Saturday, September 5, 2009

Obituary: Yossi Harel

Yossi Harel, who renamed the rickety ship he commanded Exodus 1947 and sailed it to legend as a symbol of the righteousness of the mission by Jews to settle Palestine in the face of British opposition, died Saturday at his home in Tel Aviv. He was 90.

His death of a heart attack and burial were widely reported in the Israeli news media.

Britain, which controlled Palestine under an international mandate, had in 1939 restricted the number of Jews it would allow to move there to 75,000 over five years, a tiny figure compared with the number who were desperate to go there. Partly because of pressure from Arab countries, Britain held fast to this pre-World War II limit, even as Holocaust survivors tried to go to a biblical homeland.

Harel commanded the main clandestine operations bringing immigrants to Palestine and personally delivered 24,000 of them, a quarter of the total. He is particularly remembered for his command of four large ships. He named one Exodus to recall the Jews' escape from Egypt.

The Exodus never made it to the Palestinian shore. But it made a dazzling sight as it approached the port of Haifa. Loudspeakers blared "Hatikvah," which would become Israel's national anthem. What would be Israel's flag snapped in the wind.

It was there that British forces boarded the boat and engaged in a violent encounter with Holocaust survivors, leaving three Jews dead and hundreds injured. The unintended symbolism could not have been stronger: the British used tear gas and delivered the Jews to an old Nazi SS camp near Hamburg. The events caused wide outrage and prompted support for the Zionist dream.

This vivid tale quickly assumed the mythic power in the Israeli independence struggle that the Boston Tea Party had in America's. It was turned into "Exodus," a popular 1958 book by Leon Uris, which two years later became a film directed by Otto Preminger. Paul Newman portrayed Harel, who was called Ari Ben Canaan in the movie.

Yoram Kaniuk, an Israeli author, wrote in a biography of Harel that the state of Israel was established not in May 1948, when independence was declared and the British left, but on July 18, 1947, when the Exodus valiantly sailed toward certain confrontation in the port of Haifa.

"The state of Israel came into existence before it acquired a name, when its gates were locked to Jews, when the British fought against survivors of the Holocaust," Kaniuk wrote in a biography of Harel, "Commander of the Exodus" (2000).

Yossi Harel was born Yossef Hamburger on Jan. 4, 1918, in Jerusalem; he and his twin brother represented the sixth generation of his family to be born there. The Guardian reported in its obituary that he had a troubled youth, and, after a series of labor jobs, he left his family at 14 to join the Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary organization that later became the core of Israel's military. Kaniuk called him a "Zionist cowboy" in his book.

Harel joined the British Army during World War II and was badly injured in fighting in Greece. He then worked to transport as many Jews to Palestine as possible, legally or illegally. The Daily Telegraph reported that in mid-1946 he was sent on a secret mission to provide agents in Greece with gold to use in bribing European governments to speed up the transit of Jews to Palestine.

Exodus 1947 began as the merchant vessel President Warfield, which was being scrapped after service for both the British and Americans in World War II. It was secretly purchased by Haganah and left Baltimore on Feb. 25, 1947. Yossi, whom Haganah had earlier ordered to study coastal navigation, took command at an Italian port. The refugees boarded at Sète, France, on July 12.

Six days later came the confrontation with the British. At first Yossi encouraged resistance, but then surrendered to prevent further casualties. The next day, members of a United Nations special committee overseeing developments in Palestine watched refugees being transferred to British ships for return to Europe. The committee recommended that the British mandate end and a Jewish state be established. The United Nations General Assembly authorized this on Nov. 29, 1947.

Harel was a bodyguard for Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president, a top official in Israel's post-independence navy and then a naval architecture student in the United States. Various Israeli and British news reports said he studied naval architecture or engineering in Los Angeles or at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

In 1954, Moshe Dayan, chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces, called him back to Israel to head Unit 131, a secret Israeli group that had spies in Arab countries. His immediate task was to clean up after a botched Israeli plot to carry out bombings in Egypt to persuade the British and Americans that they could not afford to withdraw from Egypt.

The Telegraph said he went on to pursue a successful business career, which also served as a cover for continuing work for Israeli intelligence.

Harel is survived by three children, eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, The Jerusalem Post reported.

In a speech in La Jolla, California, in 2005, Harel gave statistics to show that running the British blockade was deadlier than Israel's war for independence. He said that 6,000 of 40,000 to 100,000 Jews who fought in the war were killed, or 1 percent. Of the 100,000 who tried to get through the blockade, 3,000 died, or 3 percent.

"With all these casualties, they kept coming, they didn't stop," he said. "A nation destroyed was coming back to life."

- Douglas Martin

Obituary: Paul Shulman

Paul Shulman, a former United States Navy officer who went on to become the first commander of Israel's Navy, died on Monday in Haifa. He was 72.

He died from heart disease, his daughter-in-law, Aliza, said.

Mr. Shulman, a New York native, was the deputy commander of a Navy destroyer in World War II. He left the United States Navy in 1945.

He immediately joined the effort to smuggle refugees and arms from Europe into Palestine, which was administered under a British mandate. In November 1948, six months after the founding of Israel, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion asked Mr. Shulman, who was then 26, to set up Israel's Navy. Fighting for control of territory continued until January 1949. In his nine months as commander, he laid the ground for Israeli's modern navy, known for mainly for protecting Israel's borders from incursions by Arab guerrillas.

He commanded two important actions toward the end of the 1948-49 war, a blockade of the Gaza Strip and the capture of Ein Gedi, which secured Israel's hold of the Dead Sea's southwestern coast.

He is survived by his wife and two sons. Further details were unavailable.

- NY Times

A Jewish captain leads Navy's "Truman" into action.

The one thing that is constant about life on an aircraft carrier is the noise. The constant roar of jet aircraft engines on the deck is complemented by other sounds heard throughout the ship and below deck: the explosive booms coming from the catapults launching planes and the reverberations of the restraining wires on the steel deck that enables others to land.

Yet the sound that seems to garner the most attention on board the USS Harry S. Truman is, ironically, among the softest they will hear: the even tones of the voice of Capt. Herman "Herm" Shelanski.

""I've never heard him even raise his voice," confides one of Shelanski's officers, who admits that this low-key style is hardly typical of naval behavior when it comes to the person in charge. "But he's always in command of the situation. He's the sort of a person who makes you want to meet or exceed his expectations."

As another officer put it, referring to the captain's average height (approximately 5 feet 7 inches), "His physical stature isn't so big. But his presence is huge. Everyone on board feels it."

Shelanski, a native of Wynnewood, is a veteran of 27 years of naval service, during which he has risen from a young aviator piloting E-2 Hawkeyes to now being the commanding officer of one of the Navy's elite weapon systems: a Nimitz-class nuclear aircraft carrier, whose air wing of more than 80 tactical and support aircraft (including squadrons of the latest F-18 Hornets and Super-Hornet jets) can project America's strength around the world.

Shelanski, who is married and the father of two teenagers, took command of the Truman in the spring of this year. In the Atlantic in September, some 200 miles from its home port of Norfolk, Va., the Truman will put to sea and sail to the Persian Gulf, where its aircraft and pilots will be flying missions providing support for U.S. troops fighting in Iraq.

Shelanski's role is to be, as he put it, "mayor of the city" -- of a floating airport that's home to more than 5,000 sailors and aviators. As long as the Empire State Building is tall, the Truman is an enormous vessel whose maze-like compartments below decks can take sailors weeks to find their way around.

"While its namesake's trademark "Give 'Em Hell" slogan is emblazoned around the ship as a symbol of its crew's fighting spirit, another of the 33rd president's favorite sayings is embodied in the conduct of the man who commands it: "The Buck Stops Here."

"There's a lot of different leadership styles and a lot of pressure to be who you are not," says Shelanski. "But I'm a believer in being who you are and treating people with respect."

A Grandson of Immigrants

Though decades of flying and sea duty have given him the experience of command, he makes no secret of the fact that a big part of who he is can be traced back to his origins: as the grandson of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants to the United States who settled in Philadelphia in the early 20th century.

"I always wanted to serve my country and a lot of that has do to with being Jewish."

When asked what would prompt the son of a prominent doctor, who was a Bar Mitzvah at Har Zion Temple and a graduate of Lower Merion High School in the 1970s to join the Navy, his answer is simple: "I always wanted to serve my country," says Shelanski. "And a lot of that has do to with being Jewish."

Military service was hardly the norm for middle-class Jewish young people in the 1970s, but Shelanski says that the message of pride and patriotism in America was a big part of his upbringing.

On his desk in his spacious and luxurious in-board cabin (used mostly for dinners and ceremonies) are pictures of his father, Morris Shelanski, who served as a doctor in the Navy during World War II, and a cousin who was a naval aviator. Their example of service was and remains important to the captain.

"I knew that I was fortunate. A lot of our family died in the Holocaust. It makes me think of what could have happened if we hadn't come to America," he says. "I wanted to give back to this country. I also understood that the strength of the United States is directly proportional to the safety of Israel."

Yet a career in the Navy was not really in his plans when he left the area to attend the University of Colorado, where he graduated in 1979. A self-described "outdoor kid" with an itch to fly, the following year found him at a naval-aviation officers candidate school from which he emerged with the newly minted rank of ensign. Two years later, he earned his wings and was flying E-2C Hawkeyes.

'But it was only going to be a temporary job," recalls Shelanski. "I was going to do it for a while, and then go and be a doctor," following in his father's footsteps.

What changed his plans?

"I was having too much fun to stop," the captain acknowledges. "I really enjoyed what I did. The intensity, the excitement and the thrill of it was what kept me in."

And the fact that he was very good at his job.

It's clear from his record that, from the start of his career, Shelanski was selected by his superiors for special responsibilities.

Flying the Hawkeye -- the Navy's tactical airborne warning-and-control-system platform -- made him "the quarterback" of air missions.

During his first sea deployment, he says that he found himself on the spot during a confrontation with Soviet aircraft that were attempting to track his carrier during a Cold War exercise in the Pacific.

As a lieutenant junior grade, he decided to change his air wing's plans to meet the potential threat while in the air. Shelanski radioed the change of plans down to the commanding admiral on his ship and waited for the answer to chutzpah with baited breath.

