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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘ship’

Torah Is The Greatest Treasure

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2011

Beware Of Pride The inhabitants of Simonia once came to Rav Yehuda HaNasi (also known as Rebbe) and asked him to recommend a scholar to serve as their rav, dayan, teacher and sofer.  Rebbe sent them Levi ben Sisi.  When Ben Sisi came to the city, its inhabitants greeted him with great joy and paid him much honor.  They erected a large platform and enthroned him there.

Then they approached him and asked a variety of questions.  Eagerly they waited for the great scholar to demonstrate to them his great knowledge.  However, to their great surprise, Levi ben Sisi did not open his mouth.

The people of the city were shocked, but said:

“He may not be a great scholar in the law, but he might be a great preacher, well versed in parables and morality stories.”

SoO they asked him about some fables and parables and stories of the rabbanim.  Again, Levi ben Sisi did not answer them.

Angrily, the people came to Rebbe complaining.  “What kind of man did you send us,” they asked?  Did we not ask you to recommend a great scholar?  The man you sent to us does not know anything.”

Rebbe was surprised to hear this.  He said to the people:  “Believe me, the man I sent to you knows as much as I do.  I am going to find out what has happened to him.”

Rebbe called Levi ben Sisi before him and asked him the same legal problems which the people had asked and lo and behold, ben Sisi gave him an immediate reply.  Rebbe then asked him to narrate some fables and parables and again he received an immediate reply.

Rebbe was quite puzzled and asked:  “If you know all the answers, why didn’t you tell them to the people of Simonia?”

Levi ben Sisi answered:  “When I came into the town the people received me with great honor.  They erected a large platform and enthroned me there.  I felt greatly honored and pride swelled up in my breast.  I became exceedingly proud of my learning and then as a consequence and punishment for my pride I had forgot all that I had learned.  When the people came to me with their questions, I could not answer them.”

 

Rav’s Gifts Arteban, king of the Persians, sent a precious pearl to Rav.  He wrote to him: “I am sending you a precious gift.  Give me a gift of equal value.”

Thereupon Rav sent him a mezuzah.

Arteban sent back to Rav saying; “I have sent you something of great value, and you send me something which can be acquired for little money.”

Rav replied: “The two objects we have exchanged cannot be compared in value.  You sent me something which I must guard, and I sent you something which, even while you sleep, keeps watch over you.  As it is written: ‘when you walk it shall lead you; when you rest it shall keep you’” (Tehillim 6:22).

The Priceless Merchandise Chazal compare the knowledge of Torah to priceless merchandise that we need never fear will be stolen or lost. They narrate the following story:

Once a rav boarded a ship to travel to a distant land. Aboard the ship were many merchants who proudly displayed their wares. One merchant had the finest silks, another the widest varieties of spices, and another diamonds and jewelry.

Seeing the rav standing empty-handed they asked him, “What are your wares, O fellow traveler?”

“I have the finest of all merchandise,” he replied. “Mine is far more superior to any of your goods. I deal in knowledge and wisdom.”

Eyes To See

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Some years ago, I came across a Polish-Jewish newspaper published in the early thirties. It was a time when the winds of anti-Semitism were blowing throughout Europe, with particular force in Poland. I searched through every page of the paper and was appalled to find not even a hint of the tragedy that was looming for the Jewish people.

The columns focused on the Yiddish theater, advice for personal problems, and generally meaningless news.

Here we are decades later, what do the media focus on now? Politicians enmeshed in salacious scandals, the trial of the barbaric killing of a little girl, allegedly by her own mother, etc. Take an objective look at American society and you will behold a vapid, decadent culture, disintegrating family life, failing government, a broken economy.

It is against this background that we see the greatest threat facing the Jewish people, with the clock quickly ticking away. The life of our Jewish state is hanging by a thread. That which Hitler did in the space of years can now, G-d forbid, come to pass in just minutes with the push of a button.

There are, to be sure, those who share my fears, but the great majority of people refuse to hear, to see, to understand. Even as in pre-Holocaust Europe it was more convenient to ignore reality, so today people choose to look away from that which is unfolding before their very eyes. People assure one another that when push comes to shove, Americans will never abandon Israel, that America will not lose its sense of direction and will continue to champion the cause of freedom. They point to the killing of bin Laden and convince themselves that all is well.

