The Jews of Ireland

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk




On St. Patrick’s Day in 1956, Robert Briscoe, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, led the annual parade along New York's Fifth Avenue. Two Jews were watching the parade. Said one Jew to the other: “Did you know that Robert Briscoe is Jewish?” “ Amazing! Only in America" said his companion.

Although there were never more than 5700 Jews in Ireland, a number of Jews have been elected to high office since the arrival of the first Jews in Ireland in 1079. William Annyas was elected mayor of Youghal, County Cork in 1555. In 1899 Sir Otto Yaffe was Lord Mayor of Belfast. Then in 1956 and 1961 Robert Briscoe, in recognition of his heroic service in the cause of Irish independence, was twice elected Lord Mayor of Dublin. In 1977 Gerald Goldberg became the Lord Mayor of Cork. Ben Briscoe, the son of Robert, became Dublin’s Lord Mayor in 1988 after serving in the Irish parliament for more than 35 years.

The former president of Israel, Chaim Herzog, was born in Belfast in 1918. He was president from 1983 to 1993. His father Isaac was the first chief rabbi of the Irish Free State.

The famous Irish novelist James Joyce, who was definitely not Jewish , made Leopold Bloom, a fictional Jew, the protagonist in his novel Ulysses. (Try reading that).

Today the number of Jews in Ireland has dwindled to 1700. Of these, 150 live in Northern Ireland and 1550 in the 26 counties of the Irish Republic. There are two synagogues in Dublin. One is Orthodox and the other is Liberal- Progressive (a European phrase).

Although Ireland was traditionally the poorest country in Europe, it is today most prosperous. Ireland is near the top in per capita income in Europe because of its high-tech economy. Now the Irish are no longer emigrating. Instead, many Irish abroad are returning to the homeland and foreign workers, mostly from Arab countries, have settled there.

The Irish are still the major consumers of alcohol in the world. On average the Irish consume 12.3 Liters (3.3 gallons) of pure alcohol per person per year. In addition, the average Irishman drinks 153 liters or 40 U.S. gallons of beer per year. Even the high beer drinking Germans drink only 125 liters (33 gallons) per capita per year. Therefore 25% of all admissions to hospital emergency rooms in Ireland is alcohol-related. It is to be hoped that that includes the Jews.

The Irish government has never been a friend of Israel . It was the last European country to allow the opening of an Israeli embassy. In the United Nations Ireland has always sided with the Arabs. Nevertheless, Ireland's trade with Israel is greater than the combined total of its trade with the Arab world. This is true because the Irish economy today is based on information technology, which is also true of Israel.

As a country which is almost entirely Catholic, the Irish are unhappy with the fact that the Jews rule in Jerusalem. This fact negates the old Catholic doctrine that the Jews are permanently expelled from Jerusalem for rejecting Jesus (Non passate et non entrate su quella urbs, ordered the Emperor Hadrian.)

There is little chance that Jewish life will continue in Ireland much longer. Most Irish Jews have moved to England, Israel and the United States. The few who remain are generally too old to have children.

Shalom u'vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Football & American Identity (2005) & Youth Culture and the Generation Gap (2005) with Dr. Ursula A. Falk.

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