Spotlight: Baila Ehrlich

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Erlich’s Kosher butcher shop opened its doors in 1952, originally one of 23 kosher butchers in the area, it was the last to close in the South Circular Road area in 2001. Trained by her father, Baila took over the family business in the 1970’s and became an institution at number 35 Clanbrassil Street, Dublin 8 for over 4 decades.

Following excerpt taken from Jewish Ireland-A Social History by Ray Rivlin

Baila Ehrlich, a small woman became an institution. Despite her large ledgers, her apron pockets were always stuffed with scraps of paper and fragments of cornflake boxes, all scribbled reminders of orders taken, deliveries to be made, orders to be purchased, debts outstanding and tasks to be tackled. Her good works were legendary. Characters from within the community, many in poor circumstances, would congregate at the Bunch of Grapes, a pub now demolished, at the corner of Donovan’s Lane. After one drink they would cross the road to Baila’s shop for a ‘square meal’, sometimes cooked on the premises, sometimes bought, ready to serve, from her home in Terenure. Augmenting the small stipend paid to her by the Board of Guardians for distribution to alleviate hardship, she dispensed food to the needy, sweets and other treats to the Jewish Home of Ireland, cheques to charitable institutions of all faiths and perishable goods, unlikely to be sold, to selected convents. One poor soul from outside the community, who periodically pushed her baby in a baby carriage all the way from Ballyfermot, was never refused the free meat she came to collect. Her home, an extension of the shop, attracted young and old, stranger and friend, the joyful and the bereaved. It was open to anyone who needed a meal, a chat, an order they couldn’t collect from the shop, a donation, a favour or an urgently needed grocery item.


Nothing in the shop was ever priced. Customers she deemed able to afford it paid top price for everything; the struggling received a discount; the poor often paid nothing. Acerbic of tongue and brusque of manner, Baila could be extremely off-hand to customers. Asked to price an item coming in for Passover, a standard reply was ‘I don’t know. If you want it, take it, if not, don’t!’ A comment about the high price of meat, brought the response, ‘Would you rather give it to the doctor?’ and one customer who made a mild protest at the lengthy delay for service while gossiping proceeded was asked ‘Who sent for you?’. But she sent chicken soup when that same customer was recovering from an operation.

Baila died in 1997. Rabbi Broder, then Chief Rabbi,  described her in a eulogy as ‘a queen in the community’, and Baila certainly had her large court of admirers. But at heart she was more Robin Hood than queen and a fitting rearguard in the long line of hard-working, ingenious, charitable, humourous, strangely naive, heimische (homely) traditional Jews who marked the passage of time in Clanbrassil Street.