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In today’s New York City, St. Patrick’s Day brings to mind the parade of many inebriated folks and the green beer they imbibe. But 50 years ago, according to NPR’s news program All Things Considered, it also meant green matzo balls at the annual banquet of the Loyal League of Yiddish Sons of Erin. The league was a fraternal organization of Irish-born Jews.

Hasia Diner, who teaches history and Judaic studies at New York University, says the large scale immigration of Jews to Ireland, primarily from Lithuania, began in the 1880s and ’90s.

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Then, by the 1920s, Irish Jews started moving to the new world, primarily to New York. Like other immigrant, they kept in touch with one another, and in the early 1960s formed the Yiddish Sons of Erin. According to one of the members, Rosalyn Klein, it started as a joke.

“An advertising agency was trying to get some business for Moskowitz & Lupowitz, which was a Jewish restaurant,” she says.

The restaurant took out a newspaper ad for a meeting of Irish Jews, not really expecting a big response – but a lot of Irish Jews showed up.

“And most of them had lived in Dublin, so it was kind of this mishpocha getting together again,” Klein says.

“Getting together it was like a family, it was a party,” says another member, Bernetta Nelson. “Somebody would take out a harmonica and start playing, and they’d all start singing. It was really a hoot,” she describes. “There’s nothing quite like listening to Yiddish spoken with an Irish accent.”

The group’s president was AFL-CIO head Michael Mann, they met once a month at the union hall. In summer, The Loyal League of the Yiddish Sons of Erin picnicked in the Catskills.

But the group’s biggest event was the annual Erev Saint Patrick’s Day Banquet, a formal gala at the Americana hotel, with big band entertainment, kosher corned beef and green bagels.

“Tickets were at a premium,” Nelson says, “there were fights over tickets to this function. They used to have Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara perform for us because he being Jewish, and her being Irish.”

But as the older generation of Irish-born Jews died off, the organization gradually faded away, together with the memories of green matzo balls on Erev St. Patrick.

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Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.

13 COMMENTS

  1. I don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day as he is a Christian saint, but are there any other Jews who had ancestors living in Ireland who would like to get together to honor the only European country never to persecute or discriminate against Jews?

  2. As Prime Minister during the 1930’s De Valera modified the Irish Constitution so that it gave recognition to many non-Catholic religious groups including the Jewish community. “The behavior of de Valera's government towards Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust is also controversial. Ireland's Justice Minister Michael McDowell later described the Irish government's treatment of Jewish refugees as ‘antipathetic, hostile and unfeeling’. Dr Mervyn O'Driscoll of University College Cork reported on the unofficial and official barriers that prevented Jews from finding refuge in Ireland: ‘Although overt anti-Semitism was untypical, the Irish were indifferent to the Nazi persecution of the Jews and those fleeing the third Reich’. However, this attitude towards Jewish refugees differed little from other Western Governments – as exemplified by the abject failure of the Evian Conference-who were unwilling to admit Jews fleeing Nazism.”.

    http://www.clevelandjewishnews.com/cjnconnect/blogs/article_36605095-5f68-5f9b-bfc0-626801fb2353.html

  3. Never said that there weren't anti-Semites in Ireland. But note the number who died in Limerick: Zero. To call it a pogrom at all is very dubious given that real pogroms were killing Jews in large numbers in Russia about this time.

    In fact, the total number of Jews who have died from anti-Semitism in Ireland appears to be exactly two: They were murdered during the Irish Civil War by some anti-Semites on the Free State side. But that was nothing compared to what Irish Christians suffered:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executions_during_the_Irish_Civil_War

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