Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel was the most forward-thinking rabbi in Amsterdam, if not the world, in the 1600s. He was considered the most famous Jew in Europe then, but he struggled to find respect among his neighbors. He’s still an inspiring figure today.
If there’s one thing that separates humans from the other animals, I’d say it’s our immense talent for creating divisions among ourselves. Of creating an “us” vs. a “them.” Of tribalism.
Jews, I’m sorry to say, are no different.
July 27, 2019. On this day, 363 years ago, Baruch Spinoza was kicked out of the Portuguese Sephardic community in Amsterdam. We know the words that were uttered as he was drummed out of the insular society, but there is so much more that we don’t know about that event.
Simply the fact that the world has yet to hear of an Israeli vampire would make Juda a fresh and different take on one of my favorite genres. But the series takes it a step further by shunning many of the tropes that plague vampire fiction (even though I love some of them).
The new Portuguese community quickly worked to set up Jewish institutions in their new home.. But these also required rabbis — men of advanced religious training — in order for the community to truly function.
Evidence from the Jewish cemetery of Oudekerk and in the local Sephardic records show people of African descent were part of the Portuguese Jewish community. Some were slaves, others as servants and some were free. All were Jews. But none were given the dignity they deserved.
Amsterdam may have been an incredibly open home to Jewish people in its time, but the welcome mat only stretched so far.
People are always* asking me, “Why do you like vampires so much.” I admit, I’m sometimes embarrassed by the question. I know it’s often thought to be the realm of angsty teenage girls. And if you’re demanding my honesty, that’s when I first became enamored of them myself.
If it seems strange that a group of Jews from Portugal wound up in Amsterdam in the 1600s, it helps to understand what started in Spain a little more than a hundred years earlier. In 1478, a Dominican friar convinced Queen Isabella of Spain that Jews who had converted to Christianity were still secretly practicing their old beliefs. The queen and King Ferdinand petitioned Pope Sixtus IV to start an inquisition.
Something big happened a month ago.
At least, it was to me. I reached the end of a sentence. The sentence was the end of a chapter, and the chapter was the end of a first draft, and that was the first book I ever wrote. Getting there was no small feat. This was the culmination of five efforts of writing the dang thing. By this point, I had lived with the idea of the story in my head for nearly twelve years. It was kinda a big deal.
And also, kind of not.