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The Untold Story of Jews and the First Thanksgiving

November 19, 2015 | by Marnie Winston-Macauley

Joachim Gaunse, the brilliant metallurgist, was the first Jew to set foot on English soil in North America.

As you, my darling readers know, I’m a research nut, especially when it comes to Jewish culture. So I was thinking, you may not be aware of “The Jewish–Native Connection” to the very first Thanksgiving. The basic facts below are true, for example, there was a Joachim Gaunse, Squanto was kidnaped by a man named Hunt, pigeons were served, and the Wampanoag Confederacy means “Easterners.” And yes, Hellie” and “Fear-not” were Puritan names, which is no doubt one of the reasons you haven’t seen a Puritan since 1730. So, I thought why not blend the research with my fertile (OK, futile?) brain and “reconstruct” the first Thanksgiving my way. Enjoy!

I’ve blended my research with me fertile brain and reconstructed the first Thanksgiving my way.

We start with the year 1620 which was not so terrific for the 102 pilgrims who, on the Mayflower, got lost and wound up around Plymouth, Massachusetts instead of Virginia. Had they had a Jewish navigator maybe they would have found it. Then again, maybe not. After all, Columbus had a bunch of Jews aboard and thought Cuba was Asia, which we now know started the bubbe-meise about Jews and directions. But I digress.

When they looked outside, the group got nervous about all that wilderness, plus the weather wasn’t too good. So, they stayed on the ship -- for months. What can you grow on a boat except barnacles?

Finally, the one lone Jew on the Mayflower, Yossel Gaunse, son of Joachim Gaunse, the brilliant metallurgist who Sir Walter Raleigh shlepped to The New World thereby becoming the first recorded Jew to set foot on English soil in North America, turned and said: “My Puritanical shipmates. Virginia? Massachusetts? … Big deal! Let’s get off this farshtinkener boat already, nu?”

OK, so they settled in the Plymouth wilderness. Two Natives saw them mess up bigtime. As it happens, one, Squanto of the Patuxet tribe knew English. The pilgrims were suspicious, as he learned it because he was kidnapped by a Brit named Hunt some years earlier. It was Yossel-the-Jew who convinced them: “Listen … we already weigh 60 pounds and don’t feel so good. What do we have to lose?” The group’s leader, Governor William Bradford, who didn’t exactly trust Jews either, was in a double quandary. But then he thought about the two: “Stupid, they’re not. Survivors they are.” So he made nice with them.

The Indians, in good spirits showed them things like: Not planting corn in mud holes, getting rid of maggots, and making sure their stalks didn’t fall over and become deformed.

Oh, the joy! Corn was popping in Plymouth. And did they eat! Corn soup, corn bread, Cornish hens. Finally, Yossel-the-Jew of course suggested: “You know, we should throw a banquet in someone’s honor.” And so the first Thanksgiving was the result of a properly raised Jew. The only argument was whom to honor. They picked the Governor’s wife. (Who else?) Yossel insisted they also honor the Chief’s squaw, Moondancer.

His diaries in Hebrew were recently found by the WJB (WouldJewBelieve) Institute in Israel. The entries were astonishing and supported what We Jews already suspected. That there’s a strong connection between Us and Native Americans … all of which started, thanks to Yossel-the-Jew’s suggestion they organize a banquet with an honoree.

While the Puritans gorged Yossel-the-Jew and Squanto sat and exchanged Schnapps and fire water – along with mutual suggestions and answers to questions that Yossel-the-Jew and Squanto took back to their people. (OK, some took, some didn’t.) I give you this priceless slice of maybe-could be history today.


EXCERPT 1. ”Geography”

Squanto: So Joe … what’s up with calling us “Indians”? Our big tribe means “Easterners.” We name for where we live like normal people.

Yossel-the-Jew: Oy, I apologize. Originally, Columbus was headed for the “East Indies” and—

Squanto: Wait … they were going to South East Asia?!

Yossel-the-Jew: They got a little lost.

Squanto: “A little,” is maybe landing in Bhutan, but how could they lose a whole ocean?!

Yossel-the-Jew: Directions. Mrs. Columbus tried, believe you me, to give the man a map. Would he listen? Columbus couldn’t find his way out of Pamplona. He was gored by bulls 13 times. Anyway, so now you know why we call you “Indians.”

Squanto: Thank The Great Spirit, they weren’t looking for Bialyastan.

Yossel-the-Jew: So you’d be the “Bialys” – could be worse.

EXCERPT 2. “Names?”

Yossel-the-Jew: While we’re on the subject, what’s with “Squanto?” You have cataracts? No, from now on I’m calling you … “Neshomeleh.” And your tribe? “Patuxet?” It sounds like “farflucket” which if it were Yiddish, trust me … people would think you were the ones who got lost. Better you should change it to … “Neshomeh.”

Squanto: I’ll take it up at the next big tribal council.

Yossel-the-Jew: A “council?” So how many are in a council?

Squanto: A hundred and two, give or take. Once a year they make “decisions.” You wouldn’t believe the hatcheting that goes on! The Southern tribes? Conservative, especially with the head dresses. Then the Western ones? Nuts with the bows and arrows. The North? They still live in igloos. Not one thing they decided in 14,000 years …

EXCERPT 3. Wise “Counsel”

Yossel-the-Jew: Wait. You mean to say only once a year with 102-give-or-take people is how you make decisions with all those meshugoyim?! I have one word for you. “COMMITTEES.” They should meet once a week to talk about … wigwams, the rain, the sun … should we catch deer or bison? Keep the machers busy. Don’t forget to serve popcorn.

EXCERPT 4. “Children”

Yossel-the-Jew: Listen, I noticed, on her back, your squaw carried your little kinder in a very attractive sling …

Squanto: A papoose. I made it from fox. She loves it. Very handy when she’s picking squash.

Yossel-the-Jew: Now this is some invention! My wife alone would take three! In mink. The only problem? For our son Meir, not only would she turn it in front, she’d glue it!

Squanto: Glue it?! Then she’d carry him until he’s a brave? How could he be a warrior!

Yossel-the-Jew: Exactly.

EXCERPT 4. “Celebrating”

Yossel-the-Jew: So, Neshomeleh, I must tell you … your tepees … excellent idea!

Squanto: Yeah, well, we move around a lot where the buffalo roam.

Yossel-the-Jew: Tell me about it … where the Jew-haters roam. This idea, too I’ll bring back home.

Squanto: Don’t forget … always carry a pole.

Yossel-the-Jew: Even better … we can set up a chuppah while we’re running. And listen … your people, instead of all this mishegoss with the boiled cranes, swans, and passenger pigeons, which frankly, I wouldn’t touch … can enjoy the harvest with a little kreplach, a nice salad … challah. The best part? You won’t have to sit next to Puritan people named “Helly” and “Fear-not.” In fact, you can even make a festival in your teepee – but “teepee?” For Jews, this is not a great game of word association. Call it a Sukkah!

EXCERPT 5. “The Dance”

Yossel-the-Jew: I noticed while you were pow-wowing, the dancing. So much spinning … in a circle yelling "Heya-heya-heya-heya!" Loved it! We also have such music. Instead of your song, which to be honest, could use better lyrics, when you’re rain dancing, try singing: “Mayim - Mayim - Mayim – Mayim.”

Squanto: So what does this profound word mean?

Yossel-the-Jew: What else? “WATER.” Simple! Keep is simple, but specific!

And from that day on, thanks to Yossel-the-Jew and Neshomeleh nee Squanto, new traditions were forged, lasting friendships made – and the Jews of Europe got a huge discount on leather yarmulkes.

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