By: Ann Rabinowitz
Dublin's Lord Mayor Robert Briscoe, St. Patrick's Day Parade, New York, 1956
As people all over the world celebrate the ubiquitous St. Patrick's Day, not many know that part of the Irish scene was populated by Irish Jews. They made their small, but significant presence known for what some say is a thousand years and lived in what generally amounted to peaceful harmony with their neighbors. I say generally as there were a few minor incidents over the years which were troublesome, but there was nothing systemic or prolonged about these "troubles".
Why do I write about them and what has this to do with genealogy? Well, to start, my mother's sister Sadie, from Manchester (the family was originally from Drohobycz, Ukraine), and her husband, Abe Josephson, from Sheffield (the family was originally from Tarnow, Poland), with their two children, settled in Dublin and made Ireland their permanent home.
They chose Ireland as many did as they had friends from Manchester who had gone there before them. It was due to this that I had the great fortune as a child to visit them for a while in what seemed to me a green and verdant land filled with the most magical places imaginable. Later, as a student and an adult, I reveled in the beauty of Irish literature and the music of Ireland. I was truly smitten and have continued to feel that way to this day.
My cousin Rose married a Yodaiken, a family with a long historical background in the Baltics and in both Belfast and Dublin, Ireland. The most well-known of the clan was Robert Briscoe, the Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1956 and 1961, and who served in the Irish parliament, the Dail, from 1927-1965. He was connected to the Yodaiken family through his mother. His son, Ben, also held the title of Lord Mayor in 1988, and son Joe, a retired dentist, is another well-known member of this family. Others in the family made their mark as well and now only a few of the family still remain in Ireland, the rest having left for places as close as Scotland and England and as far as Israel, South Africa, and America.
My family's departure from Ireland is an encapsulation of what had been happening to the community for some years. As others had either passed away, retired or left too, the community contracted in size from over 5,000 at its peak to around 1,700 Jews or less. However, the spirit of the community remained quite robust and the institutions were still alive and well. There were even efforts to bring newcomers to Ireland to live and expand the community. In today's world, with its economic issues, it may be that, again, people will leave Ireland and the community will contract and await another rebirth in better times.
Despite this leave-taking, the love of Ireland remained strong for Irish Jews, who had left for the diaspora. They formed what amounts to a "virtual homeland" on the Internet, which first took the form of a group called the Irish JIG. Later, an outgrowth of the Irish JIG, ShalomIreland, was formed to which many ex-pats now belong. The Jewish "green" team which runs ShalomIreland is: Anne Lapedus Brest, Iris Crivon, Sybil Fishman, Mark Haringman Ed Moss, Aly Pichon, Meir Smullen and David Lenten. For those interested in reconnecting with Irish friends and relatives, you can reach ShalomIreland by clicking here.
ETHNIC COMPOSITION OF THE JEWS OF IRELAND
Much has been made of the great numbers of Lithuanian Jews who settled in both northern and southern Ireland. However, there actually were Jews from other places as well who did settle there. For instance, there were the Polish Jews who settled in Limerick in 1872. By 1904, they numbered approximately 35 families or 200 souls and were subject to the anti-semitic Limerick boycott which caused starvation and impoverished them. There were also Romanian Jews and many other nationalities that came as well. Lastly, there were the German Jews who came to escape Hitler.
RESOURCES FOR RESEARCH
Some resources for the Jewish community in the Republic of Ireland are:
- Irish Jewish Community
- Irish Jewish Museum
- Irish Jewish Genealogical Society and Family History Centre - a division of the Irish Jewish Museum headed by Stuart Rosenblatt, P.C., FGSI
- Irish Jewish Films - Two Jewish Irish films have been produced which are the documentary "Shalom Ireland" by director Valerie Lapin Ganley, and "Grandpa . . . Speak to Me in Russia" a film of Louis Lentin's search for his roots in Lithuania.
- Irish Jewish Music - This is a site which discusses the works of Carl Nelkin a young Irish Jewish singer.
A major resource for the Jewish community in Northern Ireland is:
Other resources are historical archives of newspapers and magazines such as The Jewish Chronicle published in London and the Irish Independent published in Dublin; the Irish Times, published in Dublin which also has a genealogy section on-line; the Belfast Telegraph, published in Belfast; census records for the British Census and the Irish Census (click here to see what is available); and various books and articles about the Irish Jews.
In addition, there are records which are not on-line and can only be seen in the Irish Archives, and other venues such as the Jewish Museum. These are but a few of the resources available to Irish researchers.
What I have found to be the most rewarding though are the stories told of the community and its members. They have the jocular wit, grace, and amusing twists and turns of any good Irish story . . . they have what is called a bit of "craic" or wisecrack or joke combined with a sense of fun.
Yodaiken and Spiro Families
One day, I was contacted by John McKee who was inquiring after his relative Abraham Spiro who I had included in one of my prior pieces on the Blog. Abraham had served on the Dublin Board of Guardians in 1923. As it turned out, Abraham was the brother of Charles Spiro, who was the step-father of my cousin Aubrey Yodaiken.
Given that propitious beginning to our conversation about the Spiro family, John produced an article from the Irish Independent, February 25, 1916 edition, which dealt with a prominent rubber merchant, Samuel Yodaiken (born c. 1883 in Zagare, Lithuania) who had a fracas with his relative and business partner, Leon Spiro, which ended up in court. As it so happened, Samuel Yodaiken was Aubrey Yodaiken's father and the plaintiff and Leon Spiro was John McKee's great grandfather and the defendant in the resulting court case.
