Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jamaica Highlights Jewish Pirates and Jewish Reggae in Bid For Jewish Tourists

When you think of Jamaica (the Caribbean island, not the Queens neighborhood) you probably don't think of Jewish pirates or Jewish reggae artists, but after reading the front page article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, we found enough connections to make these associations come to life.

In January, 200 academics, genealogists, and history buffs attended a conference on Jewish-Caribbean history in Kingston, Jamaica's capital.  Also present were editors of Jewish newspapers, including The Jewish Standard, who reported on their experiences at the conference.

Tourism officials on the island are eager to play up the Jewish connections in the hope that they will attract many Jewish visitors.  While signs of Jewish presence are visible in the form of  a synagogue, school, and a cemetery, it's still difficult to find kosher food.  Kingston's Hillel school, which runs on a Jewish calendar has 750 students, but only about 20 are Jewish.  The synagogue has no rabbi, and the Jewish community numbers only 200 people.  But then again, there are the pirates and the reggae, which makes them unique among Jewish communities.

As Tamara Audi reports in the Wall Street Journal,
Jamaica may have claim to one unusual historical chapter: Jewish pirates. Among them: Moses Cohen Henriques, who attacked Spanish ships loaded with silver, according to Edward Kritzler's Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean.

Mr. Kritzler, who attended the conference, is an American who has been in Jamaica on and off since the late 1960s. He's fond of wearing a Star of David pendant over shirts studded with skull and crossbones.

Many Jewish pirates, he writes, were "secret Jews" who converted to Catholicism in name only to survive the Inquisition, then fled to the Caribbean.
In the video below, Kritzler stands among the gravestones in a Jamaica cemetery with a group of tourists and relates the history of how some of the Jewish traders became pirates when they escaped from the Inquisition in Spain.

Today, finding a kosher kitchen can be tough. But the island is used to preparing vegetarian meals for its religious Rastafarian population—some of whom consider themselves a lost tribe of Israel and follow Jewish dietary restrictions forbidding shellfish and pork. One Kingston hotel recently purchased new cooking tools dedicated to kosher meals for guests.
Behn Goldis, a New York reggae artist and orthodox Jew whose stage name is BennyBwoy, calls himself "the original Jewmaican." A former Wall Street analyst, he was invited to the conference to perform. He did so wearing a yarmulke knitted in the colors of the Jamaican flag, braided hair and sunglasses decorated with gold snakes. "I'm not Jamaican. I just love the music and the people," Mr. Goldis said. "But I really am Jewish."
Here is a video of BennyBwoy, "The Original Jewmaican," performing his hit single, Rise Up.