Irish Jewish Identities of The Dublin Magazine

Woodblock print by Harry Kernoff from Leslie Daiken’s 1936 anthology Goodbye, Twilight: Songs of the Irish Struggle.

Throughout its many years of existence, The Dublin Magazine was host to hundreds upon hundreds of diverse contributors, spanning nationalities and identities. In Seumas O’Sullivan’s TDM obituary, Irish Jewish writer A. J. Leventhal writes of the magazine as possessing ‘no narrow nationalism’ (Vol. 33 No. 2). O’Sullivan’s publication of almost every significant and insignificant Irish writer of the time (as well as foreign contributors), made room for Irish identities of all kinds. One of these identities belonged to the Irish Jewish community of the early 20th century. This refusal to accept a circumscribed criteria of Irishness goes hand in hand with the large amount of space TDM made for Irish Jewish writers and artists.

The Jewish community in Ireland has always been small. In 1946 it was almost 4,000 people, probably its largest Irish population to date. They were vibrant in the arts and literature scenes, with almost all of its writers and artists published in TDM at some point or another. Of course, TDM published many non-Irish Jewish people such as Oscar Levy, Lazarus Aaronson and Louis Golding, but its Irish Jewish contributors were abundant. They were Hannah Berman, Leslie Yodaiken (later known as Leslie Daiken), David Marcus, A. J. Leventhal, Estella Solomons and Harry Kernoff. Each of them had a unique relationship to Ireland and Judaism respectively and the religion featured thematically in their magazine contributions at different levels. Their individual interactions with the magazine are unique and make for a rich impression of the Irish Jewish community in the first half of the 1900s.

An influx of Lithuanian Jews began to arrive in Ireland in the 1880s. Although this was a time when a substantial amount of native Irish people were emigrating abroad, Lithuanian Jews in what was then Imperial Russia faced economic hardships and antisemitism in the form of pogroms triggered by the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. Their emigration to Ireland was part of attempts to go as far west as was possible in sight of a better future. This generation of immigrant’s children and grandchildren make up a good portion of the Irish Jewish contributors.

The Contributors

Hannah Berman was born in Lithuania in 1885 and was brought to Ireland with her family around ten years later, where her siblings were both born. She grew up in Dublin’s Little Jerusalem area around the South Circular Road, where most of Dublin’s Jewish community resided at the time. She worked as a journalist in Dublin before publishing her first novel Melutovna in 1914, when she left for London to pursue a career as a writer. That Berman was born in Lithuania and left as a child had a great influence on her work. Most of her contributions to The Dublin Magazine are highly influenced by this simultaneously personal and cultural memory of Eastern Europe. Berman is only published in the first series of TDM, presumably losing ties to the Irish writing scene after having moved to England. She contributed four short stories to the magazine, one of which was a translation from the Yiddish of a writer named J. Rudkovski. Each of her own original stories relate to the Jewish experience of the late 19th century in Eastern Europe, before emigration to the West. In ‘The Charity Box’ (Vol. 1 No. 1), she tells the story of a desperately poor and hungry Litvak man on a fatally overcrowded train fleeing a Lithuanian village during wartime. Similarly, her story ‘Bread’ (Vol. 1 No. 11) also recounts the experience of poverty for Jews in Lithuania. Here, the people are once more ‘reduced to the level of a wild beast by days and days of hunger’, and the protagonist is forced to skin a horse in a bid for food money. After the skinning, the man grapples spiritually with what he has done and through a first person narrative of self-flagellation denounces his cleanliness and begs forgiveness from God.

Woodblock print by Harry Kernoff accompanying Hannah Berman’s The Charity Box (Vol. 1 No. 1). The caption in the magazine was a quote from Berman’s piece reading ‘We were no longer horrified by the dead bodies.’

Berman’s writing in TDM is mostly folkloric in nature, despite being original prose. Her deep connection to Judaism and the experiences of her family and ancestors allows her to engage in a sort of revivalism of her forebear’s experience. This is done through English as well as the translation of her native language Yiddish. Berman was engaging with this form of literature at a time when native Irish people were doing the same, both in English, Irish and translations of the latter. In the pages of The Dublin Magazine, you can read the revivalist work of writers such as Ella Young in tandem with Hannah Berman’s – both Irish women creating literature that calls back to the experiences and traditions of their ancestors.

Another Irish Jewish writer from the Litvak community in Dublin was Leslie Daiken. Unlike Berman, Daiken was born in 1912 into Dublin’s tight-knit Little Jerusalem community and had no experience of his native Lithuania when he began to write. As a recent immigrant (Daiken’s parents were born in Imperialist Russia), his writing was still focused on the Jewish community, only here it was the one formed after emigration. Daiken only contributed to the second series of TDM, but he contributed frequently – often poetry and short stories as well as a few book reviews. His writing is frequently an account of Irish Jews in their experience of gentile Dublin as well the Jewish community they come from.

