There are many times when Israel and the Jewish people feel alone. But we aren’t. We have friends around the world who share our core beliefs, our understanding of the sanctity of life. One such place is Ireland. There are many sites linking the two peoples together.
In 1995 Thomas Cahill wrote the first of his books in the series “The Hinges of History,” How the Irish Saved Civilization. It is “the untold story of Ireland’s role in maintaining Western culture while the Dark Ages settled on Europe.” Cahill followed this book with The Gifts of the Jews. “The Jews gave us the Outside and the Inside-our outlook and our inner life. We dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes. Most of our best words, in fact-new, adventure, surprise; unique, individual, person, vocation; time, history, future; freedom, progress, spirit; faith, hope, justice-are gifts of the Jews.” We are tied together.
I’ve had the blessing of visiting Ireland and Israel and felt as if I had “come home” in both countries. Israel and Ireland are surrounded by the echoes from the past. Together we brought forward the Ten Commandments: Israel from out of the desert; Ireland through St. Patrick who brought Christianity to the island in 432CE and cradled the teachings throughout the Dark Ages, keeping them alive, for all of us. Our two peoples are firmly rooted in our histories, and this is the truest meaning of “grounded.”
When I walked through the emerald green hills, overlooking the lakes and valleys of Ireland I felt the thin places that Mindie Burgoyne described in her book, Walking Through Thin Places. They “probe to the core of the human heart and open the pathway that leads to satisfying the familiar hungers and yearnings common to all people on earth, the hunger to be connected, to be a part of something greater, to be loved, to find peace.” The legends say that the distance between heaven and earth is three feet-except in the “thin places,” (what I think of as sacred spaces), where it is much closer than that.
I could feel those thin places, with their Celtic crosses, landmarks of St. Patrick and St. Brigit, and was drawn to them. They called out from the mists that flow over the lush hills and roll gently down into the valleys. I was embraced with a sense of wonder and awe, an Unio Mystica.
I had the same feelings of reverence and mystery walking the cobblestone streets of old Jerusalem, touching the 2500 year old Western Wall of the Temple, feeling the presence of kings and prophets. That same sensation of closeness to the divine comes over me in the Galilean hills overlooking the sea, driving down into the Judean desert and standing on Masada, the last stand taken against the Roman imperialists.
Walking the Holy Land is walking with our common history, our common ancestors, our teachers of the Judeo-Christian ethic. The importance of education is in our bones. The Jewish people came to be known as The People of the Book. They gave us the Torah and the Talmud. In Jerusalem, the museum, The Shrine of the Book, is dedicated to the oldest, most sacred books of all. And that is where I walked through the history of the creation of the Hebrew Bible.
St. Patrick instilled a sense of literacy and learning that would create the conditions that allowed Ireland to become “the isle of saints and scholars.” In 800 CE, just 400 years after his arrival, Celtic monks, the culdees, gave us the Book of the Dunn Cow; the Book of Ballymote, which contains a description of the history of the Lost Israelites, the migration from Israel into Europe and their descendants becoming the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon people, and Garland of Howth. And they produced beautifully illuminated manuscripts like the gospel Book of Kells, which I had the pleasure of viewing. Because education is venerated amongst the Irish this book is held in a sacred space, a pride of place, in Trinity College in Dublin.
The history of Ireland and Israel intersect through Chaim Herzog, the sixth President of the State of Israel. He was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1918, the son of much revered Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog. He was the Chief Rabbi of Ireland, who counseled leaders of the newly formed Irish Free State in the 1920’s and 1930’s and later became the second Chief Rabbi of Israel. Those are strong ties between two small but spirited countries.
Through all of our travails, from experiencing famine, to discrimination and racism, to the need to wander far from home, neither Irishman nor Jew has knelt in defeat. We aren’t victims. And along with strong men we carry within us the memories of strong women; warrior women. Gracie O’Malley and St Bridget to Mary Robinson in Ireland; Queen Esther and Judith to Golda Meir in Israel.
The Irish are a proud and strong people. No matter where they travel in the world, they know there is an Emerald Island, their own home waiting, hoping, for their return. And in 2013 there is this Great Gathering of the Irish. The sense of not only coming home, but being home.I can just imagine the Guinness flowing.
For 2000 years the Jewish people were in exile. No one wanted them and they were forced to wander, hoping for the day that they, too, would have their home to embrace them, again. Each year the Jewish people prayed, “Next year in Jerusalem.” That glorious moment came in 1948 when Israel declared independence April 20. Ireland, already partly independent, became a republic April 18, 1949. And 65 years later, Israel, like Ireland is open to all religions, races, creeds, colours and sexual orientation. It is a democracy in a world of theocracies, autocracies and despots.
James Joyce, in his epic novel Ulysses, written between 1914 and 1921, railed against the prejudice and racism experienced by the Irish and the Jews. The story unfolds through a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, a man with a Jewish heritage. Through Bloom, Joyce brings together the common struggle of two minorities, the Jews and the Irish through their experiences of “dispersal, persecution survival and revival” and desires for their own homelands, their own safe havens.
Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby calls Israel “the cradle of the three great world faiths. It’s the cradle of our own faith, of the Christian faith. It’s where Jesus lived and walked and died and rose again. It is in so many ways the centre of the world, in so many extraordinary ways.”
Pope Francis I, a man I have come to admire, spoke, June 24, 2013, at the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations. “Dear elder brothers and sisters, Shalom!” …the Church recognizes that “the beginnings of its faith and election are to be found in the patriarchs, Moses and prophets…the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable… Due to our common roots, a Christian cannot be anti-Semitic!…(The Church) firmly condemns hatred, persecution and all manifestations of anti-Semitism.”
We are two small nations, tied together with common shared experiences and beliefs. When the Gathering ends in Ireland, come home, to Israel, dream Jewish dreams and hope Jewish hopes, and start the Gathering all over again.