Community in Ireland - World Jewish Congress

Ireland

The Republic of Ireland – not including Northern Ireland – is home to 1,948 Jews, according to the 2011 census. Mainly Ashkenazi, the Irish Jewish community has traced a faint but colorful counterpoint within mainstream Irish society, involved in the social, artistic, professional, and political spectrum. The main body of representation for the Irish Jewish community is the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland – the Irish affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate

Irish Jewish Community Office

Telephone: +353-(0)1-4923751
|Email: office@jewishireland.org
Website: http://www.jewishireland.org/

President: Leonard Abrahamson
Chairman: Maurice Cohen

 


Community News


History

Jews initially arrived in Ireland during the reign of William the Conqueror (11th Century), and were not expelled from the Gaelic-controlled areas until Edward I banished the Jews from his kingdom in 1290 with the issuing of the Edict of Expulsion.

Two centuries later, many Jews settled in Ireland following their expulsion from Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition. William Annyas became the first Jewish mayor in Ireland when he was elected Mayor of Youghal in County Cork in 1555. Jews were officially readmitted into the Commonwealth by Oliver Cromwell, and shortly after, the first synagogue in Ireland was founded in 1663 on Crane Lane, opposite Dublin Castle. 

By the mid-18th century, the Dublin Jewish community heavily participated in the commercial life of the city, yet the community was undermined by intermarriage, religious conversion, emigration, and the Irish Naturalisation Act of 1783, which excluded Jews. An influx of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe in the late 19th century saw the Jewish population steadily rise. James Joyce’s “Ulysses” – published in 1922 – demonstrates the prominence of Irish Jews, focusing on the Irish Jewish character Leopold Bloom and his dual identity as both Irish and Jewish.

Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1921 to 1936, went on to be the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine and later Israel. Rabbi Herzog’s son, Chaim Herzog, who emigrated to Palestine with his family in 1936, was the sixth President of Israel. 

Chaim Herzog, the sixth President of Israel and son of Irish chief rabbi Isaac Herzog (and later Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine and Israel), emigrated to Israel from Dublin in 1936. In 1937, the Constitution of the Irish Republic recognized Jews as a minority community with political representation.

Later in the century, Jews played a role in the struggle for Irish independence with the IRA. Robert Briscoe, a member of the Oireachtas (Parliament) and twice Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1956 and from 1961-1962, was a prominent member of the IRA during this period.

Today, the Irish Jewish community is very active in Irish society. Mervyn Taylor served as Minister for Equality and Law Reform during the two governments of 1993-1994 and 1994-1997 and Henry Barron became the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, serving from 1997 to 2000. More recently, Alan Shatter served as both Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence from 2011 to 2014.

The Years of the Holocaust

The years preceding the outbreak of World War II saw Ireland maintain a policy of cool indifference towards German – and other continental Jews – seeking to flee Hitler and the Nazis. In fact, former Justice Minister Alan Shatter recently described Ireland’s actions towards Jewish refugees in the 1930s as “morally bankrupt.” There was a conscious, intended effort to deny fleeing German Jews entry into the country, spearheaded by anti-Semitic Berlin ambassador Charles Bewley, who was amicable with the Nazi regime and sought to “protect” Ireland from [Jewish] “contamination.” Moreover, Eamon de Valera (then Taoiseach, or Prime Minister) even expressed his condolences for the death of Hitler to the German ambassador in 1945.

Only two Irish citizens perished in the Holocaust: Ettie Steinberg and her son Leon. An immigrant from Czechoslovakia, Ettie grew up and was schooled in Ireland. After relocating to mainland Europe with her husband, the Steinbergs found themselves caught up in the Vichy government’s deportation of Jews. They were transported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. A final letter from Ettie, which she managed to throw out of a train, found its way to Dublin, and confirmed the tragic fate of the Steinbergs to her family.

Recently, the Irish government’s actions surrounding returning Irish soldiers who had fought with the allies, has been heavily criticized. In response to Ireland’s policy of neutrality throughout the war, a sizeable number of Irish soldiers – 4,983 servicemen – “deserted” the Irish armies to fight on behalf of the allies. On returning home, they were met with cold and malicious treatment by their government, barred from jobs and State pensions, and heavily stigmatized. There has been a recent effort to pardon these soldiers and recognize their contributions in World War II.

Demography

The 2018 census places the Jewish community at around 2,557 people out of a total population of 4,588,252 people, constituting 0.043% of Ireland’s total population. Other religious communities include 3,861,335 Roman Catholics – 85.16% of the population; 129,039 followers of the Church of Ireland – 2.81% of the population; and 49,204 Muslims – 1.07% of the population.

