Behind the Headlines Ireland Prepares Traditional Welcome for Native Son, Herzog

The people and government of Ireland are preparing their traditional “hundred thousand welcomes” to an Irish-born president of a foreign state whose command of the Gaelic language puts to shame that of most other Irish people.

The fact that this honored guest, Israel’s President Chaim Herzog, is an observant Jew merely heightens the keen interest with which he is being awaited in this devoutly Catholic country. He has been invited despite the fact that Irish troops serving in south Lebanon are sometimes caught in the dangerous crossfire between Israel and its neighbors, and that often the Irish blame the Israelis.

There is therefore deep anxiety that no harm befall the Irish troops in the Middle East in advance of the visit which will take place from June 17-22.

But even if such a mishap occurred it might merely lend the Herzog visit a serious political content which it does not at present contain.

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

Whether or not the hosts or guests admit it, this state visit is a largely sentimental affair, prompted by the Irish people’s pride and curiosity over this gifted Irishman with a difference.

Judging by the preparations being made here, President Herzog and his wife will be received with a warmth reminiscent of that accorded some 24 years ago to the first Roman Catholic President of the United States, John Kennedy.

The key ingredient of the Herzog visit will be the same: The pilgrimage to the home where the exile’s family originated. In Kennedy’s case, it was a trip to a tumble-down shack which his paternal great grandfather left for the great trip westward across the Atlantic.

FATHER WAS IRELAND’S CHIEF RABBI

For Vivian Chaim Herzog, the high point will be his return to the rambling victorian house off Dublin’s South Circular Road where his late father, the Reverend Dr. Isaac Herzog, held court as the first Chief Rabbi of the newly independent Irish Free State.

It was from the same house, No. 33 Bloomfield Avenue, now named Saint Anthony’s, that 50 years ago the Herzogs emigrated eastward. They settled in the Holy Land where Herzog senior was to become the first Chief Rabbi of independent Israel and Chaimits first Irish-born head of State. Chaim’s younger brother, Yaakov served as one of Israel’s most brilliant diplomats before dying in his late fifties.

TO INAUGURATE JEWISH MUSEUM

After seeing his childhood home, Herzog will stroll round the corner of Walworth Road to inaugurate a new museum devoted to the history of the Jews in Ireland.

It is housed in a small make-shift synagogue used by Jewish immigrants from Russia early in the century. It was also the first Dublin home of another Zionist couple, the late Sam and Rachel Brown, who together with five of their eight children settled in Israel.

The other components of the visit are less personal: A trip to the southwest of Ireland; a State reception at Dublin Catle given by Irish President Patrick Hillery; and a dinner hosted by the Herzogs at the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, one of the most splended 16th century buildings in the whole of Europe. In Dublin, too, Herzog will lay a wreath at the memorial to those who gave their lives that Ireland should be free.

An oddity of the visit — which further underlines its essentially human dimension–is that although Ireland and Israel maintain full diplomatic relations, they do so without maintaining embassies on each other’s soil. Ireland talks to Israel through its Athens Embassy; Israel communicates with Ireland via its envoy in London.

ISRAELIS WANT DUBLIN EMBASSY

This tends to be a source of irritation. The Israelis, with their deep-seated hunger for the widest possible international recognition would dearly love to have an Embassy here. They regret that Dublin is the only capital of a member of the European Economic Community without an Israeli Embassy.

The Irish also hanker for international status but achieve it by their full membership in the EEC and, as conscientious members of the United Nations, they frequently volunteer to keep the peace in other peoples’ wars. The poorest member of the EEC (excluding Spain and Portugal who join it shortly) the Irish only have 25 embassies in other countries, and say that the low level of trade with Israel– totalling $45 million a year — does not warrant opening another one.

Nevertheless it would be wrong to discount the very real interest shown here in the achievements of Israel: its vibrant revival of Hebrew (compared with the faltering efforts to expand the use of Gaelic); the Israeli successes in farming and modern technology, and establishment of a formidable national army. These are quite apart from the two peoples’ common heritage of suffering and their fight to become a nation once again.

But these are still only the rich backcloth of what, at the end of the day, will simply be the return of a famous and successful man to the country and memories of his boyhood.

NEXT STORY