Jewish Ireland: A Social History

Jewish Ireland: A Social History

by Ray Rivlin


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Jewish Ireland: A Social History by Ray Rivlin

An engaging and thoroughly researched panorama of the Irish Jewish community

Based on library and archival material, private memoirs, and oral testimony, this book traces Irish-Jewish life from the 1880s when Orthodox Russian Jews, forced to flee Tsarist persecution, began arriving in Ireland without any means of support, little secular education, and no understanding of English. Overcoming poverty and antipathy, they established Jewish enclaves in townships and cities throughout Ireland, educated themselves from peddlers to professionals and entrepreneurs, took an active part in the Irish civil war and other major conflicts, engaged in national politics and sport, and achieved acclaim in literature, art, and music. This insightful and often humorous portrayal of a people underlines the contribution made to Ireland by its Jewish citizens and gives an invaluable understanding of the Jewish way of life to the wider community.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781845887087
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 06/01/2011
Pages: 288
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Ray Rivlin is an author and a historian.

Read an Excerpt

Jewish Ireland

A Social History

By Ray Rivlin

The History Press

Copyright © 2011 Ray Rivlin
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84588-721-6



Anyone wishing to meet a microcosm of Irish Jewry in the first half of the twentieth century would have turned first to Dublin, home to 90 per cent of the Irish Jewish community. There they could choose between visiting one of the many synagogues on a Saturday morning, the day of the Jewish Sabbath, and a trip to Clanbrassil Street on a Sunday morning. Those who chose the second option were transported to scenes more in keeping with nineteenth-century Russia than with twentieth-century Ireland.

Clanbrassil Street, on the south side of the River Liffey, was the hub of Jewish Dublin, the pivot from which densely-Jewish streets and terraces radiated as far as the South Circular Road and across it to the enclave of narrow streets known locally as Little Jerusalem. Like many Dublin streets, it divides into two sections. Lower Clanbrassil Street runs from New Street near St Patrick's Cathedral to Leonard's Corner on the South Circular Road; Upper Clanbrassil Street from Leonard's Corner to the Grand Canal. Emmet Bridge at Harold's Cross where the street terminates, held a double significance for Jews of that era. In life, going 'over the bridge' meant moving to a residence in a south Dublin suburb, a definite step up the social ladder; in death, it meant the inevitable last journey to the Jewish cemetery at Dolphin's Barn. Dubliner Michael Coleman always refers to it as Dublin's Bridge of Sighs, from the countless mourners who have passed over it.

There was nothing mournful or lifeless about Clanbrassil Street. The kosher shops that lined both sides of the short route from St Kevin's Parade to St Vincent Street South – both side streets off Lower Clanbrassil Street – had a constant stream of customers to buy the meat and fish, the groceries and delicatessen, the drapery and haberdashery, the bread and confectionery on display in the different outlets. Only rarely did anyone make a purchase and go straight home: Clanbrassil Street shopping meant calling on family and friends, meeting acquaintances, exchanging recipes and gossip, giving and receiving advice and complaining to anyone who would listen. It even meant making a date, as Anne Samuel, née Isaacson, used to do when young Eric Chaiken delivered a hen from Goldwater's on a Thursday and asked, 'Are you all right for Saturday night at the Metropole?' (then a popular Dublin ballroom). Geoffrey Goldberg, who married Eric's sister, Eileen, and eventually settled in Manchester, enjoys telling how his Uncle Gerald, on a visit from Liverpool in the 1950s to see his grandparents, went into Shapiro's, the tobacconists, looking for twenty Woodbines and found a wife. The couple were introduced by the relative of the bride-to-be who served him. Clanbrassil Street was vibrant, colourful, alive. It was a street where people lived and socialised. Children were born and brought up there. It saw laughter and tears, hardship and prosperity, humour and pathos, rivalry and amazing solidarity in time of need.

