Author’s life is full of fascinating characters worthy of his books
BY SIMON YAFFE
It is no surprise that Orlando Ortega-Medina’s debut book features a range of characters and stories.
For his family background is equally as fascinating as Jerusalem Ablaze — Stories of Love & Other Obsessions (Cloud Lodge Books, £12.99), which will be published next month. The London-based lawyer, who was raised in California, said: “I had four periods of travel in my life: California, Canada, Israel and Japan.
“I wrote four short stories based on those geographical locations.
Product of a long line of relocation
“Probably because I am the product of a family of a long line of relocation and emigration, I selected stories which are more reflective of who I am and ones which will interest readers.”
In the book, a young priest and a dominatrix converse in the dying light of Jerusalem’s Old City; on Oregon’s windswept coast a fragile woman discovers a body washed up on the beach after a storm; and in post-war Japan a young protege watches his master’s corpse burn.
Orlando’s parents, Cleo and Orlando, were Cubans who emigrated to America.
And the 42-year-old has discovered that his paternal grandmother’s family emigrated to the Canary Islands after they were expelled, along with thousands of other Jews, from Portugal.
“I remember when it was my 13th birthday, my grandmother presented me with a kippa and a Star of David, which was quite a shock for me,” Orlando recalled.
His mother’s family also came from the Canary Islands.
Orlando’s 13th great-grandfather, Vicente de Montes de Oca, was Jewish and moved to Gran Canaria to escape the Spanish Inquisition.
The property is linked by a secret altar of the chapel San Antonio Abad, which was also built by De Montes de Oca.
Orlando explained: “His grandchildren converted to Catholicism and their descendents moved to Cuba.
He presumed he was fully Sephardi, but Orlando later discovered that he may have Asheknazi blood, too.
Orlando said: “My mother’s paternal grandmother was abandoned on the steps of the cathedral in Las Palmas.
“Thanks to DNA research, we think that her parents were from eastern Europe and were, perhaps, in Gran Canaria on their way to America.”
Orlando, who read English literature at the University of Central California, also has a juris doctor law degree from Southwestern University School of Law.
He has lived in London, where he practises American immigration law, since 2005.
“I became a Canadian citizen in 1999 and, because Canada is a member of the Commonwealth, there is a special concession in UK emigration law which allowed me to set up a law practice which practises America’s jurisdictions,” Orland added.
While at university, Orlando won The National Society of Arts and Letters award for Short Stories.
Orlando is a warden at the West London Synagogue where, on Tuesday, January 24 (7pm), he will be in conversation with Rabbi David Mitchell, about Jerusalem Ablaze.
He will also read — and enact —extracts from the book.
Matters could have turned out very differently for Orlando had he chose to stay in Israel, where he spent time in the 1970s.
Great-grandma abandoned at cathedral
“I had planned to make aliya with my girlfriend at the time, but she was not Jewish so that was a complication,” Orlando recalled.
Judaism and Zionism is more ingrained in American culture than in Britain, but Orlando has rarely encountered any antisemitism nor anti-Zionism since he moved here.
“The majority of my friends and acquaintances are Jewish,” he continued.
“Other than what I have seen on television here, I have not experienced antisemitism or anti-Zionism.
“I agree, though, that there is a better perception of Judaism and Israel in America than in the UK.”