Taking a Deeper Look at Queen Elizabeth II’s Connection to the Jewish Community & Israel
Edited by: Fern Sidman
King Charles III vowed in his first speech as monarch Friday to carry on Queen Elizabeth II’s “lifelong service,” as Britain entered a new age under a new sovereign.
Charles, who spent much of his 73 years preparing for the role of king, addressed a nation grieving the only British monarch most people alive today had ever known.
He spoke of his “profound sorrow” over the death of his mother, calling her an inspiration.
“That promise of lifelong service I renew to all today,” he said in the recorded, 9 1/2-minute address, delivered with a framed photo of the queen on a desk in front of him.
Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended the throne in 1952 at the age of 25 after the death of her father, King George VI, died on Thursday at her Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland. She was 96.
A link to the almost-vanished generation that fought World War II, she was the only monarch most Britons have ever known, and her name defines an age: the modern Elizabethan Era.
The impact of her loss will be huge, and unpredictable, both for the nation and for the monarchy, an institution she helped stabilize and modernize across decades of huge social change and family scandals.
Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Ephraim Mirvis released a video message on Twitter praising the queen, saying she “embodied the most noble values of British society.”
“Throughout her extraordinary reign, she conducted herself with grace, dignity and humility and was a global role model for distinguished leadership and selfless devotion to society. In an ever-changing world, she was a rock of stability and a champion of timeless values,” he added.
He applauded her “warm relationship” with the Jewish community, adding that she had a particular commitment to “interfaith relations and Holocaust memorial.”
“I recall how, on one occasion, she showed me and my wife items of Jewish interest and value in her private collection in Windsor Castle, including a Torah scroll rescued from Czechoslovakia during the Holocaust. Her affection for the Jewish people ran deep, and her respect for our values was palpable,” he said.
It was also reported on Friday that Rabbi Mirvis issued a special prayer for the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
“Every week in synagogue, we have prayed for her welfare, wellbeing and wisdom, and she never let us down,” Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said in a statement.
“Her affection for the Jewish people ran deep, and her respect for our values was palpable. In life she was rightly admired and loved the word over; in death may her memory and legacy be for an everlasting blessing.”
The special prayer that Rabbi Mirvis mentioned is as follows:
“Lord of the Universe, the supreme King of Kings in Heaven and on earth.
We, the members of this holy congregation, together with all the communities of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, deeply mourn the passing of our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth II, who has gone to her eternal rest.
In an age of profound change, she signified order and justice; and in times of tension, she offered generosity of spirit.
A defender of faith with an unfailing sense of duty, she was a steadfast guardian of liberty, a symbol of unity and a champion of justice in all the lands of her dominion.
Clothed in strength and dignity She spoke with wisdom and the law of kindness was on her tongue. She watched over the ways of her nation, and never ate the bread of idleness.
In life, she was a most gracious monarch, who occupied a throne of distinction and honor.
In death, may her legacy inspire the nations of the world to live together in righteousness and in peace.
May You grant Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II perfect rest for evermore under the protective cover of your Divine wings And let us say: Amen.”
Also on Friday, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Senior Rabbi of Masorti Judaism UK, on behalf of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association for Conservative/Masorti rabbis, issued the following statement on the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s longest-reigning monarch:
“We have all learnt with deep sorrow of the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth ll.
Across the nation and throughout the world people of all faiths and no faith are contemplating her life and achievements with profound respect.
Her long reign and unwavering dedication represented stability, service, humanity, and dignity in a rapidly changing and often dangerous world.
With her death we have lost a figurehead at once regal and deeply human, and her passing will touch us all in ways we are only just beginning to feel.
We wish King Charles lll and all the royal family comfort and strength at this sad and humbling time.”
When she turned 90 in 2016, the late UK chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, lionized the queen as someone “whose greatness speaks across ethnic and religious divides… Her contribution to British society is immeasurable and the respect she has shown for all religions has enriched our lives,” as was reported by The Times of Israel.
The United With Israel web site reported that the Conference of European Rabbis released a statement saying, “Together, Chief Rabbi Mirvis and the U.K. and the U.K. Jewish community, the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), its President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt and the chairman of its Standing Committee Dayan Menachem Gelley join in mourning the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Her dignified, devoted leadership will endure as an exemplar model for all. May her family find comfort.”
