As I prepared to begin my year in Ireland, I was confronted by countless unknowns. Questions about classes, food, and travel circled in a brew of anxious excitement. But with the holidays of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur happening only a couple of weeks after the date I was due to arrive in Dublin, one question was at the forefront of my mind: what is it like being Jewish in Ireland? After going to college on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and being part of a young and vibrant Jewish community, I could not imagine what it would be like living in a country where the entire Jewish population is smaller than the congregation at the synagogue where I grew up. A Jewish life requires community, something I have been surrounded with my entire life. With fewer than 2,000 Jews remaining in Ireland, I was unsure what I would find.
My anxieties were quickly relieved when I attended Rosh Hashanah services at the Dublin Hebrew Congregation. Located in a suburb outside of Dublin, the synagogue, one of three in the city, is a locus of Jewish life in the city. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, its relatively large sanctuary was filled with a diverse set of people—Irish, French, Israeli, Canadian, American—all preparing to welcome in the new year. Many, like myself, had only recently arrived; some were students studying abroad for the semester, while others were just starting jobs in Dublin’s tech sector. Surrounded by familiar melodies and warm faces, I felt the sense of homely comfort that a synagogue, no matter where in the world, can often bring. Over the course of the semester, I have returned many times to the synagogue, often with the other Jewish Mitchell Scholar from this year’s class, Julianne, joining Dublin’s Jewish community for holidays and Shabbatot. The Rabbi and his family have been particularly welcoming, having us over for delicious and conversation-filled Shabbat meals every time we are at synagogue on a Friday night. Throughout the semester, the synagogue has supplied a sense of mooring as I have explored the beautiful, enchanting, and sometimes strange Irish world.
In New York, with its numerous synagogues and highly active communities, there are many options for how to practice one’s Judaism and you can be sure of finding others who are like-minded in terms of beliefs and observance. In Dublin, there is a distinct feeling of a stubborn community with a historic past that refuses to disappear—a characterization that fits many other small Jewish communities in the world, including that of Amsterdam, which I also had the good fortune of visiting during the semester. Further, it is not a fight without struggles—a topic I intend to return to with regard to Dublin’s Jewish museum in a future post.While attending University College Dublin, I may not be surrounded by the passionate engagement with Jewish diversity and pluralism that I experienced at my undergraduate institution, but I do have an opportunity to observe, learn from, and participate in a different kind of passion—that of a community fighting the forces of age and emigration to keep Ireland a place where one can live a Jewish life.