Book Review: Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean
Christopher Columbus and Jean Lafitte were Jewish?
You gotta be kiddin' me!
Edward Kritzler, author of The Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, is not kidding. He documents his narrative of exiles searching for a safe harbor with forty-five pages of notes, a four page chronology, and a web site:www.jewishpiratesofthecaribbean.com.
Sir Neville Noel Ashenheim, Jamacia's first Ambassador to the United States, verifies the genealogy of Columbus while a hand-written letter from Lafitte confirms his maternal grandmother was a "Spanish-Israelite". Kritzler has lived in Jamaica for over ten years and has written hundreds of articles while assembling the research for this book.
The chronology helps organize events from 1492 through 1675. On the day that Columbus sailed, the Jews were forced to leave Spain; ethnic cleansing had begun. Two story lines drive the narrative: the search of a safe place to establish a home for the Jewish and the search for Columbus's gold. As the story unfolds we meet and follow the exploits of characters whose progeny will eventually produce the brothers who make the New World safe for their people. (Don't worry, there are no "begats".)
I found the chronology especially helpful as the events describing over 200 years often required the author to back-track or jump forward. It reminded me of my first viewing of Pulp Fiction. Kritzler does an admirable job in alerting the reader to the interruptions with important side stories. Titles of chapters indicate romance, adventure and revenge with phrases like: "the pirate rabbi", "Zion warriors", "heretic island", and "buccaneers". Readers expecting Jack Sparrow or Michael Crichton yarns will be disappointed. This is a well documented historical document about a time and place which Kritzler himself says, "begs for a novelist". Oi vey! The side stories add charm and romance to what could have been a dull recitation of genealogy and historical data. We learn the origin of the term, "amazon women", meet the real "Dutch Masters" and ride with the only crew in two centuries to capture the Spanish gold fleet. Included, also, is the story of an indentured servant who made a notorious name for himself in the New World and was later knighted by King Charles II of England.
The island of Jamaica, once owned by Columbus and his heirs, became a home for pirates that had initially found refuge on Tortuga. Many of these men had been hunters that barbequed their game on open fires called "boucan". These buccaneers soon switched from hunting animals to hunting the Spanish. They joined forces with a strict set of rules and became dreaded warriors. By the time Henry Morgan arrived, the "Golden Age of Piracy" was primed. From 1666 to 1670, under Morgan's leadership, pirates operating out of Port Royal relieved the Spanish of their wealth. In an ironic twist of fate, the marauding buccaneers used the same tactics as had the Inquisition (and in many cases, the same tools). Kritzler reports that with the favor of the island's governor and the financial support of Jewish merchants, Morgan's gang "attacked and plundered 18 cities, four towns, 35 villages, and unnumbered ships."
Dozen's of characters from desperate targets of the Spanish Inquisition to royalty of France, Spain, and England come and go throughout the story, but the primary focus is on the Cohen Brothers (obviously NOT the present day movie producers). Descendants of a rabbi who became a pirate himself, these brothers--during a twenty year span in the late 1600's--would, according to Kritzler, "..win most of the freedoms that Jews in the West enjoy today."