The Jewish community in Ireland is almost entirely concentrated in Dublin. Very small communities exist mostly in Ireland’s other major cities, with Cork holding the most sizeable, albeit miniscule, community outside of Dublin.  

community life
Adelaide Road synagogue in Dublin. Photo: Paddy Whelan

The main body of representation for the Irish Jewish community is the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, which advocates on behalf of Irish Jews to the government, the media, and other faith groups. Working out of Dublin, the Jewish Representative Council brings together various Jewish organizations, and focuses on combatting anti-Semitism and facilitating interfaith dialogues – in addition to promoting and preserving Jewish life in Ireland.

Due to the small size of the Jewish community, almost all Jewish communal organizations in Ireland are linked to the Jewish Representative Council in some capacity. Notable examples are Chevra Kadisha, or “Dublin Jewish Holy Burial Society,” a funerary organization that provides tahara services for Jewish burial, and the Dublin Board of Jewish Guardians, a charitable organization that provides financial assistance and relief for the Jewish poor of Dublin.

Additionally, the Dublin Maccabi Association offers sporting activities within a Jewish framework, and the Bloomfield Care Centre in Rathfarnham works in conjunction with the Jewish Representative Council to allow members of the Jewish community to continue a Jewish lifestyle while in assisted living.  

 

Religious and Cultural Life

The Orthodox and Liberal streams are active in Ireland, with Irish Jewish life centered in Dublin where there are two orthodox synagogues – Dublin Hebrew Congregation and Machzekei Hadas – and one progressive one – Dublin Jewish Progressive Congregation (DJPC). The synagogues are maintained and supported through the tireless efforts of their devoted members. There is a regional Chabad center at University College Dublin.

The chief rabbi of Ireland is meant to supervise the country’s synagogues, but the appointment of a chief rabbi has been put on hold since 2008, due to financial reasons. Rabbi Zalman Lent is the current community rabbi, and is considered the acting, or de facto, chief rabbi. Past chief rabbis of Ireland have included Rabbi Isaac Herzog and Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits who became, respectively the chief rabbis of Israel and of the British Commonwealth. Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi of Ireland from 1985 to 1992, currently serves as the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth.

Kosher food can only be found in Dublin, with few food options. Few options exist outside of the Dublin synagogues; a supermarket that sells limited kosher food to the Dublin community at large, and a bakery that uses Jewish bakery practices are the only other options. Since the community no longer has its own kosher butcher, kosher meat and other products are imported from the United Kingdom.

 

jewish education

The two Jewish educational institutions for the community are collectively known as the Stratford Schools – Stratford National School and Stratford College. Serving a multidenominational student body, the Stratford Schools provide both a secular and Jewish-based education on a primary and secondary level.  Hebrew education is overseen by the Dublin Talmud Torah, which offers cheder, (afternoon Hebrew classes) for Jewish children who do not attend the Stratford Schools.

Ireland does have any yeshivot or rabbinical studies centers, and the rabbis that lead the Irish community in worship have studied in various yeshivot and schools around the world, including Great Britain and Canada. In terms of Jewish higher education, Trinity College Dublin offers a full Jewish Studies department and the Herzog Centre – the only Centre in Ireland completely devoted to the study of Jewish and Near Eastern Religions and Culture. Additionally, the Holocaust Education Trust works to educate individuals on the Holocaust and raise awareness about anti-Semitism and other forms of racism and intolerance in Ireland, offering educational opportunities for all walks of life.

Youth

Due to the small size of the community there are very few youth organizations in Ireland, but BBYO UK & Ireland - a part of the wider BBYO organization that spans multiple continents and aims to emphasize Jewish values and empower Jewish youths through leadership initiatives, camps, trips, and other activities – has a Dublin chapter. Additionally, there are some youth programs offered through the Dublin Hebrew Congregation under the leadership of Rabbi Zalman Lent.

Jewish Media

The Irish Jewish Community website provides a broad array of news topics related to the Jewish community in Ireland, in addition to news on Israel and other Jewish related topics. http://www.jewishireland.org/category/news/

Information for Visitors

There are some notable Jewish sites in Ireland, including the former home of Rabbi Isaac Herzog and Chaim Herzog in Dublin and Cork Cemetery, which contains graves of Jewish passengers from the ill-fated Lusitania. The Weingreen Museum contains extensive artifacts excavated from four Biblical cities in modern-day Israel and is named after an eponymous contributor: Professor Weingreen, the Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Hebrew at Trinity College Dublin from 1939 to 1979. The Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin contains major exhibits on Jewish culture, heritage, life and religion, in both Ireland and the world at large, in addition to an extensive section devoted to the Holocaust. Shalom Park in Cork, constitutes a notable Jewish historical site and point of Jewish heritage in Ireland.

israel

Ireland and Israel maintain full diplomatic relations, and a substantial number of Irish Jews have immigrated to Israel over the course of the post-war years and in modern times. There has been a slight strain with Ireland’s move to recognize the state of Palestine in 2014, but the two countries still maintain close relations, evident in military and economic cooperation between the two.

Israeli Embassy
Carrisbrook House
122 Pembroke Road
Ballsbridge
Dublin 4

Telephone: +353 1 230 9400
Fax: +353 1 230 9446

updated

August 2019

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