How the Jews Made America Irish

Sons of Erin and Abraham Have a Long History Together

Blarney’s Version: A leprechaun does his best Michael Flatley impersonation on St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago.
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Blarney’s Version: A leprechaun does his best Michael Flatley impersonation on St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago.

By Robert F. Moss

Published March 16, 2014, issue of March 21, 2014.
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Even with St. Patrick’s Day upon us, it’s hard to say just when and where the first major alliance between the Jews and the Irish was forged in this country, but the Chicago office of Dankmar Adler, architect and engineer, back in 1879, might be a good place to start.

There, Adler decided to hire young, visionary Louis Henry Sullivan, and over the next decade and a half the two men basically rewrote the vocabulary of American architecture. Sullivan, the son of a dancing master from Cork, Ireland was the grand artificer, and Adler, whose father was a German rabbi, was the pragmatic technician who made girdered reality of his partner’s elegant dreams.

The result was nothing less than the modern glass-and-steel skyscraper. Eschewing the ornate, detail-heavy Victorian masonry of the period, they substituted a Promethean steel structure — featuring massive windows and semicircular archways — that was, in Sullivan’s words, “a proud and soaring thing.” The Sullivan-Adler aesthetic, with its emphasis on simplicity and organic form, foreshadowed the “international style” by 30 years.

Sadly, this brilliant duo quarreled and split up in 1895, never to achieve individually what they had accomplished together.

Not all pairings of Irish and Jewish talent were as momentous as Sullivan and Adler’s, but many had their own historic resonance. For a number of years after the resurrection of the Olympics in 1896, New York-area athletes could only gain access to the games through amateur athletic organizations such as the Irish American Athletic Club.

Thanks to Hibernian tolerance, a fleet-footed son of Polish-Jewish immigrants named Abel Kiviat was allowed to compete in the 1912 Olympics, where he captured the silver medal in the 1500 meters and shared in the team gold in the 3000 meter relay.


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