Curbing My (Irish) Enthusiasm

I have recently started to feel a real kinship with Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David. I keep finding myself in awkward situations (and not only with T.A. Woman), and am regularly asking myself “Is it them, or me?!”

Now, funerals are generally a pretty safe bet. You turn up (on time), affect suitable solemnity (modulated to the age of the deceased and circumstances of death), wish the mourners “Long life” (even though you have never really understood what it means), and spend the rest of the time looking for the appropriate moment to piss off.

Safe for other people perhaps. Not for me. Not on recent form, at any rate.

Last week, I attended the funeral of my cousin’s late husband. As co-founder of Israel’s largest law firm, many of Israel’s (supposed) great and good were present.

As I approached the entrance to the grounds, in Herzliya, I recognized Isaac Herzog, a Labor MK (member of Knesset, Israel’s parliament) and a minister in Bibi’s new coalition government. By his side was a woman who I correctly presumed to be his mother, Aura, widow of the late, former President Chaim Herzog, another co-founder of the firm.
With the big boys: Herzog (far left) with Barak, Obama

With the big boys: Isaac Herzog (far left) with Barak, Obama

Now, Chaim and my late father were pals, in the twenties and thirties, in Dublin’s small and extremely tight-knit Jewish community. On one occasion, when he learned that my folks were in Israel, Chaim had his driver bring them over to his residence for dinner. And, in 1996, the two Irishmen, then in their eighties, had an emotional reunion at a book-signing for Chaim’s new autobiography. He passed away a year later.

Even though I was born in London, the Isaacson Dublin connection has always brought me into warm contact with other Irish Jews. It is very much a club.

Quite apart from my father’s distinguished academic achievements at Wesley and Trinity Colleges (he tutored Chaim in maths), my grandfather Joe was shammes (beadle) at Adelaide Road Synagogue and a well-known communal character, while my uncle Percy was considered amongst the finest Jewish sportsmen to come out of the “Emerald Isle”. Moreover, their cousin, solicitor Michael Noyk famously defended many Sinn Féin Nationalists, and was a close friend and legal adviser to Republican leader Michael Collins (whose widow used to visit my grandparents’ home, following his murder in 1922).

So, being the friendly and enthusiastic soul that I sometimes am, I decided to introduce myself to Mrs. Herzog. And, on mentioning “Harold Isaacson”, I received an immediate and warm response until, in mid-sentence, she was dragged away by Isaac – perhaps slighted that I should be more interested in his mother – who proceeded to parade her (though really, and self-importantly, himself) around those he considered more shaveh (worth it).

Isaac Herzog has the bearing of what is known in Yiddish as a shnip (the closest English equivalent is probably my favoured “mook”). He is short and weasel-like in appearance – perhaps, as I discovered last week, in character too (he was also investigated, in 1999, in relation to allegations of party-funding violations, but chose to maintain his silence) – and his nickname, “Buji”, for me says everything.

Perhaps this post smacks of the snubbed. Indeed, the experience was not pleasant. Herzog’s rudeness, however, spoke volumes for the nature of Israel’s new generation of ‘leaders’ – arrogant, unremarkable, self-interested, unconnected to the past, and owing their positions to protexia (patronage/connections). The nature of Israel’s electoral system does not help, either, as MKs have no constituents to answer to.

If we wouldn’t have been at a funeral, and my rather more phlegmatic cousin, Danny, hadn’t been there to stop me, then – never a respecter of title or position – I would have said something to the Shnip.

As it was, I just drove home understanding why so many Israelis despair at what they consider Israel’s biggest problem (even more than the Palestinians and our lovely Arab neighbours): the dearth of principled young politicians, who have got where they have on the back of their own talent, charisma and achievements . . . not of who their father was.

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23 responses to “Curbing My (Irish) Enthusiasm

  1. Daniel Greenspan

    Maybe instead of trying to buck the nepotism, we should harness it?

    Children of MKs should be forced to attend courses in manners, proper protocol, English, and (yes) ethics.
    That way, there’s a chance they’ll make more of a contribution than just keeping their parents’ Knesset seat warm.

    Whether you agree with his politics or not, most agree that Benny Begin picked up enough as a child to know a bit about principles and ethics.

    Shame that the same can’t be said for Isaac Herzog, Yael Dayan, Meir Porush, and all the others whose behavior is as you describe.

  2. Jonathan Bernstein

    Mike,

    I never realised your Irish roots (although that might explain your ruddy complexion) I am also Irish and my dad did the Wesley/Trinity jig too. I know Cardash was also of Celtic descent, I am sure there were others. Perhaps the powers that be (were) would have been more welcoming to a local branch of Sinn Féin than the Israel Society?

  3. Yes, Jonathan, I think my father was always quite proud of the fact that yours had became such a distinguished Rav in London (even though they were at rather opposite ends of the religious political spectrum!)

