Monthly Archives: March 2010

When Jews Were Pirates

This review appears in the April 2010 issue of the (Jewish Federation of Collier County) Federation Star.

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, by Edward Kritzler. Anchor Books. 324 pages. $15.

The Renaissance in Europe is notable for many advances in science and literature, as well as for the ongoing discovery, exploration, and colonization of lands far across the seas. The history of diaspora Judaism is one aspect of Renaissance history, and for the most part it is a tragic story. Beginning with the Spanish Inquisition, which threatened Jewish existence through execution or forced conversion, this period brings with it the peculiar and largely unknown story of Jewish participation in the exploration, settling, and economic development of the New World.

The colorful story that Edward Kritzler tells is of “Iberian Jews, disguised as Christians, who pioneered the New World as explorers, conquistadors, cowboys, and pirates, transformed sugar cultivation into an agro-industry that they introduced to the Caribbean, and created the first trade network spanning the seven seas.” The hidden Jews did all this within the unstable environment of a Central and South America where European powers – principally Spain, Portugal, Holland, and England – fought for dominance, the Jewish adventurers alternately finding favor and scorn with various monarchs and colonial officials over a period of about 180 years.

Expert businessmen, the Jews of the Sephardic Diaspora, victims of expulsion, sharpened their talents as traders to assure their survival. They helped make kings rich, and they often provided them with valuable intelligence. They also waged their own battles as tradesmen-pirates, amassing personal wealth and influence far beyond their numbers. By the middle of the 17th century, the end of the story Kritzler tells, the Jews of the New World (and the Old), had established themselves in New Amsterdam (soon to be New York) and elsewhere as citizens with sufficient rights to flourish as admitted and practicing Jews – if not the full rights accorded to other peoples.    

Moshe and Abraham Cohen Henriques; Menasseh ben Israel; Samuel Palache (“the pirate rabbi”); Sinan, the Jewish captain of Barbarossa’s pirate fleet; and Peruvian silver tycoon Manuel Batista Perez are among the many colorful figures treated by Kritzler in this exciting, enlightening, and often humorous study.

If Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean has a fault, it is in its too-muchness. The material is fascinating, and a significant portion of Kritzler’s findings derive from his diligent discovery of previously overlooked documents in Jamaica and elsewhere. However, so much information is crammed into each page, let alone each chapter, that it is difficult to absorb. Sometimes the larger story and its meaning are overwhelmed by the barrage of details.

But information overload is a small price to pay for the treasure that Edward Kritzler offers. Of the many themes arcing through his book, the most important may be that although Jews, hidden and open, were almost always in a state of technical illegality and therefore vulnerable to arrest and worse, “When Jewish expertise was needed, prejudice took a backseat to expediency. . . .” So what else is new? Next time you’re cruising the Caribbean, bring along this book.

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Randy Wayne White Does It Again

“Deep Shadow,” by Randy Wayne White. Putnam. 352 pages. $25.95

Over the course of sixteen previous Doc Ford novels, Randy Wayne White has built an enormous following, far beyond his initial Florida fandom. He has given depth and shading to his attractive marine biologist hero, and he has etched a layered jumping-off point – the Dinkin’s Bay Marina on Sanibel, near where Ford’s lab-office-residence sits.

Mr. White has developed a community of Ford associates: women at once smitten and independent, lovers of life on the water, carousers, losers, and Old Florida originals. He has blessed us with Ford’s alter-ego, the beanpole hippy-philosopher, Tomlinson. He has brushed in a background of mysterious covert operations. He has taken us into the nooks and crannies of the swampy state that points south, and he has taken us where it points. 

“Deep Shadow” only alludes to the larger Doc Ford world that the other novels have detailed. It’s a more naked, sparsely populated, and claustrophobic novel than White’s readers are used to. It’s also one of his best – a good entry point for new readers to enjoy RWW’s mature skills. In this work, the classical unities of time, place, and action are exploited, focusing and heightening attention and suspense.

Doc Ford’s old friend Arlis Futcher believes he has found a lost treasure in a remote Florida lake. This gold treasure was in air transit from Cuba to Tampa, Batista’s spoils when he fled Cuba after the Castro revolution. One of four planes disappeared, and Arlis believes the wreckage lies beneath the surface of that lake. Having purchased the property that includes the large, water-filled sinkhole, he now invites Ford and Tomlinson, along with a troubled teenager in Ford’s temporary care, to help him explore further. For Ford and the others, Arlis may be dreaming. They go along to humor him, expecting to enjoy some safe sport diving.

