Memories of Purim and St. Patrick’s Day


The daughter of an Irish Jew shares her memories of combining the Irish and Jewish traditions.

Top o’ the Purim to ya!
That’s what Selma Harris Forstater remembers best about this holiday season, when Purim blends with St. Patrick’s Day for an intoxicating brew of a memory for a woman raised with an appreciation for four-leaf clover hamantashen.
The seasonal salute hits home for the area resident, because her late dad, Robert Harris, in his 90s when he died in 1969, was an Irish Jew.
“He was raised in Belfast, Ireland, the oldest of eight children. He came to Philadelphia in 1904. He and his mother organized a synagogue in South Phila­delphia where neither lack of funds nor adjusting to a new country stopped them from pursing and continuing their love and need for Torah,” recalls Forstater, who, in her 80s, volunteers for the Klein Center City Senior Program after many years of voluntarism for the Jewish Information and Referral Service of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
“First they met in homes and later Shaare Shamayim Synagogue came to be. The building was located at 23rd and Wharton streets. My dad was the first president and my grandmom president of the sisterhood; I attended Hebrew school and later taught Sunday School there.”
He taught her about the auld sod: “Ireland was so important to my father; he sang and danced to the Irish tunes, which my children and grandchildren all learned.
“To celebrate both Purim and St. Patty’s Day, my daughter and I baked hamantashen and topped them with green flavoring.”
And the Irish lives on in the family. “Irish jigs are done at the family weddings and all celebrations along with the hora. We all wear green on March 17 to honor my father.
“Imagine the sweet soulful sounds of Hebrew songs sung with love and an Irish brogue,” she says, noting how her dad’s “extraordinary spirit endeared him to all who were fortunate enough to know him.”
Make that schnapps a keeper, “So enjoy a cup of Irish coffee with your favorite hamantashen,” Forstater exhorts. 


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