Jewish leaders paid tribute to the Queen on the eve of her Jubilee celebrations this weekend in Great Britain. The Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks heralded her “friendship across faiths” as he opened a debate on the role and contribution of faith communities in Britain and the Commonwealth in London’s House of Lords on Tuesday.
“It is not easy for any society to undergo change, least of all when that change touches on such fundamental markers of identity as religion, ethnicity and culture. It’s even harder in a country where there is an established church to make other faiths feel welcome, valued and at home. But that is precisely what Her Majesty has done,” he said, speaking of Britain’s transition into becoming a multi-cultural society during the Queen’s six-decade reign.
Speaking in his role a Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, he commended “Her Majesty’s kindness to us and to others” on behalf of the Jewish communities of Britain and the Commonwealth, as he joked “this is something of a miracle in itself since Jews almost never agree on anything”.
He light-heartedly recalled a visit to the US in February, where in several synagogues his presence was greeted with a rendition of the British national anthem God Save the Queen, joking that it may have been the first time it had been heard in the country since (US independence from British rule in) 1776.
Lord Sacks also introduced a special “prayer of thanksgiving” for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to take the place of the customary Prayer for the Royal Family recited in British synagogues as part of the Shabbat service, this weekend.
The prayer pays tribute to Great Britain as a “tolerant” and “stable” country which enjoys “good relations between Christians and Jews, and between members of all faiths”:
“In this year of joyful remembrance and celebration, we express our deepest sentiments of loyalty, esteem and gratitude. We pray for the peace and prosperity of Britain, for the well being of the House of Israel and for the redemption of all mankind under the sovereignty of God”, the prayer concludes.
The Chief Rabbi, who is also President of the Council of Christian Jews, recalled the early days of the organisation in the wake of the Holocaust, when the Queen accepted the role of patron of it 1952, her first year on the throne, describing it as the first of a new breed of many interfaith organisations. He honoured her decision to do so in a move which created “friendship across the boundaries between faiths, where otherwise there might have been suspicion and fear”, invoking the Queen’s own words at her first Jubilee engagement of the year in February, where she said that “faith recalls us to the responsibilities we have beyond ourselves”.
Describing the role of the nine major religions in Britain, he said “each faith is a canon, none is diminished by the light of others and together they help banish some of darkness in the human heart”, concluding “I know few places in the world where friendship across faiths is pursued so vigorously as in Britain”.
The Jubilee engagement Lord Sacks referred to in February was an interfaith celebration of the Diamond Jubilee at Lambeth Palace in London, which was attended by the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Vivian Wineman, with other leading members of the Jewish community, including the Chief Rabbi, the President of the Movement for Reform Judaism Rabbi Tony Bayfield, and the Spiritual Head of the Spanish & Portuguese Jews Congregation Rabbi Abraham Levy.
Each faith community leader invited to the official London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked to bring an item of spiritual and cultural importance and the Jewish community gifted a Hebrew Pentateuch from England, known as the Codex Valmadonna. Handwritten in summer 1189, it is the only known Hebrew text from England dated prior to the expulsion of the Jews in 1290, under the reign of King Edward I. Having passed to the continent following the community’s exile from Britain, it was collected and returned to the UK by Belgian-born British businessman Jack Lunzer, who accompanied the group.
Speaking on behalf of the Jewish delegation present, Vivian Wineman said: “We were very privileged to have this opportunity to present our heartfelt good wishes to Her Majesty on her Diamond Jubilee. It was particularly poignant to present her an item of such antiquity which so expressively conveyed both our religious values as the People of the Book, but also the drama and continuity of our history of settlement in this country.”
Other Jewish leaders from around the globe paying their respects to the Queen, included Israeli President Shimon Peres who said she represented “the great spirit of Great Britain, a spirit of respect and freedom recognised all over the world”.
The Jubilee provided “a welcome opportunity to extend, on behalf of the people of Israel and myself, warmest wishes and sincere congratulations for Your Majesty’s well-being, for the happiness of the Royal House and for the continued progress and prosperity of the people of Great Britain”, he continued.
Meanwhile sources close to the Royal Family have claimed that Prince Charles is planning to pay an official state visit to Israel which is likely to take place within the next three years. Although various members of the Royal Family have made private trips to the country since its creation in 1948, the Queen has not been one of them and there has never been an official state visit to date. The British Foreign Office has confirmed, however, that they do not hold a “no royal visit to Israel” policy.
Zionist Federation president Eric Moonman said sources close to Prince Charles have told him a trip is “possible”. “There will be a chance for a senior royal to go to Israel, although it’s unlikely to be the Queen because of her diary and the prominence she gives the Commonwealth. So it falls to Prince Charles, or perhaps even Prince William and Princess Catherine”, he said.
Senior royals to have previously visited Israel include the Duke of Edinburgh in 1994, when his mother Princess Alice of Greece, was re-buried in an official ceremony on the Mount of Olives, honouring her as a Righteous Gentile for the role she played in giving refuge to six Jewish friends in her home in Nazi-occupied Athens in 1943. Prince Charles also travelled to Jerusalem in 1995 to represent the Queen at the late-Israeli President Yitzchak Rabin’s funeral.
by: Shari Ryness