Monthly Archives: October 2013

Startup Ireland Israel I

A small group of Irish innovative startup entrepreneurs came to Israel recently.  They had been shepherded there by Clyde Hutchinson, instigator of the Irish Israeli Business Network (  and ).  Clyde believes that there is a mutually beneficial and inspiring relationship between Ireland and Israel to be found in business.  He is a pioneer on this in many ways, prophesying a creative innovative Ireland linking up with the predominant global startup nation that is Israel today. I’m a believer in lessons learned and lessons shared so I think he is on to something.

Consider this; there are more companies from Israel quoted on the Nasdaq than Europe combined.  Ireland and Britain have five companies quoted there.  Japan has six.  Canada does pretty well with forty-five.  Israel has sixty-three on the Nasdaq Exchange, more than any country in the world other than the US itself. That’s right, sixty-three.  Recall too that this year alone there has been $5 billion, not million but billion, in acquisitions of Israeli startups. 

Clyde’s pioneering group arrived – I suspect with an air of anxiety about the security situation and uncertainty about what lay ahead –  to attend the Digital Life Design (DLD) Conference in Tel Aviv, hosted mainly by Yossi Vardi, widely regarded as the godfather of Israeli startups.  The DLD Conference is Israel’s largest international hi-tech gathering, attended by hundreds of startups, venture capitalists, angel investors and leading multinationals.  The DLD Conference is comparable in purpose though not scale to the Dublin Web Summit (over 4,000 attended last year; its Facebook today has 56,000 likes) which is happening on 30th and 31st October next.  Our Web Summit is fully booked out so if you want to go next year check it out here and register .  I am delighted to say that some thirty Israeli companies will attend, along with Yossi Vardi.

The Irish trip to Tel Aviv was supported by Enterprise Ireland and by the Trade Promotion Division of my Department. Enterprise Ireland’s David Scanlon, who was supportive of this initiative from the start, came with them.  At the Embassy my deputy Julian Clare and I responded positively to a suggestion by David and Clyde that the visiting delegation needed a networking event. 

Yossi Vardi himself hosted an opening reception for DLD delegates at the Shimon Peres Centre for Peace, a fabulous new building in old Jaffa in the heart of Tel Aviv, its large open courtyard facing onto the crashing sea and the wide expanse of the Mediterranean, impressive even in the dark evening.  Clyde found me and introduced me to our Irish visitors.  I was curious about who they were, what they did:  I mean what were the startups developing, how were they funding their businesses, how indeed do you turn a startup into a business? What were their impressions of Israel? 

Articulate, energized and visionary, their answers were focused and precise.  It was fascinating to hear their assessment of the Irish ecosystem for startups, its creative ferment, its learning curve compared to Israel, its need to find models for success, to find Angel investors and venture capitalists.  They were impressed by Israel, intrigued by its mix of energy, innovation, hard-nosed business, by the breath of its ambitions, by the sight of development side-by-side with under-development, the intoxicating mix of antiquity and modernity,

The following evening we hosted the networking event at the Residence.  Some seventy guests – an admixture of Israeli startups, business experts and venture capitalists – mingled and got to know our Irish visitors.  In my remarks to our guests I said that every conversation sparkled with energy and ideas about the world today and the future as its is shaped by the digital revolution.  For in the world of startups, creativity, challenge and dissent are the platforms for success.  And if dissent is the key to success in the world of startups, then that was something we and Israelis have in common.

Who were our Irish entrepreneurs making their pitches?  Conor Murphy and his company Datahug, nominated for the Ernst and Young Awards this year in the innovation category.  Datahug analyses communication data to provide companies with a dynamic map of connections to access future business and markets.  We had Pat Phelan, CEO at Trustev, specializing in next-generation identity verification and fraud prevention.  Christian Ryder is a founder of FoneSense which will pay you every time your phone rings.  Grainne Barron, founder and CEO of Viddyad which allows you to make professional commercials online quickly and cost-effectively.  Fionnuala Healy, CTO and Co-founder of Gotcha Ninjas, a cloud based educational and motivational learning platform for students and parents.

From talking to our Irish innovators, the thrill of the startup, it seemed to me, is that its task is not to make a successful business by anticipating the future – like buying shares or investing in a futures market – but by making and shaping the future and how we live in it.  And doing that means challenging orthodoxy and authority.  Another ingredient, as Conor Murphy pointed out to me, is the capacity to learn and to reinvest from earlier investments and acquisitions: building experience and eventual success on the foundations of failure, experience and lessons learned. 

