How St. Louis Irish Jewish families celebrate ‘The ‘Double P’: Purim and St. Patrick’s Day

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From left: Charli, Jenna, Mike, Diane, Tim and Sophia O’Shea.

Bill Motchan , Special For The Jewish Light

Hamentashen and shamrock cookies will share a plate at two homes this week. Jenna and Mike O’Shea have two holidays to celebrate on March 17, Purim and St. Patrick’s Day, otherwise known as ‘The Double P’. Jenna is Jewish, Mike is Irish. It’s the same situation for Emily and Chris Garrison.

Conveniently, both holidays involve just a bit of merry-making, festive food, and an adult beverage or two. It’s a bit unusual for Purim and St. Patrick’s Day to coincide on the same day. The last two times it happened were 1995 and 2018.

The O’Sheas always celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with Mike’s parents for corned beef and cabbage, dressed in green attire, of course. Jenna and the O’Shea’s daughters will dress up for Purim and twirl noisemakers.

“We’re not terribly exciting,” said Jenna O’Shea. “When we were younger we would go to the St. Patrick’s Day parade and drink green beer.”

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Emily and Chris Garrison.

The Garrisons regularly commemorate the two holidays. In 2021, Emily participated in a virtual Purim event. Chris may opt for a green beer when he gets home from work this Thursday but Emily will stick to hamentashen. That’s because they have a third reason to celebrate—they’ll be welcoming a new arrival in the fall, so they also have a gender reveal party coming up next week.

The ‘Double P’

Around the rest of the world, Irish Jews are getting ready to celebrate this rare occasion.

“It’s a very joyous moment that combines both parts of our identities, which share a lot of similarities, including a strong sense of identity and the pursuit of freedom,” said Malcolm Gafson, the Dublin-born chairman of the Israel Ireland Friendship League, who lives in Israel.

Purim, with its focus on joy, costumes and more than a wee bit of alcohol consumption, meshes particularly well with some St. Patrick’s Day traditions, which have become a carnivalesque celebration of all things Irish.

This year’s Purim, which begins on Wednesday evening and outside of Israel ends on Thursday evening, will be a special one for another reason for the Dublin Hebrew Congregation, the only Orthodox synagogue in Ireland, according to its rabbi, Zalman Shimon Lent.

This year marks the return of large Jewish communal events in Dublin, for the first since the 2020 outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Orthodox and Progressive synagogues of Ireland — both in Dublin — and others all over the world will celebrate Purim by reading the Book of Esther, the story of Queen Esther’s victory over the Jew-hating Haman.

Marking the ‘Double P’

But the Jewish community of Ireland doesn’t mark the Double P in any specific way, according to Lent, who is affiliated with the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement. That may be because most of the Jews of Ireland are newcomers to the island, and have only a superficial connection to St. Patrick’s Day — the traditional date of the death of Saint Patrick, a 5th-century Christian missionary who is considered the foremost patron saint of Ireland.

According to Lent, only a few hundred of Ireland’s 3,000-odd Jews are locals, born to immigrants from Eastern Europe who settled in Ireland from the 19th century onward. The others, many of them Israelis, live in Dublin as employees of Google, Facebook, Intel and other high-tech giants headquartered in the city, which is sometimes called Europe’s Silicon Valley.

The newcomers began coming to Dublin about 15 years ago, and their numbers are growing: The number of Jews in Ireland leapt by 29% from 2011 to 2016, reaching about 2,500 that year, according to a 2020 demographic survey of European Jewry by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research. Intel’s decision this week to invest a further $13.2 billion in Ireland could create new jobs that will almost certainly attract more Jews to the country.

The Jewish high-tech crowd tends to be secular, as reflected in the demographics of Ireland’s only Jewish school, Stratford National School. Preferring international and other non-Jewish schools, the newcomers have not helped turn things around for Stratford’s high school division, where most students today are not Jewish. The proportion of Jews in the elementary school division is only 50%, Lent said.

In Israel

In Israel, where hundreds of Irish Jews live, Gafson’s group is determined to celebrate the Double P, which last came in 2003.

The group has booked Murphy’s Irish Pub in Netanya on March 20 for a Double P celebration that they are calling “Pur’Irim” — a mashup of the Jewish holiday’s name and the Hebrew-language word for the people of Ireland.

The 100 expected guests will raise one glass of Guinness for St. Patrick’s Day, another for Purim, and then a third, fourth and beyond. Revelers are expected to exclaim both “sláinte” and “l’chaim.”

On the flip side, many Israelis in Ireland also appreciate St. Patrick’s Day, which in Dublin is celebrated for several days, including at a festive parade that is reminiscent in spirit of Purim parades in Israel. This year’s St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin has a theme of “connections” — a reference to the fact that it’s the first one since 2019 due to COVID-19.

One custom that is not Irish tradition, Lent said, is calling St. Patrick’s Day the abbreviated “St. Paddy’s Day” or “St. Patty’s Day.”

“Only Americans do it, and it’s a source of constant annoyance here,” said the rabbi.

Double P means double the fun

For Jasmine Sade, a 35-year-old Israeli mother of two living in Dublin, the Double P meant buying two sets of costumes for her two children, ages 5 and 4: green outfits for the St. Patrick’s Day parade and more traditional Purim costumes. On top of that, there’s a dress-up activity in Irish schools on April 23, for World Book Day.

“So it’s a little hectic with the celebrations and costumes all on top of one another but there’s enough time,” she said.

But it’s an enriching and happy period, said Sade, who is originally from Tel Aviv and moved to Ireland in 2018 with her children and partner, who is an Israeli who works in Ireland.

“I really enjoy celebrating both holidays,” she said. “I’m glad our kids have the opportunity to experience all these happy festivities from multiple cultures.”

The resumption of synagogue events has also made the day stand out for Sade, who attends the Dublin Hebrew Congregation.