To read this review in its entirety, see the March 3-9, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly or the March 4-10 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly. See the online version here: Florida Weekly – Randy Wayne White

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Morris’s “Baja Florida” Goes Down Easy

Ex-Gator, ex-Dolphin (as in football, folks), and all-around sensitive tough guy, Zack Chasteen is – in this fifth novel in Bob Morris’s series – an adventurous do-gooder, exonerated ex-con, and dedicated family man all at once. I love the big guy. You’ve got to love a guy who can get away with naming his daughter Shula. I want to go fishing with him, down a few brews, and hear his stories. Luckily, I can do the later between the covers of a book (or, more and more likely these days, on the screen of a Kindle).

Winter Park resident Bob Morris, a fourth-generation Floridian, has founded a new para-nation: Bermuda to the north, the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands to the south, and Florida as the anchor – the island of the mind with water on three sides. Baja means a lot of things, including “lower” and “dropped from.” It’s a region to which, for all its internal variety, Morris gives a startling continuity. An accomplished travel and entertainment writer (“National Geographic Traveler,” “ Bon Appetit,” “Caribbean Travel & Life”) Bob Morris writes with authority not only about resort destinations, but also about less visited and less homogenized places near, along, and well off the coast of the Sunshine State. 

Chasteen’s Palm Nursery is headquarters, and Zack’s old friend, Mickey Ryser, finds him there. Mickey, who is both enormously wealthy and deathly ill, persuades Zack to track down Jen, a daughter whom he had more or less abandoned when she was a toddler some twenty years ago. He needs to reunite with her before he dies. In fact, he has already set a private detective on the case, but the man has disappeared and won’t respond to Mickey’s calls.

The full review is available in the February 25-March 3, 2010 issue of the Naples Florida Weekly. Click here for the online version: Florida Weekly – Bob Morris. It also appears in the March 10-16 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly.

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Kristy Kiernan Connects

Naples author Kristy Kiernan has crafted a graceful, richly rewarding story of family relationships. “Between Friends,” Kiernan’s third novel, explores the meaning of friendship and family through the lens of crises involving contemporary medical technology and ethics: in-vitro fertilization, polycystic kidney disease, and organ transplant. The author builds rounded, distinctive characters who struggle with decisions that most of us will not have to make. But we all know people whose lives have been touched by one or more of these issues. With controlled, orchestrated passion, Kiernan educates readers mentally and emotionally. If this is “Chick Lit,” it’s a variety that men can readily enjoy. 

Naples music store owner Ali Gutierrez and her policeman husband Ben had not been able to produce children. Finally, with the donated ova of their friend Cora, they have Letty, who is turning fifteen as the novel opens. Ali now decides, after years of delay, that she needs to have another child. She would prefer a full genetic sibling for Letty, a repeat of the same in-vitro fertilization process. Will Cora allow use of the frozen embryos? Can and will she donate eggs again if necessary? Ben is extremely resistant to the idea of a second child. His resistance and other factors threaten the marriage.

Cora, a free spirit who travels the world advocating wind energy technology, returns to her Naples home to catch up with her “family” and to resolve a serious medical issue: incurable polycystic kidney disease (PKD). Deciding what and when to tell her dear friends is as much a problem as committing to the necessary dialysis and to the replacement kidney search.  Reuniting with Letty triggers questions about Cora’s proper relationship to the young woman who carries her genes.

Everyone is battling through major changes. . . .  To see the entire review as it appears in the March-April 2010 issue of Fort Myers Magazine, click here: Ft.Myers magazine – Kristy Kiernan

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The light house at Point Reyes

is lacking one prism

because no one can find out

how to make what has been lost.

All of us lose something,

forget how we drew flame

from one another’s hearts.

And forgetting, we stand alone

on high perches, our signals incomplete:

warning / beckoning above the craggy shore.

Searching out grasses just below the snow line,

Dall’s sheep dance on outcroppings of rock

where predators can’t follow.

What have they lost?

To survive by simply standing

where one is safe is a lesson

I can’t unlearn; nor how to balance

on a step so high, almost in flight,

no turning back.

I can’t get back to what we knew:

my longing stretches between two poles

(warning / beckoning)

like those near the hunter’s cabin

where animal skins, scraped clean,

stretched tight,

dry in the sun of memory

to a thin film, a lens

for a flickering beacon

lacking one prism.

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