If your parents happen to be Irish and Jewish or, as in my case, you’ve got one parent who is of Irish descent and the other, Jewish … things can get confusing and tricky. It can be full of lots of guilt (Catholic, Jewish and otherwise) and full of people other Jews are not too cozy with, like Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Whether you’re wearing sunblock like you have never seen the light of the Israel sun or you still can’t figure out exactly what to do on St. Patrick’s Day, here are some struggles that only us Irish Jews understand.
1. Last Names That Don’t Fit The Bill
I have grown up my whole life hearing the stereotype that because I am blonde and pale as a white sheet that I cannot be Jewish. Due to some rather nasty stereotypes, people often assume that Jews look a certain way.
So, when you’re Irish and Jewish and own a name that ends in -burg,-stein or, in my case, -shitz yet you also walk around avoiding the sun like you’re some modern-day vampire, people don’t understand that Star of David around your neck.
2. Confusion On St. Patrick’s Day
When you wear that green shirt on St. Patrick’s Day, but people around the office think, “Didn’t he just ask for PTO during Passover?” it can feel like you’re culturally appropriating, even though you’re not.
I get told all the time, “How are you identifying as Irish?” Apparently, my great-grandfather reading his Gaelic bible and speaking Gaelic doesn’t count … at least to them.
3. Non-Jews Always Label You Jewish
The world that’s not Jewish will recognize you as Jewish first and foremost, especially if you have a Jewish last name. Telling them that’s only part of your ancestry typically won’t make much of an impact. And even if you’re a “Mc-something,” that one time you celebrated Hanukkah cancels out the rest of you.
4. Jews Don’t Always Recognize You As Jewish
Are you Jewish enough? Not to every Jew, unfortunately.
While the rest of the world has decided that you’re observing the Sabbath each Friday night at sundown, those who identify as solely Jewish aren’t so quick to let you “join the club.”
Sadly, in many cases, you end up feeling like you don’t belong to anyone, as if belonging needed to be validated or confirmed.
5. Sometimes Jesus Makes An Appearance
Growing up, whenever my mom got mad, one of the first things I heard was “Jesus, Joseph and Mary.”
So, imagine everyone’s surprise when the same phrase comes out of my mouth like second nature. “How is this Jewish girl calling on the three “big ones” of Christianity?”
For me, it’s just a habit acquired from my mother, who grew up with Protestant and Catholic parents.
6. Owning Stock In Sunblock
Your one parent’s family may have stemmed from Israel or elsewhere, but you couldn’t stand in a bright lamp light without earning third-degree burns. You may look like you were born in Ireland or Scotland, and you have more visits to the dermatologist than you care to recall.
If you happen to be what is sometimes referred to as “black Irish,” you’re excluded from such skin drama.
7. The Guilt Is Real
Jews are known for our humor, and the Irish for dark, dark humor.
The amount of guilt you feel thanks to your long family lineage of pain and suffering means you most likely have the bleakest but funniest sense of humor; it may even border on morbid from time to time.
8. The Holidays Conflict
Most likely, you’ve celebrated Passover next to Easter, and Christmas next to Hanukkah, so no one knows how to approach you on a holiday. Is it “Happy Hanukkah” or is it “Merry Christmas?” And to be honest, you might even mix up some of the traditions or stories behind these holidays once in a while.
While there are some challenges that come from being both Irish and Jewish, it’s certainly a unique lineage to be proud of, so celebrate however you see fit!
You may also be interested in 4 Ways To Keep Jewish Traditions Alive In An Interfaith Family