My friend David, who converted to Judaism, is of Scottish-Irish heritage. He and his wife don’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and the like, but he did use Purim as an opportunity to wear his kilt—featuring the Bailey tartan—and sporran. It’s one of several things in the last few weeks that have made me think: Is there a connection between Purim and St. Patrick’s Day? Is there a Jewish connection to Celtic music and culture? Is it time for a follow-up to my 2006 post "Is There a Jewish Connection to Celtic Punk/Rock?"
Just going by anecdotal evidence, David wasn’t alone on Purim last week. I wore a Scotsman apron depicting a kilt and a sporran, and one of the first people I met upon arriving at a Purim party was a Scottish Jew who told me about the new tartan for Jews. Immediately afterward at the same party, I ran into an Irish Jew wearing a kilt.
I saw Celtic folk-punk band The Tossers in New York last weekend, and I attended Shamrockfest in Washington, D.C., yesterday. At the festival, I saw Flatfoot 56 (the Christian Celtic-punk band that says “shalom” in one song) and The Pubcrawlers (whose accordionist goes by the stage-name The Rabbi—for better or for worse, because of impressions the bleach-blond punk-looking fellow does of rabbis). A friend and I both had the initial impression that Scythian’s fiddle-playing sounded more klezmer than Celtic. During Flogging Molly’s set, some excited teens, an older punker, and I spontaneously joined together for a circle dance that resembled a hora (but definitely not a circle pit). I attended the events with two different Jewish friends, both of whom said “L’chaim!” when I explained that “Sláinte!” roughly translates to “Cheers!”
I discovered a wonderfully pertinent article that appeared in The Village Voice last year, which asks, “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?” One Jewish bagpiper admitted, “I always sort of wished I was Irish.” Another noted that he had been interested in klezmer as another form of lively music, but he now enjoys Celtic music in part because there “aren’t too many Jewish pubs”—it’s harder to embrace klezmer in the same way. A third Jewish bagpiper said that the idea of a connection is "kind of a romantic blarney,” adding, “It's just great music.”
I did what any responsible journalist would do: I interviewed yet another Jewish bagpiper. Jim “Yiddle the Piper” Bond is a bagpiper and band manager for Albemarle Pipes & Drums in Charlottesville, Va. Bond credits his exposure to bagpipes as a police officer, not his Jewish background, for his interest in Celtic music and culture. “I am happy to be a Jewish person in a hobby that is traditionally Christian,” he said. He doesn’t think there is a “connection.”
Perhaps someone just needs to forcefully create a connection. For several years in New York, there has been an annual music/comedy event called St. Purim’s Day. “Two great traditions united in inebriation. For one night, everyone's JewIrish,” boasted one ad. Last year’s St. Purim’s Day featured a performance by The Missing Teens, who played a show with Torah hardcore band Moshiach Oi last month. (The band’s drummer was slamdancing wildly during Moshiach Oi’s set and even picked up Moshiach Oi’s frontman while he was singing.)
The Missing Teens aren’t the missing link needed to make a connection, even a forced one. As with my 2006 post, I’m left thinking that the dots could be connected more than they have been so far. As a Celtic-music–loving rabbinical student told The Village Voice, “There is some connection, some reason why Celtic music has sort of a pull for Jewish people. … I'm not sure what it is, but it speaks somehow to our souls.”