Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean

By Lauren Krotosky - Friday 25th 2007f May 2007

Keira Knightley & Johnny Depp

Shiver me timbers! Cinemagoers nationwide - prepare to purchase your popcorn, settle in your seats and prepare for an evening of pirate adventures as Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End hits the big screen.

But a little known fact is that, aside from notorious pirates such as Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow and Long John Silver, many of the original ones to walk the plank were actually Jewish. In a fascinating new book entitled Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, Ed Kritzler delves into a sensational area of Jewish history which will no doubt delight pirate fans and non-fans alike.

Kritzler, who majored in Latin American History and has been researching Jewish pirates for more than four decades, grew up in Long Island but now resides in Jamaica. Speaking to the Jewish News from his home on the island, he explained why he finds buccaneers quite so riveting: “When I was growing up, my heroes were cowboys and explorers but I never knew about Jewish ones. Working as a journalist on USA Today (then the Herald Statesman) took me on a business trip to Jamaica. I loved the place and spent my time there travelling the island and making discoveries”. And forty swashbuckling years later, Kritzler has finally put pen to paper and recorded his findings in a book.

“Jews were the first permanent settlers of Jamaica. Learning about the secret Jews of the New World stimulated my thirst for the topic, and I made some startling findings,” he enthused. “One of the most famous Jewish pirates, Moses Cohen Henriques, captured the Spanish silver fleet, worth about $1bn in today’s money. He then went on to lead the Jewish contingent in Brazil and established his own pirate island. After the recapture of Brazil in 1654, Moses ended up as an advisor to Henry Morgan, the leading pirate of the time.

“A fellow seafarer was Samuel Palache, who grew up in Morocco but ended up in Amsterdam in 1610. He proposed that the Prince of Orange and the Sultan of Morocco get together. This resulted in Jews being allowed to settle in Amsterdam. In 1614, he went on an expedition, captured a couple of Spanish ships, got to Plymouth, and was subsequently arrested for piracy”.

Another famous Jewish pirate was Jean Lafitte, who conquered sea and shore in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. Raised in a kosher Jewish household, his father was said to be French and his mother either a Spaniard or Sephardi. His mother’s family allegedly fled from Spain to France in 1765 after his maternal grandfather was put to death for Judaism. In his alleged journal, Lafitte describes childhood in the home of his Jewish grandmother, who was full of stories about the family’s escape from the Inquisition. Lafitte later married Christiana Levine, from a Jewish family in Denmark.

Pirates of the Caribbean 3 has a star-studded cast comprising of Johnny Depp (Captain Jack Sparrow), Geoffrey Rush (Captain Barbossa), Orlando Bloom (Will Turner), Keira Knightley (Elizabeth Swann), Bill Nighy (Davy Jones), Mackenzie Crook (Ragetti) and Tom Hollander (Lord Cutler Beckett). Like its predecessors, the film tells the tale of Elizabeth, Will and Captain Barbossa rescuing Captain Jack Sparrow from the clutches of the Kraken, and facing their foes, Davy Jones and Lord Cutler Beckett. So ahoy me hearties, head down to your nearest cinema for an evening of escapism and pure pirate pleasure.

Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World’s End is on general release now.