Look Carefully… this is very Jirish

I’m hungry.  It’s Passover week.  Which if you’re Jewish in New York* means not only not eating bread, but also not eating anything made with flour or any “cognate” grain, including beans.  And corn.  Nothing made with corn syrup.  You could have guacamole, but no corn chips.  This takes out   a lot of food.  Goodbye pasta.  Candy bars.  Sodas.  Just see how long Chinese food without rice makes you feel full.  The whole tribe is cranky, for a week.  We grumpily buy bananas at bodegas.   We carry macaroons in plastic bags.  We pee a lot.  It’s as if we’ve all been put on Atkins.

Not During Passover, You Don’t

Odds are, if you’re Irish in New York, you already know this, because odds are, you know a lot of Jewish people.  It’s a Jirish thing.   Jirishness is especially a New York thing (though it exists elsewhere too).  At  11th Street Bar Sunday night (following the great concert at Irish Arts Center), Séamus Begley liked the way I kept taking his deadpan jokes seriously (you can hear some in our podcast here, and in this post).  I said it was Passover the next day, and that I was Jewish.   “Jews are quare hawks,”  he observed. Rare birds?  Not in New York.

Are you Jirish Michelle Woods,who covers books for us, coined the phrase.  It’s Jewish-Irish by association as much as genetics. If your SO, or partner, or ex,  is Jewish and you’re Irish, or vice versa, you qualify.  If you’ve done a project in one culture but belong to the other, you’re in.

 Michelle is Jirish by heritage– and by marriage.   Rachael Gilkey, of the Irish Arts Center, is Jirish; her boyfriend is Jewish.  She considered  holding a Seder this year– it didn’t happen, but there’s always next year.  

Mike Farragher is Jirish– his wife is Jewish.  He’s got the guilt thing covered!  Michelle just reviewed his book This Is Your Brain on Shamrocks, and we will publish some excerpts– in some essays he takes on Jirishness head on!  Mike will also be doing some music blogging and “Mike’s Mailbag” on the podcast.

Susan McKeown was at the Consul’s Residence as well.  Susan’s Jirish; she sings with the KlezmaticsShe and Lorin Sklamberg  released their cd “Saints and Tzadiks” the year before last. On it Susan sings in Yiddish, and Lorin in Irish.   Lorin is therefore Jirish too (I wrote about the album for the Forward).  Klezmatics’ Fiddler Lisa Gutkin is also Jirish; it was Irish music that eventually led to her playing Klezmer.   Anita Daly of Daly Communications is Jirish.

I would even say Mick Moloney is Jirish, with his album of Tin Pan Alley tunes titled If It Wasn’t for the Irish and the Jews, and the lecture that goes with it.  That counts!  

Annette Clancy of Interactions- Creative Strategies for Business is  Jirish.  Annette knows all about Pesadich restrictions.  She said darkly she is preparing Christmas dinner this year, if she has to have a kitchen full of matzoh.  I thought that only fair.  Her husband Ian informed me that the “no other grains” rule is only a few hundred years old and they don’t do it in Israel.

But we were in New York, and every yummy looking appetizer coming out at the party at the Residence was served on bread.  I drank some wine (no Guinness!  for a week!) and ate some cheese cubes.  

Until suddenly a server offered a tray of little roast beef with horseradish hors d’oeuvres– on pieces of matzoh!  And, she said helpfully, the little crackers with the salmon on them were also not made with flour.  I thought this was one of the most hospitable and kindest things I’ve ever seen.

Bravo, Noel Kilkenny, and brava,  Ms. Hanora O’Dea Kilkenny, for that wonderful courtesy to your Jirish guests.

Hungry No More

I will be covering Jirish events and Jewish arts news of interest to the Jirish. And look for excerpts and links to articles posted elsewhere too. Coming up: the Village Voice article that went viral, on Jewish fans of Celtic music….

Meanwhile, I’m sure I’ve omitted people I should have mentioned and I apologize.

Are you Jirish?  Who do you know that’s Jirish? Tell me!

*on the assumption that if you’re Jewish in New York you’re of Ashkenazi descent.  If you’re lucky enough to be Sephardic, you can eat corn and beans and rice.  Don’t look so smug about it.  Don’t provoke a hungry person.

Gwen Orel
About the Author

The only New York journalist who writes for both the Forward and Irish Music Magazine.


  1. Avatar
    Anonymous / April 23, 2011 at 3:18 am

    Jirish? Yup, that’s me. My wife is Irish, I’m a Jew in remission. I guess that makes our son congenitally and incurably Jirish. — Rich

  2. Avatar
    Anonymous / April 23, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    I’m not Jirish, but am Spirish… half Spanish/Mexican… so are two friends in and around the Irish music scene!

  3. Avatar
    Anonymous / April 23, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    My Jewish father was Henry Cohn. He adopted me (albeit non officially) and got me legally into the USA at a time when I was working for all kinds of Irish millionaires who could easily have helped. He thought it a travesty that I should have to live beneath the radar, and in fear of deportation.. He got me a H2 then H1 visa.
    I worked for him for a time in one of his Florida hotels. He passed away some years ago but his wife and kids are stiil good friends of mine. So perhaps I’m Irewish. You can’t after all take the Ire out of an Irishman.
    Gabriel D

  4. Avatar
    Bill / July 5, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Gwen – I am 100% Jirish! Great term! I’ve loved all things Irish for as long as I can remember. I dressed up as a leprechaun on Purim when I was about 12, and an older, orthodox gentleman in the congregation shouted at me: “Sit down you damned Irish Jew!!!” as I was twirling the gragger. I still don’t know what his problem was. ;o)

  5. Avatar
    Deborah Schull / November 11, 2011 at 3:43 am

    Gwen, I just happened upon your website this evening! How fun. I am definitely Jirish. I’m 100% Jewish and lived in Ireland for 3 years as a teenager. I play Irish fiddle now and am seriously developing an app about Ireland (top secret)! I’ve just moved to NYC from Washington, DC, and look forward to crossing paths with you. Myron B told me about you more than a year ago; I’ve had a longstanding desire to write an article about the Irish and the Jews–and it may happen yet! Cheers.

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