Every time there's a Jewish leap year, as is the case in 2011, Purim falls during the same week as St. Patrick's Day. While St. Patrick's Day is always on March 17, Purim this year begins at sundown just two days later, on March 19.
Far from the Emerald Isle, the Purim story is set in ancient Persia and bubbles with intrigue. Mordecai -- a distinguished member of the Jewish community who suspected foul play within the king's palace -- maneuvered his niece Esther into the position of queen.
Learning that the king's vizier, Haman, planned to annihilate the Jews, Queen Esther revealed her religion to her husband and prevailed upon him to save her people. Fortunately, he was sympathetic to her plea. Once Haman was defeated, Mordecai and Queen Esther led a jubilant party celebrating Jewish survival.
Since then, it has become customary for Jews everywhere to raise a glass on Purim, a holiday that encourages revelry. The Jews of Ireland are no exception. Small in number, they are a cohesive community with a proud history.
Among famed Irish Jews is Robert Briscoe, who in 1956 not only became the first Jewish mayor of Dublin, but also led the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade down Fifth Avenue in New York City. Briscoe, however, was not the first Jewish mayor in Ireland: William Annyas was elected mayor of Youghal, County Cork, in 1555.
Although the Jewish presence in Ireland stretches back nearly 1,000 years, today's Jewish community has its origins predominantly from the 1880s, when immigrants from Lithuania, fleeing pogroms and Russian oppression, sought refuge in Dublin and Cork.
As a limited population in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, Jews have not experienced much persecution in Ireland. Comfortably middle class, Irish Jews have been city folk, mostly businesspeople, professionals and merchants. Many are third- and fourth-generation Irish-born.
The Jewish population in Ireland reached a peak of nearly 6,000 during the 1940s, but by the end of that decade, young Jews assimilated, and there was a good deal of intermarriage. The founding of Israel in 1948 prompted an exodus from Ireland. Today, there are more Irish Jews living in Israel than in Ireland.
With so few Jews in Ireland, young people migrate in search of Jewish life elsewhere. Some parents encourage their children to emigrate to England, Israel or America, so they can meet and marry other Jews.
"Shalom Ireland" -- a one-hour documentary about the Emerald Isle's colorful Jewish community -- is available on DVD through Share Productions at 650-738-9495 or online at: Valerie@shalomireland.com .
In the film, one man explains that Jews often acquire the "best" qualities of the wider community where they live. While U.S. Jews tend to be boastful and English Jews may be pompous, he says, Irish Jews are the friendliest Jews in the world, but they drink more than other Jews.
A unique way to celebrate Purim on this Jewish leap year would be to host a brunch and serve typical Irish fare, followed by a viewing of "Shalom Ireland."
With the Jewish population dwindling, the dead in Ireland's Jewish cemeteries far exceeds living Jews, who today number fewer than 1,000. However, for those with a spirit of adventure who would like to live someplace where your presence would be greatly appreciated, consider moving to Ireland -- the Jewish community will welcome you with the joy of Mordecai that first Purim.
Irish Soda Bread(Dairy)
- 2 lbs. all-purpose flour (small size bag), plus extra for dusting
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsps. dark brown sugar
1/3 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
21/2 cups buttermilk (or 21/2 cups milk mixed with 11/4 tsps. freshly squeezed lemon juice)
Preheat oven to 375°.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. If using milk instead of buttermilk, mix milk with lemon juice.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, place 2 pounds flour, salt, baking soda and brown sugar. Using dough hook, stir to combine.
Add the cheddar cheese to the flour mixture. While mixing, gradually pour in the buttermilk or milk mixture until the dough clumps together. (You may not need all of the milk.)
Dust your kitchen counter with flour. Remove dough from the bowl, shape into a ball, and roll in the flour on the counter. The dough will be coarse. Shape it into a round loaf and flatten it slightly; the dough will display cracks. Place it on the parchment paper.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden-brown and cake tester inserted in the center comes clean. Cool to warm.
Makes one 7-inch loaf (about 14 slices).
To accompany Irish Smoked Salmon or any variety you desire.
- 1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 tsp. (or more for stronger flavor) prepared horseradish
1 tsp. fresh dill, minced
Place ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Stir with a spoon until well-blended.
Sprinkle dill on top.
Cover and refrigerate until serving.
Makes 1 cup.
Roasted Tomato Wedges(Pareve)
- nonstick vegetable spray
4 medium-sized tomatoes
vegetable oil for drizzling
kosher salt to taste
black pepper, preferably freshly ground
Preheat oven to 350°.
Coat a shallow baking pan with nonstick spray.
Cut each tomato into 8 wedges, 32 pieces in all. Place wedges on prepared pan. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Roast for 30 minutes, or until wedges soften and pucker.
Place on a platter and serve immediately.
Crunchy Fried Potatoes(Pareve)
- 4 large potatoes
3-4 Tbsps. vegetable oil (or more)
kosher salt to taste
Peel potatoes and rinse under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
With a sharp knife, cut potatoes into thin slices, about 1/8 -inch thick.
In a large skillet, briefly heat 3 tablespoons oil on a medium flame. With a spatula, carefully move potatoes into the oil. Make sure they don't overlap. Sprinkle with salt. Fry for several minutes until potato slices begin to brown. Flip slices to the other side and sprinkle again with salt. Add more oil, if needed.
Continue frying and turning slices until they are brown and quite crisp, about 15 to 20 minutes. Move to two layers of paper towels to drain; serve immediately.
- 8 cups coffee, freshly brewed
1/2 pint heavy whipping cream
1 cup Irish cream liqueur, such as Bailey's
1 cup Irish whiskey
While the coffee is brewing, place heavy cream in a mixing bowl and whip with electric beaters until cream forms peaks. Pulse beaters on and off as cream thickens into whipped cream to avoid turning it into butter. Reserve.
Into 8 coffee mugs, place 1 ounce of Irish cream liqueur and 1 ounce of Irish whiskey. Pour 1 cup of coffee into each mug and stir until combined.
Top with spoonfuls of whipped cream.