Challenging authority and taking failure as a key part of the road to success is pretty much the central message of Start-Up Nation, the account by Dan Senor and Saul Singer, of Israel’s phenomenal entrepreneurial success story.  For anyone interested in Ireland’s economic development I’d highly recommend it (stats on Israel’s success above were sourced there).

And while its available on RTE’s LivePlayer, have a look at the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards show for some inspiring stories about Ireland’s innovating business people here

Many thanks then to Clyde for his commitment to the Irish-Israeli connection.  Check out his website and if you’re on Linkedin you’ll find his group and news of its activities and discussions there.   Thanks too to our Irish entrepreneurs for taking a punt on the trip to Israel.  More blogs on the hi-tech sector in Ireland and Israel will follow.







Leave a comment

Filed under Ireland Israel

Simon Schama and the Lithuanian Connection

I have long been an admirer of Simon Schama as an historian and a contributor to the Financial Times.  He is one of a number of historians who in this global age have reached a vast audience through craft and eloquence, through the ability to tell stories through today’s media.  There is a humanistic majesty to his narratives, an appreciation that humankind is capable of great things as well as great barbarities.  

The grandson of Litvaks, he was in some ways the inevitable writer and host of the BBC’s documentary series The Story of the Jews.  As the series progressed, his own emotional investment in the narrative seemed to deepen, perhaps unpeel.  There is no contesting the fact that the story and the resonance he has personally with the story of the Jews has given the series a sharp charge, a personal and wholly engaging emotional depth:  See his visit to the Synagogue in Venice for his awe at the ability of Jews and their culture to survive expulsion (from Spain in this instance), persecution and ghettoization.  You can feel the depth of his feeling as he admires not just the beauty of its architecture but its mere presence, its affirmation of the Jews’ ability to continue to survive and indeed prosper.  As a man of letters himself, he is clearly mesmerized that so much of Judaism is focused on the word for its identity and for its survival as a stateless people over the centuries.  

Given the Litvak connection to Ireland, there is a particular interest for us in episode four of this series for in it Schama looks to the story of the Jews of the Russian Pale, formerly the Lithuanian-Polish kingdom.  It is from the shtetls of the Pale that the Irish Jews came, from these also that so many went to the United States.  Clustered in the Lower East Side, the Jews reformed their communities and many of them prospered, bringing US retail, banking and the Broadway musical to life.  He looks in some detail at the career of Yid Harburg, author of the Depression Era “Brother Can You Spare and Dime” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”.  For Schama, the The Wizard of Oz’s anthem could only have come from the Jewish/Yiddish tradition, its aspiration to find another place, possibly mystical, possibly America, certainly Zion, where life can and will be better.

However as the episode closes it is Schama’s return to Lithuania, the land of his forebears, and his account of the murder of those who stayed behind by the Nazis and their local collaborators, that provides a jolt of personal drama, a look into the soul of someone struggling to comprehend what had happened to his people there in all its brutality and inhumanity.  As if he can only bear to ponder their terrible fate briefly, he returns to New York, to the triumph of survival and continuation, to that place over the rainbow.  It is a stunning piece of television, of history as story telling.  


Leave a comment

Filed under Holocaust, Ireland's Jewish Community

The Rise and Decline of the Jewish Community in Ireland

There were three phases to the Litvak story in Dublin.  There was firstly the arrival and establishment of the community in and around Clanbrassil Street and the South Circular Road, beginning from the 1870s and peaking with a community of some 5,000 on the eve of World War II.  The second phase was its migration upward socially and economically and in parallel physically to the red-bricked and salubrious areas of Rathmines, Rathgar, and Terenure. 

The sense of vibrancy of the Jewish community in Dublin as it established itself is caught wonderfully in Asher Benson’s illustrated Jewish Dublin, Portraits of Life by the Liffey (Dublin, 2007).  In its vivid personalities and evocative photographs, Dublin’s leading Jews and their stories come to life:

Artists like Estella Solomon and Harry Kernoff.  Dr. Isaac Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Ireland whose son would make aliya and become a President of Israel.  Rugby player and Master of the Rotunda Dr Bethel Solomons. 

Of the Briscoe family, Benson writes “father and son represented the Fianna Fáil party in the Dáil for a continuous period of 75 years, from 1927 to 2002; in addition they served between them three stints as Lord Mayor of Dublin, in 1956 and 1961 (Bob) and 1988 (Ben)”. 1981 was an interesting general election, with four Jewish candidates: Dr Hazel Boland, Bren Briscoe, Mervyn Taylor and Alan Shatter, now our Minister for Justice and Equality and Minister for Defence.  All but Dr Boland were elected or in the case of Briscoe re-elected.  