I urge such people to remove, if even for a moment, their rose-colored glasses. Try to absorb that which is playing out before our eyes. Yes, bin Laden was taken out, but there are real questions as to how major a player he still was. Today there are new gangsters on the block but, tragically, we refuse to recognize them. The U.S. and NATO may be pounding away at Libya, but Khaddafi has become a minor player. The real killers are being ignored or given a pass.

Consider what is happening in Syria, where the authorities are torturing and killing their own people. Imagine what they would do to Jews if given the opportunity. This holds true not only for Syria, but for other Arab countries as well. And yet the world welcomes the new killers and refers to the revolutionary mobs of the so-called Arab Spring as liberators.

And look at the revolution in Egypt. As I noted in a previous column, the protestors in Egypt were regarded by many as the very symbol of the Arab Spring. But those same Egyptian mobs barbarically attacked a female CBS correspondent – to shouts of “Jew! Jew!” – and savagely attacked their fellow citizens of Christian faith along with their churches.

Then there’s Iran. Just a short while ago, brave Iranians took their lives in their hands and rebelled against Ahmadinejad and his totalitarian government, only to be quickly beaten into silence. Here again, the silence of the world was deafening.

Not to worry, we are told. Bin Laden has been killed and we are pounding away at Libya. There is no reason not to be confident about the future.

But if you truly love your people and are willing to behold the real world, you must shudder. While America is busy with its scandals and the West is increasingly coming under the sway of its growing Muslim populations, Ahmadinejad is brewing enriched uranium, the potion designed for the annihilation of Israel.

Those in the know are aware that this is not blind speculation but tragic, stark reality. And even more tragic is that there is no one to stop Ahmadinejad. The U.S. will not attack Iran, and Israel cannot go it alone.

What, then, are we to do?

We Jews know that everything comes from Hashem- that it is G-d who directs and controls the hearts of kings and leaders. We Jews know that “all suffering that is visited upon mankind is sent to awaken our people.” Yes, this is a wake up call for us to return to our covenant – to G-d Himself.

There are those who, upon reading this, will smile indulgently or even sarcastically and say, “There they go again, those religious Jews!” But I am smiling back at them. Here is my response:

“Tell me, if you can, how else if not for G-d’s intervention did we, a tiny, insignificant people scattered throughout the world, tortured and oppressed, survive the savage onslaughts of the nations? How is it that we have witnessed the rise and fall of great empires who had sworn to obliterate us while we are still here, more vibrant than ever?”

So why am I worried?

Because as much as I believe with all my heart and soul that G-d’s covenant with our people is eternal and will never be severed, I also know there is a terrible price to be paid if that covenant is not guarded and kept.

In Bergen-Belsen, as I stood for role call every morning, I didn’t know if I myself would live, but my saintly father, HaRav HaGaon HaTzaddik Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, zt”l, imbued me with faith and I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that Am Yisrael Chai – the Jewish people would live and thrive.

At the same time, however, I knew our suffering was more than any other nation ever experienced. (Though I never dreamed the end result of that suffering would be six million dead Jews.) It is because of this that I picked up my pen. It is because of this that I cry out in the hope people will hear and once again embrace the Divine Covenant.

To those who ask, “What about all the religious Jews who perished in the Holocaust?” I would simply respond that it is written, “And each man shall fall because of his brother .”

We are a nation on one ship; if a man drills a hole under his seat, the entire ship will sink.

If you are a Jew, take a good look at yourself and ask, in this time of crisis as we come to the final chapter in Jewish history that will bring the Messiah, “Am I among those guarding the ship, or am I drilling a hole?”

