Arts & Culture
Jewish Pride at Shamrockfest
I attended Shamrockfest, a massive Celtic-rock festival at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., this past weekend. During the opening set by Celtic-punk band Charm City Saints, an audience member wearing a NOFX sweatshirt shouted "The Brews!" For a split second, I … Read More
I attended Shamrockfest, a massive Celtic-rock festival at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., this past weekend. During the opening set by Celtic-punk band Charm City Saints, an audience member wearing a NOFX sweatshirt shouted "The Brews!" For a split second, I thought that he knew something I didn’t and that a Celtic-punk band with a few skinhead-looking members might cover the definitive Jewish punk anthem. Then reality set in, and I reminded myself that I shouldn’t expect any Jewish songs. The next band to play on the Guinness Stage was Black 47, the quintessential New York City Celtic-rock band. I’d seen them live twice before, and when it came time for their last song, I was sure that they would play the crowd-pleaser "Funky Ceili." Then the beautiful reality came: Frontman Larry Kirwan introduced "Izzy’s Irish Rose" from Black 47’s brand-new album, Bankers & Gangsters. The song featured two rousing "Hava Nagila" interludes, and Kirwan sang in Hebrew for the second one. I was worn out from jig-moshing earlier in Black 47’s set, but my friend David rushed into the pit for the only time that day. He was overcome with Jewish pride and felt he just had to mosh. This hilarious ditty tells the love story of Izzy, a "cantor in the synagogue" who "kept the laws of Israel with the greatest of resolve." Izzy’s mother wanted him to marry a Jewish woman named Esther Katz, but one night when he and "Rabbi Hershowitz" were out drinking, Izzy fell in love with an Irish redhead named Rosemary Eileen Statia Ann McKnowles:
Her crowning jewels were her smolderin’ opalescent eyes Which she cast up at our hero, sippin’ his watery wine Sent the power of Abraham coursin’ down his spine The rabbi nodded, "Oh, I understand, me son The Lord provideth in many ways, and yours has just begun" So he ordered up two pints of Ireland’s finest beer With a couple of shots to wash ‘em down, he said, "I do declare I hear the bells of heaven a’ringin’ in me head That goy would be a joy in any son of Israel’s bed" Izzy’s sacred mother was beside herself with grief ‘Til the rabbi took her to the pub down on Delancey Street Her eyes lit up when she heard the till go clang-a-lang "Oy vey, that Irish shiksa could use an honest man!" So if you’re down on Orchard Street and you see some red-haired men They’re all the seed of Izzy, sons of Israel to the end But each and every one of them will drink you out of the house and home They’re sprung from the womb of Rosie Eileen Statia Ann McKnowles
It isn’t all that shocking that a New York band would make a link between the Irish and the Jews. I’ve been exploring this link for years, and as I blogged about in January, musicians like Mick Moloney and Saints & Tzadiks have made a strong case that there is a connection. As I wrote then, "Thematically, songs in both traditions display cultural pride and refer to the longing for a homeland by a people living in diaspora." Musically, Jewish and Irish folk music are often exuberant and both give the fiddle an iconic status. Sláinte and l’chaim!