I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Wandering in the Desert

Wandering in the Desert

Ruth Gilligan
Israelites in Erin: Exodus, Revolution, and the Irish Revival, by Abby Bender, Syracuse University Press, 288 pp, $39.95, ISBN: 978-0815633990 Over half a decade ago, I decided to write a novel about the Jewish community in Ireland. What began as mere curiosity soon morphed into a rather sizeable research project, as I realised just how much unknown (to me at least) material there was about this group and its fascinating history. I confess that the idea for the project was initially sparked by my drawing some rather simplistic parallels between the Irish and the Jews – both boasted huge diasporas spread out across the globe; both had been a persecuted minority at various points in history; both were known for their stereotypically strident mothers! However, I soon discovered that actually the Irish have a pretty complex track record of drawing such parallels, particularly in the case of the Exodus narrative, which has long served as a metaphor for the Irish fight for independence. Of course any inquiry into Jews in Ireland immediately leads to Joyce, given that Ulysses offers the most significant (and, to a novelist daring to undertake a similar topic, intimidating) example of Irish-Jewish overlap. Both in the novel and elsewhere, Joyce reveals himself alert to the Exodus story and its specific resonance within an Irish context. One of the many ways he does this is by reiterating the once popular parallel between the parliamentary leader Charles Stewart Parnell and the leader of the Israelites: “like any other Moses,” Joyce says, Parnell “led a turbulent and unstable people from the house of shame to the verge of the Promised Land.” However, critics have been surprisingly dismissive of the theme of Exodus in Joyce’s work, with Seamus Deane deeming it merely a “system of ordering”, and Emer Nolan insisting that any “allegorical correspondences” are purely for “mock-heroic parody … a kind of joke”. So the nuances thereof have remained largely unexplored. Regarding analogies more generally, Elizabeth Butler Cullingford’s Ireland’s Others: Ethnicity and Gender in Irish Literature and Popular Culture (2002), offered a significant exploration into the longstanding process of drawing parallels between Ireland and other minority groups, as well as the ethical issues this process presents. Ultimately, Cullingford concludes that analogies are in fact “slippery things”, since “one man’s sympathetic identification is another woman’s cannibalistic appropriation, and the construction of aesthetic parallels that elide historical differences or asymmetries of power may appear racist…

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