It was probably the Jewish character of the street when Joyce was writing Ulysses (1914-21) that led him to choose 52 Upper Clanbrassil Street as the birthplace of Leopold Bloom, the book's fictional Jewish hero, 'born' 18 May 1866. With no Jews then living in that area, it was as unlikely a combination of time and place for the birth of a Jewish child as it was for Bloom to be categorised as a Jew on the basis of his father's faith; Jewish lineage traditionally passes through the mother.

The small number of Jewish families living in Dublin in the 1860s, all descendents from an earlier immigration, were well ensconced across the River Liffey on the north side of the city. Thom's Directory, which has been recording the occupants of Dublin street premises, albeit with some inaccuracies, since 1844, lists no likely Jewish residents for either stretch of Clanbrassil Street until the 1890s, when they concentrated in Lower Clanbrassil Street.

The first to take up residence in Upper Clanbrassil Street appears to have been Fossell Mitafaki (spelt 'Mitafaky' in the 1892 edition of Thom's Directory and 'Mitawfsky' by 1893), who went to live at number 57 in 1891. This forefather of a Mitofsky family still represented in Dublin, left Upper Clanbrassil Street in 1898 to settle in nearby Raymond Street. By that time Upper Clanbrassil Street had the shopping amenities offered by David Rosenberg, greengrocer, at number 42A and Lazarus Golding, draper, at number 55. By the turn of the century they were both gone and only a scattering of Jewish settlers continued to locate in that section of the street.

The distinction of being the first Jew in Lower Clanbrassil Street specifically designated a trader seems to belong to a Mr Miller, a picture-frame maker at number 98. In 1894 he moved to number 18, where he continued trading for another ten years. In that time the street saw many Jewish comings and goings, with families moving in and out or simply changing premises, as Mr Miller did. It was not easy for early arrivals to settle down in a land whose very language was a mystery to them. Some moved on within a few months, some stayed a few years but there was a nucleus that established roots, stability increasing as the new century advanced. Weinrouck's Bakery opened in 1904 and continued trading into the 1940s. It produced its goods under the long-term management of Mr Moiselle in a laneway off Rosedale Terrace at the back of the Clanbrassil Street shops and sold them at number 42A Lower Clanbrassil Street, a corner shop where street and terrace meet. The pervasive aroma of their 'real crusty brown breads with a dinge in the middle,' their bagels and fresh yeast, together with the miniature loaf they occasionally made for her, were lovingly remembered by Doris Waterman, née Fine, whose family ran a grocery shop next door at number 40 from 1924 until 1971.

Although it involved only nineteen premises, that early documented Jewish presence, augmented by unrecorded sub-lettings, probably amounted to well over 100 people and must have made a significant impact on the run-down, working-class, hitherto Catholic neighbourhood. In later years, certainly, Jewish influence there was out of all proportion to the number of Jewish-occupied premises. Brian Smith, who left Dublin in 1965 to settle in Canada, even had the childhood fancy that 'Clanbrassil' was a Jewish name; others of the community still imagine the street was once predominantly Jewish. It never was.

The street numbers in Lower Clanbrassil Street run from 1 to 55 along the left-hand side as one approaches the South Circular Road, and from 56 to 121 on the opposite side, going back towards New Street. The status of some of its dilapidated housing changed from time to time, but from the beginning of the twentieth century, in any one year, at least twenty-five of the buildings and sometimes more than thirty were listed as tenements, a form of dwelling with which Jews in Clanbrassil Street were rarely associated. Of the ninety or so premises that remained for private occupation, no more than twenty-five were ever occupied simultaneously by Jews, and that was only once in the peak year of 1923. The overall highest density of Jewish residents was between 1921 and 1943, when an average of twenty-three premises were occupied by Jews, concentrated between numbers 28 and 46 on the one side and between 78 and 98A on the other, a pattern of occupancy that was to continue with only minor deviations until the street's decline as a Jewish area.

On a percentage basis, the comparatively few Jewish families established in the street should never have been enough to give it the ethnicity it acquired, but the majority of those families were traders in kosher products whose shops attracted into the street the entire local Jewish community as well as visitors to Dublin from elsewhere in Ireland and abroad.