Intellectual and academic Jack Weingreen, Professor of Hebrew at Trinity College Dublin 1939-79, who wrote a classic Hebrew grammar and whose devotion to antiquities was honoured with the establishment in 1977 of the Weingreen Museum of Biblical Antiquities at Trinity College. 

The Ellimans whom Benson lauds as ‘kings of Irish entertainment’ for the fun and glamour Louis Elliman’s cinemas, theatres and associated restaurants brought to Dublin in the middle decades of the twentieth century.  Thanks to Louis, who arrived penniless in Dublin in 1894, Dublin social life enjoyed De Lux cinema in Camden Street, the Metropole Grill, the Queen’s, the Savoy and the Corinthian.  He bought the Gaeity in 1936 and outright ownership of the Theatre Royal.  He not only nurtured Irish talent like Noel Purcell and Maureen Potter but brought international glamour to the Dublin stage with the likes of Bob Hope, Danny Kaye, Nat King Cole and Jimmy Cagney.

Gerald Davis, grandson of Litvak immigrants, “painter, gallery owner, art collector, jazz enthusiast and sometime businessman” as Benson describes him.

Benson records and illustrates many more businessmen, lawyers, academics, philanthropists, musicians and writers that enriched Dublin life.  And he tells too the story of the institutions whose formation traced the fortunes of Dublin’s Jewish community, from the trades unions of tailors (the “Jewish” Union), Synagogues and schools to the Edmonston Golf Club (formed because of the difficulty Jews had joining existing clubs) and the Maccabi Sports Club in Kimmage.

 Ó Gráda sums up:

 “The uninterrupted increase in Ireland’s Jewish community between the 1870s and the 1940s was a measure of its prosperity and integration.  In those decades the community showed every sign of being viable and long lasting.  The suburban descendants of the pre-1914 generation were no longer ‘sojourners’ of the middlemen minority model, always ready to pack their bags and move on.  To be sure, the second and third generation clung to their religious faith and their Zionist convictions.  They also remained largely self-employed and their occupational profile was distinctive….  Some became heavily involved in the city’s political and cultural life….  Some invested heavily in manufacturing; others acquired skills requiring considerable acculturation and not so readily transferable abroad.  Lawyers, auctioneers, dentists and doctors mixed freely with their Gentile counterparts.”

The third part of the story is of course the decline of the Jewish community with emigration after World War II to Britain (mainly) , the US and Israel.  Back to O’Gráda for his take on the likely factors behind this: the underperformance of the Irish economy and its “snail-paced” growth; the avoidance of assimilation through intermarriage; the claustrophobia of Ireland of the 1950s; a sense of exile and wandering that would take many Jews to the new state of Israel. 

The decline in Ireland’s Jewish community, Ó Gráda notes, fitted the broader global pattern whereby low fertility and intermarriage eliminated small Jewish communities in favour of larger ones.  Thus the Jewish communities of Manchester and London have continued to prosper while small clusters throughout Britain have disappeared. 

So for what was a brief historical period, Ireland’s capital city was enriched by its Jewish community. Joyce’s fictional Leopold Bloom has fixed this presence in our collective imagination: However, Bloom is not the archetype nor could he be for such a varied and successful community of individuals.  

The vivacity of Dublin’s Jewish community’s social and religious life, its sparkling contribution to the city’s cultural and academic life, the dedication of its second and third generations to political life and to their chosen professions lives on in the Jewish community that remains (mainly) in Dublin and Belfast, in its dedicated architecture, in a number of history books and in the Jewish Museum in Dublin.  Future blogs will focus on Jewish life and activities in Ireland today and the links between Ireland and Israel that with your help we can develop and expand.


Leave a comment

Filed under Ireland's Jewish Community

Welcome to my blog

As Ambassador of Ireland to Israel, an important part of my job is to enhance the bilateral relationship between our two countries.  One way to do that is to explore the history of that relationship and to make it available to the general public.  Another way is to record some of the activities that come my way that offer insights into aspects of the life of both countries, sometimes related and sometimes not.  This is what you will find on my blog.  The blog about the history of the Litvak community in Ireland, my tour of Yad Vashem and my visit to UNTSO are the first examples of this from my new home here in Israel.

Prior to Israel, I served as Ambassador to the Republic of Korea and to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, both complex societies with deep historical roots.  The exploration of the history of relations between Korea and Ireland turned out to be quite compelling: themes of empire, war and faith (both spiritual and secular) over-lapped and intersected.  As the accredited Ambassador, I had the opportunity of visiting Pyongyang and taking field trips to see the work of Irish NGO Concern and UN agencies, particularly the WFP.