After a pause, he says, the response came back. "Roger that" -- terse approval that was all he needed.

"It was a big thrill," he says.

From there, it was a steady progression of promotions as he rose to be a commander of a Hawkeye squadron, stints as executive officer of an aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan, commander of a fighting command ship, the USS La Salle, as well as various naval staff positions in the United States and at NATO.

Along the way, he picked up a Master of Science in electrical engineering and space engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and studied at the Armed Forces Staff College, as well as receiving nuclear-power training. His duties have taken him to various parts of the globe, including postings in Italy and Bahrain, a place that was no less foreign to him than some parts of the United States and which differed greatly from his Northeast upbringing.

Physically fit at the age of 50, though he doesn't fly very much anymore, he still works out daily in the ship's gym and planned to compete with crew members in physical-fitness tests.

Keeping the Faith

Yet one theme that has been constant throughout a career has been his willingness to be candid about his Jewish identity in a service where he often found himself one of the few, if not only, Jews around.

He has discovered little prejudice, though a lot of ignorance, about Judaism and Jews.

Though he knows that anti-Semitism was commonplace in the military in his father's day, Shelanski says that he has discovered little prejudice, though a lot of ignorance, about Judaism and Jews.

"It's a little bit more responsibility," he says of being the first Jew a sailor may meet.

"I always understood and loved Judaism. To me, being Jewish means asking how do you treat the stranger because we were strangers," explains Shelanski.

His philosophy has always been to "be open and honest, to care for people and to take care of people. The secret of success as a leader is to understand people. I got that from my parents, especially my dad."

Despite the difficulties of being cut off from all the usual Jewish connections, he found ways of holding on to who he was while staying close to his comrades.

In one instance, he recalls, while serving with a squadron in a remote location where all were away from their families on the holidays, he served as a kipah-wearing Santa Claus to cheer up his friends at a Christmas party. Under all circumstances, he says, "I wanted to say who I was."

While keeping Judaism was tough as a junior officer, it's much easier for a naval captain.

On board the Truman, Shelanski not only has his own private stores of food, but has hosted kosher seders in his quarters for the crew. He also regularly attends Friday-night Shabbat services in the ship's chapel along with the approximately 12 to 15 other Jewish crew members, a group that includes a cross-section of the crew: officers, aviators and enlisted personnel who say the Sabbath service provides an oasis of rest amid the stress of their 24/7 workdays at sea.

The centerpiece of Jewish life on the Truman is a Torah kept in an ark donated by the chapel of the Naval Academy. The scroll, which was dedicated in a formal ceremony this past June, originated in Lithuania, where it was saved from the Holocaust. At the ceremony was another Torah, the one that Israel's first president Chaim Weizmann gave as a gift to President Truman and which was on temporary loan from the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Mo.

The Torah dedication was "very emotional," as well as something that brought both the Norfolk Jewish community and the Navy closer together.

As was the case on the Reagan, where he also helped bring a Torah to the chapel, most sailors didn't know what it was.

"I wasn't sure what the sailors would think," admits Shelanski. "But the response was tremendous. There wasn't a dry eye in the place as non-Jews felt the importance of it. I've found that people liked to learn about Judaism. And Christians see it as a way to go back to their roots."

Faith can be important in a profession in which lethal danger is commonplace.

Indeed, faith can be important in a profession in which lethal danger is commonplace.

That was brought home to the crew of the Truman even before their deployment in Iraq, when one of their Hawkeye radar planes crashed into the ocean after a takeoff at night during an August training session for a young pilot.

Shelanski, who was asleep in his other, much smaller cabin just off the bridge, where he spends most of his time, reports that he was at the helm directing the search-and-rescue efforts within seconds.

The search lasted 36 hours, but it was rapidly apparent, he says, that the plane and the three people on board would not survive. What they found, he adds, was "heartbreaking" -- wreckage and helmets, but no bodies.

It was the first crash of a Navy Hawkeye in 14 years. And it proves to Shelanski that the worst thing that can happen on board is "complacency," something he continues to fight.

"Carrier duty is very unforgiving of mistakes. We have to learn from our mistakes," concludes the captain.

In the Gulf, the Truman's planes are scheduled to fly as support for soldiers and marines. Some of the crew are also slated to be on the ground, serving as liaisons between the troops there and the ship to coordinate missions.

Everyone and everything must be constantly checked and re-qualified, he explains. While in the Persian Gulf, he says, "we know the pilots are going to be flying into harm's way. There's always a risk. The better we train, the better our chance of success."

Though the conflict is one that has lost support from many Americans, the Truman is prepared to do its part in the fighting.

"Some people in the navy were upset about the decision to go in," Shelanski confides. "But that doesn't mean we're not enthusiastic to win. We go where our nations' leadership tells us to go. Our task is clear and there's not a person on the ship who doesn't want us to succeed."

History Lessons

As a student of history, Shelanski says that he is cognizant of the threat from Iran and its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has declared his intention to destroy Israel and is attempting to gain nuclear capability.

"Most sailors and officers here are aware of the history. We know what happened when another nation [Nazi Germany] that made threats of annihilation was ignored. The sailors are happy that we're standing up to these people, and hopefully, our presence will deter them."

As with Iraq, he defers to civilian leaders to make the decisions about what to do. Still, Shelanski says that he hopes diplomacy and a coalition of Western powers will cause Iran to step back from the brink.

But, he warns, the Iranians "should understand that we have more than enough to stop them."

The crew of the Truman hopes to return home to Norfolk after several months at sea sometime next summer. As to his own future after his term as captain of the Truman ends (he is scheduled to leave it in early 2009), Shelanski is uncertain. Some in the Navy consider him a serious candidate for promotion to the rank of admiral.

Though flattered by the idea, he says that is a decision that will have to be made by his family. He's not certain that he wants to uproot them again, which would be a certainty if he is promoted.

"We'll figure that out when we get there," he remarks.

"I know my sailors. They're not numbers. They're people. My goal is to bring everyone here home."

But before the homecoming that he's already looking forward to, duty in a war theater awaits.

With that in mind, would he want his own children to follow in his footsteps?

His answer is in the affirmative.

"I'd like my children to serve," at least for one hitch, he says, so they can give back to his country as he has done.

"But that makes you think about what's important enough to send my [children] out to get killed," notes the captain. "Unfortunately, there are times when we must do that."

Noting that all aboard the Truman are volunteers, he also says that "they're all someone's children."

Most on board tend to speak of themselves as "warriors," but their captain is aware of the cost of combat.

"I understand as a father what it means to see the consequences of war," he says. "I know my sailors. They're not numbers. They're people. My goal is to bring everyone here home."

- Jonathan S. Tobin

Israeli Navy: A Tiny, but Hard-Hitting Battle Force

At the onset of the War of Independence, the Israeli Navy consisted of five large ships that could be considered in the category of “warships.” An American Annapolis graduate, Paul Shulman, was commander of the navy. Among the 65 to 95 crew members of each of the warships, about three dozen were Machalniks, most from the U.S. and Canada.

Three of the five warships had been built in the US and Canada for service in World War II, than retired at the end of the war. Those three and one other were purchased for use as Aliyah Bet ships. While bringing surviving holocaust Jewish refugees from Europe to Palestine, they were intercepted by the British and impounded.

At the beginning of the War of Independence, those four ships were at anchor, rusting away along the water breaker inside the harbor area of the port of Haifa – and were known as part of the “Shadow Fleet.”

In addition to the warships, there were about two dozen small harbor craft known as the Small Fleet Crafts and a seagoing tugboat.

The four original Israeli Navy warships were:

Eilat/A-16, former Aliyah Bet Medinat-HaYehudim (The Jewish State), originally US Navy Icebreaker Northland.
Haganah/ K-20, former Aliyah Bet Hagana, originally Royal Canadian Navy Corvette Norsyd.
Wedgwood/ K-18, former Aliyah Bet Wedgwood, originally Royal Canadian Navy Corvette Beauharnois.
Maoz/ K-24, former Aliyah Bet Ben Hecht (Abril had been built in Hamburg Germany at the Krupp shipyard facilities as a passenger cruise ship named Citra and later on was sold to an American owner who operated her till the outbreak of WW II; at that time, the US Coast Guard took it over to become a coastal patrol gun boat until the end of World War II, when it was sold to a shipping company)
The four ships were refurbished by a newly- formed Israeli Naval ship repair facility with the assistance of the Kirshtein\Greenspan and Ogen private shipbuilding and repair companies in the Haifa Bay area. These four ships were joined in October 1948 by Noga/ K-26, the former Yucatan, originally US Navy PC.1265.

The five warships were manned by former merchant seamen, some of the Aliyah Bet ships crew members, Israelis who had served in the Royal Navy during World War II and Machal volunteers from all over the world. The total personnel of the Israeli Navy at the onset of the War of Independence was approximately 2,000 men and women. This number included the crews of the warships, the harbor craft, headquarters and hospitals. Most of the Machalniks were World War II veterans with various service experiences and qualifications. The newly refurbished and crewed warships served on coastal patrol duties in the Mediterranean and engaged in naval combat with the Egyptian warships and bombardment of enemy coastal installations in and around the Gaza area, all the way to Port Said in Egypt.

Many of the crew, especially the young Israelis, were trained on the job by members of the crew who had prior military and maritime experience or professional qualifications.

The Israeli Navy looked to the Machal volunteers for maritime experience and the ability to serve in responsible positions as deck officers, skippers, radar and radio operators, communications supervisors, gunnery officers, bosons, engineers, electricians and engine maintainers. Basically, everyone had to adapt to new or unfamiliar equipment and operating requirements in the five ships.

Although English was spoken by many of the crews, the official language was Hebrew and some Machalniks had problems learning it. Machal women only served on shore assignments as nurses in the Bat-Galim Base Hospital and in administrative positions in various bases and the headquarters in Stella-Maris on the Carmel in Haifa.

