Celebrate Chanukah in Dublin

There’s half an aisle of kosher goods at  the local Supervalu Supermarket in Churchtown, a quiet section of Dublin, which makes it easy for former New Yorker Judith Charry  to find the items she needs to celebrate Chanukah in Ireland,  with her Irish born Jewish husband Carl Nelkin and children Jessica, 13 ½  and Sarah, 7.

Good New York bagels are elusive for the girl from Great Neck, sometimes hand carried over by relatives from the City.  But there’s a real upside at Chanukah time for a Jewish New Yorker living in Ireland. Judith, who speaks with a slight lilt after living in Ireland for 22 years, says ”Irish potatoes make tastier Latkes.”

While there are only approximately 1800 Jews in all 26 counties of Ireland, many Dublin Jews use the  Festival of Lights, and the weeks leading up to Chanukah,  to celebrate the eight nights of gift giving with family, eating traditional jelly donuts, dancing, performing “ Mitzvahs” or good turns and helping other people.

Like in New York, on the first night of the holiday on Tuesday, December 20, 2011, the lights of Chanukah are lit in homes and in public.  The small Jewish community will gather to light a giant menorah outside the City offices once occupied by Robert Briscoe and his son Ben, both who were Jewish Lord Mayors of Dublin.

During a recent visit in their contemporary Dublin home, Sarah and her mom were practicing lighting the candles, inserting the molded wax into a large silver menorah.  Nearby, a crystal Waterford Menorah awaits cleaning, a quiet message that spoke volumes of the household that blends the culture of Ireland with the religion brought from New York.

On the wall, there’s a “Ketubah,” a Jewish marriage contract between husband and wife.  It’s hand written in Hebrew but the letters form the strings of an Irish harp.  Charry proudly shows a Tony Carter tea kettle in the shape of a Sabbath table complete with wine and challah, rather than whiskey and scones

Both her youngsters have trophies for Irish dancing, the style practiced by freckled faced Colleens and made famous by Riverdance.  Upper body held rigid, hands straight down to the side with the energy coming from high prancing and tapping of steel tipped shoes.

On the Sunday of Chanukah, the Gaelic style of dancing will be put aside as hands and arms are wrapped around shoulders and joyous clarinet music replaces the wail of bag pipes.

Husband Carl, is a Barrister (lawyer) and a well-known “Chazzan”, or cantor who makes guest appearances on Long Island for the High Holidays.  He has recorded a collection of favorite Irish and Jewish songs that celebrates the commonality of the cultures, the “Missing of family and emigration” says Charry, songs that emphasize “Deliverance and escape from oppression” according to John O’Regan, a writer for Irish Music Magazine.

“Irish Heart Jewish Soul’ features unique Irish interpretations of Jewish songs and melodies from Yiddish theatre and Irish ballads like Danny Boy. Musically, O’Regan notes that “Pipes, fiddles, and flutes blend with Klezmer sounds and Irish flavors. The result is one of the most unique fusion albums of recent years.”

So what is the Charry-Nelkin family doing for the remaining nights of Chanukah?  They’re off to Israel, to visit other relatives and where the weather is better.

Judith Charry’s Irish Latke Recipe

2 lbs. flavorsome potatoes, e.g. Yukon Gold

1 lg. onion

2 lg. eggs

matzah meal

salt and pepper, to taste

olive or  sunflower oil, for frying

apple sauce, sour cream, plain yogurt, cinnamon sugar, etc., to serve

Scrub the potatoes well; do not peel. Peel the onion.  Cut both into 1.5″ chunks.  Process, in batches, in a food processor fitted with a steel blade, until the mixture is finely chopped. (Be careful not to turn it into puree.)  Empty into a large mixing bowl.  Drain off any liquid.  Mix in the eggs and enough matzah meal to give a thick dropping consistency.  Season well with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large, preferably non-stick, frying pan.  Drop rounded tbsps. of batter into the pan and flatten to 1/2″ thickness.

Fry until deep golden brown on both sides and drain on paper towels.

Serve hot, with your choice of accompaniment(s).

Note: These latkes may be made ahead of time and reheated.  They also freeze well.  Arrange on a baking sheet – slightly overlapping – and heat in a 350-degree oven until hot and crisp.


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