"...an absorbing and irresistible documentary....This is history made endlessly fascinating."
The Sacramento Bee
"... a memorable, lyrical portrait of a people at a crossroads...thorough and captivating..."
The Wild Geese Today
Shalom Ireland is a fascinating documentary about Ireland's remarkable, yet little known Jewish community. The film chronicles the history of Irish Jewry while celebrating the unique culture created by blending Irish and Jewish traditions. From gun running for the Irish Republican Army during Ireland's War of Independence to smuggling Jews escaping from the Holocaust into Palestine, the film tells the story of Irish Jews involved in the creation and development of both Ireland and Israel.
From shopping at Erlich's kosher butcher shop on Clanbrassil Street, in the heart of Dublin's "Little Jerusalem," to worshipping at Adelaide Road, the nation's oldest synagogue, Ireland's small, yet devout community of Irish Jews has carried on religious customs for hundreds of years. During the late 19th Century, there was an influx of Eastern European Jews into Ireland. As they escaped from religious persecution during the Tsars' pogroms, the Jewish immigrants settled in Dublin, Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Derry and Belfast. Ireland's Jewish communities quickly grew and thrived as Jewish immigrants and their children made many contributions to Irish society.
Shalom Ireland tells the untold story of how Irish Jews participated in both the struggle for freedom in Ireland and the effort to create the State of Israel; looks at how World War II and the Holocaust impacted the Irish people; and examines whether anti-Semitism took root in Ireland.
Shalom Ireland profiles members of Dublin's Jewish community who have worshipped together for generations at Adelaide Road Synagogue. Among them is Robert Briscoe who made news around the world when he was the first Jewish person elected Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1956, and his son, Ben, who followed in his footstep was elected to Dáil Éireann, the Irish Parliament, and became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1988. Ben and his brother, Joe, a retired dentist, take viewers on a captivating journey through the history of Jewish Ireland as they share family stories like how their father, Robert Briscoe joined the cause of Irish freedom and ran guns and ammunition for the Irish Republican Army during Ireland's War of Independence.
After the war, Briscoe was elected to the Dáil, the Irish Parliament. He then turned his attention to the plight of European Jews and joined in a massive illegal effort, in defiance of the British government, to smuggle thousands of Jews escaping from the Holocaust into Palestine. After World War II, Briscoe worked with his friend, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, to find safe places of refuge for Jews who survived the Holocaust. Rabbi Herzog, who had served as the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland, became Israel's first Chief Rabbi, and his Irish-born son, Chaim was elected President of Israel.
Shalom Ireland features Cleo and Joe Morrison, Orthodox Jews who were married at Adelaide Road Synagogue more than fifty years ago. Cleo maintains a kosher home by shopping at Erlichs kosher grocery store, and Joe preserves Irish Jewish history and culture by conducting tours at the Irish Jewish Museum.
As their population dwindles, Irish Jews struggle to find ways to maintain their institutions and pass their heritage on to future generations. Judy Charry and Carl Nelkin, a young Jewish couple, are raising their daughter, Jessica, to be bi-lingual. Judy speaks to her in Hebrew, while Carl teaches her English. Judy and Carl love living in Ireland but they are concerned about the declining Irish Jewish population and whether there will be an organized Jewish community for Jessica in the future. Like many other young Jewish couples, they have considered moving away from Ireland.
In 1999, because of declining membership, the Dublin Hebrew Congregation made a difficult decision to close Adelaide Road Synagogue. It was a time of sadness as Irish Jews realized their community may be in jeopardy of becoming extinct.
The film culminates with the ceremony to deconsecrate the synagogue. Adelaide Road is filled to capacity with people of all ages who have come to witness the final temple service. The cantor sings a Hebrew prayer and one by one, a half dozen silver plated torahs wrapped in royal blue velvet are removed from the ark for the last time. Rabbis and community elders circle the synagogue holding the torahs close to their hearts as the congregants kiss their prayer books and touch the passing torahs.
"To sum it up in one word, it was like bereavement," says Joe Briscoe. "It was like going to a funeral."The next day a yarmulke-clad congregant packs torahs and prayer books into carton boxes as a work crew dismantles the pews which will be sold at an auction. At the end of the day, the former synagogue is closed forever.
The synagogue closure is a major turning point for Dublin's Jewish community. For many members of the congregation, the loss of Adelaide Road reflects a seemingly hopeless situation -- the end of a way of life. But others believe Ireland's recent robust economic growth offers new hope as young Irish emigrants begin to return home in an unprecedented reversal of historical trends. Among the tears and farewells to this beloved historic institution, a silver lining is found. The synagogue closure was a wake-up call and the catalyst that moved people into action.
Irish Jews launched an effort to revitalize Dublin's once vibrant Jewish community, and as a result, according to the Irish Census, Ireland's Jewish population increased to nearly 1,800.
I grew up in a Jewish family in Los Angeles, California. My grandfather, who was raised in London, said that sometime long ago, our ancestors came from “somewhere in Russia.” While I was growing up, I asked countless questions about our family and why they came to America, but with our relatives spread to the far corners of the world – Australia, England and South Africa – getting answers was difficult.
When I met my husband, Michael, an Irish American, I was impressed with his strong sense of ethnic pride and his knowledge of his people’s history. It didn’t surprise me that I would fall for an Irish American. After all, I had had Irish American friends my entire life. But it had never occurred to me before why Irish and Jewish people are so compatible. While I maintained my Jewish identity, when I married into Michael’s family, I developed a deep appreciation for Irish people, their history, music and literature, and soon embraced Irish culture as my “adopted culture.”
