Remember Where's Waldo? It's a fun time looking at maps and pictures and finding funny looking Waldo. Well I do my own version whenever I travel and I call it Seeking Seymour. I can't help myself. My default is to always look out for links to Jewish history, culture and people. And now when we see or meet something Jewish Rick and I mumble or shout - Seeking Seymour! Seymour was my Dad and it seemed appropriate to bring him into one of my favorite activities.
Now traveling to Ireland is not going to give you many opportunities for connecting with anything Jewish, but you just never know!
Our very first stop in Dublin we found Jewish Stars on our hotel pillars. I was so excited. When asking the Hotel Manager about it I found that some things are just the same in Ireland as they are in the states.. some men just can't bring themselves to say "Gee, I don't know." He'd rather go on and on and give me information that has nothing to do with anything.
When we were tooling around Waterford and Rick was climbing what would turn out to be the first of many castles, I chatted with one of the tour guides. "Oh, of course there were Jews back here in the Viking era, they'd be needed for commerce, wouldn't they?"
In Kinsale I wandered into an antique store and found a copy of Chagall's Rabbi holding a Torah. The Shop owner told me she liked having it there as her first husband was Jewish and it made her kids feel good when they saw it. It made me feel good too.
In Kenmare I got into a wonderful conversation with a street vendor (check out my new red work bag when I get back) and upon seeing my Jewish star told me about his wonderful Jewish mentor who taught him everything he knows about selling. At a cafe grabbing coffee we see on the menu, "Bagel, cream cheese and Bacon." Ok, well, at least they have heard of Bagels!
When we arrived in Roscommon I flipped out when I saw the Museum building with the gorgeous Jewish Star (seen above). This one though, has me stumped. Researching on line all I could find was that the Presbyterians who built the church saw it as a sign of the Trinity (they couldn't count?).. It just didn't make sense. The docent said that it was the symbol of St David, the patron saint of the Welsh and that the Welsh builders left it as a sort of signature on the church. I don't really know what to believe on that one. If anyone knows, help me out here!
Arriving in Dublin is very exciting. It is an incredibly vibrant and International City. Trinity is an old and very respected University affiliated with Oxford. I was pleased to hear that they started the very first Hebrew Studies program back in 1592 and enjoyed wandering around the ancient library and viewing the Book of Kells.
Yesterday, we visited the Irish Jewish Museum. The building is old and damp and from my first step inside I felt as if I were being hugged by centuries of family. It was the first totally comfortable breath I had taken in three weeks. Don't get me wrong. I have loved every minute of this amazing trip, every single minute. I was simply being embraced by my own.
Yvonne Altman O'Connor, is a Jewish historian and I had arranged for her to meet with us and give us a tour. She is magnificent. A teacher and volunteer, she and a few others are struggling to keep the Museum running. It is fabulous and worth a visit if you make it to Ireland!
The first Jews came to Ireland in 1166 at which time they were told "Thank you for coming, you can go away now." The Jews persisted and the first synagogue was created in 1666. The first Jewish community lived in Cork and were Sephardic, but they died off and were replaced by Ashkenazi Jews in the late 1700's. There have never been many Jews in Ireland, 5,500 at its height. One genealogist though, has a data base of some 50,000 Jews who have lived in Ireland at some point.
The Jewish community really began to grow at the end of the 1800s in Dublin with Jews fleeing persecution. The community stuck together and created synagogues, a Jewish school and kosher shops. Two families when they began to do well purchased two homes side by side. Upstairs were the family bedrooms and downstairs they broke through the wall to create a space large enough to hold a synagogue congregation. At its height 150 congregants crowded into the very small space.
The first Chief Rabbi of Ireland was Rabbi Isaac Herzog, father of Chaim Herzog. It was Chaim Herzog during his tenure as president, who opened the doors of the Irish Jewish Museum in 1985 (the former two home synagogue) after Jews had moved away and the synagogue merged with another more modern synagogue. It is funny thinking of an Israeli President with an Irish accent.
The second Jewish Community inside Ireland was in Cork whose community had continued intermittently. Having boarded the ship to escape pogroms many Jews left the ship when they thought they heard "New York, New York," when what they had actually heard had been "Cork Cork!" The small disgruntled group ended up staying in Cork and created a their own community. That synagogue just closed last year.
