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Looking back ... Jewish musuem offers timely window on their world

THEIR names form an illustrious list of some of the most distinguished members of Irish society.

There's Dr Bethel Solomons, Master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin from 1926 to 1933, as well as an international rugby player for Ireland and supporter of the 1916 Rising; and Robert Briscoe, former Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1956 and 1961 and his son Ben Briscoe, former Dublin Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1988.

Then there's former Labour Minister Mervyn Taylor; artist Harry Kernoff; Samuel Crivon SC; Mr Justice Henry Barron; and Fine Gael TD Alan Shatter.

Yesterday, President Mary McAleese visited the Irish-Jewish museum on its 25th anniversary, where personal documents and artefacts tell the story of their lives and their contribution to Irish society.

The president paid tribute to staff for their work in compiling documents, photographs and artefacts relating to the fascinating history of the community. The small museum in Dublin's chic Portobello district also includes an exhibition on perhaps the most famous Irish- Jewish person -- Leopold Bloom -- the fictional protagonist of James Joyce's 'Ulysses'.

The museum also displays intriguing documents and shrapnel from the little-known German bombing of Terenure in 1941, which saw the destruction of houses at Rathdown Park, where many Jewish families lived, along with a direct hit on a synagogue at Greenville Hall, described as a "strange coincidence, perhaps" by volunteer curator at the museum, Melanie Brown.


Another touching exhibit at the museum tells the story of the only known Irish victim of the Holocaust -- young Dublin woman, Esther Steinberg, who perished at Auschwitz alongside her infant son Leon.

She became caught up in the horrors of Hitler's purge against the Jewish people after marrying a Belgian man, Chaskel Gluck, in 1937 and moving to his home country. Two years later, the young couple fled to Paris where Esther gave birth to her son and in 1942 the family was transported to Auschwitz where they met their deaths.

A letter returned to Esther's father in Dublin stamped with the stark words "Gone away" is one of the museum's most haunting exhibits.

Ms Brown revealed that the first Jewish synagogue was established in Dublin in 1660, and the Irish-Jewish population peaked at 5,000 after 1945.

Portobello -- the traditional stronghold of the Jewish people in Dublin -- saw an enormous depletion in its numbers during the 1950s, when many Irish Jews either moved to Britain or the States, or merely set up a more comfortable home in the Dublin suburbs. The Irish-Jewish population has decreased steadily ever since and now stands at less than 2,000, with most people living in Dublin, Cork or Limerick.

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"We have a few South African families who have moved over recently and who have been a great asset to the community and really get involved," Ms Brown said.

The Jewish museum, at 3 Walworth Street, is shortly planning an expansion, taking in three other houses on the street.

"This museum is very precious but we have outgrown it," explained Ms Brown, adding that they need more room for meeting areas and multi-media displays.

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