Just The Facts, Ma’am

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010
The trusty folks at CAMERA have assembled a handy guide to the falsehoods and facts surrounding the Gaza flotilla. Some salient excerpts:
Falsehood: The purpose of the anti-Israel activists’ trip to Gaza was to deliver essential humanitarian aid to Palestinians.
Fact: Organizers of the trip have themselves made clear this isn’t true. “This mission is not about delivering humanitarian supplies,” saidorganizer and anti-Israel activist Greta Berlin. Instead, she explained, it is about ending Israel’s blockade in order to allow unfettered shipments to the Hamas-ruled territory.
At any rate, Israel delivers more goods to Gaza in one week (roughly 15,000 tons) than the flotilla organizers claimed to be bringing (10,000 tons). And according to the Financial Times, “shops all over Gaza are bursting with goods” thanks to the active smuggling tunnels leading into the territory from Egypt.
Falsehood: This was a flotilla of “peace activists.”
Fact: The most prominent organizers of the flotilla have strongly backed violence. And even if some passengers thought they were involved in a peace mission, video evidence clearly shows passengers on the Mavi Marmara planning, and engaging in, brutal violence.
The two main organizers of the voyage were the Turkish Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which has worked closely with terrorist organizations, and the Free Gaza Movement, which is strongly linked to the extremist International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
Falsehood: Naval blockades are not permitted under international law.
Fact: Naval blockades are legal. They have long been part of customary and even conventional international law, and the relevant legal doctrines were reviewed and codified in the 1994 San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea.
Falsehood: It is not permissible to stop a merchant ship, as opposed to an army ship.
Fact: According to the San Remo Manual, merchant ships violating a blockade may be stopped, or even attacked. Article 98 states: “Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked.”
Falsehood: Israel violated international law when it stopped the ships in international waters.
Fact: Legal experts cited by Reuters notethat “Under the law of a blockade, intercepting a vessel could apply globally so long as a ship is bound for a ‘belligerent’ territory.”
Falsehood: Israel prevents essential humanitarian items such as baby formula from entering the Gaza Strip.
Fact: Israel facilitates the transfer of thousandsof tonsof humanitarian items per week into Gaza, including baby formula.
Falsehood: Israeli soldiers descended on the ship from helicopters and immediately attacked with machine guns innocent passengers sleeping on the deck.
Fact: Video footageclearly demonstrates that this is a lie. The footage, shot from different angles, shows Israeli soldiers landing on the ship being immediately and violently assaulted by gangs of passengers awaiting them on deck. The attack on the Israeli soldiers began, as retired British Marine Officer Peter Cook acknowledgedon British television, while the first Israeli soldier still had both of his hands on the rope being used to lower him onto the ship.
            Cook also said the large Israeli weapon seen in video footage appeared to be a paintball gun, which corresponds with Israel’s assertion that these were the primary weapons soldiers brought onto the ship.
Falsehood: Passengers on the Mavi Marmara were engaged in “peaceful resistance,” had no weapons, and did not violently attack Israeli soldiers.
Fact: Video footage shows, among other acts of violence, a passenger stabbingan Israeli soldier, gangs of passengers pummeling soldiers with metal rods and other objects, and a soldier being thrown off a high deck.

Testimony from both Israelisoldiersand activist passengersdescribes pistols being taken from injured soldiers. The ship’s captain reportedly told Israeli soldiers that the violent passengers threw their guns overboard before the ship was completely taken over.

 

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Two More Boats On Way To Gaza

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

JERUSALEM – In the wake of Israel’s military operation against the Mavi Marmara (see main story, page 1), IDF General Staff Operations Commander Col. Itzik Turjeman told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tuesday that two additional Hamas-supporting ships were on their way to Gaza. He said they too would be intercepted, hinting that electronic means might be used.

Asked why the Marmara was not stopped by the Navy without risking helicopter-borne soldiers rappelling down onto the ship, Turjeman said the Marmara was too large and heavy to have been physically blocked by navy ships.

MK Tzachi HaNegbi (Kadima), chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, opened the session by noting that “After Operation Cast Lead, the government decided to impose a maritime blockade on Gaza and that all cargo headed for Gaza would be checked first in the Ashdod port This issue is a matter of total consensus in Israel, and the reason is the sense of injustice that we all feel, the cynicism and hypocrisy that typify the attack on the State of Israel, and the sense we all have that the IDF’s operation yesterday was logical and ethical.

“We left Gaza five years ago, yet for years we have been attacked from Gaza, and our soldier Gilad Shalit is still being held in a dark dungeon in Gaza. We therefore feel that we have the right to act in the way we did.”

Acknowledging that many questions remain concerning the military operation, the intelligence that preceded it, and the PR efforts that followed, HaNegbi said “we will insist on investigating these matters and receiving answers.”

Several of the pro-Hamas activists wounded on the Marmara ship were hospitalized in several hospitals throughout Israel, guarded by military police. Dozens of others arrested after being taken off the flotilla’s ships were being questioned; some were being sent home, among them an American citizen.

Among those removed from the ships was Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel. He originally was thought to have been injured on the boat, leading to some Israeli-Arab rioting and much media speculation, but he is now known to be safe and sound.

