What does a people need to become a nation?
A flag, a currency, an airline.
Around the time Israel became a nation, patriots were delighted to note that the first house of prostitution had opened in Tel Aviv.
“Now we have arrived,” they said. “At last we have a national home.”
Bernard Glick is a retired Jewish professor at Philadelphia’s Temple University. After his retirement he is giving lectures on cruise ships on many subjects, among others, the history of piracy. He likes to begin his series with it because old folks and kids love it. The title of his lecture is “Seafaring Gangsters of the World.” The central figure is Jean Lafitte, the famous Jewish pirate who was born around 1780 in what is now Haiti. Professor Glick does this in the context of the many pirates of the Caribbean who, like Lafitte, were Sephardic Jews. They had turned to piracy to get revenge on the Spanish Catholics who had expelled them in 1492, murdered their families and stolen their property.
“He to whom evil is done will do evil in return.”
Jean Lafitte is by no means obscure. There are two biographies of him and a town called Jean Lafitte, as well as the Jean Lafitte National Park, in Southwestern Louisiana. Wikipedia does not mention that he was a Jew.
One day Bernard Glick was flying to Norfolk, Virginia. On the plane he sat next to a man who wore a skullcap. They began chatting. The man spoke in a Gaelic-accented English. Though born in France, he lived in Switzerland. He was a mathematician and worked for an American company because it had the American Navy’s largest base. His company was trying to get a Navy contract. It soon became apparent that they were both Jewish.
Professor Glick told him about his series of lectures, among others his lecture on Jean Lafitte.
The man pulled out his wallet and handed him a business card. His name was Melvyn J. Lafitte.
“I am a direct descendant of Jean Lafitte,” he declared.
Professor Glick was flabbergasted.
Once Professor Glick recovered, Melvyn Lafitte explained to him that his ancestors had crossed the Pyrenees and settled in France. Others fled to North Africa, the Balkans and Turkey. They regaled each other with stories about Melvyn’s adventurous ancestor, such as this one. In 1814 the British sought his aid in their pending attack on New Orleans. He promised to give it to them and they disclosed their plans to him. He passed them to the Americans and helped General Andrew Jackson beat them in 1815. A grateful Jackson, not yet President, saw to it that Jean Lafitte and his family become American citizens.
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Please don’t spread the rumour that Lafitte rescued Napoleon from St. Helena and that they both died in Louisiana. It is entirely unfounded.
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Canadians are still waiting for a pirate they can call their own.