As it so happened, as recounted in the newspaper story, each partner grabbed the other one and they schlepped each other to the police station. There, they insisted on having the other one arrested regarding problems in dissolving their partnership. The sensible police officer sussed out the situation and kindly suggested that the two go home before they made fools of themselves.
It was only later, in 1931, when Samuel Yodaiken passed away at a young age, that the son of his erstwhile business partner, Charles Spiro, married his widow Rose. Samuel was also known for a fierce temperament and litigious nature. His son Aubrey relates that he was approached one day by the son of another police officer in the area. He told him of his father's often fiery stampedes with his horse and trap through the intersections of the town where the officer very nearly got trampled.
Enlander and Kaitcer Families
A story of another sort is one from Northern Ireland which was related by Dr. Derek Enlander, the grandson of Boruch Aaron Enlander, who was born in 1866 in Lublin, Poland. Boruch came to Belfast in the 1890's and, by 1911; he was settled in 29 Bedeque Street, Court Ward, Belfast, County Antrim. There he lived with his wife Bertha and children: Chaim, Harry, Benny, Pearle, Sarah, and Lily. The eldest children had been born in Poland and remembered leaving with the prescribed one suitcase. The two youngest children, Sarah and Lily, had been born in Belfast.
Boruch's son, Ben Zion (Benny) Enlander, an enterprising young man, married Hilda Kaitcer, from a Dublin family, who had arrived there from Lithuania in the 1850's. It was Hilda who gave their subsequent chain of dime stores the name of Bennett Stores. The stores which were located in Belfast as well as Bangor, Strabane, Omagh, Enniskillin and Derry, prospered. Upon the death of Ben Zion in 1956, this Irish Jewish dime store empire was later sold to Woolworth's, whom they had emulated.
The Ben Zion Enlander family of Belfast (Ben Zion and Hilda, middle of top row)
Additional stories of the family include that of Hilda's nephew Lenny Kaitcer, a wealthy jeweler and antiques dealer, who was kidnapped from his home in South Belfast on February 8, 1980, by the IRA who demanded a ransom of 1 million pounds. Hilda's son Derek went to Belfast to arrange the ransom 24 hours later, but by the time he arrived, Kaitcer was found dead and left in a ditch. The murderers were never found. It is thought that this murder was instrumental in the subsequent decline of the once thriving Jewish community in Belfast.
Meanwhile, Derek Enlander was given a fellowship to Stanford University and he remained in the U.S. where he practices medicine today. When he first went to Stanford, he organized the minyan at the University. His basic Jewish education was at his daily cheder of which his father Benny was the President. The cheder was followed by a stint in a regular school, the Belfast Royal Academy. In addition, he was trained in gemorah class taught by Lubovitch Assistant Rabbi Beryl Levin in Belfast. Despite its small size, Belfast also had a very active Jewish community with a Sports Club, Scout Troop and Jewish Institute.
See below a charming photograph of Derek's 1960 gemorah class.
Assistant Rabbi Beryl Levin's Gemorah Class, Belfast, 1960
Seated front row: Sidney Malinsky, Gerald Wainer (Pharmacist, England), Assistant Rabbi Beryl Levin, Stanley Gold (Dentist, England), Derek Enlander (Doctor, New York); Standing, middle row: Ivan Adler, Alan Ross (Dentist, England), Trevor Danker (Journalist, Dublin); Standing, top row: Mark Saperia (Dentist, South Africa), Jeffery Shapiro, Frank Daly (Portugal), Brian Robinson (Doctor, England), Harold Moss (Belfast)
A decade later, Rabbi Beryl Levin's son, Rabbi Yosef Levin took a position as a Rabbi just off the Stanford campus. He heard that an Irishman had preceded him and had formed a minyan several years before and that he was a student of his father. While curious about this, he wasn't able to pursue it any further.
Time passed and Rabbi Levin went to New York for the engagement of his son. In a time-honored Jewish geography conversation, Rabbi Levin mentioned that his father Beryl was a Lubovitcher in Belfast to a friend at the affair. The New York Lubovitcher friend, Rabbi Kraniansky, said that he knew a doctor who came from Belfast, had gone to Sanford and who now lived in New York. Thereupon, Rabbi Levin called him on the spot. Derek immediately came right over to the simcha. It was then that Rabbi Levin's son finally met his father's student, Derek Enlander. The moral of the story is that the Irish never miss a simcha.
The Belfast community was also known for their wisdom in purchasing and establishing the Millisle Refugee Farm in County Down which operated from 1938 until 1948. When the British government required work permits in order for Jewish refugees from Austria, Czechoslovakia and Germany to enter Britain, it was the Millisle Farm which allowed a number to do so and escape the Holocaust. This included approximately 300 children from the Kindertransport who passed through its gates to safety.
Millisle Refugee Farm, Communal Meal Time in the Dining Hall
A few years ago, Derek Enlander spoke to an audience at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York about the Millisle Refugee Farm and the importance of even a small number of people making a large impact. A few weeks later, he received a phone call from a stranger who had heard the talk. He thanked Derek and the Belfast community and Derek said for what. He replied: "For my life, I was rescued and came to Millisle." The story of the Millisle Refugee Farm is described aptly in the fictional account by Marilyn Taylor entitled "Faraway Home", The O'Brien Press, 1999.
It is always a good idea to check Irish records (especially the Census which has been referred to previously on the Blog) very often; you may find a relative tucked away in tiny bit of Ireland who had settled there unbeknownst to you or other family members. You may also wish to visit Ireland and see for yourself the country where your ancestors lived before moving on. Their records and the friendliest bunch of Jews you will meet anywhere await you with open arms and Céad Mile Fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes).