Well, here it is, Saturday night. Some time around 8:30 I observe that Shabbes is over, so I crank up the old laptop to see what’s new and catch up with my Forward fan mail. My latest column on Palestinian statehood had some pretty lively back-and-forth going on as of Friday evening, and I’m eager to see what new pearls of Torah have been shared while I was off-line.
One comment sort of took my breath away, I must admit. A faithful reader named Howard informs me that I am “an enemy of G-d, Torah and Judaism.” This comes as a shock. I take the Good Book pretty seriously, as those who know me are aware, and I go to considerable lengths to stay on the right side of the Big Guy. It would be a drag to discover that all my efforts were so unappreciated.
But then I look again, and I see that Howard’s comment was posted 22 hours ago, or about 10 or 10:30 Eastern Time. Unless Howard lives in Hawaii, he’s been posting on Shabbes. So now I’m wondering, what Torah is he such big friends with that I’m not?
The truth is, I sort of know the answer. It’s no big secret that much of today’s Judaism consists not of Judaism per se but of political support for Israel. But not merely support for Israel. It’s the right kind of support for Israel. It’s commonly described as support for the government of Israel and its policies, but that’s not it either. The same mentality that attacks you if you criticize the policies of the Netanyahu government just as vehemently attacked you if you supported the policies of the Olmert government.
The bottom line is, you are judged not by how much you love Israel but by how much you hate its enemies. If you can see common cause or shared interests between Israel and the Arabs, you are a traitor.
Jeffrey Goldberg blogged the other day about Richard Goldstone, speculating on what made the judge recant. Among other things, Jeffrey asks, rhetorically, whether Goldstone was “really naive enough to believe that people in ‘his community’ wouldn’t be upset with him” for the accusations in the Goldstone report. To shed some light on this, take another look at Howard’s comment to me. There’s upset, and then there’s loony-upset. We all expect robust debate, even sliming, but as a wiser man than I once said, Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.
The news this week is chock-full of outrage over the Israeli naval action that Turkey and others are calling an act of naked piracy on the high seas. And in the week’s other top story, by incredible coincidence, the oil slick oozing across the Gulf of Mexico made its first major landfall Thursday at, of all places, Grand Isle in Barataria Bay at the mouth of the Mississippi, 15 miles south of New Orleans. Barataria and its three islets are probably best known as the place where a private kingdom was established around 1800 by the greatest Jewish pirate of them all, Jean Lafitte.
Lafitte, as alert readers recall, was born around 1776 and won fame as a pirate and sometime privateer who specialized in attacking Spanish merchant ships. He played a critical, well-documented role in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, bringing his men and arms through the swamps to help Andrew Jackson stop the British.
It’s widely believed that Lafitte was born in France or the French Caribbean (various theories as to which island) and was raised by his maternal grandmother, Zora Nadrimal, a secret Jew who fled Spain as a little girl, one step ahead of the Inquisition. As commonly told, Bubbe Zora raised Lafitte and his three brothers, Pierre, Rene and Dominique You (who was portrayed by Charles Boyer in the 1958 Yul Brynner swashbuckler about Lafitte, “The Buccaneer”) to hate Spain for what it did to their people and to take to the sea for revenge.
Lafitte’s hatred of Spain is well-documented; he was close to Simon Bolivar and may have helped finance the Bolivar and San Martin revolutions that kicked Spain out of South America. His Jewishness, on the other hand, is a matter of furious debate among historians. Debunkers say the evidence of Lafitte’s Jewishness is thin and suspect, though they don’t offer much evidence to the contrary and they often sound like those grumpy old men who get all huffy when you talk about Jewish athletes and other ruffians, like it lowers their standards. (It turns out that some don’t like being associated with ruffians and others don’t like being associated with Jews.) I would have thought the debate would end four years ago when this article appeared in the Jerusalem Post, in which a scholarly writer relates his recent encounter with Melvyn Lafitte, a direct descendant who lives in Switzerland and is a practicing Orthodox Jew. But no.
It’s also said, with shakier documentation, that Lafitte’s death off Galveston in 1823 was faked and that he lived off his wealth into the 1850s, probably in St. Louis. In some accounts he got involved in labor organizing, met Marx in London and tried to introduce him to Abraham Lincoln. Here’s a vitriolic online back-and-forth about this theory. Here’s the Amazon page for The Journal of Jean Lafitte, purportedly written in the 1840s, describing his youth with his grandmother and much more, widely seen as phony but a fun read anyway. And here is Marx’s actual letter to Lincoln.
Where were we? Oh yes — the Big Spill meets the Flotilla…