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Jews of the Emerald Isle

Monday, 20 July, 2009 - 9:58 am

ireland2.jpgAt present, plans to appoint a new chief rabbi in Ireland are on hold, partly for financial reasons, and partly, as the community can see that Chabad Rabbi Zalman Shimon Lent, is doing the job himself very efficiently indeed, writes Shira Yehudit Djlilmand in Mishpacha Magazine.

The Jewish community of Ireland, mostly descended from Lithuanian immigrants, has never been large — at its peak in the 1940s the population reached around 4,500 — but has been consistently declining ever since, at least until 1992, when the census recorded 1,581 Jews.

Today, the majority of the Jews are concentrated in Dublin, with only a few scattered around the rest of the country. The driving force of the Dublin community, indeed of the entire Irish Jewish community, is Rabbi Zalman Shimon Lent.

Originally from Manchester, where his family has long been associated with rabbinic, communal, and educational activities, Rabbi Lent traveled widely to many Jewish communities worldwide, working in kiruv, before moving to Dublin with his family in 2000.

There, he took on a dual role, working as director of Chabad in Ireland and concurrently working for the local Jewish community as youth rabbi/program ireland3.jpgdirector. This role gradually evolved, and now Rabbi Lent is officially the rabbi of the Dublin Jewish community. Since the former chief rabbi’s retirement last year, he is effectively acting as de facto chief rabbi.

At present, plans to appoint a new chief rabbi are on hold, partly for financial reasons, and partly, perhaps, as the community can see that Rabbi Lent is doing the job himself very efficiently indeed.

The Dublin community, centered around the Terenure neighborhood, has one main Orthodox synagogue on Terenure Road, a shtiebel open on Shabbos and Yom Tov, and a progressive synagogue. There is a kosher l’mehadrin mikveh, a kosher bakery, and kosher food available in the local supermarket.

In addition, Ireland is now one of Europe’s largest exporters of kosher meat, with teams of shochtim living there most of the year. This has, in turn, helped the local community obtain good supplies of kosher meat.

In short, there are all the facilities essential to a Jewish community — including Jewish primary and secondary schools. However, although the school is recognized as giving a good education, due to the small numbers it is now not only coed but also mixed Jewish and non-Jewish.

As a result, Jewish studies are limited to an hour and a half in the mornings, which would cause difficulties for frum families looking for chinuch. As Rabbi ireland4.jpgLent said, “The problem for our own children is chinuch — that’s difficult. When our children come home every day they all do a few hours of Internet school — a service provided by Chabad for the shluchim around the world.”

According to many researchers, the native Jewish community is gradually dying out, as the youth seek wider opportunities overseas. “The indigenous Jewish community is basically in terminal decline — there’s no question about that,” reports Carl Nelkin, community spokesman. “The average age is say sixty-five to seventy, and when the kids reach college age, they almost
all leave the country and don’t come back.”

Israeli Irish or Irish Israeli?

According to media reports, since the 1990s, Ireland has seen Israeli immigrants arriving in the hundreds, and even though in recent years, many, such as those who came over with Intel, have returned, still a good number remains.

Moti Neuman is one of the Israelis who has chosen to live in Ireland for work reasons, and has certainly made an impact on the community. Originally from Karnei Shomron, he and his wife moved to Ireland eight years ago. Neuman was then employed by the Israeli high-tech company Amdocs, and was involved in a project for a client in Ireland. The client wanted him to come to Ireland, Neuman and his wife had already visited and liked the area, and so the deal was done.

Three years later, Neuman got an offer from an Irish high-tech company, BMB Technologies, for whom he is currently working.

So how do the Israeli immigrants integrate into the life of the local community? “A lot of the Israelis here are not connected to the Jewish community — they’re not even connected to Yiddishkeit,” says Neuman.

“But Rabbi Lent, who’s the main driver here, is always organizing activities and does succeed in keeping in touch with the Israeli families.”

Often, it depends where the Israeli immigrants are located. as Rabbi Lent explained, “The key is if they live near the shul — if they do, they integrate easily.”

ireland1.jpgEven outside of the Jewish neighborhood, within Dublin there are Jews, as Rabbi Lent reports: “There is a good crowd of Israelis working for Google here whom we are in contact with regularly.”

If they are located outside Dublin, such as the new Teva site in Waterford, integration is more difficult, although Rabbi Lent makes every effort to keep in contact with them.

Neuman is one of the Israeli immigrants who has integrated well into the community. Neuman is not only a regular mispallel in the Orthodox shul every day but, with his reportedly beautiful voice, is often the chazzan. He also gives regular shiurim, and his wife is involved with giving chizuk to the women of the community.

This is the kind of family that the community desperately needs, to give it life and vibrancy, but sadly, at least for the locals, the Neumans are not intending to stay permanently. “I’m certainly planning to go back. Why? My home is in Israel, my family, my grandchildren. I’ll do what I have to do for the business, and then I’ll be gone.”

Which raises the question, an important one for the native population: Are any of the Israelis planning to stay permanently?

“I don’t believe any of them will stay,” Neuman states, but according to Ambassador Evrony, a number of Israelis have managed to establish successful businesses and have stayed in Ireland.


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