In addition to Paul Shulman, a number of Machalniks served as ships officers, as well as group leaders on shore installations and ships repairs facilities. The Israeli War of Independence was not one continual battle, neither on land nor sea. It was fought with sometime-long intervals of cease-fire. During the cease-fire periods, the five warships were routinely on patrol duty, safeguarding the Israeli shoreline and ranging as far as the islands of Cyprus and Crete, the Syrian border and Turkey to north and northwest, and to Ashkelon, Gaza, and the Egyptian port of Port Said to the south.

There were always several ships out on patrol duty on rotational basis, while some of the ships were on standby in or around the port of Haifa or Tel Aviv. The remainder would be in port for refueling, emergency repairs, provisioning and R&R for the ships’ crews.

On Aug. 24, 1948, Haganah/ K-20 and Wedgwood/ K-18 seized the Argiro, which had on board 8,000 Rifles and 10 million rounds of ammunition. These arms and ammunition were quickly delivered to the Israeli Armed Forces. This encounter was known as the Pirate’s Booty Operation. The Argiro had been sailing under the Italian Flag with an Italian crew. The war materiel was originally bought from Czechoslovakia by representatives of Arab countries who were buying arms from all over Europe. The cargo had previously been aboard another Italian ship, Lino, which was sunk in the port of Barrie Italy by Israeli Mossad operatives several months earlier. The cargo aboard the Lino had been well-packed and preserved. It was recovered and loaded onto the Argiro, which was then directed to Egypt. Two Mossad operatives boarded the vessel in a severe storm at sea near Crete, convinced the Italian crew that they had no chance to get to their designated port and arranged for the two Israeli Navy warships to board and confiscate the cargo and sink the Argiro.

On October 19, 1948 the Haganah/ K-20, Wedgwood/ K-18, Maoz /K-24 and Noga/ K-26 engaged an Egyptian corvette and three Egyptian spitfires. They downed one of the spitfires and damaged the corvette, which escaped back to its base at Port Said. On October 22, 1948, the same four warships encountered the Egyptian Navy flagship King Farouq. The King Farouq was sunk and an Egyptian minesweeper was damaged.

In this battle in the Ashkelon-Gaza coastal area, Israelis successfully deployed an underwater demolition commando unit and high speed torpedo boats.

Also in October fighting, all four warships participated in the bombardment of Egyptian shore installations in the Ashkelon area, and prevented the Egyptian Navy from evacuating its retreating Armies.

By the end of the war, the Machalniks from the US and Canada had provided a critical core for the fledgling Israeli Navy, and some of them became training personnel after the war for the navy that was growing in fighting ships and personnel.

- David Hanovice

Putting the Oy Back into 'Ahoy'

They did not sing "Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Manischewitz," nor do they ever seem to appear in any of the Disney films about pirates in the Caribbean. The website carries not a single reference to them.

And while September 19 has for a number of years now been designated International Talk Like a Pirate Day (there are even Internet courses available in pirate lingo), none of its initiators seems to have had Ladino (the language spoken by Jewish refugees expelled by the Spanish and Portuguese after the Reconquista) in mind.

Swashbuckling buccaneers who took time to put on tefillin each morning? Better get used to the idea. Long overlooked, the history of Jewish piracy has been garnering increasing interest, with several serious books and articles telling its epic tales.

Many Jewish pirates came from families of refugees who had been expelled by Spain and Portugal. They took to piracy as part of a strategy of revenge on the Iberian powers (though lining their pockets with Spanish doubloons was no doubt also a motive). Many of these pirates mixed traditional Jewish lifestyles with their exploits on the high seas.

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Jewish refugees from Portugal first settled in Jamaica in 1511, probably originally as sugar growers, and some took up piracy. The British, led by Admiral William Penn (the father of the William Penn who established Philadelphia), took over the island from the Spanish in 1655, reportedly with assistance from local Jews and Marranos (crypto-Jews), all of whom were allowed to remain.

By 1720, as many as 20 percent of the residents of Kingston were Jews. Over time, Ashkenazi Jews arrived and their synagogues operated alongside the Sephardic ones (the congregations all merged in the 20th century). Jewish tombstones dating back to 1672 have been found there, with Portuguese, Hebrew and English inscriptions.

Some Jews went into local Jamaican politics, and there were so many in the Jamaican parliament in the 19th century that it became the only parliament on earth that did not hold deliberations on Saturday. The Jewish community of Jamaica today numbers a couple hundred and calls itself the United Congregation of Israelites in Jamaica (UCIJA). The active synagogue there is built in Sephardic style and is one of the few left in the world with a sand floor. Naturally, its official website includes a page on the pirate ancestors of Jewish residents (
According to an article earlier this year in the Israeli weekly Bakihilot, municipal workers in Kingston recently uncovered a long forgotten pirate graveyard. Among the tombstones are those with Jewish stars and Hebrew inscriptions, together with pirate symbols such as the skull and crossbones.

Similar Jewish pirate graves have been found near Bridgetown in the Barbados and in the old Jewish graveyard in Curacao. Jamaican-born Jewish historian Ed Kritzler claims that Jewish pirates once operated there, raiding the Spanish Main wearing tallis shawls. He's just published a book titled Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean and conducts private tours of the "Jewish pirate coves" of Jamaica.

Kritzler's book includes the saga of one Moses Cohen Henriques, who participated in one of history's largest sea heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques sailed together with Dutch Admiral Piet Hein, of the Dutch West India Company, who hated Spain after having been held as a slave for four years on a Spanish galleon. They raided Spanish ships off Matanzas Bay in Cuba, commandeering large amounts of gold and silver.

Henriques set up his own pirate "Treasure Island" on a deserted island off the Brazilian coast on which Jews could openly practice their religion. (He also served as adviser to Henry Morgan, perhaps the most famous pirate of all time; Errol Flynn played Morgan in the movie "Captain Blood.") After the recapture of Brazil by Portugal in 1654, some of these Jews would sail off to set up a brand new Jewish community in a place called New Amsterdam, now known as New York.

In many cases Jewish pirates collaborated with Holland, a friendly and welcoming state for Jews. One such pirate was Rabbi Samuel Pallache, a leader of the Moroccan Jewish community in Fez. Born in The Hague, he was son of a leading rabbi from Cordoba who ended up in Morocco. From there he was sent to Holland as envoy of the Moroccan sultan, who was seeking allies against Spain. He became a personal friend of Dutch Crown Prince Maurice, who commissioned him as a privateer, and served for years as a pirate under a Netherlands flag and with Dutch letters of marque. Rabbi Pallache recruited Marranos for his crews.

In other cases Jewish pirates worked for the Ottomans. A Jewish pirate named Sinan, known to his Spanish prey as "The Great Jew," was born in what is now Turkey and operated out of Algiers. He first served as second in command to the famous pirate Barbarossa. (No connection to the fictional Barbarossa of the Disney films.) Their pirate flag carried a six-pointed star called the Seal of Solomon by the Ottomans.

Sinan led the force that defeated a Genoan navy hired by Spain to rid the Barbary Coast of corsairs. He then conquered Tripoli in Libya, and was eventually appointed supreme Ottoman naval commander. He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Albania.

A Jewish pirate named Yaakov Koriel commanded three pirate ships in the Caribbean. He later repented and ended up in Safed as one of the Kabbalah students of the Ari (Rabbi Isaac Luria) and is buried near the Ari's grave.

A pirate named David Abrabanel, evidently from the same family as the famous Spanish rabbinic dynasty (which included Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel), joined British privateers after his family was butchered off the South American coast. He used the nom de guerre "Captain Davis" and commanded his own pirate vessel named The Jerusalem. According to at least one report, he was the person who discovered what is now called Easter Island.

Several Jewish corsairs operated against Spanish ships off the coast of Chile. There are reports that their galleys were kosher and they abstained from raids on the Sabbath. A maritime museum in Chile today holds letters of communication among these pirates composed in Hebrew.

One pirate leader was named Subatol Deul. On a trip up the coast he stumbled across a ship under the command of the pirate Henry Drake, son of Sir Francis Drake. They decided to create an alliance of anti-Spanish pirates, the "Black Flag Fraternity."

Deul and Drake reportedly buried treasure on an island near Coquimbo in 1645. A chapter in the book Piracy & Plunder: A Murderous Business, by Milton Meltzer, is devoted to Deul's swashbuckling career.

There also were Jewish corsairs based in Curacao next to Venezuela. The local Curacao rabbi once berated his community's pirates when they thoughtlessly attacked a ship owned by a fellow Jew. At least it wasn't done on the Sabbath.

The history of Jewish pirates goes far back: Josephus mentions Jewish pirates operating in the seas off the Land of Israel in Roman times. There is a drawing of a pirate ship inside Jason's Tomb in Jerusalem. The Hasmonean Hyrcanus accused Aristobulus, his brother, of "acts of piracy at sea." In its last days, the Seleucid empire (the one fought by the Maccabees) was plagued by Jewish and Arab pirates.

Pirates operated from coves along the Levantine coast for centuries, and my own city of Haifa was once known as The Little Malta because of its notorious pirates. (The local pirates these days seem to specialize mainly in computer software.)

The fact that some Jews seemed to have taken so easily to the pirate lifestyle may have been due in part to other skills developed by Jews over the centuries. Cartography, for example, was considered a Jewish specialty in the 15th and 16th centuries, and Christopher Columbus is believed to have consulted the work of a Jewish cartographer, one Abraham Cresque of Mallorca, who produced the Catalan Atlas in 1375. Portuguese Jewish cartographers and scientists contributed to Vasco Da Gama's voyage of discovery to the Cape of Good Hope in 1497. Jews also worked on ships as navigators.

* * * * *

Perhaps the most important Jewish pirate of all was the Caribbean pirate Jean Lafitte, a familiar name to many American schoolchildren. He and his men, pirates trained in cannon fire, came to the aid of General (later President) Andrew Jackson and played a critical role in winning the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812. A Jean Lafitte National Historic Park stands today on the outskirts of the city.

What is still largely unknown is that Lafitte was a Jew, born either in Western France or in what is now Haiti. A while back my friend Edward Bernard Glick, a retired professor of political science living in Oregon, published an article in the Jerusalem Post (July 14, 2006) on Lafitte's Jewish origins and it stirred up a storm of interest. Parts of Rabbi I. Harold Sharfman's book Jews on the Frontier also discuss Lafitte's life.