    There were numerous others at Hasmo with Irish connections – most famously, perhaps, the Maslins (because of Terry rather than Laurence!) – and I met a lot more in the Manchester community, whilst at Uni.

    On the subject of your father, it reminds me of one of my all-time great wind-ups. I told my mate, Joey Garfinkel – who attended your father’s shul, Kinloss – that our dads were good mates from Dublin, and that mine actually used to write your dad’s droshas . . . though it was a big secret! The gullible lad “bought it”, and would report back to me every Monday morning, at school, with marks out of ten for my dad!

    Talking of Sinn Féin, you have reminded me to add the most interesting snippet of Isaacson Irish history to my post (above): that our cousin was a close confidant of Michael Collins!

    Good shabbos.

  4. Jonathan Bernstein

    If your or any other reader’s family was in Ireland in 1911 they can be found on the Irish National Archives website. Yours is here.

    Michael Collins? Do tell! Bully AND terrorist!!

  5. The Big Fellow, a “terrorist”?! Shame on you! Whoever next? Menachem Begin?!

  6. Of course K’tonton (ie the schnip) would have inherited his name from Rabbi Yitzhak Halevi Herzog zt’l, his late grandfather. If I remember rightly (or wrongly) the Encyclopedia Judaica sites Rabbi Yitzhak zt’l (the Sinn Fein Rabbi – wikipedia quote) as getting on famously well with De Valera, during his tenure as Chief Rabbi.

    Thanks Mr Jonathan Bernstein for the link to the Irish archives.

    BTW the Celts were originally a Germanic people (the Gemara says somewhere or other, “Beware of Germania”).

    Calls coming out of Dublin back then went something like, “Hey, you killed our Lord!” or, “Hey Moses go back to Palestine!”

    As for Irish history, the epic novel Trinity by Leon Uris is an interesting way of getting into the subject. It mentions (many years before the Easter rising, Michael Collins, O’Connell and even Wolfe Tone) the sale of parts of the Emerald Isle to the English monarchy by either or Celtic/Viking/Norman warlords, sometime around the Twelfth Century.

    Trathnóna maith agat, Erev Tov and Good Evening

  7. Thank you, Anon. “Sinn Féin Rabbi” is great! Never heard that one.

    My father used to relate how, when he went to watch my uncle play football – first division, I believe – in Dublin, the locals would shout “Take the ball off the Jew boy!”

  8. Which team, Shelbourne, Dublin City, Bohemians, Shamrock Rovers?

    I’m told that football for Paddies = Gaelic football (for the tough nuts) and soccer = man utd, liverpool or whichever team fields the most Irishmen.

    How come you follow Leeds?

  9. Y’know, best team when I started getting interested in footie, around ’74 (aged 7). Quite a lot of us Hendon and Golders Green kids started supporting The (Once) Mighty Whites for that reason. They also had the cool “smiley” badge. One thing’s for sure, though – the decision has resulted in far more heartache than joy. I presume, from your “garysprake” email address (though fake), that you are a fellow-sufferer.

  10. Jeremy Cardash

    Terenure have their own local team. I asked them for a shirt and they told me they could only afford to make 14! When I offered to pay the guy just laughed.

    You know the Ark from Adelaide Road now stands in Ahavat Tzion Shul in Ramat Bet Shemesh. It has been totally restored and looks great, too bad the leprechauns there, save for a few, wear black and not green.

  11. Michal (Jaswon) Koor

    Mike,
    As a member of the “Irish connections” club (I even hold an Irish passport but that’s a long story), permit me to add an annecdote of my own, one that may reinstate the honor of third-generation Herzogs.
    You rightly say that the “Dublin connection has always brought me into warm contact with other Irish Jews” – there’s a certain affinity that’s hard to explain. A few years back I received a call out of the blue from a man who presented himself as Isaac (not Yitzchak) Herzog – as it turned out, son of the late, great Yaakov Herzog. He wanted me to help him finish the translation and editing of his doctoral thesis (I’m a freelance translator) on the subject of constitution theory – a far cry from my normal line of work. We had a chat, I was sure I was not the most suitable candidate for the job, and what’s more, after seeing a sample of the paper and the sections he had already written in English, I really didn’t think he needed my input. However, he insisted, and what’s more he insisted on meeting me in person (in this day of internet and email I almost never meet my clients in person). Had the contact remained phone-based, I probably would not have mentioned the Irish connection, but I was intrigued by the fact that two people whose grandparents had lived across the road from one another on the other side of the world, could suddenly meet up like this under totally unrelated circumstances (only Jews). So when we met, I gave him the Irish connection bit, and he seemed quite interested. He was altogether extremely pleasant, didn’t stand on ceremony or his “kovod” at all – in fact he was quite a gentleman and we had several interesting discussions.
    A few years later (about 4 years ago), we (hubby & I) were in Dublin for a few days on what for me was a nostalgia trip (en route to a family simcha in London). I shlepped Danny to all the haunts I remembered as a child who had visited Dublin quite frequently, including Bloomfield Avenue – home to many Jewish families, including the Jaswons and the Herzogs, and the nearby Jewish Museum (a must if you ever get to Dublin!). I even have a photo of the Herzog’s former home, with the plaque on the wall. (I’ll email it to you separately, you can add it to your blog posting).
    Perhaps after the Hasmo reunion, you’ll organize a “children of Irish Jews” gathering – there are quite a lot of us about.
    ATB – Michal