Michael Goldstein, president of the United Synagogue, the largest synagogue body in Europe, called the Queen “a constant for generations of United Synagogue members, the wider Jewish community and the nation at large.”
“Since 1952, when Her Majesty the Queen ascended to the throne, there have been more than a dozen versions of the Prayer for the Royal Family to reflect changes to the royal family: marriages and, sadly, deaths,” he said, according to the UWI report. “The one constant in the prayer throughout the last 70 years has been ‘Our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth.’ ”
“With a heavy heart, we shall now be issuing a new prayer to our communities as we join together to pray that God blesses our new King and puts a spirit and wisdom into his heart and into the heart,” he added.
“Along with so many others, Jewish citizens of the British Commonwealth will deeply mourn the loss of Her Majesty The Queen—she was a steadfast friend of the Jewish community throughout the many decades of her reign,” said Michael Dickson, the executive director of StandWithUs Israel on Twitter. “May the memory of Queen Elizabeth II be a blessing.”
UnitedWithIsrael.org also reported that the Los Angeles basedSimon Wiesenthal Center expressed sorrow for her passing, pointing out the importance of the Queen taking power after World War II.
“At the end of the most horrific war humankind ever experienced, when people the world over, questioned whether there were brighter days in their future, Princess Elizabeth ascended the throne as Queen of England and helped pave the road to a future of hope and decency,” Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement. “Ever since, the Queen has dedicated her life to the principles of tolerance and human dignity, helping to preserve and build on the legacies of Sir Winston Churchill and the sacrifice of millions who defeated Nazism.”
The center also highlighted the Queen’s “great empathy and respect for the Jewish survivors of the Nazi Holocaust. We remember how moved our namesake Simon Wiesenthal was to receive an Honorary Knighthood from the Queen, shortly before his passing,” as was reported by the UWI web site.
The Jewish Agency for Israel, the European Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee also expressed their condolences.
Also reacting to the news of the death of Queen Elizabeth II was World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder. He said in a statement issued to the media:
“The World Jewish Congress and its more than 100 Jewish communities across the globe join the nation and people of the United Kingdom, and British Jewry in mourning the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, during whose 70-year reign Jewish communities in Great Britain, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and across the Commonwealth have flourished and grown in peace and security. Queen Elizabeth’s was a life of service and faith, in which love of country, Commonwealth, God and family was the supreme value.
She and her family were beloved symbols of resistance to Nazi tyranny, refusing to leave London during the worst times of the Blitz and standing in solidarity under siege with their compatriots. The young Princess Elizabeth was an inspiration and source of comfort to Anne Frank in her hiding place in Amsterdam and in 2015, she and her late husband, Prince Philip, visited the former Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen in northern Germany, where Anne Frank died, to commemorate its liberation by British troops. Queen Elizabeth’s refusal to flinch in the face of evil, but instead to fight it with every formidable fiber of her character, will be an inspiration for generations to come.
“On behalf of Jewish communities across the globe, I extend our deepest condolences to her family, and to the nation and people of the United Kingdom. May her memory and her example be for a blessing.”
Rabbi Mendy Mirocznik, executive vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America stated, “the greatest contribution of Queen Elizabeth II was serving as a model for proper behavior, for modesty and humility among wealth and fame. The world can learn many lessons from her refined behavior, her devotion to her family and her nation, her work ethic and her respect for all people with whom she interacted. As social etiquette collapsed, Queen Elizabeth II served as a beacon for dignity and respect.”
He added that, “The Rabbinical Alliance blesses the memory of Queen Elizabeth II and offers blessings to King Charles III. May Charles III continue serving as a messenger of peace, dignity and traditional values with great success for many years to come.”
On Thursday evening, Tel Aviv honored the passing of Queen Elizabeth II by lighting up City Hall with the Union Jack, as was reported by JNS.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai expressed his condolences for the passing of the Queen on Twitter with a photo of the lit-up city hall.
“Great sorrow fell on Britain with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II, one of the most important and influential leaders the world has ever known,” he tweeted, according to the JNS report. “Tonight, we all share in the sorrow of the United Kingdom.”
