‘Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean? Oy vey!’ (A Review)

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A review by Ed and Cynthia Justus for The Garden Island.

“Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean!” A new Mel Brooks movie starring Johnny Depp, right!? Well … no.

This surprisingly wonderful book is a historical account of “how a generation of swashbuckling Jews carved out an empire in the New World in their quest for treasure, religious freedom — and revenge!” See? Already wanting to learn more, yeah? We did, too!

Author Edward Kritzler brings to light a mostly unknown part of history that is intriguing right from the start of the title. In fact, truth be told, we weren’t even aware of this book until a customer came into our bookstore and asked for it by name. We thought he was kidding, but to our surprise we found the book and now it is a book we feature regularly, with everyone just as surprised and fascinated by it as we were.

So, who were these renegade Jews? Where did they come from, and when did they sail the high seas?

During the Spanish Inquisition in the fifteenth century, Jews were being exterminated by the droves (yes, genocide of the Jews was a very, very old European tradition, not just a 20th century horror). As they fled the Iberian Peninsula, some found refuge in the man-made floating islands of the sea: the sailing ship.

As outlaws, some even formed their own collectives, with vessel names such as “King Solomon” and “Queen Esther,” as they strove to survive by outwitting and plundering the Spanish fleets that they encountered. Their footholds in the Caribbean, where they made the most of their land-based opportunities, gave them the ability to form tenuous alliances with rival European powers in order to secure freedom for other Jews who wanted to escape the oppression in the Old World.

Who would’ve thought? Edward Kritzler did!

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