By Jerry Kasten
Saint Patrick’s Day may have originated as a religious holiday for Catholics, but since the 1900s, it has become secularized and celebrated by non-Catholics as well as a sign of the arrival of spring (“the wearing of the green”) and for many, the celebration of Irish culture and one of Saint Patrick’s “contributions” to Ireland — the introduction of alcohol.
But as Jews, we have a special historical connection to the Emerald Isle. From the Tsarist pogroms of the 1880s to the rise of state-supported anti-Semitism throughout Europe in the 1930s, Ireland was one of the few European areas which welcomed the Jewish refugees, yet feared that too many allowed in would result in increased anti-Semitism.
While there were some instances of anti-Semitism, these were relatively small in number, when compared to the rest of Europe.
A number of children escaping from the Nazis on the “Kindertransport” found housing and care in Northern Ireland as well.
Reaching a peak of around 5,000 by the end of World War II, the Jewish population quickly dropped as more and more Irish Jews emigrated to Israel and to the United States.
There have been many prominent Irish Jews, including Chaim Herzog (sixth president of Israel), actor Daniel Day-Lewis, Max Nurock (Israel’s first ambassador to Australia), Robert Briscoe (twice Lord Mayor of Dublin), and many, many more.
If your interested in learning more, try getting hold of Jewish Ireland by Ray Rivlin.
Meanwhile, Happy Jewish Ireland Day!