Every Bar Mitzvah Boy’s Dream: A Waterford Vase

April 30, 2019
by Annie Polland

The American Jewish Historical Society acquired a Waterford vase, marked with a Briscoe seal in honor of Dublin’s famed Jewish mayor, in 2019.

Michael Fields, Robyn Fields, and Robert Fields presenting the vase to AJHS

What, one might wonder, would prompt a mid-Passover corned beef and matzo reception at AJHS? That, would be 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 the Irish Republican Army, 1919-1921, and an ardent Zionist. He served two terms as Lord Mayor of Dublin: 1956-1957, and 1961-1962. His father Abraham emigrated to Ireland in the late 19th century as part of a group of approximately 3000 Lithuanian Jews. Many in this small, Irish Lithuanian Jewish community worked first as peddlers, and then acquired small stores–Abraham arrived in Ireland with a peddler’s pack, and later opened a furniture business. Upon his arrival, Abraham probably could not have imagined his son’s stunning political career; a career which would one day be honored with the creation of a set of five Waterford vases, each marked with a special Briscoe seal.

One vase was given to President Dwight Eisenhower; a second to John Collins, the Mayor of Boston, in 1962. And a third is now in our collections; the whereabouts of the remaining two are unknown. So how, did this vase make its way from Dublin, to AJHS?

Robert Fields’ Bar Mitzvah portrait, c. 1966-1967

Enter, Herman and Helena Fiedelbaum. When their grandson, Robert Fields, was thirteen, they took him on a trip to Europe as a Bar Mitzvah present. The Fiedelbaums were hoteliers, and they’d met Robert Briscoe through their Zionist activist work–he was always welcome guest at their home when he was in the United States. When the Fiedelbaums arrived in Ireland with Robert in tow, Briscoe took them to lunch, and presented the Bar Mitzvah boy with his very own Waterford vase.

Helena and Herman Fiedelbaum

While Robert Field 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, 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 have acquired this vase, and to honor this story which so beautifully demonstrates the fascinating twists and turns of Jewish migration, Jewish integration into secular politics, and the maintenance of Jewish ties.