According to Glick, "[Lafitte] was a Sephardi Jew, as was his first wife, who was born in the Danish Virgin Islands. In his prime, Lafitte ran not just one pirate sloop but a whole fleet of them simultaneously. He even bought a blacksmith shop in New Orleans, which he used as a front for fencing pirate loot. And he was one of the few buccaneers who didn't die in battle, in prison or on the gallows."

Glick claims the British tried to recruit Lafitte to guide them through the swamps to ambush the Americans, but Lafitte instead showed General "Old Hickory" Jackson Britain's battle plans to attack New Orleans. The rest is history.

Years before the Battle of New Orleans, Louisiana Governor William C. C. Claiborne placed a reward of $500 on Lafitte's head. Lafitte retaliated by putting a $5,000 bounty on the head of the governor. Neither collected.

Lafitte later commanded his own "kingdom" named Campeche on the island of Galveston, Texas, then nominally under Spanish rule. Some of Lafitte's trading activities were conducted by Jao de la Porta, a Portuguese Jew from Spanish Texas. Among their clients was Jim Bowie, made famous at the Alamo and also for the special knife.

* * * * *

Mention of Jewish pirates can pop up in some unexpected places. Just before Rosh Hashanah this year, the liberal Huffington Post website carried a post by humorist Andy Borowitz "reporting" that the group of Somali pirates who had just hijacked a ship full of Ukrainians in the Gulf of Aden was calling a halt to the piracy in honor of the Jewish High Holidays.

Wrote Borowitz: " 'To all of our Jewish friends, we say a hearty Shana Tova,' said pirate spokesman Sugule, moments before the pirates hoisted a Star of David flag over the captured ship. Sugule took pains to indicate that while the pirates were taking a Rosh Hashanah break from their usual plundering and pillaging schedule, they were doing so only out of respect for Jewish pirates and not because they are Jewish themselves. 'None of us Somali pirates are Jewish,' he said. 'Except for Abe in accounting, who's half.' "

And there are others who are getting into the spirit of things. The Jewish humor website listed a set of halachic challenges for Jewish pirates, including the following:

If you have a hook instead of a hand, on which arm do you put tefillin?
Does your treasure map show how far the eruv extends?
How long do you wait, after capturing a plundered ship, to put up a mezuzah in the captain's cabin?
Should you cover your eye patch with your hand when you say the Shema?
Can you wear a leather boot over your peg leg on Yom Kippur?
Are you able to carry on the plank on Shabbos? If your parrot is on your shoulder, is that carrying?

Personally, I think the biggest challenge to Jewish pirates occurs at Purim. After walking around all year decked out like that, what could they possibly dress up as? Accountants?

In a way, the legacy of Jewish pirates is alive and well in Israel today. One of the most outstanding examples of the Jewish state's derring-do was when it stole five gunboats out of the port of Cherbourg in France - ships that had already been paid for by Israel but that France, as punishment for Israel's Six-Day War victory, was refusing to deliver.

Israeli agents operating through a front corporation seized the ships on December 25, 1969 and sailed them to Haifa. The details of that piracy are engagingly told in The Boats of Cherbourg (1997) by Abraham Rabinovich.

So let's swab the decks, count our doubloons and grant the Jewish pirates their proper place in history. In other words, it's time to put the oy back into "ahoy."

A Man of Three Worlds

Samuel Pallache, a Moroccan Jew in Catholic and Protestant Europe

In the late fifteenth century, many of the Jews expelled from Spain made their way to Morocco and established a dynamic community in Fez. A number of Jewish families became prominent in commerce and public life there. Among the Jews of Fez of Hispanic origin was Samuel Pallache, who served the Moroccan sultan as a commercial and diplomatic agent in Holland until Pallache's death in 1616. Before that, he had tried to return with his family to Spain, and to this end he tried to convert to Catholicism and worked as an informer, intermediary, and spy in Moroccan affairs for the Spanish court. Later he became a privateer against Spanish ships and was tried in London for that reason. His religious identity proved to be as mutable as his political allegiances: when in Amsterdam, he was devoutly Jewish; when in Spain, a loyal converso (a baptized Jew).

In A Man of Three Worlds, Mercedes Garcõa-Arenal and Gerard Wiegers view Samuel Pallache's world as a microcosm of early modern society, one far more interconnected, cosmopolitan, and fluid than is often portrayed. Pallache's missions and misadventures took him from Islamic Fez and Catholic Spain to Protestant England and Holland. Through these travels, the authors explore the workings of the Moroccan sultanate and the Spanish court, the Jewish communities of Fez and Amsterdam, and details of the Atlantic-Mediterranean trade. At once a sweeping view of two continents, three faiths, and five nation-states and an intimate story of one man's remarkable life, A Man of Three Worlds is history at its most compelling.

- Johns Hopkins University Press

Oy-yuy-yuy, & a bottle of Schnaps

My editor was firm: Pirates of the Caribbean movies made a billion “so we’ll call your book Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean.” I agreed: “Yes, a great title, but truth be told, most of my Jewish pirates were nowhere near the Caribbean.”

The Meditteranean was plundered by both the Pirate Rabbi of Holland Samuel Palache, and Sinan the Jew, Barbarossa’s 2nd in command; Chile was Suboltol Deul base, and Moses Cohen Henriques’ pirate island was off the coast of Brazil.
“But o.k. if we have to go with that title, there were a couple of Jewish pirates in the Caribbean.” I told him about Jamaica’s Bartholomew the Portuguese, a successful failure, famous not for his successes but for his escapes, and the pirate Jean Lafitte known to Americans as the hero of the battle of New Orleans who wrote “my Jewish-Spanish grandmother, a witness at the time of the Inquisition, inspired in me a hatred of the Spanish crown” And it was off Cuba that in 1628 Moses Cohen Henriques captured the Spanish Silver fleet, a billion dollar haul in today’s currency.

So, I told him I’m fine with Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean. But can he give it a broader subtitle like Sephardic Pioneers or Underground in the New World? "No," he said. But for you my UJCL readers, you are mishpoche and therefore I have to tell you the full story.
The major role of Jews and pirates was we were like the brains behind their brawn, i.e. We advised and backed them.

From the Age of Discovery, secret Jews sailed with the explorers, marched with the conquistadors and were among the first settlers in every New World colony. This early history is largely unknown because few knew these pioneers were Jewish. Forbidden entry because of their religion, Iberian Jews posed as New Christians from Portugal, the one settler group that did not require proof of Catholic ancestry.

A mercantile people, Jews in the New World went about their business
(as merchants, traders and ship owners) of becoming the first merchant class in the Spanish Empire. As long as they pretended to be Christian and delivered the goods, no one questioned too closely their religiosity. For most of the l6th century, the parties were content with the trade-off: The king needed the Jews to insure his cash flow, and they needed him to keep the Inquisition at bay.

Each colony had an underground community of Jews known only to each other and brethren in other colonies. Together they dominated commerce.
In the 16th century, when the known world doubled in size and international trade became big business, conversos established a trade network that spanned the globe. In concert with Jews scattered world-wide by the Sephardic Diaspora, they formed a global tribe of inside traders, a world wide intelligence network bonded by heritage, language and a hatred for Spain.

Once their trade network was established, however, Jews became expendable. In the l6th and l7th centuries, thousands of New World conversos were arrested, tortured and tried. Found guilty, their wealth was confiscated, and they were first flogged, then either imprisoned, strangled, burned to ash, condemned to work in the salt mines of Venezuela, or row galley ships across the Pacific from which none returned.

Jamaica Haven
“They are good and useful spies,” said Oliver Cromwell of the Jews who when the Inquisition threatened, advised him in the conquest of Jamaica. Welcomed by the English, Jews from all over the New World shed their converso cloaks and moved to Jamaica. The community soon included ship owners from Mexico and Brazil, traders from Peru and Columbia, and ship captains and pilots from Nevis and Barbados. Together their knowledge of New World trade was unsurpassed. By 1660, Jamaica had become the Jews’ principal haven in the New World. Situated in the middle of the shipping lanes, Jamaica was an ideal base from which to strike at Spanish shipping, and engage in contraband trade with the Main. Jamaica’s Jews were major players in both activities.

Having convinced the island’s new leaders that the best way to defend the colony and have it prosper was to invite the pirates of the Caribbean to move there, Port Royal became the home base of the feared Buccaneers of the West Indies and piracy the island’s chief industry. Jewish merchants, in coded correspondence with converso merchants in the Spanish colonies, were able to ascertain what ship was sailing when, its cargo, route, destination, and what its captain may have secreted in his cabin. Thus informed, they financed and advised the buccaneers, and got first dibs on the booty.

Port Royal’s English merchants, new to the New World, could not compete with those they called “descendants of the Crucifers of our Lord,” and repeatedly petitioned for their expulsion. One complained:
“The infinite number of Jews who daily resort to this island have made Port Royal their Goshen and will do nothing but trade…This is a great and growing evil and had we not warning from other Colonies we should see our streets filled and the ships hither crowded with them. This means taking our children’s bread and giving it to the Jews. We did not want them at Port Royal, a place populous and strong without them.

Another by 72 “Christian merchants” accused the Jews of practicing what is today normal business practice:
“The great Mischief we suffer by them is that their trading is a perfect monopoly, for they are a kind of joint stock company, and not only buy the choicest and best goods, but frequently buy up whole cargoes, and undersell petitioners, which they can better bear by their penurious way of living…”

Prejudice could not stand up to economics. Jews’ contribution to Jamaica and England’s prosperity determined the Crown’s position in their favor. In two decades (1656-1676), in large part due to the role of these proven entrepreneurs of wealth in the silent trade (illegal trade with Spanish colonies) and their dealings with the buccaneers, Jamaica funneled to England an estimated four million pounds of silver. England’s Committee of Accounts noted the island had become “the base for the greatest flow of silver and gold [and] more bullion is yearly imported from thence than from
all other of the King’s dominions laid together.”

Port Royal, with its wealthy Jewish merchants, ship owners and synagogue, was known as the “Treasure House of the Indies”. In the ascendancy of the Buccaneer Admiral Henry Morgan, the Jews found their “Joshua.” His six raids on Spanish ports, financed by the merchants, and culminating in the burning of the “Golden City of Panama,” brought the Spanish Empire to its knees. In the Treaty of Madrid in l670, Spain acceded to Europe’s right to settle the New World...and Jews were finally free to be Jews.

