Mazel Tov, Your Majesty

This article appears in the South African Jewish Report: https://www.sajr.co.za/mazeltov-your-majesty/

This weekend, the answer to a question that has baffled many for 70 years was finally revealed with the help of a very famous bear – what does the Queen carry in her ever present Launer handbag?

Her Majesty taking tea with Paddington Bear, complete with marmalade – or is that Ma’amalade? – sandwiches, as the lovable bear thanked the monarch for her extraordinary 70 years of unparalleled service during this past weekend’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, brought two great British icons together.

Though we may know that Her Maj carries around a marmalade sandwich, probably lipstick, and some device that signals courtiers to remove her from a trio of erstwhile family members, not many know about the relationship between the royal family and Jews.

The Queen has faced intense criticism over the years for never visiting Israel. What many don’t realise is that foreign trips are made at the behest of the British Foreign Office wanting to deploy the soft diplomacy and convening power that royalty has.

Respected historian Andrew Roberts once said that the British government had a de facto ban in place on state visits by Queen Elizabeth II to Israel. “The true reason of course, is that the FO [Foreign Office] has a ban on official royal visits to Israel, which is even more powerful for its being unwritten and unacknowledged. As an act of delegitimisation of Israel, this effective boycott is quite as serious as other similar acts, such as the academic boycott, and is the direct fault of the FO Arabists. It’s therefore no coincidence that although the Queen has made more than 250 official overseas visits to 129 different countries during her reign, she has ever been to Israel on an official visit,” Roberts told attendees at a gala dinner in London.

Another little-known fact is that the Queen hired an Orthodox Jewish mohel to circumcise her son, Prince Charles. The tradition of British monarchs hiring mohels goes back centuries.

Even though the Queen has never visited Israel, she has had strong ties with the Jewish community and has met Holocaust survivors on many occasions.

One such meeting was at an event marking 60 years of liberation of Bergen Belsen. The late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks who was present, later recounted, “When the time came for her to leave, she stayed. And stayed. One of her attendants said that he had never known her to linger so long after her scheduled departure. She gave each survivor – it was a large group – her focused, unhurried attention. She stood with each until they had finished telling their personal story.”

Though the Foreign Office forbade royal visits to Israel, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh visited in a private capacity several times for a very honourable reason. His mother, Princess Alice, who is buried in Jerusalem, has been honoured by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Amongst the Nations for saving the lives of a Jewish family during the Holocaust.

But it’s the two future kings and their wives that have really built strong ties with Israel.

Prince Charles, once ridiculed for his propensity to prefer conversing with plants than politicians and famously intellectual, has said that he prefers to regard himself as the defender of faiths rather than of “the faith”, that being the Church of England, which the monarch heads. To this end, he works hard to promote coexistence. The Prince of Wales counted Lord Sacks as a close friend, and lamented his passing.

Prince Charles is patron of World Jewish Relief as well as the Holocaust Memorial Trust, a patronage that once belonged to the Queen. He’s also patron of the Jewish Museum, JLGB for Jewish youth across Great Britain, and numerous others. To coincide with International Holocaust Memorial Day, the Prince commissioned portraits to be painted of several Holocaust survivors accompanied by a documentary on the BBC. The Prince has made several official visits to Israel, including for the funeral of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He gave a notable private donation to The Peres Centre for Peace. His wife, the Duchess of Cornwall, visited Auschwitz, representing the Queen.

Camilla is also known to enjoy a hora or two. During her visit to Jewish Care’s Brenner Centre in East London to celebrate the organisation’s 80th anniversary, the duchess danced with delighted residents.

Prince William was the next king in waiting to visit Israel. The Prince struck all the right notes visiting the Kotel, Yad Vashem, the grave of his late great-grandmother, met young innovators, took a stroll with Eurovision sensation Neta, and even played volleyball on the beach and football with young Israelis and Arabs – all without breaking a princely sweat. The Prince also proved that he could navigate some tough political terrain, shuttling between Israeli and Palestinians leaders without going “there”. Royals are above politics.

On a state visit to Poland, Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge, visited Stutthof Concentration Camp. It would be a life changing experience for the duchess.

Since this seminal meeting, the duchess has dedicated herself to Holocaust education and has taken photographs of survivors for the Imperial War Museum’s exhibition, included them in her book Hold Still, engaged with survivors and young educators via Zoom, met with Windermere child survivors, attended Holocaust Memorial Day events, and more.

Though the history of the royal family, Jews, and Israel may have had its awkward moments in recent history, it looks like the future is extremely positive. Just in time to lift a glass of the best kosher champagne and toast to Her Majesty, the Queen, on the remarkable achievement of 70 years on the throne. Mazeltov, Ma’am, ad 120!

**A fascinator may have been worn for the writing of this article!

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