JP bar mitzvah boy traces his Irish roots

June 11, 2010
By

Leah Madsen

Web Exclusive

It isn’t unusual for Boston residents to trace their roots back to Ireland. But if they’re also Jewish, Irish heritage is unusual indeed.

That’s one of the reasons why JP resident Nathan Jewett-Wolf, as part of preparing for his bar mitzvah coming up on June 5, decided to learn about his grandfather’s life in Ireland. It turns out Nate’s great-great-grandfather was the chief rabbi of Belfast.

Nate, who is 13, learned that life for Jews in Ireland was much better overall compared to how Jews were treated as a minority in other European countries.

His grandfather said he believes that the Catholics and the Protestants were so busy fighting each other that they didn’t have time to fight with the Jews. He tells a story about a boy who asked him, “Are ya Catholic or are ya Protestant?”

“I’m Jewish,” his grandfather replied.

The reponse was, “Yah, but are ya a Catholic Jew or are ya a Protestant Jew?”

Despite fewer than 8,000 Jews at the peak population in Ireland and Northern Ireland combined, Belfast is the only non-Eastern European or Middle Eastern city where an Israeli president was born: Chaim Herzog, president from 1983 to 1993.

Nate will be celebrating his bar mitzvah on June 5 at the Workmen’s Circle Jewish Cultural School. Born in Jamaica Plain, he is currently a student at Boston Latin School and attended the Rafael Hernández two-way bilingual school from K1 through sixth grade.

The writer is program and membership organizer of the Boston Workmen’s Circle.