Danny boys - a firm Irish and Jewish kinship

Irish men and women celebrated St Patrick’s Day this week, many with a special affinity in mind


By Rory Fitzgerald, March 18, 2010
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The Irish writer Brendan Behan once remarked: "Others have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis." That may be a little harsh, but he was on to something.

These two ancient peoples were destined to wander the world as outsiders, knowing suspicion and derision wherever they went. Through it all, both maintained tight and close bonds with their own kin, even in the farthest corners of the earth.

Both peoples have suffered at the hands of cruel oppressors. Both have homelands that are small, sacred and contested. And very ancient: Ireland and Israel both boast monuments far older than the pyramids of Egypt. Some even dare to speculate that the Irish may be connected to one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. Stone burial chambers called dolmens, dating from around 4,000 BCE, are found in both Ireland and Israel.

In more recent times, the Irish and the Jews have inordinately swollen the ranks of genius. A disproportionate number of Nobel laureates have Jewish or Irish origins. And it is no accident that Leopold Bloom, the central character in James Joyce's novel, Ulysses, is an Irish Jew. As Professor Thomas Casey of the Gregorian University in Rome argues, "surely Joyce was struck by parallels between the Jewish and Irish experience: persecution, a lost homeland, exile and a global diaspora."

Other reasons for the choice of Bloom, Casey suggests, "may have been the fact that a Jewish 'good Samaritan' named Alfred Hunter came to Joyce's rescue when he was mugged in Dublin in 1904" and --- "probably the most significant reason" -- Joyce's 16 years in Trieste, where he befriended many Jews, "the most famous of them being Italo Svevo, whom Joyce took under his wing, championing this previously ignored writer."

While many Irish and Jewish people now live in the beautiful, small, intense homelands of Ireland and Israel, the greater portion of both remain scattered to the four corners of the Earth --- most notably in the United States.

From the humblest of beginnings, the Irish and the Jews rose to prominence in America by the mid-20th century. By the time of President Kennedy's election in 1960, Irish and Jewish Americans were two of the wealthiest and most successful ethnic groups in the United States.

And Jewish and Irish collaboration in America has contributed to some of the most extraordinary human achievements: the space race, the moon landings, and the defeat of communism and, before that, Nazism. This last is attested to in cold white marble at the American cemetery in Normandy, where many Irish-Americans and Jewish-Americans lie side by side.

For Irishmen, this past week's celebration of St Patrick's Day commemorates more than just the coming of Christianity to Ireland. Irish Christians are particularly conscious of their religion's Jewish basis --- monotheism, the Torah, the Ten Commandments, and the fact that Jesus was a Jew.

As we strive to achieve lasting peace in our respective homelands, it is heartening to note that the Irish and the Jews share far more similarities than differences.

Rory Fitzgerald is an Irish journalist specialising in political and religious affairs

    Last updated: 4:35pm, June 3 2010

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