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I discovered this weekend that Richard Dansky wrote a story a few years ago called “The Thirty-Ninth Labor of Reb Palache”, which was published in the anthology The New Hero volume one. It is, as it sounds, Pirate Rabbi profic.

I'm pleased to report that it is excellent, even though it records a quite different version of Rabbi Palache than my own Rabbi Palache stories. Dansky's Pirate Rabbi is a more integrated individual. His Rabbinical work is in service of his piratical work, instead of being two strands of the same complicated man. Even his recruitment of crew is pastoral, seeking men who like him want revenge against the Spanish, so that by piracy he can restore their faith. Dansky's Rabbi Palache is also a Kabbalist, using names of God and gematriya as miraculous tools to provide him an edge against his enemies. It makes for some delightful low fantasy storytelling, though it is a choice I would never make: the odds that the historical Palache actually was a Kabbalist are very low based on the historical evidence as I read it.

I'm tempted to try to fic Dansky's Pirate Rabbi, or maybe even to try to rewrite "If We Were All Wise Men" using his version of Palache. It would make for a very different, probably equally entertaining and thought provoking story.
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First, [community profile] forkedtongues is an awesome community dedicated to multilingualism and translation culture. For poetry month they've been trying to post poems in as many languages and scripts as possible and create a dialogue about translating poetry, and the conversation has been amazing and the poems even better. I've personally posted poems in Chinese, Polish, and Yiddish and translations into English, French, and Spanish.

Second, last week Lee and I went to see Futurity, which was advertised as a Civil War Steampunk Rock Musical. And that was enough to sell us on it before we'd heard a note, but as it turns out it was terrific. It's created and performed by the Brooklyn indie band The Lisps, who we'd also never heard of before but who are apparently amazing.

Futurity tells the story of a Union soldier, Julian Munro, performing jobs like destroying Confederate railroad lines to cut off the Rebel supplies. It's a mindnumbing, back-breaking duty made maddeningly worse by the constant fear that the actual fighting war will reach them at any time. So our hero dreams, steampunk dreams. He dreams of the steam brain, a mechanical device of colossal proportions that will replace the fatally human decisionmakers that have doomed the US to this war. The Steam Brain will bring peace, he insists, in poetic and absolutely stirring letters to his muse, the British scientist Lady Ada Lovelace.

The music is a frenetic blend of indie rock and Appalachian folk, propelled from behind by the most gorgeous steampunked drumkit. The lyrics are verbal diarrhea, a self-conscious stream of consciousness blur of ideas and emotions made physical through the language of science. It holds together, just pure drama, the tensions building and building to an achingly intense climax.

As to the title, well, the play operates under a carefully constructed tension between history and anachronism. Sometimes there's extreme care to make the science sound 19th century, even when it would contradict contemporary ideas about science. Other times, they puncture their own sails with 21st century irony that feels just as intentional. Futurity, in a nutshell.

Fourth, the week before that I celebrated my birthday at the Met's staging of the Magic Flute. It's the second time I've seen this production, and I love every bit of it. Last time, I saw Diana Damrau sing Pamina, and this show's Pamina was no Diana Damrau, but there was really nothing to complain about. I had a great evening out with my little sister.

Third, somebody needs to recommend two books to me.

First, there's been a lot of books and stories out about the various people who "saw it coming" with regards to the economic crisis. And mostly from what I've seen they've just focused on how these random people looked at the numbers and said, "This doesn't add up." I'm sure they're all very clever, but the people who didn't see it coming were very clever too. I want a recommendation for a book that discusses the people who saw it coming and tries to theorize about what characteristics they had that made them different. Is the Michael Lewis book that book?

Second, I want a book about Renaissance-era spycraft. If I'm going to be writing more about the Pirate Rabbi, I need more information about that. Anybody have any experience on that topic?

Fifth, I love numbering things out of order.
seekingferret: Lester sneering at Jeff during a dreidel game, "Have you been Bar Mitzvahed?" (bar mitzvah)
Pesach is finally over. Yay Pesach! Yay bread! To the people I've fallen a bit off the radar from over the past week, I'm sorry and I should be getting back to normal now. That includes the birthday party that I realize I haven't planned. Um... let's push it back a little bit, I suppose?