Arab MK Hanin Zouabi (Balad) was on board the ship as well but was released because of her parliamentary immunity, infuriating some Knesset Members. “Our democracy has lost its direction,” said MK Aryeh Bibi (Kadima). “We’ve reached the point where Arab citizens and MKs do whatever they wish. Zouabi’s parliamentary immunity must be removed and she should be arrested. I’d like to see her try similar protests in Arab countries let her join the Hamas regime in Gaza.”

MK Danny Danon (Likud) said, “Zouabi and her Hamas friends boarded this flotilla as [martyrs] who said that they knew they might die in the course of harming IDF soldiers. Instead of making peace, Zouabi started war on board the ship. Terror activists like her must not be permitted to return to the Knesset.”
(INN)

It’s My Opinion: Never Again

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

In 1939 the Nazi regime was gaining a terrifying momentum.  Nine-hundred-and-thirty Jews tried to flee the nightmare that was about to descend.  The SS St. Louis sailed from Germany.  The terrified passengers knew what was happening.  They were desperate.  

 

The Jews on the St. Louis carried visas to Cuba, the only harbor available to them.  However, even before the ship entered the port of Havana, they were told that the Cuban Government had changed its mind.

 

The St. Louis came close enough to the coast of Miami that the refugees could see the lights of the city.  That sight proved to be just a cruel and ironic tease.

 

Incredibly, these innocent men, women and children were refused sanctuary by President Roosevelt and the United States of America.  The U.S. Coast Guard vessels that accompanied the St. Louis were not there to protect her or escort her to the shores of America.  Their presence was to assure that no Jews would jump overboard and escape. 

 

The Jewish community in America offered politely worded pleas.  The Jewish leadership failed to mount the type of irate and massive protests and demonstrations that would grab front-page headlines and shame Roosevelt into capitulating.  The 930 were shipped back to the hell that awaited them. 

 

The message was clear.  The Nazis now knew that no one really cared about the fate of the Jews.  The Jews now knew that even if they wished to escape, no one was willing to take them in.

 

How could such a shameful incident have happened?  The answers are compelling.  The economy was bad.  The country was reeling from a depression.  Americans were hesitant to take on refugees when jobs and assets were scarce.  Jewish leadership was weak and unwilling to take strong and unpopular stands. Denial of the extent of the danger involving world politics was rampant.   

 

Recently, a 70th anniversary of the St. Louis was commemorated at the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida.  It was the very location that the ill-fated passengers gazed upon before they were returned to Germany.  The surviving 33 passengers attended the event.

 

There are many parallels today that mirror the circumstances that allowed the tragedy of the St. Louis to occur. As Jews, we must be especially vigilant to keep our guard up and stay informed about what is happening in the world. 

 

We are told that people who do not learn from their history are destined to repeat it.  Never again is more than a slogan.  It is a message that needs to be internalized and acted upon.  

Mordecai Sheftall – Revolutionary War Patriot

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

   In Savannah, Georgia, there is a memorial to the American Revolution called Battlefield Memorial Park. One of the markers there is for Colonel Mordecai Sheftall.
   As deputy commissary general of issues for Georgia and South Carolina, Col. Sheftall was the highest-ranking Jewish officer during the Revolutionary War. He was captured by the British in the Battle of Savannah and imprisoned for two years.
   Sheftall’s parents, Benjamin and Perla, were among the first 42 Jews to arrive in Savannah on July 11, 1733. Mordecai was born on December 2, 1735. His mother passed away the following October, and his father married Hannah Solomons in 1738. In 1739 Hannah gave birth to Mordecai’s half-brother Levi.
   The Sheftalls were Orthodox Jews, despite the difficulties of maintaining religious observance in a city like Savannah that had a very small Jewish population.
   When Mordecai became bar mitzvah, his father had neither a siddur nor a pair of tefillin for him. Such religious items had to come from abroad, and King George’s War (1740-1748) made it difficult for British ships to come to Georgia.

   Benjamin’s anguish at the thought that son would be improperly prepared for full-fledged membership in the Jewish community is reflected in a March 1748 note to his friends in England (spelling and wording of the original have been preserved):

  

            As I have received some letters five days ago from one of our relation, Samule, who writes me that you was so good as to send mee some books and other things, which I to my misfortune never have received, and as I do not no [know] which way they wear [were] sent, nor no [know] the name of the captain or the name of the ship, so I can’t enquier for them. I hope your honour will soon find it out wether that ship is taken by an enemy or lost at sea.

