Q: Please tell us about yourself and how you ended up in Ireland.

A: My husband, Rabbi Zalman Shimon Lent, and I first came to Ireland 20 years ago. He is from Manchester, and I am from London. We were recently married and living in New York when the Jewish community here in Dublin asked Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch—the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement—to help them find a suitable youth rabbi. We were both from the United Kingdom, so Ireland is not that far, and I really didn’t want to live somewhere where they didn’t speak English, so we thought we would be a good fit.

Twenty years later, and we’ve become woven into the fabric of Jewish life here. My husband is the rabbi of the main synagogue and the acting chief rabbi of the entire country, and I have the distinction of being the only rebbetzin on the Emerald Isle.

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Q: Can you describe the Jewish community in Ireland?

A: There has never been a large Jewish presence here—perhaps 5,000 souls at its peak. There have been Jews here for hundreds of years, originally Sephardim, followed by German Jews, and finally followed by a wave of Eastern European Jews, mostly from Lithuania.

The descendants of the Lithuanian Jews form the base of the established Jewish community here today. Most of them are older. Many children have either moved out of the country or assimilated to one degree or another. And then, we have all kinds of people who come here for work, particularly in the high-tech industry—Israelis, English, Americans, Europeans.

The primary Jewish community is here in the capital of Dublin, with tiny communities in other cities like Cork, Limerick and Waterford, which once had functioning congregations but have been reduced to just a handful of individuals.

We live right next door to our synagogue, which is located in a middle-class suburban area, where many other Jews live.

Many in Ireland’s close-knit Jewish community are part of the Lents’ congregation.
Many in Ireland’s close-knit Jewish community are part of the Lents’ congregation.

Q: What sort of amenities are there?

A: Many products in Irish supermarkets are sourced from the U.K., so there is a fair amount of kosher available here. There is a shop here in Dublin that carries a full line of kosher cheeses, meats and other products. We have a kosher bakery, which my husband supervises, and that’s pretty much it. There is also a kosher caterer, and my husband supervises a bread factory.

He is the rabbi of the large synagogue, which is similar to the United Synagogues in England. There are, thank G‑d, daily services, with a bigger crowd coming for Shabbat and holidays.

Q: Is there a mikvah?

A: When we originally came, the community funded our position from the proceeds of the sale of a beautiful old synagogue in the center of the city that was no longer needed. There had been a mikvah in that synagogue, built through the efforts of the Chabad shochatim who lived here shortly after the Second World War. When that facility was sold, the community was reluctant to build a new one since there was little demand, and they figured that it would be cheaper for them to pay for the women to fly to England whenever they needed the mikvah. The rabbi at the time insisted that they build a new one near the remaining synagogue, where we serve. A few years ago, it was beautifully renovated. Thank G‑d, there are several women who use it on a regular basis.

With one of her daughters outdoors on the Emerald Isle
With one of her daughters outdoors on the Emerald Isle

Q: You mention Chabad shochatim living in Ireland. Can you tell me more?

A: After the Holocaust, Ireland agreed to supply kosher meat to the Jews living in displaced persons (DP) camps in Europe, but they needed shochatim (trained kosher slaughterers). A group of Chabad families relocated to Ireland to fill that need.

Until this very day, there are a handful of middle-aged Chabad men and women in Brooklyn and elsewhere who were born in Ireland. Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin, who later became the leading halachic authority of the international Chabad community, was here, too. In the Jewish Museum here, you can see a meat can with his kosher supervision. It just so happens that my husband is also called Zalman Shimon, so he is the second Chabad rabbi in Ireland with that name!

Q: How old are your children, and what do they do for schooling?

A: Thank G‑d, we have a range. Our oldest is a girl, who is now in New York in seminary, and our youngest is a boy, who is home with us. We have a small Jewish day school, where I used to teach and my husband still teaches. Our kids go there until age 11 or so, at which point we send them to board with family in England and attend schools with a more robust Judaic program.

Ireland has a rich history, including a Jewish one.
Ireland has a rich history, including a Jewish one.

Q: You knew this was coming at some point: How is the mood there, and how are things affected by Brexit?

A: In case your readers do not know, Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom, but we do share a border with Northern Ireland, which is. There is reason to believe that Brexit will attract people to Ireland, which will then be the only English-speaking country in the European Union. But I guess we will need to wait and see. Brexit may also negatively impact us in terms of being able to get kosher food easily.

We are also carefully watching our own parliamentary elections where the Sinn Féin, which is associated with the IRA and extremely anti-Israel, just won the plurality of the votes. It is doubtful that they will form a government, but we are certainly monitoring it.

Q: Is anti-Semitism an issue in Ireland?

A: Having battled against the U.K. for a long time as an underdog that has resorted to terror to accomplish their goals, many Irish people strongly identify with the Palestinians, and there is a strong anti-Israel sentiment. However, there is very little anti-Semitism here, and I feel more safe here than I do when visiting New York.

Q: Are you in New York often?

A: Living in a relatively small Jewish community, I find it immensely rejuvenating to attend the annual conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Women Emissaries, which meets in Brooklyn on an annual basis. It’s an opportunity to talk to people who share my experiences, my goals and my sources of inspiration.

The younger Lent children are educated in the local Jewish day school.
The younger Lent children are educated in the local Jewish day school.

Q: Do you feel lonely in Ireland?

A: We have a lovely community, and we are surrounded by great friends. Yet it is true that there are not many women here who share my background. When we first came, we had dial-up email and phone calls to England were already quite affordable. Thank G‑d, with WhatsApp and everything else, it’s very easy to keep in touch with our families, which have spread out across the globe. We are also not too far from the U.K., so it’s not difficult or expensive to fly over for the day and visit family.

Q: After 20 years on the job, what inspires you?

A: The people inspire me. When someone drops me a note or tells me—sometimes, years later—how something I did or said impacted them, that makes everything I do more meaningful and rewarding.

For example, a friend of mine was sitting shiva, and I brought over food so she and her extended family could have a Friday-night meal together, which they did. She later told me that they enjoyed the Shabbat meal so much that they decided to do it again regularly.

We see people coming closer, learning more and inspiring others. And what could be more inspiring than that?

The Lent family at the bar mitzvah of one of their sons, together with Mrs. Lent's parents, Drs. Tali and Kate Miriam Loewenthal.
The Lent family at the bar mitzvah of one of their sons, together with Mrs. Lent's parents, Drs. Tali and Kate Miriam Loewenthal.