A Waterford Vase: Every Bar Mitzvah Boy's Dream

The American Jewish Historical Society recently acquired a Waterford vase, marked with a Briscoe seal in honor of Dublin's famed Jewish mayor.

What, one might wonder, would prompt a reception of corned beef and matzo in the midst of Passover at AJHS? The presentation of a Waterford vase, marked with a Briscoe seal, in honor of Dublin’s famed Jewish mayor, Robert Briscoe. Briscoe was a leader of Irish independence from 1919-1921 and served two terms as Lord Mayor of Dublin; the first term was 1956-1957, and he was then elected to a second term from 1961-1962. He traveled to New York and the Eastern seaboard drumming up support for Ireland, and also became an informal advisor to Ze’ev Jabotinsky, leader of the Irgun in Palestine.

Briscoe’s father, Abraham, had come to Ireland in the late 19th century, part of a stream of 3000 Lithuanian Jews to settle in Ireland. Many in this small Jewish community worked first as peddlers, and then acquired small stores. Abraham opened up a furniture business. Upon arriving in Ireland with his peddler’s pack, he probably could not have envisioned the stunning political career of his son, and the way it would one day be honored with the creation of a set of five Waterford vases, marked with a special Briscoe seal.

Today, we know that one vase was given to President Dwight Eisenhower (which you can see on the book cover), and a second vase was given to John Collins, the Mayor of Boston, in 1962. The whereabouts of two more are unknown, but one of them is now at AJHS. When Robert Fields was thirteen, his grandparents, Herman and Helena Fiedelbaum brought him to Europe as a Bar Mitzvah gift. The Fiedelbaums owned hotels, and had met Robert Briscoe through their work on behalf of Zionism, and always offered him lodging when in the United States. So when they came to Ireland, Briscoe took them to lunch and presented the Bar Mitzvah boy, Robert Fields, with the Waterford vase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While he wasn’t exactly overjoyed to receive a vase for his Bar Mitzvah, he and his wife Robyn proudly displayed the vase on a mantel in their home. But they decided that the vase belonged somewhere for safekeeping, where the story could be preserved and shared with a broader audience. 

"I have had the vase in my possession from the summer of 1967 until April 22, 2019 (just last week) when I donated it to the American Jewish Historical Society," said Robert. "My wife, Robyn, and I are very appreciative of the AJHS’s appreciation of the historical significance of the vase and of its desire to acquire it for its collection of valuable Jewish artifacts."

AJHS is so proud to acquire this vase, and to honor this story, which shows the fascinating twists and turns of Jewish migration, and Jewish integration into secular politics as well as maintenance of Jewish ties.

 

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