In ‘And the name is?’ (Vol. 15 No. 2), Daiken writes about various named Irish Jewish characters. The beginning sees an old man’s experiences of antisemitism in Limerick (the location of Ireland’s first and only pogrom) and observes the tradition of kosher butchering in Dublin by shochets. The end charts two young men named Itzka and Yankel travelling through Dublin on their way to a secular woodcrafting society event. Itzka removes his yarmulke walking through The Liberties in fear of antisemitic abuse – ‘… it’s a terrible district for scuts and sh’gottzim’, while Yankel reassures him that his family pass by this part of Dublin regularly without any trouble. ‘As the Light Terrible and Holy’ (Vol. 21 No. 1), is a more in depth piece about the traditional religious element of the Jewish community. It is set at Passover, and describes the range of people present in synagogue at the holiday. Once again Itzka functions as the main character, and through his eyes we see the deeply pious orthodox jews in contrast with a poorer man representative of the recent immigrant Jews who oftentimes peddled for a living on arrival to Ireland. Daiken’s writing gives a deeply authentic account of the Lithuanian Jewish community in Dublin, their relationships with themselves as well as with gentiles in Ireland. Not only are his contributions to the magazine of a high level of storytelling, they are also very valuable historical documents of a community in Ireland that has since become somewhat of a memory.

Pastel portrait of A. J. Leventhal by Harry Kernoff. 1928.

Not all Irish Jewish contributors centred Judaism in their work, however. One such writer is David Marcus. Marcus was born to the Cork community of Litvaks in 1924, to Irish-born parents and Lithuanian-born grandparents. He spoke English primarily and had a mixed education of Jewish studies and secular schooling. Marcus lived in the ‘Jewtown’ area of Cork in a community of only a couple of hundred co-religionists. Their community needed to be tight-knit in order to maintain a sense of tradition undiluted by the surrounding Catholicism. Even so, his work as a young man was not very thematically Jewish. In U.C.C., he founded the literary journal Irish Writing and his contribution to The Dublin Magazine in its latest years (‘Barriers’ (Vol. 26 No. 3) is a simple romance poem. In 1954, Marcus came to prominence after the publication of his first novel To Next Year in Jerusalem. His work thereafter this novel became heavily intertwined with his identity as an Irish Jewish person. Perhaps, had the magazine continued after 1958, it would have lived on to see more contributions from Marcus relating to Judaism.

Yet another Irish Jewish writer that did not contribute anything on a Jewish theme to the magazine was A. J. ‘Con’ Leventhal. Leventhal was born Abraham Jacob Leventhal in the year 1896 in Little Jerusalem. Growing up with both a Jewish and secular education, he became involved with Zionism as a young man and spent time in Palestine during the late 1910s. Leventhal’s first interaction with The Dublin Magazine was for its first issue, for which he sent O’Sullivan a glowing review of Ulysses. Unfortunately, after initially accepting his book review, O’Sullivan was forced to reject Leventhal’s piece due to the Dollard Printing House’s threats to strike. They believed that a positive review of such a scandalous and taboo book would be bad for their business, and so it was never printed. It is fitting that his initial submission to The Dublin Magazine was the review of a book with undoubtedly the most famous fictional Irish Jew at the helm of its story. Leventhal tended to shy away from discussing Judaism in his writing, although he did contribute an article to The Bell entitled ‘What it Means to Be a Jew’ (Vol. 10 No. 6). All of his contributions to TDM were featured in the second series and were mostly made up of book reviews and an art column featuring discussion of contemporary art.

Portrait by Estella Solomons of nationalist Joseph Campbell in TDM (Vol. 1 No. 7) (June 1924). 1919.

It is not entirely clear how O’Sullivan came to publishing so many Irish Jewish writers and artists in his magazine. There were an undeniably large number of Irish Jews in the creative and literary circles of the time, so that is a likely reason, however O’Sullivan’s own personal connections may have weighed in. O’Sullivan and Estella Solomons were lifelong partners and eventually married after the death of her parents. She was from an old Anglo-Jewish family that had been in Ireland for many years, and they did not approve of her marrying a gentile. Solomons’ family arrived in the 1820s from England and so she was not very connected to the immigrant community of Lithuanian Jews chronicled in the magazine by Daiken. She attended the English speaking rather than Yiddish synagogue and was significantly more interested in nationalism than the average Litvaks in Ireland. A painter and printmaker born in 1882, Solomons’ contributions to the magazine carry with them a sense of great affection to Ireland. During the revolutionary years, she was an active member of Cumann na mBan and regularly smuggled fugitive nationalists into her studio on Pearse Street. This made for many occasions with which to paint the young men. Solomons’ contributions to the magazine are made up mostly of Irish urban landscapes and portraits of writers often involved in politics, such as her portrait of Joseph Campbell (Vol. 1 No. 7). Additionally to her artistic contributions, Solomons contributed financially to the magazine’s running and often sourced advertisements for it, without which it would not have remained afloat.

