Joyce fans celebrate Bloomsday in Westwood

More than 100 James Joyce enthusiasts, performance artists and Irish descendants gathered at Westwood’s Hammer Museum on June 16 to celebrate Bloomsday. Taken from the name of Leopold Bloom, the assimilated Jewish protagonist in Joyce’s monumental book, “Ulysses,” the event celebrates the life of the Irish writer and relives the events of the day the tale is set: June 16, 1904.

With plastic cups of Guinness in hand, attendees warmed to the sounds of traditional Irish music played by the Sweet Set as they waited for the festivities to begin.

Stanley Breitbard, organizer for Bloomsday at the Hammer, says the event draws a wide demographic. “We get a very mixed crowd every year,” he said. “Academics, veterans, actors and people of Irish descent.”

A worldwide celebration established in 1954, Breitbard said the appeal of Bloomsday was understandable.

“He was the greatest writer who ever lived, and clearly I’m not the only one who thinks that,” he said.

Phil Hendricks, a Jewish man in his 60s, said it had been 20 years since he last read “Ulysses,” adding that it felt like a completely different book as he read in the Hammer’s courtyard. A sign of a timeless classic. Hendricks also addressed why Joyce would choose to make his protagonist a Jew in a predominantly Catholic country.

“The Irish themselves were outcasts amongst the British, so I think there is a similarity between them and the Jews,” he said. “The juxtaposition between Jews and Irish Catholics are very well known. Bloom was definitely more Jewish than he was Catholic.”

The buoyancy of the late afternoon hushed when attendees were asked to enter the Billy Wilder Theater, where a reading was performed by a host of Irish and American actors, including Jonny O’Callaghan (narrator in “Gangs of New York”) and James Lancaster (“Pirates of the Carribean 2”).

The seventh episode of the book, “Aeolus,”  was chosen to be read in full by nine actors. Introduced by Breitbard, the story unfolded with the Irish accents of O’Callaghan and Lancaster, which eased the process of imagining an early 20th century Dublin. The reading gave beautiful insight into Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness style, taking the listener right into the minds of the characters. A difficult narrative to follow at first, the story was peppered with humorous intervals, provoking laugh-out-loud responses from the standing-room-only audience.

Margot Norris, author and former president of the James Joyce International Foundation, intervened during the readings, providing insights into Joyce’s choices of syntax and literary devices. One of the questions she raised: Why would Joyce reveal Leopold Bloom’s Jewish heritage so far into the book, in the seventh episode?

Actor O’Callaghan told The Journal that it had to do with counteracting the blatant anti-Semitism of that era.

“I think it was revealed so late to get people to like him,” O’Callaghan mused. “You got to know and like the character. Then, when someone states what people are thinking, it lets the readers heal and all their walls go down.”

Richard Levy, 52, said Joyce may have been inspired by friends to make his protagonist Jewish.

“Joyce actually had a lot of friends who were Jewish and I think they had a big influence on him,” he said.

Levy, who lived and worked in Ireland for a year, says “Ulysses” can act as more than a book.

“ ‘Ulysses’ is actually the perfect map of Dublin when you visit,” he said. “It’s amazing how you can catch every street the book is set upon.”

The reading concluded with an excerpt from the episode read by Joyce himself – a 1924 recording made at HMV studios in Paris at the insistence of Joyce’s publisher, Sylvia Beach.

After the event concluded, Breitbard weighed in with his own insights as to why Joyce made his main character a Jew.

“Joyce met Jews in Trieste, Italy, and they were the biggest role models and influences in creating characters for ‘Ulysses,’ ” he said. “I think he made Bloom Jewish to make him different from other Dubliners. He was the nicest character in the book, and a very sympathetic character.”

‘Emerald Isle’ beckons Jews

There is a saying that in Ireland there are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet.

On our visit we experienced a tangible expression of this in Kenmare, where perfect strangers went out of their way to help us get our laundry done and then volunteered to drive us back to our hotel when we couldn’t find a taxi.

Encounters with ordinary folks are easy in Ireland, not only because there is no language barrier, but also because so many people have links to America and feel genuinely warm toward us.

Today, however, many of the people one meets in Ireland are not Irish. There are more than 300,000 Poles and countless thousands of other Continentals, many from Eastern Europe, in the country. A large number of these young men and women work in hotels and restaurants; being greeted by a receptionist with a Slavic accent becomes almost commonplace.

