The Israel Ireland Friendship League hosted its annual Hannukkah lighting yesterday evening in the Shamrock Bar, Netanyah. Thanks to the Chairman of the League, the indefatigable Malcolm Gafson, for organizing the event. It’s great to meet our Irish Jewish community and hear their stories, often of childhood in Dublin and making Aliya here and raising their families.
In my remarks, I recalled that Hannukkah’s roots lie in the great victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek army that had destroyed the Temple and tried to wipe out Judaism. And that it was the recovery of this martial prowess after two thousand years by the Jewish Legion under Longfordman Lt. Col. John Henry Patterson during WWI that laid a critical foundation stone for the creation of modern Israel.
In the audience last night was the daughter of Michael Flanagan, an Irishman in the British Army who “donated” a clutch of British tanks to the Haganah at the end of WWII, thus establishing the IDF’s first armoured unit.
Another story I shared came courtesy of Murray Greenfield who I met at the recent Jerusalem Post Conference: An Irishman, Hugh McDonald, left his legal studies at Harvard to volunteer on the vessel Hatikva in 1947, part of a clandestine fleet determined to break the British blockade and deliver Shoah survivors to Palestine. Hugh painted a Shamrock under the Magen David on one of Hatikva’s funnels. (Murray, with Joseph M. Hochstein, wrote the history of this endeavor in The Jews’ Secret Fleet, Gefen Publishing House.)
Maerton Davis and his wife Beth, stalwarts too of the Friendship League, kindly gave me a monograph of the story of his family (originally Davidowitsch) and that of the Kisners, from their Shtetl in Latvia to Dublin. This is a great way to preserve oral family histories. (From Dankere to Dublin by Beatrice Sofaer-Bennett.)
Other stories have inevitably been lost but we can recover many. If you are aware of any, please let me know.
Coming as a diplomat to Israel, I was promised an interesting time. As the year winds down for us, I can look back on a talks’ process, its climax and collapse, a war and the calling of a general election. It will be fascinating to observe this election, even now as the parties here morph and evolve before our eyes, quite a contrast to the fixity of parties in Ireland since our own independence.
Back in Ireland, we continue to make economic progress, after many years of tough decisions and impositions on our public. In the end, early exits from the bailout and the confirmation of our financial reputation are invaluable: in the short run by lowering our bond yields and helping to ease the burden of servicing the national debt; and in the longer run by encouraging economic confidence and inward investment. Growth rates in Ireland are ahead of the Eurozone average, domestic demand has ticked up but real progress will depend greatly on renewed growth and demand in Europe.
Finally, I want to say goodbye to the Deputy Head of Mission and great colleague Julian Clare and his wife Siobhan. They arrived with Mary and me and they have been a pleasure to work with and to get to know over the past year and a half. They and their lovely family of three daughters are heading back to Ireland thanks to Julian’s promotion. Thanks for everything and the very best of luck.
I am heading back to Ireland myself to spend Christmas there with my family. Tel Aviv really doesn’t do Christmas so I expect to be hit by a Yuletide avalanche on arrival in Dublin of lights, decorations and carol singing, not to mention the odd hot toddy to ward off the cold. We in Ireland take our Christmas fun and festivities very seriously!
Happy Hannukkah, merry Christmas and have a great New Year.
PS Our new website is being rolled and while it is not fully complete yet, you can follow my twitter account there, including for example a photo of the shamrock on the Hatikva, courtesy of Murray. Website here https://www.dfa.ie/irish-embassy/israel