevada, and Idaho, and all the way to Oregon. It is probably the most territorially dispersed Indian nation.

Their southern branch, living by the northern border of Arizona, today number only few hundred people. Decimated by their Navajo neighbors and later by Mormon settlers, those hunters gatherers were not warlike people. Many of them were captured and sold as slaves to Spaniards and later Mexicans. Others became slaves of Mormons. It was the Mormon invasion which finally brought them nearly to extinction.


Primitive Dwelling (Reconstruction)

When Mormons came with tens of thousands of their cattle, land which previously provided food for the Indian was quickly overgrazed and today what once was grassland with the beautiful tall grass waving on the wind, is desert overgrowth with dry sagebrush. After the U.S. government took over Utah territory, the quarrel over ownership of the land between Paiute and Mormons was ultimately solved. The land was taken away from the Mormon Church and later privatized or became federal or state land. The Indian reservation was created, where Paiute people today enjoy self-government. It is interesting that some of the traditional Mormon families are protected these days within borders of this reservation. However I cannot reveal more here (so as not to reveal their secrets).


Navajo is the largest Indian nation by population, and occupies the largest reservation. Navajo warriors were, since their earliest days, a threat to their neighbors and to white settlers. Those times are long past.


Jew and Indian

The Navajo people demonstrated their war skills during the WWII, when they served in the American army in the Pacific war theater as communicators. Japanese decoders were able to capture any American communications almost immediately after new codes were created for the Army. Cleverly, the army used American Indians, speaking their coded language, between army headquarters and field units, as well as between army units.

This action can not be overestimated. By some opinions, the aid of the Navajo Indians helped turn the scales of war in America’s favor. And it is necessarily to recall that all the Navajo had from the American government in the past was persecution, massacre, and attempts at genocide. Today Navajo people enjoy semi-independence and make their living from tourism, mining, crafts, and farming.


Navajo Guide

Some of the the country’s most beautiful natural features are located within the Navajo reservation and surrounding areas. The Navajo are rather friendly people, but they turn away when they feel someone wants to exploit them in any measure. In business deals, they usually switch from their southern English dialect to their native Navajo language. Yiddish speakers lose their advantage.


According to most of the claims, Anasazi people (those who were before, in Navajo) are extinct. So we were told in when we visited some Indian ruins. In other places, however, we hear that no such thing happened. Anasazi are Hopi, and they still exist. Exist where? In the middle of the Navajo reservation, surrounded by it, there they are: Hopi, Moqui, or Moenkopi territory.

Some researchers claim the Anasazi are ancestors of several Southwest nations. Whoever compares Anasazi and Hopi architecture, pottery, and other art crafts, can see the similarities with a layman’s eye. Anasazi architecture varies. It would be more correct to call them rather Anasazi peoples than people. However, what can be found in Mesa Verde National Park or Navajo National Monument--the building styles, tools, and pots with their characteristic design--all resemble those used by Hopi people today.


Mesa Verde National Park

Those builders of this rich and ancient culture came probably ages ago from the southern part of our continent and, before that, from across the Pacific. Today Hopi people number only a few thousand. In their recent history, they experienced some painful divisions resulted from the approach of American culture and civilization. Some of the Hopi saw Americanization as the threat to their own existence; others sought to use modernity for advancement of their people. This kind of quarrel seems to be common not only for the world’s oldest nation, but also among the younger ones.

All of the Native American which I encounter on my journeys were very friendly and welcoming. While most of the Americans confuse me, with my Hasidic appearance, for Amish, many times after explaining to Indians that in fact I belong to one of the Jewish groups of people, they greet me with smile and “Shalom.”

Above written and pictographic material can be used for free by anyone, however it would be a propriety to mention from where it was taken and who the author is.