Words of Faith

Ireland is more tolerant than you may think

March 11, 2014 

I was lucky enough to spend time in Ireland recently. There is an Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin, so I headed that way.

The cab driver asked what was at the address I gave him. I paused, and told him, and was happily surprised when his face lit up,

“You’re Jewish then? I’m Church of Ireland myself,” he said.

His name was Connor, and he offered a short tour around the older Jewish neighborhood, where he pointed out a mosque, a synagogue which had been re-purposed to an office building, and the Presbyterian church. Connor was eager for me to know that Ireland is a tolerant country. My cab driver on the way back did a similar tour, pointing out a couple more houses of worship, and his Hibernian Club.

As an aside, the cab drivers in Ireland came across as an open and informative lot.

Before that second cab ride, though, I spent the morning with a member of the Jewish community at the museum. We talked a lot about the neighborhood, which had been populated with European Jewish immigrants, the experiences in the Jewish diaspora in Ireland, and more recently the reduction of their population, as many Irish Jews immigrate to Israel or the Dublin suburbs.

In a strongly Roman Catholic country, the Irish Jews have numerous experiences in common with the Jews of York County, even if we speak with different accents. Both are a small, but vigorous group, and both are well integrated into the community.

There was a school group touring the Irish Jewish Museum the day I visited. The questions from the uniformed group of 12- and 13-year-olds were enlightening. They were curious about Jewish holidays, approving of the idea of eight days of presents during the celebration of Hanukkah, and the potato cakes eaten at that time. The young ladies of the group seemed to like learning about the Jewish marriage contract, which becomes the property of the bride, as an equal partner in the marriage.

It was the question: “How often do Jews go do confession” though that sparked the most chatter at the answer. The docent of the museum answered that Jews believe we are responsible for our own sins and that faithful Jews must apologize and ask forgiveness of the people whom they have wronged. He added that on Yom Kippur every year, Jews ask forgiveness of God, for the vows to God which we have broken and our transgressions against Him.

The docent was a quiet man who obviously loved explaining his faith to the school children. He talked about how adaptation of Jewish traditions have evolved in Ireland, some in deference to their chilly weather. Listening to him reel off the litany of Jewish holidays, and hearing only minor differences in how the Jews of York County celebrate and observe, it occurred to me how faith can adapt, localize and thrive.

To have and express faith when one is in the minority can take some thought. While it might be easier to let others just assume you are “like them” and blend in, that might be a lost opportunity to share and compare ideas around belief.

In this week of St. Patrick’s Day, with parades lining up and green outfits being prepped, it is safe to assume that most folks are ready to be Irish, if only for the day. Here in York County, with more of that English “Wars of the Roses” legacy, there will be celebrating. And here, in York County, with enough of a Jewish population to support two synagogues, even the Jews are likely to wear some green.

Corned beef and cabbage is not all that far from brisket and sauerkraut, don’t you know.

Edie Yakutis works with Ritual Life at Temple Solel in Fort Mill. Contact her eyakutis@outlook.com.

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