A story has floated around for centuries suggesting that the Irish are one of the lost tribes of Israel. I love this idea, but that doesn't mean I'm buying it. So many of the supposed commonalities seem to be evidence of shared Indo-European roots, nothing more. Lunar calendar? Counting nights instead of days? The harp as a national/cultural symbol? Red hair? Similar-looking wedding dances? A nomadic past? Eh, not terribly convincing.
Even so, I had reason to remember this theory on Saturday. Bill and I were shopping for a small dinner party we were hosting to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day and I couldn't help but notice how many items we were getting from the Kosher section: corned beef, smoked salmon, saurkraut*. And while Kosher was not an issue, there were also plenty of potatoes. No, I'm still not buying this story; what we have here are two cuisines shaped by harsh northern climates, peasant cooking, and salt as a preservative in the days before refrigeration. And if we really study this, we have to realize we're looking at links between Irish and Ashkenazi cooking. I don't know this for a fact, but I'd assume the lost tribes were Sephardim, at least by default. Show me an Irish flatbread, a fondness for figs and olives, or one dish made with chickpeas, and I'll agree we have culinary reasons to explore this idea.
No, this story doesn't hold water, but it's still fun. And one more thing both cultures share is the belief that one should never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
*Yes, I know saurkraut is not part of the Irish tradition. Bill made mini-Reubens as appetizers. Which sets off a whole other set of fun issues; the Irish loved cabbage but didn't eat saurkraut, Jews keeping Kosher would never have meat and dairy in the same meal let alone the same dish, many Reuben purists would say the meats should be Virginia ham and turkey, not corned beef, and the sandwich includes Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. It's like lunchtime at the U.N. Yet none of our guests questioned including these in a Saint Patrick's Day dinner.