The Red-Bearded Face Of Irish-Jewish History


For any visitor to Dublin’s rustic Irish Jewish Museum, the warm-natured, red-bearded curator Raphael Siev was more than a familiar face: he was a fount of information and an admired Irish-Jewish leader.

Siev, 73, died of a short illness in the last week of January, during which he had insisted upon speaking at a Holocaust memorial event, The Independent newspaper in Dublin reported.

“Thousands of people went through the museum,” said Rabbi Zalman Lent, spiritual leader at the Dublin Hebrew Congregation and Chabad emissary to Ireland.

The museum, formerly the Walworth Road Synagogue, opened its doors in 1985, in an inauguration led by Chaim Herzog, the Irish-born former president of Israel and son to Ireland’s first chief rabbi, Siev had told a group of Columbia Journalism graduate students when they visited the museum a year ago. From its founding on, Siev oversaw the entire museum collection and was always available to teach visitors about the influx of Jews to Ireland during Russian pogroms, James Joyce’s “Ulysses” and pretty much anything else on his mind.

“Raphael was obviously a repository of history of the community,” said Rabbi Lent. “He always had time for people in the museum.”

Siev was born in 1935 in Rathmines, a suburb south of Dublin, and worked for Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs, where he served as the first secretary of the Irish embassy in Denmark and worked on many United Nations initiatives, The Independent reported.

During the High Holy Days, Siev frequently ran services at the dwindling Machzikei Hadass Synagogue, and he had a love of both Torah and Gematria (Jewish numerology) according to Rabbi Lent.

Irish-Jewish musician Carl Nelkin also spoke about his kindhearted nature and said that he knows that Siev will be impossible to replace.

“It’s a void that we won’t be able to fill,” Nelkin said.