[community profile] good_ficday has revealed its stories. The festival is devoted to fanfic that treats Christianity seriously and in-depth, interrogating the Christian default from a Christian point of view. To that end, writers were encouraged to explore specific forms of Christian worship rather than the sort of ill-defined generic Easter and Christmas commonly depicted in the media. How does a Baptist celebrate Easter... in the future? How would a Mennonite deal with the choices posed by finding a weapon created by the Stargate series's Ancients? What texts does Shepherd Book preach? These are among the questions the writers asked, and some of their answers are terrific.

As I wrote before, I wrote about the Pirate Rabbi. My story is called "If We Were All Wise Men", and the story is pretty much as described in my last post. I'm proud of the work. I think I more or less accomplished the goals I set out to achieve. The thing is drowning in allusions, Bible allusions, Haggadah allusions, Easter liturgy allusions, historical allusions, and I think I did it in the right way, where the allusions enrich the story rather than distract from it. In my other Pirate Rabbi stories, the polyglotness is just there for decoration, but here Hebrew and Spanish and Latin hold different meanings for the story and its characters.

More importantly, I told a love story. Samuel Palache, the daring, duplicitous, and yet caring pirate/spy/diplomat/merchant and his wife Malca, who is an eishet chayil in the truest sense of the term. I loved showing her in the expected contexts- surreptitiously baking matza for Passover, running every detail of the household and keeping everything perfectly ordered, constantly worrying about her son's safety. And I loved taking her out of those contexts and putting her dead in the middle of the action, making her the one who made contact with their informant at the Church, making her a calm, collected accomplice in Samuel's fight scene, having her open the negotiations with the French ambassador. Because of course, the things she does in a domestic context are just as liable to get her killed as the things she does in the spy context. Even the Shabbat candles must be kept apart to avoid rousing suspicion. Shmuel and Malca are a matched pair, throwing the Christian world into chaos in their wake. It's hella awesome.

To the top of the story, I appended an introductory note in which I noted that Reverend Cantalamessa's sermon at the Vatican on Good Friday had given me reason to reconsider my goals in writing the story. And you know what? I wrote up a long rant about Cantalamessa's sermon that I was going to post here, but basically it boils down to there's no defense for what he said and I remain incredibly angry days later about that sermon.

And I cannot tell you how glad I am that this time, rather than just spewing out my own anger the way I usually do, I was able to fight back through positive energy, through telling my own story, a story that uplifts. Am I worried that I run the risk of offending Catholics I have no beef with? A little bit, but my hope is that the story doesn't do that and that if it does, people will be able to engage me in a dialogue about the shortcomings of my story, which are surely numerous.
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Sedarim were fantastic. I love my family so much, it's just such a great collection of brilliant, interesting, fun, caring people. And when you liquor us up...

I love my family's love of language, of languages, of wordplay. Our rich ways of infusing the traditions with life and surprising new meanings. My uncle spontaneously translated the Four Questions into Spanglish. My father refined his rant about how God tricked the Jews into the sin of the Golden Calf. My cousin and my brother debated the merits of Haggadah translations, mourning the loss of "a band of evil angels" in the new Shop Rite Haggadah. Had Gadya delivered simultaneously at four different tempos, as I showed off my Aramaic speed-reading and my dad thwarted my mom's attempts to hasten the end of the Seder.

And the immense pile of food, which also emphasizes the hybrid traditions my family observes. Pot roast and latkes and my grandmother's amazing mandelbread from my mom's Ashkenaz heritage, dishes with eggplants and dates and grapes from my Romaniot aunt, turkey and cranberry sauce and other dishes that have slowly invaded from Thanksgiving season...

For the past two weeks, I've been obsessing over various details of the new Pirate Rabbi story I'm hoping to write for [community profile] good_ficday. This has involved various complicated researches, trawls over obscure sections of the Internet, and several trips to libraries. It eventually led to me buying from Amazon and then reading over Shabbos Garcia-Arenal and Wiegert's A Man of Three Worlds, which is the source text that Kritzler draws most of the information for his section on the Pirate Rabbi from in Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean. (And yes, I know that sentence is horribly tortured and that I could easily split it into three sentences that would be clearer, but that's just my writing style. I like tortured syntax. Deal with it.)

My story is dangerous, in many, many senses of the word. To begin with the obvious, I'm writing a story about Jews for a fanfic festival geared around specifically Easter and generally Christian practice. So I'm consciously skirting the boundaries of the festival's parameters. But this is okay, I think. The major activity my characters do in the story is observe the Easter Vigil, which is rather the bigger problem.