In 1993, Michael and I traveled to Ireland. It was my first visit. Michael found the Irish Jewish Museum listed in a travel guide. Our first reaction was one of amusement, then curiosity about the very notion that there was such a thing as an Irish Jew. We wondered what would be the result of the blending of our two cultures. So off we went for a visit to the museum. We were greeted by two charming “little old Jewish ladies.” There was something familiar about their appearance, their mannerisms and their doting personalities. They reminded me of my own Jewish grandmothers: they could easily have been found strolling Fairfax Boulevard, the heart of one of the predominately Jewish neighborhoods in Los Angeles close to where I grew up. But when they spoke, their thick Irish brogues were laced with Yiddish words! As we toured the museum, I was struck by the remarkable history of Irish Jewry and how Jewish people had risen to prominent positions in Irish society including Lords Mayor of Dublin, Belfast and Cork and that prior to becoming the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, Isaac Herzog, the internationally renowned Hebrew scholar, had been the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland.
Shortly after our return from our trip to Ireland, I received a document from a cousin indicating that my great-grandparents had been married in Waterford, Ireland. My father didn’t believe it at first since he had never heard anything about our family living in Ireland before. I wrote to the Irish Jewish Museum seeking information about my Irish roots. One morning, I got a telephone call from Joe Morrison (who is featured in Shalom Ireland). He said he was a volunteer at the museum. The curator had given him my letter because his mother and I shared the same surname and that we could be relatives. Joe sent me an article that ran on the front page of The Waterford News and General Advertiser in 1894 describing in great detail my great-grandparents wedding – “the first Jewish wedding in Waterford.” As I continued to search for information about my Irish roots, it occurred to me that the story of Irish Jewry would make a fascinating documentary, and that is how the film began.
During the course of working on the project, I have found out a lot more about my family. My ancestors came from Lithuania, as did most of the Jews who settled in Ireland as they escaped from religious persecution during the Tsar’s pogroms. Many Jewish boys, like my grandfather, left Eastern Europe at the age of thirteen -- after their Bar Mitzvahs when they became men -- to avoid conscription in the Russian Army which often ran for as long as twenty-five years. Some of my relatives, as well as, most of the other Jews who lived in their town in Lithuania, were exiled to Siberia. Those who remained, including some of my cousins, were later killed by the Nazis.
I have also learned about Irish history. How the Irish people who lived under British rule for centuries were denied the right to vote, own land, speak their own language and practice their own religion. How one million Irish people died of starvation and fever and another two million were forced to emigrate during the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s.
I also began to understand how the common experiences of being victimized may account for why a certain bond exists between Irish and Jewish people. The longer I worked on Shalom Ireland the deeper my own sense of Jewish identity grew, and the irony is that it would happen by going on a vacation to Ireland.
Director Valerie Lapin Ganley on location in Dublin, Ireland.
Valerie Lapin Ganley, Producer/Director/Writer
Aidan Kelly, Narrator
Andrew Gersh, Editor
Jaime Kibben, Cinemathographer
Gretchen Stoeltje, Sound Recordist
John Cook, Camera
Gary Mercer, Camera
Brendan O'Brien, Production Assistant & Navigator
Carl Weichert, Graphic Artist & On-line Editor
Julian Giardinelli/Philo Television, Motion Control Camera
Martin Waldron, Voice of Father Creagh
Scott Hirsh, Voice Over Recording Engineer
Paul James Zahnley CAS/Disher Music & Sound Re-recording Mixer
Mimi Ash, Archival Materials Research
Gabrielle Brocklesby, Archival Materials Research
Sigal Landesberg, Archival Materials Research
Travis Green, Graphics Assistant and Digitizer
Gerardo Castoreno, Additional Graphics
Samantha Hardie, Intern
Kathleen Skillicorn, Intern
Bay Area Video Coalition, post-production facility
Metropolis Editorial, post-production facility
Tommy Ellis Studios, Narration Recording
The original sound track for Shalom Ireland was created by
these talented musicians:
Lewis Santer: bouzouki, guitar and mandolin
member of Driving With Fergus
Andy Rubin: clawhammer banjo and mandolin
member of The Freilachmakers Klezmer String Band
David Kidron; fiddle and tin whistle
member of The Freilachmakers
Vince Wolfe: uilleann piper, tin whistle, wooden flute & guitar
member of Driving With Fergus
With accompaniment by:
Julie Hochman: cello
LaRita Craft: accordion
Sean Feder: percussion
Music was recorded and mixed at Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California
Shawn King, Recording Engineer, Impulse Recording Studio, Davis, California
Mix by Lewis Santer, Dann Thompson and Vince Wolfe
Judy Kirschner, Assistant Engineer
Special thanks to Melanie Mociun
Special thanks to Carol and Ben Briscoe, Debbie and Joe Briscoe, Judy Charry, Carl and Jessica Nelkin, Dermot Keogh and Cleo and Joe Morrison for participating in the documentary.
Funding for production of Shalom Ireland was provided by the American Ireland Fund, Ammerman Foundation, Fleishhacker Foundation, The David and Barbara B. Hirschhorn Foundation, the Morris J. & Betty Kaplun Foundation, Inc., Pacific Pioneer Fund, Peninsula Community Foundation, Ira M. Resnick Foundation, The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation, the Allen and Ruth Ziegler Foundation and individual donors. Shalom Ireland was made in association with RTE. Support for distribution provided by Donal Denham, Consul General of Ireland, Western States, and the Irish Arts Foundation. Shalom Ireland was sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society, formerly the Film Arts Foundation.