  12. Aha! The email address is actually .co.uk not .com (my mistake). It’s genuine and active.

    For over 20 years playing football (‘school boys dream’) was my fix. A Man utd fan (we’re the scum and you’re the sheep, yes?), I was at Anfield in 92′ when defeat meant Leeds could celebrate winning the title. I enjoyed playing the game more than watching it, until getting fed up of it October 2005 (my last fix). Football these days seems to be more about chasing the dollar than about chasing the ball.

    Top o’ the mornin to you all!

  13. Hi Michal,

    I think I recall Ya’akov’s son from my Yeshiva days (a long time ago!) – I didn’t know him well, but he did seem a lovely, modest guy, and was always very friendly as a result of “the connection”.

    I was also in Dublin in 2005 – for the first time since I was there with my dad, as a child – for the World Cup qualifier against Israel. I went to shul on the Shabbos morning, and had an emotional meeting with another old mate of my dad’s, Nick Harris (who passed away recently, I believe, and was the author of Dublin’s Little Jerusalem). He was in his nineties, didn’t know I was coming, and started crying when I confirmed to him – he said he knew as soon as saw me! – who I was.

    I saw the Isaacson family home, and also that of the Herzogs, and visited the Jewish Museum. I dropped in, too, on Trinity’s Faculty of Medicine, where staff were stunned by my father’s record card (shame I didn’t take after him rather more, in that respect . . . I blame it on Hasmonean!)

    Going back to Isaac’s more famous cousin . . . we bumped into (then Labour, now Kadima, MK) Tzachi Hanegbi before the game, outside Landsdowne Road. He posed for photos with us, and was such a friendly bloke. Perhaps the snootiness and aloofness that I refer to in my post, above, explains why Labor is so out of favour these days.

    An “Irish children” get-together might be nice, though I am always a bit wary of being labelled a “plastic Paddy” . . . like all those idiots in the US, who are tenth generation Irish, but still wear it as a badge of honour!

    Mike

  14. Steve Graniewitz

    Daniel Greenspan – Yael Dayan??? Yeah, like she was supposed to pick up principals and ethics from her old man. He was mister principals and ethics from what I gather.

    How are you by the way?

  15. Frank Baigel

    Fascinating – I know/knew all your parents and some of your grandparents but then I was born in Dec 1937 and grew up in Bloomfield Ave.
    But then I also know you MIKE as well but did not know you had time to blog!

    I did meet the late Chaim and his sister in law [Yaakov’s widow who never got to visit Dublin] at a Heb Univ Irish do on Mount Scopus in 1996 I think. Both charming people – I had met her previously at an Emunah dinner in Manchester which is where she had studied Pharmacy in the late 1940s.

  16. Nice to have you on melchett mike, Frank. The question is rather whether I have time to work . . . not to blog!

    In relation to my parents, to the best of my knowledge, I only ever had two . . . if there is something I haven’t been told, perhaps you could enlighten me! 😉

  17. Hi Mike,

    Enjoying your Blog very much. The 1911 Census Returns for Dublin are available Online (for free) at:

    http://www.census.nationalarchives.ie/search/

    Quite a few Isaacsons are listed – may make for interesting reading!

  18. Did you know many if not all the Dublin Isaacsons were Cohanim and the Segals Leviim?

  19. If the Returns are “for free”, Anon, I’ll take the lot! My great-grandfather David, grandfather Joseph, and his sister Rosie are listed under St. Kevin’s Parade. Does that make sense?

    These Isaacsons are common Israelim, Frank, I am afraid. There was another (larger, I believe) Isaacson family in Dublin, unrelated to us (including Max and Julius, who also had the good fortune 😉 to end up in Chendon).

  20. St Kevins Parade is correct its where a number or familes lived incl my g mother and her family in 1911 having arrived in 1905.

  21. 6 St Kevin’s Parade was where my g father/zeide was raised. He arrived there with his folks, a brother and two sisters around the same time, coincidence?

  22. Hi Mike,

    The Irish Times Online Archive (1859-present) http://www.irishtimes.com/150/
    can be searched for free until 14th December 2009. There are a few articles that may be of ancestral interest – from the trivial “A Set of Teeth” c.1916/17 , to the more serious Inaugural Meeting of the Jewish Debating Society, 1930.

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