My story is set in 1607 Madrid, where there were apparently a surprising number of 'judios de permiso', Jews from France or Morocco who had been given royal permission to temporarily reside in Spain after the Expulsion in order to transact some sort of business that the Crown or one of his favored subjects found necessary.

From 1603-1607, Samuel Pallache and his brother Joseph were judios de permiso, and the implication if you read through the lines of various historical documents is that around 1605, their families or part of their families may have left Tetouan in Morocco to join them in Madrid. Back in Morocco, a civil war was being waged between supporters of two of the sons of the dead Sultan, a civil war that was having tragic impact on the persecuted Jews of Morocco. The Palaches apparently hoped that by offering strategic information about the Moroccan civil war to King Philip III and the Duke of Medina Sidonia, they could make themselves useful enough to create a home for themselves in the old ancestral homeland.

It wasn't enough, though, and as they grew increasingly desperate, they decided to cast their last bargaining chip on the table. They persuaded King Philip that they intended to convert to Catholicism and serve as loyal subjects of the Spanish crown. None of the historical sources I have tell what came next in any detail, but the end result was that the Palaches spent five months hiding from the Spanish Inquisition in the French Ambassador's house and eventually they fled Spain and made their way to the New Jerusalem called Amsterdam.

On one level, writing this story is so easy. It's an Easter story, which means it's a Passover story, which means that this story of subjugation and subordination of belief, followed by dramatic rescue and escape to a land of freedom works beautifully on a symbolic level. I love it when the story's structure comes to me, so I don't have to work for it.

But mostly this story is hard as hell to write. Getting into the mind of these people who were so beaten down that they would throw around their souls as bargaining chips is a gruesome experience. And telling the story for the good-ficday challenge, where my goal is not to write a story that elevates Judaism by demonizing Catholicism, makes it even harder. I have to write this story about temptations and visitations that chill me to the bone and somehow find a way to find the good in my Inquisitors. And though I wrote the phrase 'my Inquisitors' unconsciously, I find I don't want to change it. This story has gotten to me to the point where it feels like the Inquisition is after me.

And then I've thrown additional challenges on the heap. I'm not particularly good at writing female characters, but I'm telling this story from the perspective of Malca Palache, Samuel's incredibly badass wife. It's something I need practice at. I keep having to go back and rewrite sections when I realize that I've missed something obvious that no mother could forget. I don't write women as faceless sex objects or anything that simple, but I definitely have to struggle with male privilege to create believable female characters. I was uncomfortable with the realization that in the 6 stories I wrote for [community profile] purimgifts, none of them had significant female characters, except for the Yocheved I mapped out in the reflections of her off Moses and Aaron.

And then there's all the research I've thrown into it, obsessing over details of 17th century baptismal practice because this is the kind of the story where that kind of thing matters. I keep going back and forth in my head about that, because there are parts of this story that are obvious fictionalizations, places where I'm just making things up because they work best or seem coolest, places where I have no information so I all I can do is just make a best guess. The more I write, working hard to create a world which is believable and realistic, the more I am conscious of the fact that my story is a fiction, a fiction where the Jews who fought desperately to make a life for themselves in an impossible situation have been transformed by my imagination and wishful thinking into heroes lacking the complication I find essential. I wonder if it's worth it to really care about the true historical facts of some of these details. But I think it probably is.

And I think this story as a whole is worth it. The themes here, the battle for faith in a changeable world, the quest for a place where you don't have to hide your true self, the belief in deliverance and the fear that you're compromising your position to deserve that deliverance... this is the world I live in as a Jew in 21st Century America as much as it was the world Samuel and Malca Palache lived in as 17th Century Jews in Morocco and Spain and the Netherlands. And to tell that story in a way that isn't preachy but features sword fights and suspense and tests of character is absolutely worth the pain it takes to get there.
seekingferret: Word balloon says "So I said to the guy: you never read the book yet you go online and talk about it as if--" (Default)

Apparently Jamaica is seizing on the popularity of Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean to start promoting itself as a destination for Jewish tourists. Of course, there are like 200 jews in Jamaica now and one synagogue, so there's not that much to see on a tour. Which is great, because it means more time to spend on the beach while you're 'discovering your heritage'.

I love the free market.


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