The Great Earthquake of 1692 brought a climatic end to the pirate port when the sea swallowed two-thirds of Port Royal. From an infamous pirate capital, Jamaica, by 1698, had become a sugar island worked by 40,000 slaves, and after 1713, “the centre for slave distribution in the Caribbean and North America.” It was then that England’s Royal African Company was awarded by the asiento – the monopoly right Spain granted to conduct the slave trade with Spanish America. A few Jamaican Jews did participate in the trade, but most dealt in dry goods. This fact was noted in a London petition in 1735 that protested the on-going effort of rival merchants to exclude Jews. Their defenders (92 Jewish and non-Jewish merchants) wrote: “The Jews [in London] are almost the only persons that send any dry, fine goods to Jamaica, at their own risk, and on their own account…for the supply of the inhabitants of the island, and for making proper sortments of goods for the Spaniards…”

As Jewish involvement with piracy petered out in the Caribbean, the rovers and their Sephardi sponsors disbanded, only to reunite when in the following century a budding new nation would enlist them in its fight for liberty. In the American Revolution, a dozen prominent Jews sided with the rebels as privateers. Celebrated as founders of early Jewish congregations, it is not commonly known that these men owned and operated more than a few of the pirate ships that captured or destroyed over 600 British ships and took cargoes and prizes with an estimated value of $18 million.

- Ed Kritzler

Ahoy, mateys ! Thar be Jewish pirates!

There's no arrr-guing that pirates are in.

As of last weekend, Disney had plundered $1 billion worldwide with "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," and International Talk Like a Pirate Day -- that's Sept. 19, for you landlubbers -- has gone from an inside joke between two friends to a mock holiday celebrated in more than 40 countries.

Yet tales of Jewish piracy, which stretch back thousands of years, aren't in the public's consciousness, and Hollywood even has been known to remove a pirate's Jewish background. As a result, we're stuck with portrayals of pirates as wayward English seamen on a murderous rampage.

But now a forthcoming book hopes to change that image by focusing on Ladino-speaking Jews whose piracy grew out of the Inquisition. "The Jewish pirates were Sephardic. Once they were kicked out of Spain [in 1492], the more adventurous Jews went to the New World," said Ed Kritzler, whose yet-untitled book on Jewish pirates will be published by Doubleday in spring 2007.

Jewish piracy has been around since well before the Barbary pirates first preyed on ships during the Crusades. In the time of the Second Temple, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records that Hyrcanus accussed Aristobulus of "acts of piracy at sea."

Kritzler has studied pirates for 40 years, and said that the public is fascinated with them because they're "rugged individuals in a world of conformity. They carved their own identity, independent of the rules and strictures of society."

But determining the exact number of Jewish pirates is difficult, Kritzler said, because many of them traveled as Conversos, or converts to Christianity, and practiced their Judaism in secret.

While some Jews, like Samuel Pallache, took up piracy in part to help make a better life for expelled Spanish Jews, Kritzler said others were motivated by revenge for the Inquisition.

One such pirate was Moses Cohen Henriques, who helped plan one of history's largest heists against Spain. In 1628, Henriques set sail with Dutch West India Co. Admiral Piet Hein, whose own hatred of Spain was fueled by four years spent as a galley slave aboard a Spanish ship. Henriques and Hein boarded Spanish ships off Cuba and seized shipments of New World gold and silver worth in today's dollars about the same as Disney's total box office for "Dead Man's Chest."

Henriques set up his own pirate island off the coast of Brazil afterward, and even though his role in the raid was disclosed during the Spanish Inquisition, he was never caught, Kritzler told The Journal.

Another Sephardic pirate played a pivotal role in American history. In the book "Jews on the Frontier" (Rachelle Simon, 1991), Rabbi I. Harold Sharfman recounts the tale of Sephardic Jewish pirate Jean Lafitte, whose Conversos grandmother and mother fled Spain for France in 1765, after his maternal grandfather was put to death by the Inquisition for "Judaizing."

Referred to as The Corsair, Lafitte went on to establish a pirate kingdom in the swamps of New Orleans, and led more than 1,000 men during the War of 1812. After being run out of New Orleans in 1817, Lafitte re-established his kingdom on the island of Galveston, Texas, which was known as Campeche. During Mexico's fight for independence, revolutionaries encouraged Lafitte to attack Spanish ships and keep the booty.

But in the 1958 film "The Buccaneer," starring Yul Brynner as Lafitte, any mention of the pirate's Jewish heritage was stripped away.


- Adam Wills

The Jewish Pirate - Jean Lafitte

One of the things I do since I retired from Philadelphia's Temple University in 1991 is lecture on cruise ships. My signature talk is the 50-century-old history of piracy, whose practitioners I call the Seafaring Gangsters of the World.

A few weeks before my first gig, I sent a draft of the talk to my history-buff sister, Phyllis. She liked it, but she was very unhappy that I had not mentioned Jean Lafitte.

I told her I didn't include him because, except for two famous bisexual female pirates, Mary Read and Anne Bonny, I intended to deal with the economics, the sociology and the politics of piracy.

She said I simply had to talk about Lafitte because he was unique. He was a Sephardi Jew, as was his first wife, who was born in the Danish Virgin Islands.

In his prime, Lafitte ran not just one pirate sloop but a whole fleet of them simultaneously. He even bought a blacksmith shop in New Orleans, which he used as a front for fencing pirate loot. And he was one of the few buccaneers who didn't die in battle, in prison or on the gallows.

Though I didn't lecture about Lafitte at first, a circumstance of serendipity has made me do so ever since.

I was flying to Norfolk, Virginia. The man in the seat next to me wore a skullcap, and he began chatting with me in Gallic-accented English.Though born in France, the friendly passenger now lives in Switzerland.

We quickly established that we were both Jewish and that both of us had taught in Israel. Then we had the following conversation:

"What are you doing on this plane?" I asked.

"I'm a mathematician. I work for an American company and I'm flying to Norfolk today because it has the US Navy's largest naval base and my company is trying to get a Navy contract. Now, what are you doing on this plane?"

"My wife and I are picking up a cruise ship in Norfolk."

"Taking a vacation?"

"Not entirely. I'll be giving lectures on the ship, as many in fact as there are full days at sea."

"What do you lecture about?"

"Cruise lines frown on controversial topics. I have talked about Israel once or twice. But I usually talk about Latin America, which is my second specialty, or the Panama Canal, or Mexico's Isthmus of Tehuantepec, or Prince Henry the Navigator, or Portuguese explorations after Prince Henry, or Alfred Thayer Mahan's belief in the supremacy of sea power, or the political economy of the 21st century, or the voyages of Captain Cook to the South Pacific. But I always begin a cruise with a lecture on pirates. The kids love it, and the old folks like it, too."

"Are you are going talk about Jean Lafitte?"

"No," and I repeated what my sister had told me.

He pulled out his wallet and handed me a business card. It had "Melvyn J. Lafitte" written on it. Then he said, "I could tell you that as we were chatting I printed this card on a nano-sized printing press hidden in my pocket. And of course, you wouldn't believe me. But the truth is that I am a direct descendant of Jean Lafitte. Your sister, Phyllis, is absolutely right.

"Our family, originally named Lefitto, lived in the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. When Ferdinand and Isabella reconquered Spain and expelled the Muslims and the Jews in 1492, most of the Jews fled to North Africa. Others went to the Balkans or to Greece and Turkey. But some Sephardi Jews, my ancestors among them, crossed the Pyrenees and settled in France, where Jean was born in about 1780. He moved to French Santo Domingo during the Napoleonic period. However, a slave rebellion forced him to flee to New Orleans. Eventually, he became a pirate, but he always called himself a privateer because that label has a more legal ring to it.

"In 1814, the British sought his aid in their pending attack on New Orleans," he continued. "However, he passed their plans to the Americans and helped General Andrew Jackson beat them in 1815. A grateful Jackson, not yet president, saw to it that Lafitte and his family became American citizens. And by the way, did you know that there is a town of Jean Lafitte, as well as a Jean Lafitte National Historical Park in Southwestern Louisiana?"

I was flabbergasted, not so much by the saga of Jean Lafitte as retold by a proud descendant, but by the fact that the two of us had met so coincidentally in the skies over Georgia.

Melvyn Lafitte lives in Geneva and I live in Portland, Oregon. These cities are 5,377 miles apart. Unlike him, I am mathematically challenged, so I don't know what the statistical probability is that a descendant of the Franco-Jewish-American pirate Jean Lafitte would board an airplane and sit next to me, as I was agonizing over whether to mention his famous ancestor in a forthcoming talk.

Do you?

