The Jews & The Irish

by Colleen M. O'Donnell

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I wish to introduce myself & thank you for an interesting website. I saw the article in today's ledger & immediately clipped it. I felt it was speaking to me--coaxing me to communicate and share. My name is Colleen M. O'Donnell, I am a 44-year old resident of Montclair, and a writer (published), poet & dreamer at heart. I wish to share some personal information and perhaps you may wish to make a part of it part of your website nostalgia.

My ethnicity is Irish & Italian and I have been drawn to the Jews & all things Jewish for most of my life. I've had many Jewish friends, and worked in the Jewish community. Several years ago I was seriously considering conversion-one of my mottos is ABC (Anything But Catholic!). Although I cannot give you a "factual" Newark memory story, I can tell you that:

1) "Hopscotch & Stickmen It all Began in Weequahic, Newark," featuring a poignant photograph of a 5-year old child in black & white saddle shoes and her (now deceased) mother Marie in their Aldine Street backyard is a nonfiction, creative piece of prose in the making (memoirs).

2) The link/chapter entitled, "The Immigrants & Their Communities," features very little on the Irish. They were a large part of the Old Newark Community and after the war, the Irish & the Germans were among the first immigrants to change the face of the social landscape with their beer gardens, music churches and newspapers, supplying much of the labor for the factories & stores. (The Jews incidentally, called the Irish "Beytzimers," from the Hebrew word "Beytzim," for eggs). And how many times did my own grandmother, who emigrated from County Kerry, Eire aboard the St. Louis in 1906, buying the house on Aldine Street, now gone, where we lived, ask me, "doya want a bit a bacon an egg?" The Irish are/were real scrappers for potatoes & eggs. When it comes to potatoes, I think the "Famine," (which Irish historians are in the process of correctly recording as "The Irish Genocide" (by England) is imprinted in ancestral DNA. Potato famine my a**! The English starved them to death! Anyhow, I could write a bit on the sad Irish legacy of canal building...

"Ten Thousand Micks
They Swing Their Picks
to Dig the New Canal
But the Choleray
Was Stronger 'n They
And Twice it Killed 'em All."

-Irish Rhyme From the 1830's

3) Surely you've heard some of Philip Roth's Weequahic (East Side High) high school chants

"White Bread, Rye Bread
Pumpernickel, Challah,
All Those For Weequahic
Stand up and Hollah!"


"Ikey, Mikey, Jake & Sam
We're the Boys That Eat No Ham
We play football, baseball, soccer
We keep matzos in our locker
Aye, aye, Weequahic High!"

4) I attended a lecture/book signing at Shomrei Emunah synagogue in Montclair several years ago of the famous Irish scholar Thomas Cahill, author of "How the Irish Saved Civilization," & "The Gifts of the Jews" How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks & Feels."

5) Have you ever heard of a beautiful Irish ballad entitled, "The Lament for Brendan Behan," after the brilliant (alas but afflicted with the drink) playwright??? It's a ballad written & sung by a Jewish lad whose name I do not know. I have a recording of the ballad recited/sung by Liam (for William) Clancy.

6) And lastly, have you heard of a wonderfully funny song sung by the Clancy Bros. Mr. Moses Ri-toora-li-aay? About a Jewish merchant who hung his sign out in Hebrew and was arrested because they thought it was in Gaelic???

7) It's pure opinion, but I believe the Irish & the Jews are the world's most prolific & scholarly. Alas, the Irish-- a feckless, passionate, witty, wanton lot we are--dazzled with brilliance and affliction.

In closing, I’d like to quote 2 favorite verses, the first being dedicated to a special Jewish person who has helped transform my life like Jerry Garcia said, "what a long, strange trip it’s been!" You know who you are LFH!

* * *
"Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light
I would spread the cloths under your feet;
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams"
-William Butler Yeats, "The Cloths of Heaven"
* * *
"The Jew is the holiest human being in the world...
the more the Jew is defiled and abused,
the harder he fights to rise...and one finds Jews
among the ablest leaders of the most vital sectors of science, literature, art and
industry." --Tolstoy in, "My Life, My Destiny"

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