DAY 1 in AMERICA: Eight candles for eight days, and 8 books. But light the candles, not the books. For day 1, a joyous book of modern day Maccabees. Well, maybe they weren’t Maccabees, but they did fight for religious freedom, and perhaps take some gold while they were at it.

I am talking about the Jewish pirates of the Mediterranean and Caribbean who are profiled in the pleasantly titled book, Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean. How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom–and Revenge. by Edward Kritzler (November 2008, Doubleday).

Please. No comparisons to Madoff. Kritzler has studied pirates for over 4 decades, and noticed that quite a few were Ladino speaking Sephardic Conversos who practiced Judaism and fought against Spain’s Inquisition by robbing its ships. They set sail on ships with names like Prophet Samuel, Shield of Abraham, and Queen Esther.

We know Judah ha-Maccabee, but how many know Sinan, who was the second in command to Barbarossa. Samuel Pallache was a rabbi who moonlighted as a pirate. His drashes in his Amsterdam synagogue must have been unique. Moses Cohen Henriques, sailed with the Dutch West India Company and attacked Spanish ships off Cuba and stole their shipments. He even founded his own pirate island off the coast of Brazil. And then there was Jean Laffitte (Lefitto), an extraordinary pirate who bought a shop in New Orleans to fence his goods and helped Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812. Lafitte’s mother and grandmother were Conversos Jews who fled from Spain to France and then Santo Domingo in the Caribbean after his grandfather was murdered by the Inquisition. Lafitte, or The Corsair, as he was also known, set up a pirate kingdom on the island of Galveston, Texas, after 1817.

My first book for Hanukkah is about Jewish pirates, modern day Maccabees with rather dirty hands.

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