There are few joyous Jewish holidays between Shavuot and Jerusalem Day in June, and the start of the High Holidays in September, unless you also count The Tony Awards and Bloomsday.

Neil Patrick Harris sang on national television last Sunday (see video here) that the Tony’s and Broadway shows are not just for Jews (or suburbanites and intellectuals who are actually Jews) anymore. He realizes that the Tony’s are a modern Jewish ritual.

Leopold Bloom as drawn by James Joyce

And for the past thirty years, Bloomsday, which falls on June 16, has grown in popularity. Jews have reclaimed the character of Leopold Bloom as their hero. Leo Bloom is a character in “Ulysses,” a novel by James Joyce. “Ulysses” is a retelling of the Greek epic, “The Odyssey,” as if it took place in Dublin on Thursday, June 16, 1904, except that Odysseus of an uncircumcised Jewish outsider in Ireland, a man who works in advertising and who has converted to Catholicism in order to marry his wife Molly. (The character of Bloom was based on Joyce’s friendship with Aron Ettore Schmitz).

James Joyce

In Dublin, New York City, and various cities around the Earth, fans of Joyce and Bloom dress like characters from the epic, and relive adventures from the books episodes. They eat what Leopold ate. They read the sexually charged paragraphs. They recites lines and phrases in a Dublin accent. They wish for a blazing extra-marital affair with Molly. They ponder the life of Stephen Dedalus. Maybe they try to rescue someone from a local brothel. They wonder if there are relationships between the Irish nationalism i nthe novel and British occupation of Ireland, and Jewish Zionism and the British Mandate in Palestine. Perhaps they think of Leopold’s late infant son Rudy, named for Leopold’s father Rudolph, a Hungarian Jew, when they hear the morning kaddish in shul.

Joyce and Jewish Identity

But mainly they wonder how an agnostic Leopold, raised Christian, baptized thrice, and a convert to Catholicism, is still seen as an outsider and Jewish in turn of the century Ireland.


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