Over 50 people of Irish and Jewish heritage gathered at the Irish Consulate in New York on Monday evening to learn about the expansion of the Irish Jewish Museum in Dublin.
The event was hosted by the former Lord Mayor of Dublin Ben Briscoe and the Friends of the Irish Jewish Museum.
Among those in attendance was Paul Shaffer, David Letterman's bandleader and sidekick of 27 years.
“Who knew the Irish Consulate was located in a swinging high rise, tucked away in the clouds in New York?” he told the Irish Voice.
A Canadian Jew, Shaffer said he was thrilled to hear about the museum’s expansion program and would love to visit the museum in the future.
Located in the once heavily populated Jewish area of Portobello in South Dublin, the Irish Jewish Museum was originally opened on June 20, 1985 by the Irish-born former president of Israel, Dr. Chaim Herzog.
Previously a synagogue, the Walworth Road museum contains a collection of memorabilia relating to the Irish Jewish communities and their various associations and contributions to present day Ireland.
The current facilities display only a small fraction of the available collection, and the redevelopment of the museum will be enlarged to modern day standards that will allow the collection to be maintained and enhanced.
Plans for the new museum, which will be six times the size of the existing structure, will also include a Holocaust Memorial Center in connection with the Holocaust Education Trust of Ireland.
“It’s amazing the way the Irish and the Jews keep coming together in many different aspects,” Briscoe, whose late father Joe served as the first Jewish lord mayor of Dublin, said.
“The importance of this museum is to preserve what the Jewish community has in Ireland.”
During the event, plans for the multi-million dollar redevelopment of the museum were unveiled. Work on the project, which has received support from the Irish government, is expected to begin next year with an anticipated completion date of 2016. The goal is to raise $13 million, which includes a sinking fund for ongoing maintenance and operation.
“We cannot go forward without your help,” Briscoe told the crowd.
The first recorded Jewish immigrants came to Ireland as early as 1660. The largest influx occurred during the 19th century when many Eastern European Jews fled the pogroms, violent attacks by local non-Jewish populations on Jews in the Russian empire and other countries. Many Jewish immigrants settled in Dublin.
According to Briscoe, there are currently around 1,300 Jews left in Ireland from a height of almost 5,000.
“Like the Irish, a lot of Irish Jews want to go to the bigger world outside,” Briscoe told the Irish Voice.
“A lot of Jewish people want to marry within the faith, and the only way they can get Jewish partners is by immigrating to larger centers.”
A former member of the Dail (Irish Parliament), he said the Irish and the Jewish have a lot in common.
“The Irish and the Jewish who came to America came from similar backgrounds, from abject poverty and persecution in many instances. So this was a natural coming together,” Briscoe said.
“In Ireland, irrespective of your race or religion, you’re Irish by your nationality, you’re Jewish by religion.”
During the event, Dr. Derek Enlander, a Belfast doctor based in New York, was commended for his contribution to the Irish Jewish community both at home and abroad.
A specialist in chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) diagnosis and treatment, Enlander is the director of New York's new Mount Sinai ME/CFS research center.
He told the crowd about his honeymoon in Ireland, where he and his late wife made the trip to the Dublin museum.
“She wanted to actually see that there were Jews in Ireland,” he said.
When they arrived at the museum they were disappointed to find it was closed.
“We weren’t there on the right day,” Enlander recalled. “She banged on the door. Caron actually didn’t take no for an answer.”
When someone finally answered the door, she explained that they had come to Dublin to see the museum.
“We are only here for the day and my husband is from Ireland and I would like to see exactly what is going on with the Jews in Ireland,” he recalled her saying.
Once inside, the couple discovered information about Enlander’s mother’s family who immigrated to Ireland.
“Low and behold, from 1850, a large placard with my family who actually came from Russia was produced,” he said.
“This museum is most important because these are the anecdotes,” he told the crowd. “I am giving you a taste of what we should be helping to develop in Dublin."