Harry Kernoff, too, was a Jewish artist with various forms of contribution to TDM. Born in London in 1900, his mother was a Spanish Sephardic Jew and his father was from Ukraine, having emigrated to England rather than Ireland from Eastern Europe. Kernoff was quite old coming to Ireland in his teens, but spent the rest of his life in his adopted Dublin painting its scenes and its people. Kernoff’s ties to Ireland were voluntary and enthusiastic leaving him to be known as an Irish Jewish painter who depicted both gentile and Jewish Dublin. His contributions to The Dublin Magazine came in the form of woodblock prints and a single book review about Courbet and Naturalism. A notable woodblock print is an accompanying illustration to Berman’s ‘The Charity Box’ depicting the Lithuanian villagers packed into the train carriage.

In Conclusion

The addition of so many Irish Jewish writers and artists to The Dublin Magazine is more than just an appreciation and showcase of their talents. It is an interpretation of Irishness that was far more flexible than common narratives of Irish identity at the birth of the Irish Free State. Post partition, nationalist ideology in journals such as D. P. Moran’s The Leader espoused anti-protestant and xenophobic rhetoric under the guise of the ‘Irish Irelander’ standpoint claiming to combat anti-Catholic discrimination. TDM published two particularly harsh criticisms of Irish Irelander Daniel Corkery’s writing by P. S. O’Hegarty (Vol. 6 No. 1) and Seán Ó Faoláin (Vol. 11 No. 2) in 1931 and 1936 respectively. Both of hese pieces branded Corkery’s views as dangerous with the latter describing it as comparable to the dogma of Nazi Germany. At a time when popular narrative was claiming that to be Irish was to be Catholic, The Dublin Magazine exhibited a broad range of Irishness in its publication of Irish Jewish writers and artists. Seumas O’Sullivan (himself a Protestant) brought together a variety of Irish Jewish identities -ranging from the recently emigrated Litvak to nationalistic Anglo-Irish Jews – in a magazine centred around the arts scene of Ireland to further challenge notions of identity, religion and Irishness.

Works Consulted

Maurice J. Casey. “‘Too revolutionary for capitalist society?’ A 1930 Soviet Profile of an Irish Artist.” Maurice J. Casey blog. 2018.

Donal Fallon. “From ‘Little Jerusalem’ to the University of Ghana: The Life and Work of Leslie Daiken.” Come Here to Me! 2016.

Catherine Hezser. “‘Are You Protestant Jews or Roman Catholic Jews?’ Literary Representations of Being Jewish in Ireland.” Modern Judaism 25, no. 2 (2005).

A. J. Leventhal “What it Means to Be a Jew.” The Bell, June 1945.

Eoin O’Brien. “‘From the Waters of Sion to Liffeyside.’ The Jewish Contribution: Medical and Cultural.

Eoin O’Brien. “A. J. Leventhal, 1896-1979: Dublin Scholar, Wit and Man of Letters.” The Con Leventhal Scholarship Committe, 1984.

Cormac Ó Gráda. “Dublin Jewish demography a century ago.” – Economic & Social Review, Vol. 37, No. 2, Summer/Autumn, 2006.

Cormac Ó Gráda. “Lost in Little Jerusalem: Leopold Bloom and Irish Jewry.” Journal of Modern Literature 27, no. 4 (2004).

Cormac Ó Gráda. “Settling In: Dublin’s Jewish Immigrants of a Century Ago.” Field Day Review 1 (2005).

Retrospect: the Works of Seumas O’Sullivan 1879-1958 & Estella F. Solomons 1882-1968” , ed. Liam Miller (Dublin): Dolmen Editions, 1973.

Frank Shovlin, The Irish Literary Periodical 1923-58 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

Natalie Wynn. “Jews, Antisemitsm and Irish Politics: A Tale of Two Narratives.” University of Potsdam Press.

Natalie Wynn. “‘Remember, Reflect, Reimagine.’: Jews and Irish nationalism through the lens of the 1916 centenary commemorations.” Kultura Popularna no. 1(51), SWPS Uniwersytet Humanistycznospołeczny. 2017.

Image of Leventhal portrait courtesy of artnet.

All other images courtesy of the Board of Trinity College, Dublin.

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