The reason for this influx of foreigners is, quite simply, the economic boom the country experienced after joining the European Union and adopting the euro as its currency. In Dublin and larger cities, construction cranes, new highways, industrial parks, as well as modern office and apartment buildings offer proof of Ireland’s standing as the Celtic Tiger.

This newfound prosperity has also had an effect on Ireland’s small Jewish community. For the past 50 years, the community had been shrinking from a high of more than 5,000 members to less than a thousand today. Where Dublin once had more than a dozen synagogues it has but three today, and those in Cork and Limerick are completely gone.

Now, however, the boom has stanched the outflow of Jews and the community is experiencing modest growth with the inflow of skilled computer scientists and construction engineers from Israel, Britain, South Africa and even Canada and the U.S.A.

The majority of these immigrants have young families, which has resulted in an increase in the enrollment at Dublin’s Jewish day school. Rabbi Zalman Lent, a Chabad rabbi from England, together with his wife, Rivki, is responsible for the community’s youth programs, school and summer camp, as well as for teen and young marrieds activities.

The rabbi says there is virtually no anti-Semitism in Dublin, and people have been respectful toward him. The only time he experienced any hostility, he said, was when someone called him “Osama bin Laden,” presumably because of his black beard.

The Terenure Hebrew Congregation, at 32a Rarthfarnham Road, is Ireland’s largest and most prominent synagogue; its spiritual leader, Dr. Yaakov Pearlman, is chief rabbi of Ireland, a position that gives him a degree of official recognition. The synagogue is Ashkenazi Orthodox in the manner of the British United Synagogue, and it holds regular Friday night and Shabbat morning services, as well as daily minyans. The congregation also provides study and communal programs and features a mikvah.

The Dublin Progressive Hebrew Congregation, at 7 Leicester Avenue, is an egalitarian community along the lines of the American Conservative movement. It has a visiting rabbi from England, Rabbi Charles Middlebergh, who conducts services weekly “in season.” According to Max Roitenberg, an immigrant to Ireland from Ottawa, Canada, services are held every Friday evening and most Saturdays and on all holidays. Roitenberg said the congregation has some 200 members, many of who are converts or in mixed marriages. In the absence of the rabbi, services are conducted by lay members.

The third synagogue is a small ultra-Orthodox stiebel, Machzikei Hadass, in the Terenure suburb.

Kosher food is readily available at the SuperValu market on Braemor Road in Churchtown, while kosher bread is available at the The Bretzel Bakery at 1a Lennox St. in Portobello. While Irish meat and dairy products are popular the world over, we were surprised to learn from Rabbi Lent that the preparation of kosher meat is a major industry in Ireland and that much of the kosher meat sold in Europe is imported from there.

Although it is a small institution located in two adjoining row houses in what was once a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, the Irish Jewish Museum is a “must see” for Jewish visitors. Upstairs is the former Walworth Road Synagogue, preserved much as it was during its heyday, complete with plaques honoring major donors. Several showcases with documents and memorabilia from the first half of the 20th century have been added. Possibly the saddest of these is the record of an Irish Jewish woman married to a Lithuanian citizen who became the only Irish citizen to be murdered by the Nazis.

Downstairs, the museum presents an overview of Irish Jewish history and features a plethora of memorabilia, including records and correspondence related to the family of Irish-born Chaim Herzog, who opened the museum in 1985 when he was president of Israel. Raphael Siev, a native Dubliner and retired barrister-at-law, is the museum’s curator and happily shares his memories with visitors. The museum is open Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is free.

Ireland is a country of significant historical and literary interest and exquisite natural beauty. It is truly an “emerald isle,” with a vast variety of wonderful places to stay, ranging from modest bed and breakfasts to magnificent country houses. The economic boom has also resulted in an influx of master chefs and the opening of gourmet restaurants in Dublin, as well as in the major tourist centers of the country.

Even though there are undoubtedly some bargains to be found, it’s important to remember that as long as the U.S. dollar remains weak against the euro, you must be prepared to have the Celtic Tiger bite you in the wallet. But, being Irish, he’ll do it with a smile.

