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Behind the Headlines the Jews of Ireland

Although the Republic of Ireland contained 5,000 Jews 40 years ago in the days of the celebrated Chief Rabbi Isaac Herzog, the Jewish community now numbers only some 1,500 persons. But, paradoxically, Jewish influence has increased significantly. Whereas there was formerly only one Jewish member of the Irish Parliament, now there are three, each representing one of the three main parties forming the coalition government.

Judge Hubert Wine, honorary president of the Jewish Representative Council of Ireland, which is currently chaired by Quentin Crivon, fondly recalled the great days of Herzog some decades ago. Herzog, who later became Chief Rabbi of Israel, and was the father of Chaim Herzog, now President of Israel, was highly esteemed by Jews and non-Jews alike.

ASSIMILATION IS NOT A PROBLEM

Wine attributed the severe shrinkage of the Jewish population primarily to the fact that young Irish Jews refuse to marry out of their faith and have left the country to seek mates in other lands. “Although we have some problems as Jews in this Catholic nation, assimilation is not one of them,” Wine stated.

There are six synagogues in Dublin. The principal one is the Dublin Hebrew Congregation, where perhaps 125 persons gather on the Sabbath and which is packed for the High Holy Days. The Jewish secondary school and Talmud Torah is Stratford College, with 200 students, only 60 percent of whom are Jewish. Supported by ORT, it is considered one of the best schools in the country.

In terms of international developments, Wine is pressing for an Israeli Embassy in Dublin, but a major obstacle appears to be the government’s insistence that it hasn’t enough funds to establish an Embassy in Israel as a quid pro quo. And yet, Wine declared, there is a new Egyptian Embassy in town, in addition to embassies of several other Arab nations. Wine said that “our community is saddened by this situation, but we will not stop trying.”

The Irish Jewish community works in tandem with British Jewry. It cooperates, but acts with distinct independence. It feels it can better serve the cause of Israel through unilateral action, and not by merging its identity with the Jews of England and Scotland.

JEWS OF NORTHERN IRELAND ARE RELATIVELY SAFE

The Jews of Northern. Ireland, with Harold Smith, an Officer of the British Empire, as their head, are in Belfast and Londonderry, and number between 400 to 500 persons. They intermingle freely with their Protestant and Catholic neighbors and are highly regarded.

One of life’s ironies is that while the other faiths live in constant tension and crisis, being Jewish in Northern Ireland means being relatively safe. There is even less anti-Semitism in Belfast than in the Irish Republic where incidents are scarce and pose no real problems.

A neo-Nazi publication in Dublin, issued by the National Socialist Workers Party, doesn’t have any definite impact. And the Special Branch of the police, similar in nature to Scotland Yard, provides Irish Jews with all the protection and cooperation they, fortunately, seldom require. The Irish press is also supportive, according to Wine.

He recalled that during a recent Parliamentary debate, Alan Shatter, a Jewish MP, was attacked by a member of the opposition who shouted, “Go back, Shatter, from whence you came.” Whereupon, the leader of the opposition rose, roundly condemned his colleague for his remark and ordered his own party leaders to abhor any taint of anti-Jewish sentiment. And the media handled this incident delicately and very well, in the opinion of Wine.

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