Bintel Blog

Why Do Jews Love Irish Music?

By Daniel Treiman

  • Print
  • Share Share

Why do Jews love Irish music? Actually, I didn’t know they did, until Gwen Orel told me so.

Writing in The Village Voice, Orel presents some anecdotal evidence that Jews are particularly well-represented in New York’s Irish music scene — which, of course, begs the question: “What makes so many Jewish-Americans with no Celtic heritage pour sweat equity into presenting, producing, writing about, and traversing long distances to enjoy Celtic music?”

But, as Orel learns, it’s a question easier asked than answered.

Rabbinical student Tom Gardner says that Celtic music “felt familiar. I’m not sure what it is, but it speaks somehow to our souls.”

“There’s a sorrow that unites both of those peoples,” Irish singer Susan McKeown says. “The Irish have been put down and moved on for hundreds of years, and the Jews have been moved on since time began. And nobody could put it into words in a miserable song that could touch your heart and be more beautiful than the Jews or the Irish … there’s a lot of hope.”

“I think part of it is longing,” says Riverdance composer Bill Whelan. “There’s a longing in the slow airs that’s expressed in the music. The first time I came to New York to work in 1992, I was brought out here by Leon Uris. He thought the Irish and the Jews had a load of shared cultural and emotional connection.”

But, Orel finds, not everyone buys the notion of some sort of deep spiritual affinity:

“There is no overlap between the styles—no emotional overlap,” contends klezmer pioneer Andy Statman. “It’s really just great music. Music can transcend culture.” Piper Bill Ochs, who teaches at the Irish Arts Center, agrees: He’s Jewish, and finds the idea of a mystical connection “kind of a romantic blarney.” His students come from Japan, China, Singapore, Russia, Latvia, Germany, and France. “It’s just great music,” he insists.

Paul Sat. May 10, 2008

If you read Greek and Hebrew,it will give you the answer(God Breathed)!Up lebona mizmor yassam olam.

Anthony Whelan Mon. Aug 18, 2008

I studied music a long time ago, and I was told that the Irish and Jews both loved the aeolian and myxolidian modes, or scales, which give their respective music particular qualities or atmosphere. I don't know if this is true, but I have written in these modes, both Irish and Jewish tunes. I wrote music to the great 'Hear Oh Israel, the Lord thy God is One'. Both Jews and Irish have been subjugated, and nearly annihilated by other cultures, yet neither nation gave up hope. The Jews had their Bible, particularly the psalms, and the Irish their music, and poetry. I am Irish, but I have a great respect for all things Jewish. The Irish have never picked on the Jews. The first lord mayor of Dublin when it gained independence after one thousand years of British occupation, was a Jew. If anyone is interested in my humble tunes, just email me for them.

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.