- Edward Bernard Glick

U.S. Navy gets a Jewish chapel

Harvey Stein had a dream: Provide Jews at the United States Naval Academy with their own worship space. Nine years and almost $9 million later, his dream will become a reality, with the opening of the Uriah P. Levy Center and Jewish Chapel. The academy estimates that some 1.5 million visitors will tour the facility during its first year, and is scheduled to open the weekend of Sept. 16-18. This high visibility is a prospect that pleases Stein no end. “This will become one of the most important Jewish buildings in the country,” said Stein, 69, the owner of a successful home-decor and personal accessories business. “Lives will be touched in ways that we will probably never fully know." Said Rabbi Irving Elson, the academy’s Jewish chaplain: “This is not just a building for Jews. It’s the next step for the academy in demonstrating how important faith is, any faith,” adding, “It’s a symbol of tolerance and inclusion and for understanding how important faith is in the toolbox of our future Navy and Marines officers. I want our officers to recognize that even if they don’t have a faith themselves, that faith is important to the men and women they command." A full weekend of events is planned for the building’s opening, beginning with the affixing of mezuzot and the dedication of a Torah scroll donated by the Israeli navy, and ending with a formal dedication attended by at least 2,500 guests. The Naval Academy, which educates officers for the Marine Corps as well as the Navy, is the last of America’s three main military academies to construct a worship space designed specifically for Jews. Until now, Jewish midshipmen shared a chapel with other minority religious groups. The academy has a separate chapel for Christians. All U.S. military worship facilities are called chapels, regardless of faith. The lack of a Jewish facility bothered Stein, one of a number of Annapolis Jews with no Navy or academy ties who come to the academy to attend regular Friday night services run by Jewish chaplains; Saturday services are only held on holidays and special occasions. One morning in 1996, while speaking in his kitchen with Rabbi Jonathan Panitz, then the academy’s Jewish chaplain, Stein announced that he wanted to help underwrite a Jewish chapel. Stein said the sound of the words popping out of his mouth took even him by surprise. “When I said that to Jonathan, I thought: ‘Whatever possessed me to say such a thing?’” Stein recalled. Panitz seized upon the idea immediately. “I said, ‘OK, Harvey, when do you want to start?’ And Harvey says, ‘Right away.’ And that was how it began,” said Panitz, now retired from the Navy and leading Congregation Beth Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Lebanon, Pa. The pair turned to Friends of the Jewish Chapel, a group that helped fund activities for Jewish midshipmen, including trips to Israel. But with less than 150 self-identified Jewish midshipmen in any given year, out of a student body of more than 4,000, getting permission proved tricky, despite lobbying that extended to the highest reaches of the Pentagon. The key to jump-starting the project was a pledge by the group to expand Stein’s idea to include raising additional funds to meet other unfulfilled academy construction needs. That led to creation of the Uriah P. Levy Center, which occupies the 35,000-square-foot structure’s south wing. It’s named after the first Jew to be elevated, in 1858, to the rank of commodore, then the Navy’s highest rank. Levy, who restored Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia home, Monticello, after it fell into disrepair following the third president’s death, was descended from some of the first Sephardic Jews to settle in the American colonies. Howard Pinsky, a 1962 academy graduate and the president of the Jewish chapel group, said about $8.75 million has been raised for construction. Another $3 million was raised for maintenance and program endowment funds. Most of the money has come from private Jewish sources. The center will house the academy’s expanding courses in ethics and leadership and its Honor Court, where midshipmen charged with violating the academy’s strict honor code are judged by peers. It will also contain a library dedicated to religious and ethical themes; study, lounge and canteen areas, and displays relating to Jews in the American military and other subjects. The chapel takes up the three-story facility’s entire north wing. The interior of the 410-seat sanctuary is extensively faced with Jerusalem stone. The floor-to-ceiling section behind a free-standing Sephardic-style ark has been hand-crafted to evoke the Western Wall’s jumble of stones. Both the center and chapel have Stars of David incorporated into their exterior design. Architect Joseph Boggs said he believes this is the first instance of the Jewish symbol being a permanent part of a U.S. Navy building. (An academy spokeswoman could not confirm the claim because of the sheer number of Navy buildings worldwide.) The complex occupies a prominent spot on the 330-acre academy. Enclosed passages link the building to Bancroft Hall, the massive dormitory housing all midshipmen, and to Mitscher Hall, the academy’s primary building for social and cultural activities. Boggs said he sought to design the structure so as not to overwhelm non-Jews. “How do you incorporate inclusion without any negative implications? I want any midshipman of any denomination to be able to walk through this place and not just be comfortable, but get a chill down their spine,” said Boggs, who is not Jewish.

- Ira Rifkin

Friday, September 4, 2009

Christopher Columbus: Jewish and New Christian Elements

The most dramatic and best known of the voyages of exploration was, of course, the one made by Columbus in 1492. The journey was spectacular not only for its length and daring, but because it led to one of the biggest surprises in history - the discovery of America. All of the biographers of Columbus recognize this great feat, but many are rather reticent concerning the discoverer's early years and ancestry. Indeed, many scholars shrink from the possibility that yje great explorer may have had Jewish ancestors. There is however, little controversy that the epoch-making expedition was largely made possible by Jews, New Christians (i.e., Conversos ) and Marranos ( nominally Conversos who secretly retained their allegiance to Judaism). There were many of them

In Lisbon, Columbus knew and consulted with Joseph Diego Mendes Vezinho ( 1450 - 1520 ), a Jewish scientist and cosmographer at the Portuguese court. Vezinho, who was later to convert to Christianity, headed a committee of savants and experts on nautical matters chosen to consider Columbus's proposed expedition of discovery. In his work for the Portuguese monarch, Vezinho had helped develop a new and improved astronomical calendar, star tables, and more efficient nautical instruments. Although Vezinho did not favor Columbus's plan, his work for establishing direction and location at sea would prove of inestimable value to the future discoverer of the New World.

Columbus also derived valuable information from Avraham Zacuto ( c. 1450 - 1515 ), a product of the "juderia" of Saragossa, who would be forced by the expulsion of Jews from Spain to flee to Portugal. While still a professor at the University of Salamanca, Zacuto had achieved fame as a scientist, mathematician, and inventor. He is credited with constructing the first metal astrolabe as well as the development of astronomical tables that gave the exact hours for the rising of the planets and fixed stars. His table of ephemeredes was translated into Latin by Vezinho and published under the titile 'Almanach Perpetuum'. This invaluable guide to navigation was used by Columbus on his voyage across the Atlantic. Zacuto met Columbus prior to his first voyage and endorsed the venture, but considered the expedition to be an extremely hazardous undertaking.

Columbus's navigational skills also owed much to the inventiveness of a handful of Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages. Outstanding among the latter was Levi ben Gershon ( 1288 - 1344 ), Biblical commentator, mathematician, and astronomer. Levi was the inventor of the cross - staff, better known as "baculus Jacob" ( Jacob's staff ). This simple instrument enabled mariners to measure angular separation between two celestial bodies. Still another nautical instrument available to Columbus was the "quadrant Judaicus", the brainchild of Jacob ben Machir ibn Tibbon ( 1236 - 1307 )

Indeed, virtually all the nautical aids used by Columbus were the products of Jewish minds. Many of the discoverer's maps, for example, were the creation of Jehudah Cresques ( c. 1360 -? ), at one time head of the National Academy of Palma on Majorca ( a center of Jewish cartography during the 14th century ). In the persecutions of 1391, Cresques was forced to convert to Christianity and was given a new name - Jayme Ribes. He entered the service of the king of Portugal and became the director of the School of Navigation at Sagres - the institution founded by Henry the Navigator that marked the beginning of the Age of Discovery.

In 1485, Columbus suddenly left Portugal for Spain. Almost immediately, he began a search for a sponsor for his proposed voyage of discovery. After several frustrating false starts, he appealed to a nobleman of Andalusia, Luis de Cerda, the count of Medici -Celi. De Credo's hospitality was legendary, and he took Columbus under his wing, sheltering the mariner for almost two years. The count also offered to outfit three ships for Columbus's contacts, Luis de Cerda recommended him to his cousin, Cardinal Pedro Ganzales de Mendoza, bishop of Toledo. The cardinal and the count were related through the same Jewish grandmother, and both men had been subjected to attacks because of their descent.

De Mendoza, in his capacity as chairman of a special commission that met to consider the merits of Columbus's plans, heartily endorsed the mariner's proposals. His cousin, Luis de Cerda, also continued to lobby on behalf of Columbus; he sent a strong letter to the Spanish monarchs urging them to reconsider their opposition to Columbus's proposals and, at the very least, to grant the mariner an audience. De Cerda's appeal yielded results, and in 1486, Columbus was granted a royal audience at Cordoba. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand were not entirely convinced by Columbus's presentation but agreed to submit his project to a commission of scholars. To head the commission Isabella chose her confessor, Hernando de Talavera ( 1428 - 1507 ), prior of the Prado and later archbishop of Granada. Hernando de Talavera was the grandson of a Jewish woman and in his declining years, would be accused of being a Marrano and was brought before the Inquisition. Humiliated, and unable to counter the vicious proceedings of the court headed by Rodriquez Lucerno, the inquisitor of Cordoba, the proud Hernando would die of mortification. Columbus himself suffered patiently for several years, as the so-called experts of the de Talavera commission debated endlessly the feasibility of his proposals ( they eventually rejected his plan.)

It was during these early years of tribulation in Spain that Columbus gained the support of two highly placed and influential Jews - Abraham Senior and Isaac Abravanel. Senior ( 1412 - 1493 ), during the reign of Isabells's predecessor, King Henry 1V of Castile, had served as chief tax collector of the kingdom and was appointed by the monarch to head the Jewish community of Segovia. Along with a number of other influential Jews, Senior had played a key role in arranging the marriage of Isabella to Ferdinand of Aragon. Some years later, in the power struggle between Isabella and her brother, King Henry 1V, Senior, together with a few other notables, succeeded in convincing the commander of the fortress of Segovia to hand over the city to Isabella and her consort. This act opened the way for the unification of Castile and Aragon and, eventually all of Spain.

Once in power, the grateful Catholic monarchs rewarded Senior by appointing him "rab de la corte," i.e., court rabbi and supreme judge of the Jews of Castile. He also received a large pension and was exempted from the restrictions in dress that had been imposed on Spanish Jewry. In 1468, Senior was made treasurer general of the Hermanded, a semi- military organization formed for the maintenance of law and order. In addition, as factor general to the Spanish army, Senior played a major role in facilitating the conquest of Grenada, the last remaining stronghold of the Moors in Spain.

Tradition has it that Senior met Columbus at Malaga, at which time the future admiral outlined his plan to the Jewish courtier. Columbus was well aware that his proposed expedition would require large financial commitments and welcomed the promise of the support of Senior.

Don Isaac ben Judah Abravanel ( 1437 - 1508 ) a close associate of Senior, was another supporter of Columbus at the Spanish court. Born in Lisbon, Isaac was a child prodigy. His many talents eventually attracted the attention of King Alfonso of Portugal, and he became the latter's advisor, as well as the kingdom's financial minister. However, Abravanel's life took an unexpected turn with the death of his royal patron. The new king suspected Abravanel of being involved in an insurrection against his regime led by the duke of Braganca. Abravanel, fearing for his life, fled to Spain (Toledo). When Ferdinand and Isabella learned of his presence in their realm, they invited him to join their court. Some time later, Senior enlisted his aid in tax farming the kingdom's revenues. Abravanel gradually amassed a great personal fortune and loaned enormous sums to the Catholic monarchs in their war against the Moors of Granada. Indeed, it was shortly after the fall of Malaga that Abravanel, in the company of his friend, Senior, met Columbus and was first exposed to the latter's plan for a voyage of discovery across the Atlantic. Although Abravanel favored the mariner's plan, his support would come to an abrupt halt following the issuance of the edict of expulsion of Spanish Jewry in 1492.