            If she is not taken nor lost, I hop your honour will let me no [know] where to inquier for them. I live [leave] your honour to guess in what grife I am in to be so misfortenabel, my eldest son binq [being] three months ago thirten years of age and I not to have any frauntlets [phylacteries] nor books fit for him. I won’t troubel your houner with much writing, for my heart is full of grife. [On Love, Marriage, Children and Death, collected and edited by Jacob R. Marcus, Society of Jewish Bibliophiles 1965]

 

   This letter demonstrates Benjamin’s determination to raise his children as observant Jews, despite the obstacles of living in a place where there were few Jewish families and no formal Jewish education.

   

            [Mordecai] Sheftall was only eleven years old when his formal education ended, for lack of schools. By the time he was seventeen, he had begun what was to be a highly successful career as a merchant, buying and tanning deerskins to sell at a profit. When he was just eighteen years old, he had accumulated enough money to purchase fifty acres in Vernonburg, near Savannah.
            Throughout his life, Sheftall speculated in real estate. His pre-Revolution holdings were immense. Well-connected with friends and family in mercantile and shipping in England; the Caribbean; Charleston, South Carolina; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he developed a network of contacts to help build up his own business by his mid-twenties. Sheftall married Frances Hart, the sister of one of his Charleston merchant contacts, in 1761. The couple had six children, all but one living to adulthood. A year after their marriage, they owned 1,000 acres of land and nine slaves. Sheftall took up cattle ranching, acquiring another 1,000 acres in St. George Parish (later Burke County) in 1767 for grazing and timber harvesting. The cattle business led to his building a tanning facility with his half-brother Levi, and in 1768 the Georgia Houses of Assembly appointed him Inspector of Tanned Leather for the Port of Savannah.

            . In 1772 he donated one and a half acres of land for the establishment of Georgia’s first large Jewish cemetery. Known familiarly as the Sheftall Cemetery until the mid-1800s, it was open to all Jews in good standing with their community. [www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/ArticlePrintable.jsp?id=h-3183]

 

   By nature a political activist, Mordecai strongly supported the colonies in their differences with England and played a key role in the political affairs of Georgia.

  

            During the summer of 1775, when the crisis between the recalcitrant colonies and unrelenting Britain was moving steadily beyond the possibility of a compromise solution, Mordecai Sheftall served in Savannah as chairman of the “Parochial Committee,” comparable to the county committees of safety in other colonies. Conscientiously enforcing the First Continental Congress’s boycott of British goods, Mordecai’s committee prevented ships from unloading their cargoes and offered “fresh insults” to British authority everyday.

            In October, 1775, “Committee Men,” among whom were Mordecai and Levi Sheftall, entered the Customs House and demanded that the officials on duty hand over the ship’s papers of the sloop Charlotte so that they could send the ship, which customs officials had seized, on its way. When their demand was rejected, the “Committee Men” forced the locks on the desks in the office, rummaged “for the space of two hours,” and took the Charlotte’s papers . 1

  

   The following summer, colonial resistance became all-out war.

   

            In 1777 Sheftall was appointed commissary-general to the troops of Georgia and to the Continental troops also; in October of the following year he became “Deputy Commissary of Issues in South Carolina and Georgia”; and he figured as a staff-officer in the Continental line of the Georgia brigade during the war [with the rank of colonel, making him the highest ranking Jewish officer on the American side]. When the British attacked Savannah in 1778, Sheftall not only took an active part in its defense, but he also advanced considerable sums of money for the American cause. After the city had been taken he was captured, but he resisted all inducements to give up the cause of liberty; as a result he suffered severely from persecution on the part of the British, and was placed on board a prison-ship. The British appear to have spoken of Sheftall as “a very great rebel.”2

  

   In 1780 Sheftall was freed in a prisoner exchange and then made his way to Philadelphia, where he was eventually reunited with his wife and children. While residing in Philadelphia, he became one of the founders of Congregation Mikveh Israel in 1782.
   Unfortunately, Sheftalls’ financial situation was not good. Mordecai asked Congress to have consideration for a man who had “sacrificed everything in the cause of his country.” He requested back pay due him, but was willing to settle for the repayment of funds he’d contributed to the war effort.

   The Sheftalls, who loved Georgia, returned to Savannah in December 1782, five months after the British left.

