Jewish pirates on the big screen?Jewish Jamaica was recently the destination of acclaimed filmmaker David C. Lewis, who visited as part of his exploration into making a movie based on the popular book Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean. The book was written by the late Ed Kritzler, who spent 30 years working and researching in Jamaica, and it chronicles much of the adventures and exploits of Sephardic Jews who made their way to the Caribbean to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Indeed, there were some actual Jewish pirates as well as explorers and adventurers, some of whom attacked Spanish treasure ships.“I knew there was an interesting tale to tell, yet no idea what the details were,” Lewis said. “I was amazed by what Ed had pieced together regarding Jewish activity in pirating and privateering. I contacted him and I ended up getting an exclusive option to the rights to make a documentary based on his book.”Lewis said his visit “helped me put some visual ‘real’ images to the words from Ed’s book and inspired me to continue to move forward in trying to get this documentary produced. It is an uphill battle in raising funds for the documentary project, but nevertheless I am confident a film will be done and I shall be returning to Jamaica.”“My intention is to produce a documentary in a docu-drama style,” Lewis explained. “The film will contain location interviews with historical experts on various subjects including the Inquisition, pirates and privateers, Jewish life in Jamaica, and, of course, experts on the Jewish personalities themselves. This will be combined with on-location re-enactments in such places as Port Royal, Jamaica, Spain and Amsterdam.” The American-born Lewis—who made aliyah in 1986—visited Kingston’s Hunts Bay Cemetery, where some of those who died in the Port Royal earthquake of 1692 are buried. He noted that, “The very ancient graves of earlier Jewish pioneers in the New World were found, including the sign of ‘skull and crossbones’ on some of the grave stones.”In addition to Lewis, Jamaica’s Jewish community also recently hosted nearly 40 national board members and donors from American Associates of Ben Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), who visited the Hillel Academy, Port Royal, the National Gallery of Jamaica, the Bob Marley Museum, and other typical sites.
Passover memories Shaare Shalom congregant Margaret Adam said this year’s festive Passover meal was “nothing overly Jamaican,” including pumpkin soup, roast leg of lamb, steamed fish with sweet and Irish potatoes, vegetables, and salad. She described Jamaican seders from her childhood as alternating between communal ones in hotels and home seders with friends and family. “They were a tad tedious,” Adam said. “We have done much to enliven them since then. Coloring and activity pages with crayons were prepared for each table with kids this year. At any rate, things are definitely more kid-friendly now. We were to be quiet and sit still as best we could; disciplined... that is probably because of our British upbringing and our Sephardic traditions.”Henriques recalled that during World World War II, when there was no matzah to be had in Jamaica, the community “used Cassava wafers instead.”“Today, matzah for breakfast with Mango jam is a delight,” he said.Kaplan—a.k.a. Elijah—spoke about trips to various Jewish communities and the unusual customs he found in Afghanistan, Cuba, and India, and how his current community is “developing a uniquely Jamaican Judaism.”Studying the past and building for the future may sound cliché, but Jamaica’s Jews are doing just that. And if Lewis sees his project through, there will be another motion picture about the pirates of the Caribbean—but instead of “arghs,” you might hear some “ahoy veys!”