Our Jewish European ancestors lived in a world where language skills were often a necessity of life.
First there was their native tongue, based on their country of residence.
Then there was Yiddish or Ladino, the language of their culture.
Finally, Hebrew, for ritual needs.
Many of our forefathers traveled as salesmen, peddlers and traders, requiring they learn at least the rudiments of their customers’ language in neighboring countries.
They learned the art of gestures and reading facial expressions.
A Land of Babel – The Early Wild West
Jewish Pioneers found themselves in the American Wild West where, in the early years, there was no common language.
These adventurers experienced what it must have been like to live in the land of Babel, where many different languages abounded.
Spanish – Mexican-Spanish – was the most common Western language in mid-1800s.
But once the territory became a part of the United States, everyone knew that English would eventually become the basic language.
Meanwhile German, French, Swedish, Polish and Italian were also common.
Here we stood, used to listening carefully, watching faces and hand gestures, and picking up the language of our customers.
Perhaps it was in our genes.
Not only did we pick up the various languages spoken in our own Western town, but we usually succeeded in picking up the language of the local natives. In doing so, we often formed very close relationships with our local Indian tribes.
Jews were so successful in dealing fairly and honestly with Indians that it often caused animosity with other non-Jewish Indian traders.
Our reputation among the Indians was so high that one Jewish merchant, Solomon Bibo, was elected Chief of the Acama Indian tribe in New Mexico and held the position for thirteen years —until it became time to move to San Francisco where his boys could become Bar Mitzvot.
To this day, a number of the Tribal Judges in the Pacific Northwest are Jewish – at the request of the tribes.
Language skills by the Jewish Pioneers helped greatly in their early success in the Wild West.
from Why the Jews were So Successful in the Wild West, David W. Epstein, Isaac Nathan Publishing