At this point there are approxximately 2,500 Jews in Ireland, about 1,500 affiliated. There is a congregation in Belfast of about 80 and three synagogues in Dublin. The Kosher Butcher and stores are gone but the Jewish Bakery is still here. Not finding a table we bought a bagel, said Motzi and shared it. And a very Jewish bagel it was.
Seeking Seymour actually enriches my experience wherever I travel. It gives me a touchstone if you will. I love seeing the architectural beauty of ancient churches and the extraordinary art inspired by different religions through the centuries.
I so appreciated Rick and his family coming with me to the Jewish Museum. I'm sure they felt like they were visiting Mars.. everything is so different from what they know. I wonder if they realize that that is how I feel every time I walk into a church or religious art exhibit.
Yvonne got it in one. She asked me what my favorite part of the trip was. I told her that every day had been so special I couldn't pick one moment or experience. I had to admit though, that walking into the doors of the Museum was - and at the same time we both said "Home." We are a wandering people, connected through close to 6,000 years of history, tradition, food, music, art and religion. And yet, connecting, in one moment, even Seeking Seymour if you will, we are Home.
,About seven years ago Rick started exploring his family's genealogy. He contacted a geneologiest in Ireland to help pursue the search. Within 24 hours he connected us with a 4th cousin of Rick's, Maggie Berry (left in the photo). It just so happened that we were traveling to England the following week and we were able to meet her. It was family at first sight. Not only that, but Maggie connected us with another fourth cousin who just so happened to live in Oakland, Shirley Hoye (third from the left). Living in San Francisco at the time we were able to meet as well. I remember being a little nervous before we met as I had no idea how this new relative would relate to her Jewish cousin-in-law. When we walked into her home she introduced us to her partner, Elliot Aronson (2nd from left).. I was so excited.. another Jew in the family!
We were so thrilled that Rick's sister and brother-in-law, Marilyn and Bruce were able to join us (2nd and 3rd from the right). We all met up in Roscommon town where many of the distant relatives live. It turns out that each community has an historian. Above right, is Albert who helped us tremendously in connecting us with the family history.
When you combine following the steps of your forefathers with meeting up with the Irish people, magic happens. As we experienced in Lismore, we only had to ask questions. We were amazed how everyone knew everyone and how no one was in a hurry and not one could think of anything more delightful than to drop whatever it was that they were in the middle of, to help us out. One overheard another and said- oh- you are looking for people from this area? Well, you need to speak with Sean Healy, he would know, he's your man. And this young man here, well he'll be happy to drive you to his house.. No, no, tis no bother. So off we went in search of Sean who might be able to point out the land where Rick's Great Grandmother's people might have lived. But this is Ireland.. it isn't a matter of knocking on the door and asking a question, it's a matter of first being welcomed into homes and hearts.
Sean and his wife Anna insisted that we must be needing a spot of tea before we go looking at the land. Overwhelmed does not even begin to describe how we felt. There were seven of us crowding into their modest kitchen. They have been married for 43 years and work their farm together and could not have been happier to share afternoon tea. Sean noted that Anna had a feeling they'd be having company as she had just made a cake the day before and wasn't it lovely we could all share it together.
Off we went. In our few days in Roscommon we were able to see the Church where Rick's great grandparents had married, houses where his family had lived and churches where they had prayed. Walking in their footsteps made us feel so connected to the past and to our new cousins at the same time.
The story doesn't end there. It turns out that Elliot and I share genetic markers which means that we are also related! He thinks our link may go back a few hundred years so we are on the path to see if we can figure out how our families intersected. And if that isn't weird enough Maggie's first husband's last name in the old country was Selkowitz, and she has worked on his family tree.. so I am going to reach out to see if he'd be willing to have his DNA tested.. what are the odds?
My father always said that the there are only 36 people in the world and the rest is done with mirrors. I didn't realize that the 36 people were also related!
This Burial site is in the Burren, a rather amazing expanse filled with rocks that have survived since the area was covered in sea water. Given that' the rocks are hundreds of millions of years old, that makes the Burial site new at somewhere around 3,000 BCE.
One can't but be impressed with the depth of history that is evident throughout the country. Ancient ruins are as commonplace as sheep and you know how many of those there are!
I have already confessed to being intrigued by more recent history, I can imagine a family living inside the cottage, eating dinner, planning for the next day. And I find myself even more intrigued by those who are here now, living such different lives and yet worrying about the very same things I do... family, health, retirement, politics, etc.
