Arr vey! Forest Hills Y to hold talk on Jewish pirates

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Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition and became swashbucklers and outlaws on the high seas will play a starring role in an upcoming discussion about an often-overlooked part of Sephardic history at the Central Queens YM & YWHA in Forest Hills.

Author Andree Brooks, a former New York Times columnist, will speak June 23 at 1:30 p.m. about the adventurous Jews who become the pirates that have so thoroughly captured the imaginations of children and, most recently, Hollywood filmmakers, who have been making such films as “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

“If Johnny Depp chooses to come here for the talk, I expect we’ll welcome him in the audience,” Central Queens YM & YWHA Executive Director Bob Friedman joked.

Brooks, the author of several books on Sephardic history, hopes to shed light on a part of Jewish history about which little has been unearthed.

“We have 2,000 years of Jewish history, and when you think of Jewish history, what do you think ofi” Brooks said. “The Holocaust. What about the rest of the 1,996 yearsi There is victimization and persecution in Jewish history, but there are wonderful stories of triumph and Jewish history is never thought of in those terms.”

Thousands of Jews fled Spain during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century, and some of them took to the open seas in the Caribbean to become pirates who likely plundered Spanish ships as revenge for the persecution they had faced in Europe, Brooks said.

“They found in the Caribbean somewhat of a haven for themselves at a time when there were a lot of anti-Jewish problems in Europe,” Brooks said.

Though Brooks said it has been difficult to dig up facts about Jewish pirates, since little of that period of history is documented, researchers have been able to discover that Jewish renegades included an arms dealer who used his treasure to create a safe haven for other Jews and Moses Cohen Henriques, who pulled off one of the largest heists in pirate history.

Henriques, a Jewish-Portugese pirate, had served as a slave aboard a Spanish ship for years. He eventually managed to seize about $1 billion worth of gold and silver from Spanish ships off the coast of Cuba during the 17th century.

Brooks was a contributing columnist for the New York Times for 18 years, during which she covered a multitude of issues, from women’s rights to real estate. She tours the country to give lectures on unusual aspects of Jewish history.

Brooks’ talk is open to the general public, and a $4.50 donation is suggested. For more information, call 718-268-5011, Ext. 151.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 174.

Posted 6:34 pm, October 10, 2011
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