  

            Mordecai was approaching fifty years of age now, but the ordeal of war, even with the suffering and sacrifice it had imposed, had changed him little. He was still the energetic businessman, the dedicated family man, the political activist, the friend of the poor, the devotee of his religion, and the leader of the Jewish community.
            There were about fifteen Jewish families in the Savannah area, and they all looked to Mordecai Sheftall for leadership. In the late summer of 1790 he led the local Jewish congregation, which “was again Established on … the 7th Day of July, 1786,” to seek a state charter for the purpose of incorporating its synagogue. Succeeding in this endeavor, the Savannah Jews re-constructed themselves as Congregation Mickve Israel, Mordecai, Levi, and Sheftall Sheftall being among the first officers chosen by the congregation.

            The Sheftall brothers demonstrated that Jews could do in Georgia what others did, simply by insisting upon their rights as citizens and conducting themselves in such a way as to prove that they deserved no less than others. They bridged the gap between the Jewish and gentile communities, setting an admirable example in race relations and interfaith cooperation. The Sheftalls of Savannah, ambitious businessmen, patriotic Americans, generous humanitarians, and dedicated Jews, left behind them a name worthy of remembrance.3

  

1“The Sheftalls of Savannah” by David T. Morgan, American Jewish Historical Quarterly (1961-1978); Sep 1972-Jun 1973; 62, 1-4; AJHS Journal (www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm).

 

2 The Jewish Encyclopedia (www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=581&letter=S&search=sheftall).

 

3 “The Sheftalls of Savannah.”

 

 

   Dr. Yitzchok Levine formerly worked as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Putting the Oy Back into ‘Ahoy’

Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

  They did not sing “Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Manischewitz,” nor do they ever seem to appear in any of the Disney films about pirates in the Caribbean. The website piratesinfo.com carries not a single reference to them.

  And while September 19 has for a number of years now been designated International Talk Like a Pirate Day (there are even Internet courses available in pirate lingo), none of its initiators seems to have had Ladino (the language spoken by Jewish refugees expelled by the Spanish and Portuguese after the Reconquista) in mind.

  Swashbuckling buccaneers who took time to put on tefillin each morning? Better get used to the idea. Long overlooked, the history of Jewish piracy has been garnering increasing interest, with several serious books and articles telling its epic tales.

  Many Jewish pirates came from families of refugees who had been expelled by Spain and Portugal. They took to piracy as part of a strategy of revenge on the Iberian powers (though lining their pockets with Spanish doubloons was no doubt also a motive). Many of these pirates mixed traditional Jewish lifestyles with their exploits on the high seas.

* * * * *

  Jewish refugees from Portugal first settled in Jamaica in 1511, probably originally as sugar growers, and some took up piracy. The British, led by Admiral William Penn (the father of the William Penn who established Philadelphia), took over the island from the Spanish in 1655, reportedly with assistance from local Jews and Marranos (crypto-Jews), all of whom were allowed to remain.

  By 1720, as many as 20 percent of the residents of Kingston were Jews. Over time, Ashkenazi Jews arrived and their synagogues operated alongside the Sephardic ones (the congregations all merged in the 20th century). Jewish tombstones dating back to 1672 have been found there, with Portuguese, Hebrew and English inscriptions.

  Some Jews went into local Jamaican politics, and there were so many in the Jamaican parliament in the 19th century that it became the only parliament on earth that did not hold deliberations on Saturday. The Jewish community of Jamaica today numbers a couple hundred and calls itself the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica (UCIJA). The active synagogue there is built in Sephardic style and is one of the few left in the world with a sand floor. Naturally, its official website includes a page on the pirate ancestors of Jewish residents (ucija.org/pirates.htm).

  According to an article earlier this year in the Israeli weekly Bakihilot, municipal workers in Kingston recently uncovered a long forgotten pirate graveyard. Among the tombstones are those with Jewish stars and Hebrew inscriptions, together with pirate symbols such as the skull and crossbones.

  Similar Jewish pirate graves have been found near Bridgetown in the Barbados and in the old Jewish graveyard in Curacao. Jamaican-born Jewish historian Ed Kritzler claims that Jewish pirates once operated there, raiding the Spanish Main wearing tallis shawls. He’s just published a book titled Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean and conducts private tours of the “Jewish pirate coves” of Jamaica.