Rick and I have varied the many places that we have stayed, wanting the different experiences, so we have enjoyed fine hotels and home B&Bs. We have loved getting to know different folks. The biggest surprise has been how international Ireland has become. We think of the States as being a country of immigrants, well the more time passes, the more global the world becomes and the more international we all become. We have met many from Eastern Europe, Australia, the States, etc, who have moved here for love, economic opportunity or infatuation with Ireland. And why not? It is an amazing place.
In Dingle, we stayed at a Bed and Breakfast with a lovely family. Sean is a farmer and very involved in local activities and helping to raise money for local youth sports. Kathy oversees the family, runs their B & B and cleans houses. Kathy was born in America to Irish parents and met Sean at a wedding in Chicago. They have five kids, only one left at home. At one point Rick remarked on Sean and Kathy's 26 year marriage - "And to one woman!" To which Sean replied, "I haven't gotten around to replacing her yet," with a twinkle in his eye. I almost fell over when Kathy told me she has over 100 first cousins!
At Screebe House, we marveled at Susie, who seemed to be everywhere at once, who immediately took charge of all of our plans and stated emphatically that we should contact her during the entirety of our trip if we needed anything, anything at all! We felt so pampered. She even went so far as to use her own credit card to hold a booking for high tea for us at Ashford Castle, making sure that they knew that I kept a Jewish diet so they should stay away from ham and shellfish. And her sidekick, Killian, born of an American mother, whose family celebrates "Stations" which sounds just like a Mezuzah hanging celebration (only not)..
We did one night of taking chances and found a lovely B & B in Waterford. Delia, the proprietess, wanted to know all about how we live in a big town with all of the stress and couldn't get over how often we have moved. She was incensed by the Nasty Lady and wanted to fix everything for us.
Traveling is such an extraordinary gift. It gives you a window onto the world, into other's lives and affirms that there are new friends waiting to meet you wherever you roam.
I'm beginning to think that I should just start off every blog with an apology.. as I do with this one. Rick has grown up hearing about kissing the Blarney Stone and always dreamed of going to Blarney Castle, so it was extra special for him to be able to do this.
This lady is my hero. Here it is raining outside and she is on a ladder in her rain-gear tending to her hanging garden. It is like this all over the country. I am humbled.
I wasn't humbled by Nasty Lady, however, (the only person we have met who we don't want to pack up and take home with us). We were driving through Portmagee - a great place to stop if you want to hire a boat, (but sort of not so much if you are just driving through). So here we are hunting for a parking spot and we see a space without a double line and I dashed into the store behind the spot to see if it was ok for us to park there. I asked the proprietess and she immediately begins yelling- "No! No! You cannot park there! Go park up the street!" Good grief "Ma'am no need to be nasty, that's why we asked." I have a feeling I'm not the first one to mention that. We went on our way in search of the illusive parking place which we did in fact find. After a yummy lunch at Moorings, we headed back to the car and I spotted a post office and wanted to get postage. "Isn't that the place with the cranky lady?" Rick asked. "It looks like it is next door, I'll be quick."
I head inside and sure enough Nasty Lady is sitting behind the counter. I take a deep breath and ask for postage. She huffs (I kid you not) and points to the sign that cleaerly indicates that the post counter is the counter to the left of where I was standing. "Oh, I'm so sorry." I move to the counter to the left of Nasty Lady and - wait for it.. sure enough, a paper thin door opens and in walks Nasty Lady. I mean seriously you just can not make this stuff up.
And then there is Inch with this little cutie patootie store that is attached to a gas station of all things. I ran in to the store for a pit stop and when I realized that I thought I'd seen a quilt shop I asked if it was opened. I was told to let myself in, the door was open and the light switch was on the right. Sure enough I ran upstairs and walked into a treasure of a quilt shop. Luckily I found a bagged project with wonderful Irish fabric (for a travel quilt I'm working on) and grabbed it and turned off all the lights and went into the gas station to pay for the kit. There was no question I'd run off with a bunch of fabric... of course quilters don't do that kind of thing, but it is so Ireland. Could you imagine a little shop like that any where else in the world? I was overwhelmed.
The story gets better, as today we visited the Blasket Island Museum, about an amazing island where a small community of people lived for many years without electricity or running water. It gave birth to a number of notable Irish writers. In honor of their spirit there was a quilt show - and yes, the owner, of my little quilt shop, Nikki Foley, had curated the quilt display.. and hers was extraordinary. If only we lived on the same continent I can tell we would be fast friends.
