DUBLIN, Ireland (Mar. 27)
When they heard that Ireland would be playing Israel in a qualifying match for soccer’s World Cup, thousands of Irish soccer-lovers rushed to book their Easter holidays in Tel Aviv. Ireland is one of Europe’s wettest countries, so the thought of supporting the “boys in green” in a land of warmth and sunshine was too good for many residents to pass up.
The Irish enthusiasm for sun and soccer also turned out to be a bit of good luck for a group of Israeli terror victims.
When the small Jewish community in Dublin heard that return tickets on the fans’ charter flights were very inexpensive, they organized to bring 20 Israelis to Ireland to celebrate Purim. The Israelis are involved with the Chabad Terror Victims Project.
Rabbi Zalman Lent, Dublin’s Chabad rabbi, said he received a phone call from the managing director of Regent Tours, an English-language Israeli tour operator.
The man “said he was sending an empty plane from Tel Aviv and he offered us a very good price as a mitzvah,” said Lent, who works with visitors and young people. “We just had to raise the money and find host families.”
The goal of the visit was twofold: Dublin’s Jews hoped to give at least a small number of Israeli terror victims a short break in a peaceful environment, and they wanted to demonstrate support for Israel and its people.
That was a rare public gesture of solidarity with the Jewish state in an overwhelmingly Christian country, where Israel is often viewed with hostility and suspicion.
Indeed, in February, a Green Party representative to the Dail, Ireland’s Parliament, called for Irish players and fans to boycott the match to protest Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians. Ireland’s coach, Brian Kerr, rejected the idea.
The Israelis arrived in Ireland on March 23, the day before Purim, just before the Irish fans flew to Tel Aviv.
The next day, after a visit to the famous Guinness brewery at St. James’s Gate in Dublin, the group toured the Wicklow Mountains and an ancient Christian monastic settlement at Glendalough.
There they were treated to the full range of Irish weather.
“There was 10 minutes of sun, then 10 minutes of rain, hail, sleet and snow,” one visitor put it.
On March 24 the Israelis celebrated Purim with the Dublin Jewish community, which has been in slow decline for decades but turned out in great numbers and festive costumes to welcome the visitors.
“A lot of these people have no clue that there is a Jewish community here in Dublin,” Lent said. “Many were shocked that people here care enough to make an effort. It was very moving for them. When you meet victims of terror, you realize they are very traumatized people.”
Though the father of Chaim Herzog, Israel’s sixth president, was from Ireland, there are only about 1,000 Jews left today in Dublin, and the community’s means are limited. Despite their energy and enthusiasm, they could sponsor only a small number of visitors from Israel.
“We are in touch with about 2,000 families,” said Rabbi Menachen Kuttner, director of activities of the Chabad Terror Victims Project. “We could have taken 1,000 to Ireland.”
Instead, he continued, “I contacted those I knew would benefit most from a break.”
That group included Avigail Levy, whose 17-year-old daughter, Rachel, was killed by a 17-year-old Palestinian female suicide bomber at a Jerusalem supermarket.
Avigail Levy wears a necklace with a silver heart bearing Rachel’s image. In the three years since her daughter was buried, Levy has gone to the grave every day. Her trip to Ireland was the first break in that routine.
Idan Levy — who is not related to Avigail or Rachel — was another member of the Israeli group. He sustained burns over half his body when a suicide bomber from the United Kingdom attacked Mike’s Place, a Tel Aviv bar, two years ago.
Levy was 18 years old then. Since that time he has had to wear prosthetic skin over his torso and arms.
Terror victims’ stories generally reach Ireland only in abstract news reports, so meeting the Israelis was a moving experience for Dublin’s Jews.
“There have been quite a few emotional moments over the last few days,” Itai Pront of Dublin said.
A Shabbat reading by Dvil Kinarty, a 10-year-old who was hit by three bullets two years ago when the car he was traveling in was attacked on its way from Jerusalem to the West Bank settlement of Ma’aleh Ephraim, brought the congregation to tears.
“This is my first time outside Israel, if you don’t count the Yom Kippur War,” said Ya’akov Kinarty, Dvil’s father. “For me it wasn’t easy to decide to go, but I understood this as sort of a mission.”
“It has given us a very warm feeling to meet them, and also to meet with these other Israelis. People in such agony need people to listen to them, especially other victims, he continued. “I hope coming here gave people a rest, but also gave those living here a feeling for our lives. As Jews, they’re a part of the story too.”
In an ironic twist, the group and their hosts were not able to watch the Ireland-Israel match live on television Saturday afternoon: The two-hour time difference between the countries meant the game was played while it was still Shabbat in Ireland.
The game ended as the Israelis tied the score on a dramatic last-minute goal by Abbas Suwan, an Arab Israeli.
“A good result for everyone!” Pront said. He clearly was relieved that nobody had to chose between Ireland and Israel.
The Dublin community already has begun working with the Israeli Embassy and the Chabad Terror Victims Group to bring another group to Ireland when the Israeli team comes to play there in June.