My family always celebrates St. Patrick’s Day.
It’s not that our Jewish family has any Irish ancestry. But my father always talked about the “Irish luck” that allowed him to escape Nazi Germany and arrive in the United States on March 17, 1939.
After he’d made the decision to leave–in 1936, when he lost his job after his boss was ordered to dismiss all Jewish employees–it took years and many obstacles before he could obtain a visa to America. By that time, February, 1939, there were no more boats leaving Germany. He packed a few belongings in a brown steamer trunk, said goodbye to his parents and brother, and took a train to Holland.
In early March, he boarded a small ship bound for America. Because of rough seas, the voyage lasted fourteen days and the ship arrived in New York on March 17, 1939 – St. Patrick’s Day.
A band playing Irish music greeted the ship at the dock, and my dad’s uncle, who had emigrated previously, took my father to Fifth Avenue so they could see the spectacular parade.
My father had never heard of St. Patrick’s Day and was so astonished by the joyous atmosphere of his arrival that he never forgot it. “I thought this is a wonderful country, to welcome the immigrants with a band and a parade!” he always said.
My dad had a party every year on March 17, which usually included corned beef sandwiches (on Jewish rye), root beer and beer.
And we’d go downtown in Chicago to see the parade and the river dyed green (yes, really).
Since my dad’s no longer with us, my St. Pat’s Day traditions are not so grand. I simply honor the day by wearing green and eating green food.
It could be a gloriously green kale salad, which Cathy introduced me to….
To make kale salad, just wash the kale, cut out the tough stems and shred or finely chop the kale. Make a salad dressing (one I like has oil, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and a little soy and honey) and let the kale sit in the dressing for an hour or more. Add some other good things — dried cranberries, orange or apple slices, sesame seeds, hazelnuts– whatever you like.
Or green soup. I’ve already got my parsley soup ready for St. Patrick’s Day, a nice bright green concoction– and it was easier to make than ever, thanks to my new immersion blender — and many thanks to Cathy for that! (The recipe for the parsley soup is here — I recommend making double the quantity.)
I love the way my father saw St. Pat’s Day as a kind of immigrants’ day. In my own small way–even if it’s just by eating green food– I want to honor the joy and and celebration my dad felt remembering his welcome to America. For me, that’s what the day is all about.