Abravanel, in spite of pressure from Ferdinand and Isabella to convert to Christianity, remained steadfast in his beliefs and immigrated to Naples. When theKingdom of Naples, in 1494, fell to King Charles V111 of France, Abravanel accompanied the deposed Neapolitan monarch, whom he had served as treasurer, into exile in Sicily. After the death of the former Neapolitan ruler, Abravanel moved to Corfu and, in 1496, returned to Naples. Some years later, at the urging of his son, Joseph, he settled in Venice, where he served as a diplomat for the republic until his death in 1508.

Abraham Senior, who had served the Catholic majesties so faithfully for many years, was at first given permission to leave Spain with whatever personal possessions he wished to take along with him. However, steady pressure was exerted by Isabella and Ferdinand for Senior to convert. The queen, in particular, threatened to impose further reprisals against the departing Jews, and Senior, too old and tired to fight any longer, accepted baptism and was allowed to remain in Spain. Taking the name Fernando Munez Coronel, he was further rewarded for his apostasy by being appointed "regidor of Segovia" (governor) and made a member of the royal council, as well as chief financial administrator to the crown prince. He died shortly afterwards in 1493.

Among Columbus's highly placed patrons was Luis de Santangel, a member of one of the wealthiest and influential families of Aragon. An ancestor, Azarias Chinillo, had converted to Christianity in the early years of the 15th century in the wake of the persecutions against the Jews led by the fanatical Dominican friar, Vincent Ferrer. Azarias would become bishop of Majorca.

Luis de Santangel began his career as a tax farmer and courtier. A favorite of King Ferdinand, he was appointed in 1481 'escribano de racion', a kind of comptroller general, to the royal house of Aragon. He would also later hold the post of 'contador mayor' (paymaster general) for Castile.

Although nominally New Christians, the Santangel family's attachment to Catholicism was at best lukewarm, and its members were among the early targets of the Inquisition. Indeed, a kinsman of Luis was accused of complicity in the murder of Pedro de Arbues, canon of the Cathedral of Saragossa and the heart and soul of the Inquisition in Aragon. The kinsman was also charged and condemned for being a secret Jew ( i.e., a Marrano .)

In July of 1491, Luis de Santangel was also accused of being a Marrano. King Ferdinand intervened on his behalf and managed to stop the Inquisition's proceedings.

Luis de Santangel first met Columbus in 1486 and was greatly impressed by the latter's personality and plans for a voyage of discovery. When, some years later, word reached him that Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand had once again rejected Columbus's project and had sent him on his way, Santangel immediately requested and received an audience with Her Majesty. With great eloquence, he pleaded for Columbus's voyage of discovery and prevailed upon the queen to have the mariner brought back to the court for further discussions. The queen agreed, and a bewildered Columbus was brought back to the court to once again present arguments for his proposed expedition of discovery.

Anticipating the royal couple's anxiety on how to finance a voyage across the Atlantic, Santangel reminded the monarchs that the Santa Hermandad, of which he was one of treasurers, had a large endowment that could be borrowed against. He also indicated to the Spanish rulers that he was willing to back the Columbus expedition with a considerable sum from his personal fortune. ( He would later also call upon his Converso friends to contribute toward the financing of the expedition.) The tax farmer also reminded Ferdinand and Isabella of an overlooked debt to the Crown. It seems that the community of Palos on the southern coast of Castile had been found guilty of smuggling, and a fine had been levied against it that had gone uncollected. The town owed the Crown three months of service and two caravels. Santangel's arguments proved to be the decisive factor in swaying the Spanish sovereigns to back Columbus's project. A grateful Columbus would not forget his benefactor. It was to Luis de Santangel that he addressed the famous letter announcing his discoveries. Indeed, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand would first hear of the successful undertaking from the lips of Santangel.

An identical letter was sent by Columbus to Gabriel Sanchez, one of the three influential New Christians that Luis de Santangel had gotten to help finance the explorer's initial voyage. grabriel Sanchez (d. 1505)
was the high treasurer of the Kingdom of Aragon, and a member of a distinguished family of Conversos who traced their origins back to a Jew named Alazar Goluff of Saragossa. After the murder of the inquisitor Pedro de Arbues, three of the brothers of Gabriel Sanchez - Juan, Alfonso, and Guillen - were accused of having participated in the conspiracy to eliminate the Inquisitor. Juan managed to escape but was condemned to death in effigy. Alfonso, who was also accused of being a Marrano, managed to flee Aragon before the Inquisition could lay hands on him. The third brother, Guillen, was allowed by the Inquisition to repent. The father-in-law of Gabriel Sanchez, also implicated in the murder plot, was less fortunate than Guillen. He was charged with Judaizing and sentenced to death.

Grave charges were also brought against Gabriel Sanchez. He was accused of having participated in the conspiracy that led to the murder of Pedro de Arbues. Since the allegations could not be proved, and Sanchez continued to have the support of King Ferdinand, he was able to survive the efforts of the Inquisition to tar him as a heretic and backslider.

As in the case of Luis de Santangel, Columbus regarded gariel Sanchez as one of his staunchest supporters. The letter the discoverer sent to Sanchez describing the findings of the first voyage to the New World was reproduced by the high treasurer, and a copy was forwarded to his brother, Juan, in Florence. The latter passed it on to his cousin Lenardo de Cosco, a Marrano, who translated it into Latin and had it published. Within a year, the Latin translation ran through nine editions, thus spreading the news of the New World throughout Europe.

Still another of Columbus's highly placed patrons was Alfonso de la Caballeria. He was the descendant of a Jewish family that had achieved prominence in Spain as early as the 13th century. During the course of the 15th century, a family schism occurred, and eight of the nine sons of the head of the household converted to Christianity. In the succeeding generations, many members of the family achieved fame and fortune in the service of the state and the Church. At the same time, by marriage, the de la Caballeria clan became closely allied with almost all the major Converso families in Spain.

Alfonso, like his father before him, started his career as a counselor at the court of Aragon and rose rapidly through the ranks of the bureaucracy. In the 1480's, he was appointed vice-chancellor of aragon. Nevertheless, in spite of his high office, he was not immune from investigation by the Inquisition. He was accused of having been involved in the Pedro de Arbues conspiracy. Allegations concerning other members of Alfonso's family, many of whom were suspected of being Marranos, were also introduced by the tribunal. Thus, Alfonso's father, Pedro, although long deceased, was described by one Inquisition witness as having posed as a Christian who frequently reverted in thoughts and deeds to his ancestral traditions. Still other members of the de la Caballeria clan were accused of still maintaining close ties with the synagogue and the Jewish community.

The judicial proceedings initiated by the Inquisition would drag on for 20 years. Finally, in 1501, the papacy confirmed Alfonso de la Caballeria's Catholic orthodoxy, and he was completely exonerated. However, the toll of the prolonged trail had been high. He was unable, for example, to prevent the Inquisition's exhumation of the bones of his grandmother, or his wife's appearance as a penitent in an 'auto-da-fe, or the burning of his brother Jaime in effigy.

Completing the list of powerful Conversos who rendered financial support to Columbus when it was most desperately needed, is that of Juan Cabrero, royal chamberlain of King Ferdinand. He was regarded as one of the king's most faithful and trusted retainers. Carero had fought at Fernando's side in the war against the Moors and was an intimate friend as well as advisor to the monarch. However, even this high-placed New Christian official's family could not escape the tentacles of the Inquisition. Juan's grandfather, Sancho de Patenoy, the grand treasurer of Aragon, was accused in the Arbues conspiracy and sentenced to death. Juan Cabrero, using all his influence at court, managed with great difficulty to have the verdict changed to life imprisonment.

In addition to Luis de Santangel, Alfonso de la Caballeria, and Juan Sanchez, two other individuals merit attention as supporters of Columbus at the Spanish court. They are Marchioness de Moya, and Juan de Coloma. De Moya, a close friend and confidant of Queen Isabella, it is widely believed, was a member of a Marrano family. Although hard evidence is lacking, it is known that the marchioness associated with Marranos and Conversos and on several occasions, intervened to save such individuals, from the Inquisition.

Juan de Coloma, a royal secretary, had a hand in drawing up the contract between Columbus and the Catholic monarchs. Although one of the few high officials of "Old Christian" stock involved with the initial expedition of Columbus, his wife was a New Christian - a member of the Caballeria family.

Columbus's connections with the Jews, New Christians, and Marranos, was not limited to court officials. There is the controversial matter that some of his shipmates were of Jewish stock. Five crew members are generally singled out for this distinction; Alonso de la Calle, a bursar, who eventually settled in Hispaniola and whose very name indicates that he was born in the Jewish quarter; Rodrigo de Sanchez of Segovia, who was related to Gabriel sanchez, the high treasurer of Aragon; Marco, the surgeon; Maestre Bernal of Tortosa, a physician who had been reconciled by the Inquisition in 1490, but was forced to witness his wife's death at the stake of an auto-da-fe, and Luis de Torres, the official interpreter of the expedition, who had been baptized a few days before the fleet sailed. Torres had been specifically appointed by Columbus as interpreter because he knew Hebrew, Chaldean and arabic. This knowledge was expected to prove useful if the voyagers came across 'Asiatic" descendants of the Ten Last Tribes of Israel.

Prior to his conversion, Luis de Torres had been employed as an interpreter by Juan Chacon, the governor of Murcia ( a province with a large Jewish population ). Since Columbus's first voyage coincided with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, Luis's job with the governor was obviously over. There were no longer any Jews for whom he might have interpreted in their audience with the governor.

