In grade school, we learned about Marco Polo. He brought spaghetti from Italy to China. (Or is it the other way around?) And all the Italians in our class ran proudly to their parents to tell them about the great paesano.
So how come we never learned about Benjamin of Tudela?
The Navarerese rabbi predated Polo by over a century. He set off on a journey to the Holy Land, but took the long route, exploring the Arabian peninsula and North Africa. Upon his return, he documented his travels, describing the local customs, sites, and landmarks.
So no, we can't claim Marco Polo. (Nor do we want to. Spaghetti? Big freaking deal!) Columbus is a reach. Magellan, da Gama, de Soto... No Jews there. But we'll gladly have the rabbi: he preceded them all.
Now, if we could only change the grade school curriculum before our kids start learning.