Purim/St. Patrick’s Day 2022 – Speech by Paul Konigstein – Tzav 03/19/22
Purim/St. Patrick’s Day 2022
Purim is only a few days behind us, yet suddenly, I’m viewing all the food in my pantry as just two categories: chometz and non-chometz. Such is Jewish life, the seasons change, and with them, their religious correspondents. We go from the raucous joy of Purim to the orderly liberation of Passover. Let’s hope and pray that by the time Passover comes, the Ukrainians, and all free people, can celebrate their independence.
However, before we going locking Purim away with chometz, I’d like to share with you a beautiful speech about the Holiday that Paul Konigstein presented to our Shabbat morning minyan.
“This year, two proud world cultures celebrated on the same day: one eating hamantaschen and the other Irish Soda bread. Purim and St. Patrick’s Day falling on the same day is rare. Before this year, the last time it happened was in 1984, and it won’t happen again until 2041. Yet, even when they don’t fall out on the same day, the holidays tend to fall out around the same time. This confluence of holidays naturally poses a question: Do Purim and St. Patrick’s Day have anything in common?
There is one obvious answer and some not-so-obvious answers. The obvious answer is drinking: On Purim, the Talmud instructs us to drink until we can’t distinguish between Haman and Mordechai. Likewise, on St. Patrick’s Day, Irish lore encourages celebrants to drink enough so that they cannot tell the difference between “St. Patrick” and “the Queen of England”!
That may be the only thing St. Patrick’s Day has in common with Purim, but St. Patrick himself shares much with the Torah and Jewish tradition. Seth Rogovoy writes in The Forward that the story of the original 5th century Patrick, who became the patron saint of Ireland, has numerous parallels to the Biblical accounts of Joseph and Moses. Like those two, Patrick spent a significant part of his youth in captivity, during which time he worked as a shepherd and spent hours communing with God. Patrick also had his burning bush moment when he saw a vision of a letter carrier handing him a missive titled “The Voice of the Irish.” When he read the letter, he could hear the voices of the people of Ireland crying out to him, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” Eventually, Patrick became a spiritual leader in Ireland, converting thousands of people to Christianity. But he was always something of a foreigner, having been born in Roman England. Both Joseph and Moses, being strangers in the land of Egypt, even when they served the Pharaoh, could certainly relate.
Perhaps St. Patrick is most remembered for having chased the snakes out of Ireland – how else to explain why there aren’t any snakes there? Moses and Aaron, of course, had their encounter with snakes, as told in parsha Va’era. When Moses and Aaron were before Pharaoh, Aaron cast down his staff, and God turned it into a snake. Pharaoh then summoned wise men, sorcerers, and magicians who turned their rods into snakes. Aaron’s snake then proceeded to consume all the Egyptian magicians’ snakes.
There are also parallels between Jewish and Irish history. For example, in modern times, the Irish Gaelic language has been superseded by English as the primary language spoken in and out of Ireland by the Irish people, much like what happened to Yiddish among Ashkenazi Jews and Ladino among Jews of Sephardic origin.
You may have heard that the mayor of Dublin was Jewish. In fact, in 1956, Robert Briscoe did become the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin, although he was not the first Jewish Mayor in Ireland. That title belongs to William Annyas, who was elected Mayor of Youghal, County Cork, way back in 1555.
Anyway, Briscoe, born to Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants to Ireland, was active in the Irish Republican Army, and a member of Sinn Féin. Briscoe served in the Irish parliament for nearly 40 years, from 1927 to 1965. Upon his retirement, his son, Ben, took over his seat in parliament, where he served for a further 37 years.
Briscoe was also an admirer and friend of Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. The Irish and the Jews share the historical experience of having had their modern nations forged in uprisings against English colonialism. Jabotinsky made a pilgrimage to Ireland, where he received training from Briscoe in guerrilla tactics to use against the English in Palestine. Later on, Briscoe advised Menachem Begin on how to transition his paramilitary organization, the Irgun, into a political party, which became Herut, the main party of the Likud coalition.
Cultural parallels exist as well. For example, traditional Irish music had much in common with Yiddish Klezmer music. In fact, Irish vocalist Susan McKeown has recorded with the Grammy Award-winning klezmer group, The Klezmatics. Likewise, before joining the Klezmatics, Lisa Gutkin was a leading fiddler on the Irish music scene.
Historian Shaylyn Esposito, writing in Smithsonian Magazine, says that what we think of today as Irish corned beef is Jewish brisket thrown into a pot with cabbage and potatoes. The Irish originally ate a dry, salted beef that came from England. When they came to America and began shopping at kosher butchers on the Lower East Side, they discovered that when the brisket is salted and slow cooked, it transforms into the tender, moist, flavorful corned beef we know of today.
Irish-Jewish love affairs have been celebrated in American popular culture at least as far back as the 1922 Broadway comedy, “Abie’s Irish Rose,” about an Irish Catholic girl and a young Jewish man who marry despite the objections of their families. The play is said to have inspired the husband-and-wife comedy duo Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, and its premise formed the basis of the controversial 1972-73 TV series “Bridget Loves Bernie.”
Not all immigrant Jews came directly from the Pale of Settlement to the Lower East Side in the late 19th century. Instead, some came by way of Ireland, where they picked up enough of an identity to form an organization called the Loyal League of Yiddish Sons of Erin. As one member told an interviewer from NPR in 2013, “There’s nothing quite like listening to Yiddish spoken with an Irish accent.” For years, Stiller and Meara performed at the group’s annual banquets.
May we all be healthy and prosperous enough to celebrate St. Purim’s Day again in nineteen years!