Jewish-Irish Cultural Links

My 5-year-old son is really interested in holidays, especially ones that have special costumes. How do you explain St. Patrick’s Day to a Jewish boy–who lives in Boston? We passed people wearing green clothing and sparkly hats on the street yesterday, probably on their way to the famous St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which is the oldest celebration of Irish heritage in the United States. Being Irish is cool in Boston. But is it a Jewish holiday? Maybe!

Jewish-Irish t-shirt by Daniel GreeneYou can be Jewish and Irish at the same time; it’s not only the stuff of jokes. (I bow to Philologos of the Jewish Forward for having published the aged but still effective Sean Ferguson joke in his column this week–great timing!) Jews have a long history as a tiny minority in Ireland. There was probably a community as early as the 1200s, and unlike the Jews of England, Ireland’s Jews never underwent expulsion. They have had a small, visible and audible presence in the modern period as political and cultural figures.

The Jewish Advocate ran an article this past week in their print edition about Carl Nelkin, recently featured in the documentary Shalom Ireland. Nelkin, a Jewish community leader and a lawyer, is also a musician who has released an album of Yiddish music played on traditional Irish instruments. Jewish-Irish cultural blending goes beyond Leopold Bloom. I now have a small list of Jewish-Irish music CDs I’m going to be forced to acquire. Research for my job here, essential, very important!
Another nice Jewish-Irish link was from one of my regular blogs, The Jew and the Carrot. They ran a nice piece on Corned Beef and Cabbage Shabbat. Like the author of that blog post, I’m a vegetarian now and don’t eat corned beef anymore. Last year for St. Patrick’s Day I made colcannon for Shabbat, which is mashed potatoes with cabbage or kale. My kid ate it, even though he was four at the time and he was not so sure about this kale business. He will eat a lot of things if I tell him that the Beatles probably ate something similar when they were growing up in Liverpool. Probably they did. They had Irish heritage, too.
And so do lots of North American Jews who have one Jewish and one Irish parent, like one of the families shown in this Israeli documentary on North American interfaith marriage. Irish and Jewish at the same time! You might be an Irish-Jewish cultural link, yourself.

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