THE LUCK OF THE IRISH

Pesach and Easter are not the only festivals that either overlap or fall in close proximity to one another. During a Jewish leap year, the same can often be said about Purim and St. Patrick’s Day.

With the Irish swinging their shillelaghs this past Sunday, and the Jews swirling their graggers this  Wednesday night and Thursday morning, perhaps it’s time to see that when all is said and done, St. Patrick’s day sheds light on Purim.

“The luck of the Irish” is a phrase not uncommon to many, if not most Americans. Other than being spurious, in that it is anything but complimentary – it implies that the success of the Irish came about through good fortune, rather than aptitude or know how – “the luck of the Irish” should give pause to us Jews.

Despite the multitudes of “Mazel Tovs” (good lucks) that Jews have joyfully wished one another over the ages, there is no place for mazel in Judaism. The Talmud so much as says so, when it states:  “Ein mazal l’Yisrael” or “mazel does not apply to Jews.”

Arguably, the Talmud is referring to what we now know as the horoscope. Jews, says Judaism,  ought not to pay heed to the horoscope. In true Greek or Roman fashion, the horoscope implies that the constellations play a significant role in our lives. Instead of Pisces, Virgo rising, a Jew, a believing Jew, knows implicitly that it is  HaShem who plays a significant role in his life. Small wonder then, that our rabbinic sages disqualified professional crap shooters and the like to serve as witnesses. The more one believes in the roll of the dice or the luck of the draw, explain our rabbinic sages, the less one is likely to believe in the dependability of our Heavenly Father.

Although the great sage Maimonides recognizes the presence of certain omens – for example, if a man marries a woman and begins to advance in his career, he has every reason to see his wife as a contributing factor to his success – he cautions that these omens are in no way to be seen in the context of mazel. Rather it should be understood, explains the Rambam (an acronym for Maimonides) that it was the wife believing in her husband, that served as the impetus for the  husband reason to believe in himself. It wasn’t Zodiac symbol or the spin of a wheel that brought about the change; it was the husband himself who brought about the change, all because of the invaluable support provided by his wife.

Herein lies the powerful message found in St. Patricks Day shedding light on Purim. The very name “Purim” reminds us, that aside from irrational hatred,  the arch villain Haman was guided by the luck of the draw. The very day that Haman would settle on to change the history of the Jews in Persia was chosen by a lottery! By contradistinction, Esther, after finally having been convinced by Mordechai to appear before the King, leaves the following instructions: “Go, assemble all the Jews to be found in Shushan  and fast (and presumably pray) for me”. Esther’s response to the diabolical machinations of Haman was a thoroughly Jewish one. Ultimately, Haman left it all to chance; ultimately, Esther left nothing to chance.

Last week, I watched a renowned Reform Rabbi interview Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Professor Lipstadt revealed that as a child, Emanuel Rackman was her family rabbi.

“You were very  lucky,” offered the interviewing rabbi. “I was very blessed,” countered Professor Lipstadt

M’GOSH M’GOLLY MEGILLAH

In all likelihood, the vast majority of Jews throughout this world will not be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this Shabbat. The amount of our people who will make a point to hoist a “McGuiness” at any of the three Shabbat meals later this week will undoubtedly hardly constitute a minyan. Nevertheless, it might behoove us to know that the monopoly for smiling does not belong to Irish eyes.

I have no idea how many Jews in this country know who served as the first Chief Rabbi of the nascent State of Israel. Whatever that number might be, I’m certain that far fewer Jews are aware that Rabbi Yitzchak Herzog (born in Lomza, Poland in 1888) served as the Rabbi of Belfast and ultimately rose to the position of Chief Rabbi of Ireland, before moving to Israel in 1936 to succeed Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook as Chief Rabbi of Israel. Rabbi Herzog’s fluency in Irish was such that he was dubbed the “Sinn Fein Rabbi” (literally “We ourselves,” it was adopted as the name for the political wing of the Irish Republican Army.) Rabbi Herzog’s Irish-born son later served as Israel’s sixth President; his grandson and namesake, aka Bougie, rose in political power only to lose to Benjamin Netanyahu in the last national election.

A great affinity toward Israel on the part of the Irish government, there isn’t. One would think that, politically speaking, Irish leaders would look at Israel for inspiration; one would think that Irish leaders would see the daily struggle of Israel against terrorism ever since its founding 70 years ago as something they could relate to. Unfortunately, Irish leaders have instead chosen the “poor Palestinians” as their soulmates. This perhaps explains why formal relations between the two, Ireland and Israel, were not established until 1975 and why it wasn’t until the very end of 1993 that Ireland permitted Israel to open its embassy in Dublin. You know things could be much better when a few years back, unnamed sources from the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed that “Ireland (is the) most hostile country toward us in Europe.” Politics, however, is politics and business is business. In 2010, Israeli imports from Ireland approached $520 million and exports to Ireland stood at $81 million. Israeli exports to Ireland include machinery and electronics, rubber and plastics, chemicals, textiles, optical/medical equipment, gems, and fruit and vegetables. Irish exports to Israel include machinery and electronics, chemicals, textiles, and foodstuffs.

However representative a government ought to be of its people, it’s heartening to know that not all Irish have adopted such a cool attitude toward Israel. In fact, there is a group of Irish people committed to understanding and supporting Israel’s security needs. That group proudly calls itself “Irish 4 Israel.” Among other objectives, its raison de etre is to counteract much of the hatred and lies spread in the name of “truth” within certain segments of Irish society and to ensure that Israel’s conflict with Palestinian terrorists along with their sponsors and enablers receives fair and impartial coverage from the Irish media.

As Erin Go Bragh rings loud and clear this Saturday in Irish neighborhoods throughout this country, as well as elsewhere in the world, it might very well be a propitious time for us to invoke Am Yisroel Chai. Whether the wish is “Ireland forever” or the “Jewish People Lives,” the sentiment is pretty much the same. May the Road of Peace rise up to greet us both.