Yes, St Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Israel and that’s no blarney! It’s the day when green beer flows, Irish shanties are sung, and tall tales are spun. I never imagined that in Israel there would be no less than 76 pubs offering Happy Hour Specials to those who wore a bit of green that day. Although I wouldn’t exactly call St. Paddy’s Day a national holiday, there were a surprising number of Israelis who became Irish, if only for a day. At home in Cherry Hill, I never celebrated St. Paddy’s Day, but being in Israel somehow made me feel that it was my duty, as an American, to at least don the green and go to an “Irish” pub.
After putting on my Kelly green sweater, my wife Bobbie and I joined our daughter Jennifer and her fiancé Isaac in search of an Irish Pub. We could have gone to a number of places in Tel Aviv like, Mike’s Place, Leny‘s or Molly Bloom’s. However we decided to stay close to home, so in less time than it takes a Leprechaun to play a prank, we found a pub in nearby Rehovot. The pub was fittingly named, Dublin (pronounced Dooblin by Israelis). As we approached the entrance to the pub we knew we were at the right place because suspended over the entrance was a large green banner decorated with images of Shamrocks, Leprechauns, and Meerschaum pipes.
After managing to wedge our way inside the pub, which was spilling over with patrons, we were assaulted by the raucous clamor of the crowd. Only the sound of clinking mugs brimming with Guinness and Kasteel brews, punctuated the ruckus. I could have sworn that I had been whisked away to county Kildare, Kerry or Cork, were it not for the pleas of “slichah” (Hebrew for excuse me), by customers trying to get the attention of the already harried food servers, and their replies of “savlanoot” (patience).
Of course the names of our servers, Naava and Shoshi, should have given us a clue that we were not in Ireland. While the serving lasses, all dressed in green, miraculously managed to snake their way through the ever growing crowd, the tunes of, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling and Danny Boy, serenaded them as they sashayed from table to table. Although the legendary River Dancers were nowhere to be found, a few of the lads, who were well into their cups, managed to do a jig or two. In spite of the fact that there were four of us waiting for a table, we felt very fortunate to have commandeered a table for two.
As I stood drinking my yard of ale (2.5 pints) in an Irish pub in Israel I mused about a legend I once read. It was that the Irish are actually the descendants of the Lost Tribe of Dan. Adding credence to that legend was an interesting explanation about how the word, British, is derived from two Hebrew words, “Brit” (Covenant) and “Ish” (man), thus giving us the word British. It is amazing the things that come to mind after consuming a couple of pints.
In spite of the hubbub I was able to hear the gent, standing next to me, speaking with an unmistakable Irish brogue and sporting a Donegal Tweed cap. I politely asked him if he was Irish (Duh). He looked at me squarely in the eye and with a straight face replied, “No me lad, I’m a Sabra”, whereupon he broke out into a Robert Shaw like impish laugh. Brushing his jesting aside, I could not resist asking him if it was true that the Irish revere Saint Patrick because he drove all of the snakes out of Ireland. He cocked his head and with a glint in his eye he answered, “Unfortunately it is only partially true, you see the good saint left one of the snakes behind — my ex-wife”. I was certain that I was talking to the only Irish comedian in all of Israel.
Undaunted by his good natured taunting I joked that he must have kissed the Blarney Stone once too often. He could not let that comment pass without telling me that as a wee lad he had heard three legends about that sacred stone. The first was that the stone was taken from the Wailing Wall and brought to Ireland by the Crusaders. The second story was that it was the very stone that Jacob used as a pillow, and was later brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah. The last myth was that it was the rock that Moses struck with his staff to produce water for the Israelites, to which he added pensively, “What a shame it wasn’t beer”. I was thinking, oil, but remained mum because I didn’t want to encourage him anymore.
Having had our fill of laughs, brew and blarney, we left the pub to a chorus of voices bidding us L’hitraot and Erin Go Bragh!
(This article originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on March 13, 2011)