  Kritzler’s book includes the saga of one Moses Cohen Henriques, who participated in one of history’s largest sea heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques sailed together with Dutch Admiral Piet Hein, of the Dutch West India Company, who hated Spain after having been held as a slave for four years on a Spanish galleon. They raided Spanish ships off Matanzas Bay in Cuba, commandeering large amounts of gold and silver.

  Henriques set up his own pirate “Treasure Island” on a deserted island off the Brazilian coast on which Jews could openly practice their religion. (He also served as adviser to Henry Morgan, perhaps the most famous pirate of all time; Errol Flynn played Morgan in the movie “Captain Blood.”) After the recapture of Brazil by Portugal in 1654, some of these Jews would sail off to set up a brand new Jewish community in a place called New Amsterdam, now known as New York.

  In many cases Jewish pirates collaborated with Holland, a friendly and welcoming state for Jews. One such pirate was Rabbi Samuel Pallache, a leader of the Moroccan Jewish community in Fez. Born in The Hague, he was son of a leading rabbi from Cordoba who ended up in Morocco. From there he was sent to Holland as envoy of the Moroccan sultan, who was seeking allies against Spain. He became a personal friend of Dutch Crown Prince Maurice, who commissioned him as a privateer, and served for years as a pirate under a Netherlands flag and with Dutch letters of marque. Rabbi Pallache recruited Marranos for his crews.

  In other cases Jewish pirates worked for the Ottomans. A Jewish pirate named Sinan, known to his Spanish prey as “The Great Jew,” was born in what is now Turkey and operated out of Algiers. He first served as second in command to the famous pirate Barbarossa. (No connection to the fictional Barbarossa of the Disney films.) Their pirate flag carried a six-pointed star called the Seal of Solomon by the Ottomans.

  Sinan led the force that defeated a Genoan navy hired by Spain to rid the Barbary Coast of corsairs. He then conquered Tripoli in Libya, and was eventually appointed supreme Ottoman naval commander. He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Albania.

  A Jewish pirate named Yaakov Koriel commanded three pirate ships in the Caribbean. He later repented and ended up in Safed as one of the Kabbalah students of the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria) and is buried near the Ari’s grave.

  A pirate named David Abrabanel, evidently from the same family as the famous Spanish rabbinic dynasty (which included Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel), joined British privateers after his family was butchered off the South American coast. He used the nom de guerre “Captain Davis” and commanded his own pirate vessel named The Jerusalem. According to at least one report, he was the person who discovered what is now called Easter Island.

  Several Jewish corsairs operated against Spanish ships off the coast of Chile. There are reports that their galleys were kosher and they abstained from raids on the Sabbath. A maritime museum in Chile today holds letters of communication among these pirates composed in Hebrew.

  One pirate leader was named Subatol Deul. On a trip up the coast he stumbled across a ship under the command of the pirate Henry Drake, son of Sir Francis Drake. They decided to create an alliance of anti-Spanish pirates, the “Black Flag Fraternity.”

  Deul and Drake reportedly buried treasure on an island near Coquimbo in 1645. A chapter in the book Piracy & Plunder: A Murderous Business, by Milton Meltzer, is devoted to Deul’s swashbuckling career.

  There also were Jewish corsairs based in Curacao next to Venezuela. The local Curacao rabbi once berated his community’s pirates when they thoughtlessly attacked a ship owned by a fellow Jew. At least it wasn’t done on the Sabbath.

  The history of Jewish pirates goes far back: Josephus mentions Jewish pirates operating in the seas off the Land of Israel in Roman times. There is a drawing of a pirate ship inside Jason’s Tomb in Jerusalem. The Hasmonean Hyrcanus accused Aristobulus, his brother, of “acts of piracy at sea.” In its last days, the Seleucid empire (the one fought by the Maccabees) was plagued by Jewish and Arab pirates.

  Pirates operated from coves along the Levantine coast for centuries, and my own city of Haifa was once known as The Little Malta because of its notorious pirates. (The local pirates these days seem to specialize mainly in computer software.)

  The fact that some Jews seemed to have taken so easily to the pirate lifestyle may have been due in part to other skills developed by Jews over the centuries. Cartography, for example, was considered a Jewish specialty in the 15th and 16th centuries, and Christopher Columbus is believed to have consulted the work of a Jewish cartographer, one Abraham Cresque of Mallorca, who produced the Catalan Atlas in 1375. Portuguese Jewish cartographers and scientists contributed to Vasco Da Gama’s voyage of discovery to the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. Jews also worked on ships as navigators.