Over the years of my posting (2009-13) I issued a series of Ambassador’s Messages via email to the Irish community in Korea and friends and contacts, including Koreans interested in the Irish relationship with Korea.  Many of these messages were of only contemporary interest such as assessments of the Irish economy or contingency planning during an emergency.  Some others though may have more enduring interest, such as information on the first Irishmen in Korea, the Irish Columban mission to Korea and Irish involvement in the Korean War.  They are now available on this blog.

The content of this blog is then offered by a serving Ambassador but the views expressed are my own.  You will notice themes that personally interest me; Ireland naturally and the stories of the Irish abroad, history and how its shapes us, culture and how it informs us, and the serendipitous connections that not only surprise us but in themselves create new narratives or recover lost ones.

As I found with the Ambassador’s Messages, the internet is a fertile new dimension enriching relations between people, connecting their current interests and activities, recovering their lost or forgotten stories.  I hope that this blog, from my privileged position between Ireland and Israel, helps to do just that.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Irish Litvak Connection II: Commemorating the Shoah in Lithuania

While researching the background to my blog on the very strong Jewish Lithuanian connection with Ireland, and unbeknownst to me, the Fourth World Litvak Congress was being held in Vilnius.  As you will have read in the blog, most of the Lithuanian Jews who stayed there were murdered in the Shoah.  My friend and colleague in Vilnius, Ambassador Philomena Murnaghan, has kindly shared the following information on the Congress and the annual Holocaust commemoration in Lithuania.

The Fourth World Litvak Congress was held in Vilnius from 22-25 September and commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Vilnius Ghetto on 23-24 September 1943.  Jews represented a third of the population of Vilnius before the Second World War.  The annual Holocaust commemoration takes place on the anniversary of that fateful day (23rd September) at the site in Paneriai forest, some 11 km from Vilnius city centre, where of the 100,000 persons executed there, some 70,000 were Jews.

The Fourth World Litvak Congress held a wide variety of events and exhibitions over the six days, including a conference on Sunday, 22nd  September on “Litvaks and their legacy: Holocaust, ethical memory and enlightenment”, moderated by Prof. Leonidas Donskis, MEP.   Events during the Congress sought to recapture the contribution of Lithuania’s former Jewish population to the Lithuanian nation and national development.  Some of the themes included: How art helps to perceive the Holocaust; Jewish organisations in Lithuania in documents prior to 1941; Kaunas Jewish community in historical sources; Jewish musicians in interwar Lithuania.  There were also tours for participants to Jewish-related sites in Vilnius and around the country.

Dr. Simonas Alperavicius, Honorary Chairman of The Jewish Community of Lithuania, was conferred with the Lithuanian Diplomacy Star, the Lithuanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ award of honour for his dedication to advancing bilateral relations between Lithuania and Israel and for his championing of democratic values throughout his life.

Philomena notes that the Congress was one of a range of events taking place in 2013, which has been designated by the Lithuanian Seimas (Parliament) as the Year of Remembrance of the Vilnius Ghetto.   Bilateral relations between Lithuania and Israel have been strengthened, with visits in each direction this year, notably by the Lithuanian Foreign Minister to Israeli in May in preparation for the State Visit by the Israeli President to Vilnius at the end of July.

On Monday, 23rd September, members of the diplomatic corps took part, in large numbers as usual, in the annual commemoration of the Holocaust in Paneriai forest.  Philomena has seen this ceremony grow during her time in Vilnius and reflects:

 “Genuine efforts are being made to integrate study of the Holocaust into mainstream education and to engage young Lithuanians.  This year, pupils from 200 schools from around Lithuania lined the path leading into the fir grove where the Memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust is situated.  Each student placed on the ground a candle and stone with the name of a Jewish person killed, forming a solemn avenue through which participants from the government, municipality, diplomatic corps, Jewish community and others passed on the way to the fir grove.   Wreaths were laid by or on behalf of the President, Government, Seimas, the Municipality, the Israeli Embassy Riga, the Jewish community, the diplomatic corps, Jewish survivors of the Vilnius Ghetto, and the International Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes in Lithuania.  Speeches were delivered by the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Seimas, the Israeli Ambassador, the President of the Jewish Community of Lithuania (Faina Kulkiansky), and by the International Commission.  A moving personal account was given by one of the very few remaining survivors of the Vilnius Ghetto, Fania Branncovskaya, and a haunting poem was read by the Headmaster of a local Jewish school.  The event concluded with the reading of Kadesh by a member of the Jewish community and the playing of the Vilnius Ghetto ‘anthem’.”

Thanks to Philomena for sharing this and to the Deputy Head ofMission Seadha MacHugh for tweeting the blog on the Irish Litvak relationship to the Embassy’s followers in Lithuania.


Leave a comment

Filed under Holocaust, International, Ireland's Jewish Community