Fom Lismore, Rick and I headed over to Cobh. Our first stop was to the Heritage Center where we were able to get a sense of what Rick's fore bearers might have experienced, for it was from that spot (then Queensland) that many of them departed for the US. It is so amazing to think of what they must have gone through, the fear of crossing an ocean or more importantly the dread that they might never see their homeland and family again. It is hard to fathom.
Yesterday we headed over to Kinsale, a charming village where you can wander for ages. Rick went off to check out Charles Fort while I wandered the shops and scouted places to bring Rick back to. Watching grumpy husbands following their wives I began to wonder why is is that women tend to love to shop when traveling and men seek out remnants of war.
Men's fascination with war must be the triumph of brains and brawn over adversity along with amazing feats of engineering and invention. As I mentioned, I love history but I'm good with a brief overview when it comes to staring at stones.
So what is it with women and shopping - and yes I know I'm being ridiculously simplistic and grossly over generalizing. There are many women who love to pick apart buildings stone by stone and many men who do enjoy shopping. But bear with me here as I have a theory. I think the deal for women, or the primary nester, is twofold:
1) We want our loved ones to know that we are thinking of them even when we are thousands of miles away from home. I do have a rule that there are no gifts on a second trip to a place we have been before, but when it comes to a new adventure we just can't help think of our nearest and dearest. And sometimes it's just that we'll be wandering and see something that makes us think of someone we love. For many of us, we don't just love but we want to make sure that those we love feel loved, that there isn't any doubt. Of course sometimes that means excessive worry and or that we hover too closely, but nevertheless there is never a question of love. Roshann, for example, thinks I'm being ridiculous when I want to implant a tracking device in her body to make sure we know where she is at all times. I think it is just being safe.
2) And then there is nesting. Our home is filled with treasures from our travels and our experiences. It deepens our own history together as a family and brings joyous memories with just a glance at a piece of artwork, coasters or funny socks Sharing memories is what builds family history.
One family story- not ours. Today as we were exploring the grounds of the Blarney Castle, I caught sight of three brothers walking. One was little more than a toddler, while the other boys were considerably older. The little one was bouncing up and down and every few feet shouted "PEANUT! PEANUT!" You know that they must call him the peanut of the family and he became so happy he could finally say it. I have a feeling that he will forever more be known, at least in his family, as Peanut.
To close, we are convinced that the Irish built their roads as a joke on the Yanks while having leprechauns do their magic wherever we go. The beauty of this country is simply not to be believed.
Rick's Uncle Jim would have loved knowing that there was a Pub out there in his name!
I asked a street vendor what his favorite restaurant in Kenmare was, he told us how to get to this amazing restaurant right on the water. The food was yummy and the name of the place sounds like Drumrunner.
We are still in a state of amazed wonderment over today's adventures. What we had can only be called a magical Irish day. We traveled to Linsmore to see where Rick's great grandmother was born. Linsmore isn't that large and has a small population and we found ourselves wondering if we might be able to find an actual connection. As we drove around the village we stopped a lovely woman walking her dog and asked if she had any ideas for us, perhaps the parish offices might be located in Linsmore. She thought a moment and suggested that we speak with Pat Ryan, the Funeral Director for the area. She felt sure he might be able to help us. She explained in great detail how we turn right then left and drive down the street and find the prettiest house on the block. Off we went.
As we knocked on the door it was apparent that no one was in (it was extraordinarily easy to find the building). While we were knocking another lady stopped to see if she could help. We asked for Pat Ryan and explained what we were trying to do. "We are hoping to find a connection to any families known as Heafy," informed my husband. "Oh I would certainly think so! There are many Heafys in the area!" Our lovely lady turned out to be Margaret O'Brien, born and raised in Lismore, who insisted that she take us to Pat Ryan's home. We convinced her to join us in our car and off we went.
Pat Ryan, himself, was home and after asking Margaret how she was doing said he could shed no light. "We only have records for the last 30 years or so." After musing for a bit with Margaret they both came up with the idea that we should go see Father Mike at the local Catholic Church but that first we should stop by and see John Sullivan as his very mother was a Heafy wasn't she.
So off we went to see if John Sullivan might be home. "He is such a lovely man, newly retired," noted Margaret, "but he is known to take a walk, so he may not be home." But home he was. John mused and expressed his doubt. "The family goes way back, it is doubtful that there is any connection. Besides, my mother's family isn't specifically from Lismore but more from Ballyheefy." Rick started- "But that is where many members of my family are from!" I was looking carefully to see if I could see any family resemblance. John agreed with Pat Ryan and said - "Go see Father Mike."