* * * * *

  Perhaps the most important Jewish pirate of all was the Caribbean pirate Jean Lafitte, a familiar name to many American schoolchildren. He and his men, pirates trained in cannon fire, came to the aid of General (later President) Andrew Jackson and played a critical role in winning the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. A Jean Lafitte National Historic Park stands today on the outskirts of the city.

  What is still largely unknown is that Lafitte was a Jew, born either in Western France or in what is now Haiti. A while back my friend Edward Bernard Glick, a retired professor of political science living in Oregon, published an article in the Jerusalem Post (July 14, 2006) on Lafitte’s Jewish origins and it stirred up a storm of interest. Parts of Rabbi I. Harold Sharfman’s book Jews on the Frontier also discuss Lafitte’s life.

  According to Glick, “[Lafitte] was a Sephardi Jew, as was his first wife, who was born in the Danish Virgin Islands. In his prime, Lafitte ran not just one pirate sloop but a whole fleet of them simultaneously. He even bought a blacksmith shop in New Orleans, which he used as a front for fencing pirate loot. And he was one of the few buccaneers who didn’t die in battle, in prison or on the gallows.”

  Glick claims the British tried to recruit Lafitte to guide them through the swamps to ambush the Americans, but Lafitte instead showed General “Old Hickory” Jackson Britain’s battle plans to attack New Orleans. The rest is history.

  Years before the Battle of New Orleans, Louisiana Governor William C. C. Claiborne placed a reward of $500 on Lafitte’s head. Lafitte retaliated by putting a $5,000 bounty on the head of the governor. Neither collected.

  Lafitte later commanded his own “kingdom” named Campeche on the island of Galveston, Texas, then nominally under Spanish rule. Some of Lafitte’s trading activities were conducted by Jao de la Porta, a Portuguese Jew from Spanish Texas. Among their clients was Jim Bowie, made famous at the Alamo and also for the special knife.

* * * * *

  Mention of Jewish pirates can pop up in some unexpected places. Just before Rosh Hashanah this year, the liberal Huffington Post website carried a post by humorist Andy Borowitz “reporting” that the group of Somali pirates who had just hijacked a ship full of Ukrainians in the Gulf of Aden was calling a halt to the piracy in honor of the Jewish High Holidays.

 Wrote Borowitz: ” ‘To all of our Jewish friends, we say a hearty Shana Tova,’ said pirate spokesman Sugule, moments before the pirates hoisted a Star of David flag over the captured ship. Sugule took pains to indicate that while the pirates were taking a Rosh Hashanah break from their usual plundering and pillaging schedule, they were doing so only out of respect for Jewish pirates and not because they are Jewish themselves. ‘None of us Somali pirates are Jewish,’ he said. ‘Except for Abe in accounting, who’s half.’ “

 And there are others who are getting into the spirit of things. The Bangitout.com Jewish humor website listed a set of halachic challenges for Jewish pirates, including the following:

  If you have a hook instead of a hand, on which arm do you put tefillin?
   Does your treasure map show how far the eruv extends?
   How long do you wait, after capturing a plundered ship, to put up a mezuzah in the captain’s cabin?
   Should you cover your eye patch with your hand when you say the Shema?
   Can you wear a leather boot over your peg leg on Yom Kippur?
   Are you able to carry on the plank on Shabbos? If your parrot is on your shoulder, is that carrying?

  Personally, I think the biggest challenge to Jewish pirates occurs at Purim. After walking around all year decked out like that, what could they possibly dress up as? Accountants?

  In a way, the legacy of Jewish pirates is alive and well in Israel today. One of the most outstanding examples of the Jewish state’s derring-do was when it stole five gunboats out of the port of Cherbourg in France – ships that had already been paid for by Israel but that France, as punishment for Israel’s Six-Day War victory, was refusing to deliver.

  Israeli agents operating through a front corporation seized the ships on December 25, 1969 and sailed them to Haifa. The details of that piracy are engagingly told in The Boats of Cherbourg (1997) by Abraham Rabinovich.

  So let’s swab the decks, count our doubloons and grant the Jewish pirates their proper place in history. In other words, it’s time to put the oy back into “ahoy.”

  Steven Plaut, a professor at Haifa University, is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/putting-the-oy-back-into-ahoy/2008/10/15/

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