By PAUL M. SOFER
What’s a New York Jew named Kritzler doing in Jamaica writing about Jewish pirates? The answer might be found by looking at the ratings for Ed Kritzler’s surprising hit 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 on mega-seller Amazon.com where it was one of the top-sellers on both Jewish and maritime topics. While the conference was under way, it climbed to No. 4 on The Los AngelesTimes best-seller list.That’s why a New York Jew named Kritzler is in Jamaica where the long-time journalist devoted much of the last 30 years to researching and writing his unusual historical narrative.Kritzler, a gregarious and boisterous man approaching 70, is admittedly not a historian, and despite some not so favorable reviews in some of the Jewish press, he has received general praise in secular publications. I first met Kritzler as his book was being published in November 2008 and had him speak at a Reform temple near Baltimore. He was an instant hit, weaving tales of adventure on the high seas, military exploits and, of course, stories of Jews in Jamaica, where Kritzler believes he may know where to look for a secret treasure left by Christopher Columbus.If the title of this best-seller seems a bit far-fetched, consider that it may account for some of the book’s popularity. But if a reader can get by the rather preposterous Hollywood title, he or she will find a lively and gripping tale or series of historic tales. While there were indeed some Jews who took to piracy, or participated in pirate-related activities, it is mainly a story of how and why many Jews chose to live the way they did following the few choices available to them under the Spanish Expulsion and Inquisition. And their big “theater” was to a great extent, the islands of the New World opened up to them by Columbus and the adventurers, plunderers, soldiers, sailors, merchants and, yes, even swashbucklers who followed.While Spain and other European powers fought to secure riches and territory, Jews put their expertise in finance, trade, navigation, languages and shipping to work, while maintaining ties with their coreligionists in seaports of both the emerging New World and the established Old World. These Jews were the first in what came to be the largest Jewish community anywhere – New York.And yes, there were some Jewish pirates.I have no doubt that some of the more scholarly or professionalhistorians at the conference might have a little jealousy towardKritzler for the obvious public and commercial success of his book.Indeed, one made a humorous remark to that effect. Now in its secondprinting, Jewish Pirates,more than any other book or conference, will perhaps one day be seen asthe single most important event that brought the story of “thePortuguese Nation” to a much wider audience. Professional historiansmay bristle at the title and may not like the “popularization” it andthe book entails, but Kritzler’s writing and speaking draw a moreattentive crowd than do most of the more “scholarly” tomes orpractitioners.Kritzler has been enjoying his “instant success” on the speakingcircuit and he also enjoyed the Sunday after the Kingston conference bymarrying a Jamaican woman in lovely Hope Park.
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