Off we went with Margaret to St. Carthage's Church to visit with Father Mike. Margaret insisting every step of the way that this was her pleasure and that we were not taking away from her day. We timed our visit with Father Mike with the end of Mass. Our hopes were pretty high at that point, we were hoping there might be Church or Funeral records.
Father Mike cut us off very quickly. "I am so sorry not to be able to help you. I do not assist with genealogical searches, I just don't have the time and you'd be surprised how many requests I receive. I am sorry but I don't even have time to visit with you today as I have many pressing matters." Of course we understood and appreciated the leads he gave us to explore our search further. He then proceeded to spend about 45 minutes with us showing us the Church and all the improvements that had been done. I was so struck by one thing that Father Mike stated, "Rigidity in religion doesn't work. It flows between faith and doubt and that is only natural. If you try to force faith you simply lose the connection in the relationship." Go Father Mike!
Margaret then insisted that we join her back at her lovely home for a cup of coffee. We then spent another hour with Margaret in her tiny kitchen. At one point she answered the phone where she learned that her friend Seanie was leaving town. She was very distressed as he was going to a place that was so dangerous and that he had to be sure that he came home as everyone needed him so much. I was thinking that her friend might be going to Afghanistan and was alarmed for her as well.. and then.. I heard her say - "But that place- Man-hattan can be so dangerous." Needless-to-say, we did our best to assure her that her 26 year old lawyer friend would do just fine in Manhattan - and yes, I, of course, promised that one of my Manhattan cousins would be welcoming him to New York.
We thought to have been in Lismore for perhaps two hours.. well - it was more like four hours with our new friends. It was special indeed, to think that we were walking the very streets that Rick's relatives walked as early as the mid-1700s. It was just a magical day, to be welcomed in, sharing thoughts and ideas and realizing that through spirit or blood we are all truly connected through the heart.
Ireland is as beautiful as we have always heard it is. The green is everywhere and so are ruins dating back for centuries. No matter where you drive you trip over a castle, keep or fortress. I love history, but no one loves an ancient military installation like my husband. I think it is amazing for about 15 minutes and then I'm ready to move on to the next activity. I think it has something to do with the lack of vibrant living- no people, no furniture, no artwork. Just a lot of stones and bricks- now mind you they are very cool stones and bricks, but my juices start running with people, art and culture.
So while Rick was exploring the Rock of Cashel - which was very impressive for my short attention span, I left to wander the upper streets of Cashel. I found a young man playing Irish tunes on a violin, a chatty shopkeep who found tourists fascinating, and the most joyous sculpture I've ever seen.
From there it was on to Waterford where as soon as we arrived we high tailed it to the Waterford Crystal factory. Watching how the crystal was made was extraordinary, each design cut with incredible precision. Of course, we had to make a purchase and when we heard that one of the designs was inspired from nearby Lismore, our decision was made, as it was where one of Rick's great great grandmothers was from. Wandering the streets afterward we found such interesting people- a tour guide who was able to confirm that most certainly Jews lived in Waterford during the Viking era as they were necessary for trade; a wonderful knit artist who makes gorgeous scarves in between waiting on customers and quite opinionated wait staff on the pros and cons of ordering bangers and mash or spotted dick.
On to Cobh tomorrow!
I love traveling. Even with the craziness of today's travel, I love it. I'm in awe that we can travel some 8,000 miles in a day and arrive safely.
The sites and sounds and history of each new place is like discovering a whole new world. And yet, meeting fellow travelers and expressing interest in local customs launches a shared experience and our world becomes a little smaller, a little more friendly and a little less overwhelming. I always find it funny that I am uncomfortable walking into a party or event and yet am happy to speak with people on street corners, in restaurants or on ferries wherever we happen to be in the world.
I've always wanted to travel to Ireland and Rick can trace his family back in Ireland to the early 1800's, so this is a dream come true for both of us. We've been planning the trip for about two years and are beyond excited. As always, when we travel I love to connect with Jewish history, so this will give us an opportunity to explore the small but vibrant Jewish history as well.
Of course our first foray was simply getting from the airport to the hotel driving on the left side of the street. We made it and celebrated with a touch of Jameson's.
Tracy Salkowitz is a Consultant,activist and the former CEO of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona.