Tag Archives: Dutch Jews

Jew of the Week: Moses Cohen Henriques

The Jewish Pirate Who Conquered Brazil

Moses Cohen Henriques (b. 1595) was born to a family of Sephardic Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity. The family eventually made their way to Amsterdam and returned to their Jewish faith. Henriques joined the Dutch navy, and rose up through the ranks to be the right-hand man of famed Dutch admiral Piet Hein. Together, they defeated the Spanish fleet off the coast of Cuba in 1628. Following this, Henriques went to scout the Portuguese colony of Pernambuco, Brazil as a spy, to prepare for a Dutch invasion. He was part of that invasion in 1630, leading a contingent of 3000 men to successfully capture the colony. Henriques helped to turn the area into a Jewish refuge, bringing in America’s first rabbi, and establishing the first synagogue, mikveh, and yeshiva in the New World. When the Portuguese recaptured the colony in 1654 and restarted persecution of Jews, Henriques fled along with the rest of the Jewish community. To survive harsh times, he was forced to become a pirate, soon joining the infamous Henry Morgan. He became Sir Morgan’s trusted advisor. Henriques later ventured on his own, establishing a pirate island off the Brazilian coast. The Inquisition sought to capture him for years, unsuccessfully, and Henriques saw it as his mission to avenge the evil that the Spanish and Portuguese had done to the Jews. After the English conquered Jamaica, Henriques settled there and lived out the rest of his life on the island, helping to establish its Jewish community. When his old friend Henry Morgan became Jamaica’s governor, he gave Henriques a full pardon for piracy in 1681.

Illustration depicting the burning of Jews at the stake, from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Words of the Week

The Jews are our chief supplyers in Barbadoes, and would sell very cheap, and give one not seldom two years to pay, by which credit the poorer sort of planter did wonderfully improve their condition.
Sir Thomas Modyford (d. 1679), English governor of Barbados and Jamaica


*The biography above is adapted from Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, by Ed Kritzler.

Jew of the Week: Manuel Pimental

King Henry’s Best Friend

Don Manuel Pimental (d. 1615) was born to a family of Sephardic Jews who had been forced to convert to Christianity in the decades prior. Pimental became a wealthy merchant, trading with the Muslims under the name Isaac ibn Jakar. He soon converted back to Judaism, and did a lot of work on behalf of the many struggling Jewish communities at the time. Despite the ban on Jews living in France, he settled there anyway and became best friends with King Henry IV. The two played cards together regularly, and it is reported that after one 1608 game in the palace, King Henry said: “I am the king of France, but you are the king of gamblers!” Many didn’t like the fact that the king was so close to a Jew, but Henry defended his friend with the following words: “Those who honestly follow their conscience are of my religion, and mine is that of all brave and good men.” A couple of years later, a Catholic fanatic assassinated King Henry IV for being too friendly with Protestants and Jews. Pimental had to flee, and spent three years in Venice. He then joined his friend Samuel Pallache, the famed “pirate-rabbi”, in Amsterdam, and became one of the Jewish community’s leaders there. In 1614, Pimental purchased a plot of land to serve as the first official Jewish cemetery in the Netherlands. Ironically, when he passed away a year later, he was the first person to be buried there! (Pallache was the second.) Pimental played a large role in advancing the rights of Europe’s Jews, and helped transform Amsterdam into a Jewish haven that eventually became known as the “Jerusalem of Europe”.

Yom Kippur Begins Tonight – Gmar Chatima Tova!

9 Yom Kippur Myths and Misconceptions

Understanding the 5 Afflictions of Yom Kippur

Words of the Week

Neither security nor the development of the country is the true mission of the state. Those are only necessary conditions for the true mission… the ingathering of the exiles is the task and the destiny and the mission of the state of Israel. Without this endeavor it is emptied of its historical content and of no significance to the Jewish people in our day, in the generations that preceded us, and in the generations to come.
David Ben-Gurion

*The biography above is adapted from Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, by Ed Kritzler.

Jew of the Week: Edgar Davids

The Pitbull of Football

Edgar Steven Davids (b. 1973) was born in Suriname to an African-Surinamese father and a Dutch-Jewish mother. The family moved to the Netherlands when Davids was still a child, and the boy grew up immersed in soccer. By age 12, he signed on with Amsterdam Ajax, a team known for its “Jewish” character. (This is probably due to the team’s origins in pre-war Amsterdam, which had a huge Jewish population and was then nicknamed “Jerusalem of the West”. Today, Amsterdam is still known by the locals as “Mokum” from the Yiddish-Hebrew word meaning “place”). Davids soon led Ajex to three national championships. He also led the team to the finals in several UEFA tournaments. It was while playing for Ajax that he earned his nickname, “the Pitbull”. Davids moved to Italy in 1996 and played for AC Milan and Juventus. His greatest success was in Turin, where he led the team to multiple championships, and was described as a “one-man engine-room”. During this time, he underwent surgery on his right eye (for glaucoma from a previous injury), and henceforth wore his trademark protective glasses. In 2004, he joined Barcelona and immediately changed the team’s fortunes. The struggling club suddenly went on a hot streak, winning all but two games in the rest of the season, and going on to dominate the European football scene for a decade. Davids timely presence has been credited with this huge shift in the club’s history. Davids also played for the Dutch national team in multiple FIFA and Euro Cups, twice being named to the all-star “Team of the Tournament”. In 2002, he was chosen to be one of the stars in a Nike commercial for that year’s FIFA World Cup. The premise of the ad was a “secret tournament” for the world’s “24 elite players”. The video was hugely popular (as was its music, a remix of Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation”). Towards the end of his career, Davids played in England for Tottenham Hotspur, famous for having a large Jewish fan-base. After a brief stint back in Ajax, he later managed London’s Barnet Football Club, representing an area that is also heavily Jewish. It seems he grew closer to his Jewish roots throughout these years, and once remarked before a big game: “Although I don’t go to synagogue, I will say a little prayer…” In 2004, Davids was ranked among the FIFA 100 World’s Greatest Living Footballers. The 2018 FIFA World Cup kicks off today.

Words of the Week

Most men worry about their own bellies, and other people’s souls, when we all ought to be worried about our own souls, and other people’s bellies.
– Rabbi Israel Salanter (1809-1883)