Kosher trading is unlike any other. The dietary laws imposed on Observant Jews and embedded in a code of law called kashrut, encompass almost all food products, regarding both their permissibility as food and their methods of production, preparation and consumption. Because all early Dublin traders were accepted as being traditionally and genuinely Orthodox, much was taken on trust, and rabbinic supervision to ensure kashrut compliance could be quite perfunctory. Only butchers were subjected to stringent regulation and regular inspection. Dr David Rubinstein, now living in London, is a grandson of Myer Rubinstein, who opened a butcher's shop at number 82 in 1905, and a son of Philly Rubinstein, who eventually took over his father's business. He still remembers Dayan Alony, a rabbi qualified to serve as a rabbinical judge, calling to check the kosher stamp on carcasses after every delivery.

Laws relating to the consumption of meat are laid down in Leviticus 11:3 enjoins the Jews, as a Holy people, to eat only animals designated as 'clean', defined as those that chew the cud and have cloven hooves. Verses 13-19 proscribe a wide variety of winged creatures, mostly birds of prey, as 'detestable fowl'. Of the birds permitted in Leviticus, many could not be identified by the rabbis interpreting the words into a Code of Practice; as a result, the Observant eat only a small selection of common farmyard poultry.

Because the consumption of blood is prohibited, even permitted fowl and animals must be ritually slaughtered and as much blood as possible drained away. As a further safeguard against the infringement of this edict, meat and fowl must be soaked in water and then salted to remove any residual blood before cooking can take place. This kashering, traditionally undertaken by the housewife, was later offered as an optional service by some butchers. It is now done commercially before the product is sold. Because they contain veins that only great deftness and butchering skill can successfully remove, the hindquarters are never used, and even the forequarters will be rejected after slaughter if the lung or any other organ appears diseased. Rejection of cattle was so uncompromising in Dublin that carcasses finally stamped as kosher were considered glatt kosher, the highest level of kashrut that can be applied to meat.

The ritual killing of fowl and cattle is known as shechita. The issuing of trading licenses to kosher butchers, the supervision of slaughter houses and butchers' shops and the stamping that indicates acceptability within the dietary laws lies with the Central Board of Shechita of Ireland. The command in Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21 not to 'seethe a kid in the milk of its mother' is interpreted as an injunction to separate milk and meat foods. Separate utensils are kept for their preparation and serving and the consumption of meat after milk requires an interval of one to six hours, depending on family custom.

The story of the Creation (Genesis 1:29) declares all fruit and vegetables permissible, so Clanbrassil Street greengrocers faced few restrictions. General grocers too were once free to sell popular branded goods believed to contain no animal fat and kosher shops displayed items such as Campbell's vegetable soups, Jacob's biscuits and Kennedy's bread. All were legitimately purchased by Orthodox customers. One trading family remembers Rabbi Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1926 until 1936, as a regular customer for a Kennedy's batch loaf. Only at Pesach (Passover) did more stringent rules apply. Because the Israelites were freed from bondage by a somewhat ambivalent Pharaoh (Exodus 8:24-14:8), who could easily have changed his mind again and refused to let them go, the Exodus from Egypt, which the Passover commemorates, began in something of a rush, leaving no time for newly baked bread to rise. The hasty departure is immortalised in the annual obligatory eating of unleavened bread, similar in texture to water biscuits, and the restriction of other products freely consumed during the rest of the year. Food permitted for Passover use must be prepared in domestic and commercial settings with equipment that is newly purchased, kept exclusively for Passover usage or ritually cleansed for that purpose. Rabbis or their appointed representatives, rarely, if ever, seen in groceries where their womenfolk shopped regularly, called into every outlet before Passover to ensure that year-round stock was either removed from the premises or hidden behind sheets of paper, and that each shop was appropriately cleaned and re-stocked for the eight-day period. Passover fare had to be manufactured under supervision and stamped Kosherfor Passover by a rabbinical authority. Sometimes the hechsher or official stamp was placed on the product at the place of manufacture; sometimes the labels were delivered separately, to be affixed to the goods by the trader.

