Irish Jewry dwindles as Islam thrives

Committed members of the Jewish community in Ireland age and youth immigrates to Israel, other European countries.

Rory miller 224 88 (photo credit: Courtesy of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affair)
Rory miller 224 88
(photo credit: Courtesy of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affair)
The future of the Jewish community in Ireland is bleak, as its committed members age and the young immigrate to other European countries and Israel, according to Dr. Rory Miller, senior lecturer at King's College in London. The slowing economy and emigration for marital purposes were prompting the change, he said Wednesday in a presentation given at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs as part of its fourth annual series of lectures on changing Jewish communal policies and attitudes, "[The Irish Jewish population] will never fall below 300 to 400 people who have committed to it for ideological or familial reasons... But the point is, at what point does it stop being a community and just become a group of people who happen to be Jewish," Miller said. Ireland experienced an economic boom called the Celtic Tiger during 1991 to 2005 that brought in immigrants for the then new hi-tech sector. Between 2002 and 2006, the Jewish population grew 7 percent, according to Miller, who said the rise was comprised of mainly non-Irish Jews. With the country now experiencing a recession, he questioned whether the Jewish community would retain its roots in Ireland. "The community is undoubtedly dwindling, but we get a lot of people that join us for a time, but then they go on to another country," said Jacqueline Solomon, 82, who lives in Dublin. Most young Jews are immigrating to Israel, and their parents are following them after they are settled, Solomon said. Once the children have left the country, the parents find that they have no reason to stay. "We are losing a lot of people that way, but that is a good way to lose people," she said of those who have made aliya. "Until the Celtic Tiger, which is now gone, jobs were hard to come by here and they weren't paying much, and [people] got better money by going abroad. I think we're going into that again." Nevertheless, there is still a group of committed people in the Jewish community, she added. The average age of Jews in the country is 65, according to Carl Nelkin, public affairs spokesman for the Irish Jewish Community. "We are actively encouraging immigration," he said. "More are coming, but the numbers are modest... and they aren't going to grow at any time in the future." Judaism used to be the third-largest religion in Ireland, until the 2006 census showed that Islam had taken its place. Judaism was listed at No. 15. "What was a vibrant little Jerusalem," Miller said, "is now next to a thriving Muslim community." The 2006 census reported 35,000 Muslims living in Ireland, up 70% from 2002. The Jewish population was shown as continually decreasing, numbering about 2,000. "The disappearance of the Irish Jewish community is a phenomenon that is happening all over Europe, and I don't think that it's anything to do with Ireland," said Edward Cohen, who made aliya from England 25 years ago. "It's more to do with the fact that Jews are moving to Israel or are going to bigger city centers." Although the situation was not specific to Ireland, Miller said the country had many opportunities over the past 15 years to both keep and attract people, but that in comparison to other Irish communities, the Jewish community was "lagging behind." Another worrying development was support for a boycott of Israel, Miller said. Last month, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions issued a report calling for disinvestment from Israeli companies and a boycott of all Israeli goods and services, he said, adding that the organization had 832,000 members and 55 affiliated unions. "There will never be any political support in Ireland for a boycott on Israeli goods and services, because trade between the two countries has developed so extensively in the past decade-and-a-half, and partly because there is no desire in the European Union and the Irish aren't going to break ranks," Miller said. Zvi Gabay, who was Israel's first resident ambassador in Dublin, said most Irish were not anti-Israel, but they lacked information about the country. "[The Irish] look at everything in terms of religious aspects," he told The Jerusalem Post. "I met a lot of groups in Ireland, and once they got an explanation, I think they changed their attitude for the better."