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A St. Patrick’s Day tradition is actually Jewish, who knew?

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The presence of Jewish people in Ireland can be traced back over 1000 years. (Image: Avi Kumar)

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Special note: this article was originally to be 5 fun facts but after talking to the community, they had acquired the Irish ‘gift of the gab’ and were very chatty. To read Part 1 click here.

1. Corned beef and cabbage may be considered the most iconic dish on St. Patrick’s Day. But, the dish really came from the Jews!

Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants lived side by side in many of the poorer New York neighborhoods in the 1800s. Back in Ireland, there was a traditional dish of bacon and cabbage, but when Irish immigrants saw the corned beef that Jewish butchers were selling – because bacon is not kosher – they substituted it. Over time, this became associated with Irish celebrations and has been exported back to Ireland today.

2. A common profession among Jewish immigrants in the late 1800s was as ‘vicklemen’ (Yiddish for weekly man); They were door-to-door peddlers, selling household items, trinkets, holy pictures etc and their rounds would take a week to complete. They’d usually sleep in ditches or barns on Friday and go for Saturday Shabbat and return to their rounds. Over time, their descendants went on to become doctors, lawyers, engineers etc. and the profession died out.

The first person to die in the Easter uprising of 1916 was a Jew – this was one of the most significant uprisings because Irish independence came shortly after in 1922. However, not all Irish Jews were sympathetic towards independence, one Israel Sagarsky was killed by the IRA for allegedly spying for the British. Also, in the North, the Jews there were more likely to support the UK rather than those in Dublin or south. 

3. Ireland has the highest percentage of redheads in the world – 10%. This trait is also high among Ashkenazi Jews (5%). Red hair is also found among Sephardic Jews. Biblical figures like Esau, King David & Judas (who betrayed Jesus) were believed to be and have been portrayed in art as redheads. Fictional Jewish characters like Fagin and Shylock have also been portrayed as redheads.

An Irish Traveler (a nomadic community similar to but unrelated to Gypsies) once enquired with the Dublin Orthodox Jewish Community to look into the possibility they were one of the lost tribes. However, DNA evidence shows that they are ethnically Irish, having split-off from the general populace at least a 1000 years ago.

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4. The Dublin Jewish Museum has a substantial collection dedicated to Jewish life across the island over the last 150 years. It is located in the former Walworth Synagogue. The oldest item is a parochet made of silk from Belgium, dating to 1760. Among the other curious items are a Nazi dagger engraved with a Star of David. 

A Magan David is etched into a dagger once used by a German Nazi, now on display at the Dublin Jewish Museum (Photo: David Phillips)

The dagger originally belonged to a Nazi Officer. A British Jewish soldier on patrol found 3 men who were hiding. He initially thought they were Nazis, but it turned out they were Jews in hiding. One of the Jews gave this as a parting gift to Maurice with the Star of David engraved. Maurice eventually moved to Ireland and it is now in the museum.

Ireland friends of Israel rally, with Jackie Goodall at center (Photo: Courtesy)

5. Many Jews from Ireland and Northern Ireland have moved to USA, England or Israel, either to escape the Troubles, better economic opportunities or because there was more Jewish life. However, both Irelands have a high rate of emigration anyway. The Jewish population peaked at around 5000 in the 1940s. It is almost half that number today, for this reason.

Cork once had a lively Jewish community. It peaked at 400-500 in early 1900s. In 2016 South Terrace Synagogue, the only remaining synagogue in Cork, shutdown because numbers were too low. Many older non-Jews say that they remember many Jews keeping chickens and claim that a few Jews would try bacon for the first time when they visited and would ask them not to tell the fellow Cork Jews!

A group of women are still trying to keep the community alive – they say they won’t give up. Ruti Lachs has written a play ‘Greenfeather Boa’ about Jewish life in Cork that will be released after the Covid situation clears. It will feature a Hiberno-Yiddish lullaby! 

In 2018, as part of his outreach to minorities, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar was “delighted to join the extended Cohen family for Passover Seder”- the first Taoseaich to do so. 

Today there is an expat community of over 100 Israelis, many who work for Apple and other tech companies. If you call PayPal asking for help in Hebrew, it is very likely that you are talking to an Israeli in Cork.

Avi Kumar is a historian of Sri Lankan descent who lives in New York.

He has a unique spin on current affairs.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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