For more information, visit

Travel Briefs

Music Festival Celebrates Jewish New Orleans

Hot on the heels of Mardi Gras, a recovering Big Easy will soon play host to the inaugural New Orleans International Jewish Music Festival. The two-day gathering on April 1-2 will celebrate the rebuilding of Jewish New Orleans following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Featured artists include The New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars, Blue Fringe, Neshama Carlebach, Moshav Band, Sam Glaser, RebbeSoul, Theresa Andersson, Yom Hadash and Voices of Israel. U.S. artists will kick off the April 1 concert at The Howlin’ Wolf with a Havdallah service, while the April 2 show at Tulane University will feature a mix of U.S. and international acts. Sponsors include the Hiddur Mitzvah Project, Moment Magazine and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.

For more information, visit or call (504) 780-5612.

Kosher Signs for Israeli McDonald’s

Two branches of McDonald’s in Israel are getting new signs so prospective customers know those outlets are kosher. Under an initiative championed by the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Yisrael Meir Lau, the two branches of the fast-food chain in the city that have rabbinical certification are getting new Hebrew-language signs with “kosher” clearly marked in the national colors of blue and white.

“I feared that tourists or youths from outside Tel Aviv would come for a visit, eat at a kosher branch and assume that all of the McDonald’s branches in Israel are kosher,” Lau was quoted saying in Yediot Achronot last week.

The remainder of the some 100 branches in Israel retain the distinctive white, yellow and red signs in English.

Arab Airline Slams Israel Deal With Soccer Team

An Arab country’s national airline criticized the decision of a British soccer team it sponsors to promote Israeli tourism. Emirates Airlines, which pays $5.2 million for the naming rights to Arsenal’s new stadium, and whose logo appears on team jerseys, censured the $600,000 deal, which will go into effect for the 2006-2007 season, with an option to renew for another year. Israel will be promoted on LCD billboards in Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in London, on banner ads on the team’s Web site and in its official magazine, where the Jewish state will be billed as Arsenal’s “official and exclusive travel destination.”

The club said it cleared the deal with UAE officials, but a spokesman for the national carrier denied this, calling the deal “unfortunate,” and adding that the company will “do our best to persuade Arsenal not to renew its deal with Israel.”

Israeli Tourism Ministry officials said the ads will “broaden Israel’s appeal to sun and fun-seekers,” and hope they will bring an added 2 million tourists to the country.

Mubarak Woos Israeli Tourists

Egypt’s president reportedly called on Israeli tourists avoiding his country to reconsider their plans. Yediot Achronot quoted a letter sent recently by Hosni Mubarak to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, in which he pledged that security at Sinai resorts was satisfactory.

“The Israelis have nothing to worry about,” Mubarak wrote. “We want to promote tourism and are doing everything to protect tourists.”

Israelis, who long flocked to Sinai, largely have avoided it since a series of Islamist suicide bombings killed dozens of vacationers there in 2004. In the past few years, Israel repeatedly has issued advisories against its citizens visiting neighboring Arab countries. Some Israelis believe they’re not truly welcome in Egypt, despite the 27-year-old peace accord between the countries.

Yediot quoted Mubarak as adding in his letter, “We will never return to the path of war. This is our strategic decision, and we will keep with it.”

The Foreign Ministry did not immediately confirm the report.

Dublin Opens a Jewish House

The Dublin Jewish community opened a house with kosher facilities for students and young professionals. Located in a former Jewish retirement home near the core of Dublin’s Jewish population on the city’s south side, the house is open to any Jews living in, working in or visiting Dublin. In addition to providing living space for observant Jews in a city with limited kosher facilities, the house is intended as a place for social contact between the Irish Jewish community and the growing number of Jews who have moved to Ireland for work or study, according to Rabbi Zalman Lent, Dublin’s Chabad rabbi, who spearheaded the project with his wife, Rifky. The house’s eight residents celebrated their first Shabbat there on Feb. 24.

Passport for Jet-Setting Pets

Looking for the purrrfect way to keep your pet’s trip to Israel from being a ruff one? El Al has introduced the “Pet Passport,” a single document for pet owners that contains medical and vaccination information, dietary and grooming instructions, space for a photo and personality details, and even a travel diary for your dog or cat. The passport, created by Pocket Reference Journals, follows the 2001 launch of El Al’s Points for Pets, a frequent-flyer program so your furry friend can earns points toward future travel on the Israeli airline.

To receive a complimentary copy of the passport, call (212) 852-0628.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Journal staff and Jewish Telegraphic Agency.