When Columbus discovered Cuba, he was convinced that he had found Marco Polo's Cinpangu (Japan). The "admiral", however, was puzzled that there were no silk clad sages, or palaces tiled with gold to be seen anywhere. Accordingly, he decided to dispatch an embassy into the interior of the island, where he believed the cities were located. Tolead the mission, he chose Luis de Torres. The interpreter was given a Latin passport, which he was to present to the chief of the natives ("the Great Khan"), as well as gifts. He also carried letters of credence from Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. An able-bodied seaman named Rodrigo de Jerez was chosen to accompany Torres. Two native Arawak Indian guides rounded out the embassy.

The mission into the island's interior proved disappointing to Columbus, for the group found nothing resembling an imperial city, or gold. However, Torres did bring back a fairly comprehensive report of the native people he and Rodrigo had encountered, their customs and manners, as well as a description of some of the island's fauna and flora. Among the wonders that Torres had noted was a strange practice of the natives to put thin rolls of dried leaves ( tobacco) into their nostrils or mouths, lighting them, and blowing out smoke.

Although Luis de Torres's linguistic skills proved useless in carrying out his mission, the resourceful interpreter, not understanding the Amerindian dialect, fell back upon sign language to carry out his instructions. Torres would later seek permission to settle in Cuba as a royal agent. His request was granted with an annual pension from the Crown. By cultivating his friendship with the native ruler of the island, Torres would, in time, aquire large tracts of land and carve out for himself a small empire. He was the first European to visit the inhabitants of the New World in their native setting, and the first to describe their life before it was corrupted by contact with the white man.

Scholars have long squabbled over the question as to why high-placed New Christians and Jews were willing to take on the enormous risk of financing Columbus's initial expedition. One possible explanation that has been suggested is that the discoverer and his patrons had a deep and ineradicable impulse to help their fellow Jews, or in the case of the Conversos such as Luis de Santangel, Alfonso de la Caballeria, and Juan Sanchez, their former co-religionists to whom they still felt linked.

A biographer of Columbus, John Boyd Thatcher, putting it more succinctly, has written; "that the triumph of Columbus ---- was the triumph of the Converso Luis de Santangel, visionary and champion of the perennial lost cause of history --- the cause of the Jews." Other writers ( notably Salvador de Madariaga and Simon Wiesenthal) have speculated that the longings of the Conversos who supported Columbus may have run parallel to the dreams of the discoverer himself, namely, an obsessive dream to find a refuge for the Jews in the lands that he hoped to find across the Atlantic.

What ever the truth, it is a fact that many Marranos and Conversos listened to the tales emanating from the New World following Columbus's epic voyages and flocked to the lands that he had claimed for Iberia. They had board ships secretly, for officially they were strictly forbidden to set foot in the new territories. However, disregarding all the bans and harbor controls, they made their way across the ocean, where they hoped to make a new life.

- Joseph Adler

The Altalena

The history of the creation of the State of Israel has always been charged with emotions. Mostly these emotional feelings are positive, but to the old timers of the state, the incidents that surrounded the emergence of the state were causes of deep inter Jewish hatred and suspect amongst brethren. This is highlighted in an extreme manner in an episode called the "Atlalena" from which an important lesson must be learnt.

The Alatlena was the name of a boat that brought in supplies, arms and Jewish soldiers. It met a sad fate which illustrates some of the inborn problems that existed during the formation of the State of Israel and the subsequent government intrigues and prejudices that were and still abound in the national government. To properly understand the rise of the State of Israel and the Altalena affair we must first understand a bit of its background.

Before the British relinquished their rule in Palestine (its name before the rise of the modern state of Israel), the Arabs and British had fought many battles against the Jews. These were due to the British, who as rulers and protectors of Palestine, did not avail the Jews with any protection against the attacking Arab marauder bands and later organized Arab armies. The Jews, in order to defend themselves, set up their own clandestine defense groups. One was the Haganah, also known as the Palmach, and another was the I.Z.L. (the Irgun Zvai Leumi - meaning the national army group) or known simply as the Irgun. (It should be noted that other groups also existed, but in the framework of this article, we shall just focus on these two groups.)

The Haganah was under the command of David Ben Gurion; where as the Irgun was lead by Menachem Begin. The Haganah was the larger of the two and it was connected politically with the Jewish Agency. The Jewish Agency had tremendous popular support and used its political acumen to raise large funds. However, the Jewish Agency also was suspected of "cashing in" on Jewish tragedies; meaning that when Arabs killed Jewish settlers the contributions increased. The Irgun, which was a more aggressive group, was set up to meet the needs of the local population that were not adequately protected by the Haganah. These two groups at time fought side by side, but unfortunately, much energy was wasted in rivalry.

After the British withdrew from Palestine in May of 1948, and Ben Gurion, together with all the Jewish leaders, declared Palestine to become the independent state of Israel, war broke out. Israel was attacked by the Armies of the neighboring Arab states, and bitter fighting ensued. Ammunition and supplies were scarce. The Irgun leader, Menachem Begin pleaded with the Government leaders to give his brave soldiers supplies, but the leaders of the Jewish Agency, who had tremendous animosity towards the Irgun, were not forthcoming in sharing supplies.

In May of 1948, the Irgun, seeing the need for supplies, outfitted a boat, the Altalena, with a large amount of supplies, including rifles, machine guns, bombs, and bullets. In addition, nine hundred immigrant-soldiers were on board. It left France late, not in May, but in June of 1948. During this time a cease-fire was set up.

The Israeli forces were at this time tired from the heavy fighting and were desperate for munitions and supplies. Due to the animosity between the fighting forces, the Haganah, whose leaders feared that Begin's heroic though small army would pose a serious problem to the new government, refused to share munitions with them. When the Atalena approached the Israeli shores, the new Jewish government demanded that all supplies be given over to them to distribute as they saw fit. Begin refused to give it all over, but he pleaded with them that they give his fighters a percentage of the supplies.

As the Alalena approached the Israeli coast, the troops of the Palmach came down to the shore to prevent any unauthorized unloading of the boat. Begin, not willing to give over all the supplies that his group had bought and brought in at their own expense, tried negotiating with the Palmach commander. The commander was immovable. Begin then decided to go to the government heads to receive their personal assurances that they would get some of the supplies.

The Palmach commander began sending small skirmish boats to shoot at the Altalena and any one trying to either leave or board the boat. Begin protested to the commander, but to no avail. Light artillery was aimed at the boat and casualties were reported, but the soldiers on the Altalena, would not fire upon their Jewish brethren who were shooting at them, hoping that they would come to their senses. Later the Jewish commander began shelling in the direction of the Altalena, each shell coming closer and closer. The captain of the boat hoisted the white flag, but his flag was ignored. The shell came closer and closer. Finally, the boat was hit.

The entire boat was destroyed; Jewish soldiers were killed and wounded. All the supplies and armament were lost. This created a very deep riff between the followers of Menachem Begin and David Ben Gurion. Even after the war ended and peace was won, the two sides carried deep hatred towards each other. Ben Gurion went on to be the first Prime Minister of Israel, and his group, the Jewish Agency, developed into what is today the Labor party in Israel. Menachem Begin, became the head of the opposition in the Israeli Parliament (Keneset) and his group became what is today's Liked party.

Menachem Begin never publicly revealed the name of the commander that ruthlessly killed innocent Jewish soldiers and sunk the Altalena. However, unsubstaniated rumor has always named Yitzhak Rabin, the former Prime Minister of Israel, who himself was assassinated by another Jew as being the commander.

Whether it is true or not, the fact remains that much hatred and innocent Jewish lives were lost both directly (the soldiers on the Altalena) and indirectly (those who lose battles due to lack of supplies) by Jewish hatred with in our own ranks. Bitter as history can be, isn't it time that we take note of the lessons provided by history and begin to treat that other Jew, who thinks differently than us, with more respect?

- Chaim Eliezer

Ancient boat shows Jewish maritime life

A boat that plied the coast of the Holy Land 1,300 years ago carrying fish, carobs and olives is helping researchers better understand a little-known period in the region's history.

The boat, discovered in a coastal lagoon near the northern city of Haifa, dates from the early 8th century, not long after the rise of Islam and the Arab conquest of the Middle East. The find suggests that a long tradition of sea trade was not disrupted by the arrival of new rulers from the Arabian desert.

Marine archaeologists who released new findings this week said the boat — the only one from this period discovered in the Mediterranean — could help scholars understand how the arrival of Arabs changed life and trading patterns in the Holy Land.

The boat, the archaeologists think, sailed up and down the coast with a crew of four or five, fishing and stopping to trade at ports along the way. On one of its journeys, it went down in shallow water for reasons unknown.

This 45-foot-long craft was first discovered by researchers from Haifa University's Institute for Maritime Studies and Texas A&M University 10 years ago, in a lagoon that is home to some 25 other sunken craft dating as far back as 2,000 years ago. Serious investigation of the craft began last year, and scholars are only now releasing their findings.

Much of the still-submerged ship is uniquely intact, with the stump of a mast still visible. On board, the archaeologists found 30 clay pots originating in Egypt and containing the remains of fish. They also found ropes, a wooden spoon and well-preserved 1,300-year-old olives and carobs.

Yaacov Kahanov, the Haifa University scholar leading the excavation, said the find was important both because of the boat's rare state of preservation and because the craft dates from a period about which historians know little.

Kahanov said the find also showed there was a settlement, previously unknown, in the early Arab period on the beach near where the boat was found. "The sailors brought the boat into the lagoon deliberately, to meet someone, to sell or buy, meaning there was some kind of port nearby," Kahanov said.

More important, the boat could help to paint a picture of economic life in the Holy Land under Arab rule. Hailing from the desert, the new rulers had no seagoing tradition, and scholars are divided on whether trading patterns that existed before they arrived were preserved afterwards.

According to Joseph Drori, an expert on the Islamic period at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, the boat could offer an indication that sea trade continued uninterrupted.

"If the age of the boat is right, then this is a very important find," Drori said.

When the boat went down in the lagoon, the Holy Land was an administrative backwater ruled from Damascus by the caliphs of the Umayyad dynasty, who had just built the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The Muslim population was still small, and most people were Christian, Jewish and Hellenist. The sailors were unlikely to have been Arabs, Drori said.

"The Arabs came with no knowledge of the sea, and drafted craftsmen, sailors and shipbuilders from the local population," Drori said.

- Matti Friedman