In the second half of the twentieth century some of the stringency of Passover production that had passed into products used throughout the year in ultra-Orthodox communities elsewhere, began to affect Irish kosher-trading practice. The growing use of additives and preservatives in food manufacturing, many of animal origin, also helped exclude a range of previously acceptable popular brands. As alternatives became increasingly available, Ireland began importing foodstuffs made under supervision mainly from England, America, Israel and Holland. Tinned and packet soups, soup cubes, cooking oils, cheese, biscuits, sweets, chocolate and ice cream, all certified as kosher, were just some of the products that began to appear regularly in Clanbrassil Street shops, alongside local and imported nationally-used commodities whose manufacturers guaranteed animal-free ingredients and allowed Jewish inspection of their plant. McDonnell's of Clarendon Street, for instance, produced kosher margarine under the supervision of Dayan Alony. The Irish-Jewish Year Book, published annually since 1950, apprised community members of permissible products in any given year. The quality of the hechsher, of extreme importance to the ultra-Orthodox, never troubled the Irish conscience. What was passed as kosher was accepted as kosher and used by the most Orthodox of Irish customers, irrespective of any outside claims that one stamp indicated a greater degree of supervisory vigilance than another.

During his period of office as Chief Rabbi of Ireland, Rabbi Jakobovits overcame local resistance to establish the practice of serving only kosher-labeled wine at kosher functions, a custom soon extended to its exclusive use for wine benedictions in the home and, ultimately, even for social consumption among Observant Irish Jews. Bread also fell victim to the new zeal among Irish religious leaders for greater kashrut compliance. As unsupervised bakers might conceivably be using non-permitted substances for greasing tins, for glazing loaves or even as an ingredient, challahs (the plaited or round loaves traditionally used for bread benedictions on Sabbath and Festivals), or other kosher loaves, became the daily bread of Orthodox Irish homes.

An early supplier was Clein's Bakery at 1A Lennox Street. Started by Zalman Seftl Clein in 1920 when his family moved from Cork to Dublin, it was run by various managers, including Zalman's son-in-law, Syd Barnett, until 1936 when it was sold to Barney Stein. In 1948 an unrelated Harry Clein became associated with it through his marriage to Barney's widow, Ida Stein, née Herman. Her son, Bevan Stein, who later moved to France, remembered working there part-time as a schoolboy and student. The head baker then was Fred Keane, with Christy Hackett his second-in-command. Neither was Jewish. For a few years after Frank retired, a Mr Benson ran the bakery, trading as Benson's, but his return to England left Christy in sole charge. In 1964 he rented the business from Mrs Clein and changed its name to Bretzel. Though no written agreement was ever signed, it was an amicable arrangement that continued beyond Christy's retirement when his son, Morgan Hackett, took over the tenancy. He bought the bakery after Mrs Clein's death in 1996. Though Jewish-owned from 1920 until 2000, it was not always certified as kosher and other firms intermittently supplied Dublin's kosher bread. In 1955-6 it was available from Robert Roberts of 44 Grafton Street; in 1962-3 the official supplier was Gerrard's Cakes Ltd.

As with Kosher shops elsewhere, the Clanbrassil Street outlets, irrespective of the product sold, were obliged to close from before sunset on Friday night, when the Sabbath began, until after sunset on Saturday, when it ended, and for the duration of all Holy days on which work was forbidden.


Excerpted from Jewish Ireland by Ray Rivlin. Copyright © 2011 Ray Rivlin. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


Title page,
1. Clanbrassil Street,
2. Early Years,
3. Rabbis and Festivals,
4. Entrepreneurs and Craftsmen,
5. Education,
6. Charity and Welfare,
7. The Professionals,
8. Arts and Culture,
9. Politics and War,
10. Sports and Entertainment,
11. Present and Future,

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