Prime Minister Yair Lapid took to Twitter to express condolences upon the death of Queen Elizabeth II, calling her “an extraordinary figure, a unique leader who symbolized devotion and love for her homeland.”
“On behalf of the Government of Israel and the citizens of Israel, I send my condolences to the Royal Family and the citizens of the United Kingdom on the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,” he wrote, as was reported by JNS.
Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called the Queen’s death “the end of an era.”
“On behalf of the people of Israel, I mourn her passing and participate in the heavy mourning of the grieving British people and the British League of Nations, who lost the mother of the nation. She was a historical figure—lived the history, created history, and left a glorious and inspiring legacy,” he wrote on Twitter, extending his condolences to the new King Charles III and the royal family, JNS reported.
Also weighing in on the life and legacy of Queen Elizabeth II was feminist scholar and staunch advocate for Jewish causes, Professor Phyllis Chesler. Speaking to the Jewish Voice on Friday, Dr. Chesler said, “While Britain certainly has a complex and often conflicted history as it pertains to their policies on Jews, Queen Elizabeth stood out for her virtues of complete dedication and devotion to the nation she lovingly served for over 70 years.”
“She was a true paradigm of humility, grace, poise, charm, and style and such she served as a stellar role model for many of her contemporaries, Dr. Chesler continued. “Her life embodied the concept of doing for others, caring for others, and sacrificing her own needs for the people she committed herself to serving. In essence, she encapsulated the Torah precepts of kindness, compassion, patience, and helping others with gladness while dutifully serving G-d. She was a woman who consistently displayed exemplary middos despite the panoply of challenges that she faced as monarch.”
On a different note, the Jewish Press reported that King Charles III, who gained the title Thursday immediately following the passing of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, was circumcised by a medical doctor and rabbi who was also a mohel – a Jew trained in the practice of brit milah, the “covenant of circumcision.”
World Israel News, quoting the Jewish Press reported that then-Princess Elizabeth and her husband Philip Mountbatten hired Rabbi Jacob Snowman to circumcise their first-born son, Charles Philip Arthur George, who was born on November 14, 1948.
In fact, the royal family tradition of hiring a mohel to circumcise the infant boys dates back to Queen Victoria, according to the Jewish Press report. The tradition ended in 1982, however, with the birth of Charles’s first born son, Prince William, as his mother Diana chose not to circumcise her child, according to the World Israel News report.
Rabbi Snowman was not the only member of his family to deal with the royals, the article notes. His brother, Emanuel Snowman, married into a family of jewelers. World Israel News reported that the Wartzski family, produced jewelry for the royals for generations ,including the wedding bands worn by Prince William and his wife Kate and by Charles and his second wife, Camilla.
King Charles III paternal grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, was honored with the title “Righteous Among the Nations” for saving a Jewish family in Greece during the Holocaust. She is buried at the Mount of Olives’ Church of Mary Magdalene. In recent years, the new king of England and his son, the heir to the throne, Prince William, had both traveled to Israel and visited the resting place of Princess Alice.
In 1994, then-Prince Charles was in Israel for a Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial event honoring Princess Alice, and in 2016, he attended former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Peres’s funeral. Neither visit was in official capacity, as was reported by Wotld Israel News quoting the Jewish Press.
Indeed, on December 6, 2019, Charles delivered a speech titled, The special and precious connection between Jewish community and the Crown, at a reception in Buckingham Palace, as was reported by WIN. “The connection between the Crown and our Jewish Community is something special and precious. I say this from a particular and personal perspective because I have grown up being deeply touched by the fact that British synagogues have, for centuries, remembered my Family in your weekly prayers. And as you remember my Family, so we too remember and celebrate you,” he said.
The Times of Israel reported that in May 1952, just several months after the death of her father, King George VI, the queen met with the British chief rabbi and leaders of the British Jewish community. Jewish officials – as well as the Israeli ambassador – were present at her coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953.
TOI also reported that upon marking her platinum jubilee in June, Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, wrote that Queen Elizabeth has “been a rock for the nation” and has cultivated “a long history of involvement with the Jewish community.”
On the same occasion, British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis praised the queen’s “70 glorious years of leadership” and lauded “her humility, her sense of duty, the service that she gives to the nation [and] her selflessness.”
Throughout her decades as the UK’s head of state, Queen Elizabeth cultivated amicable ties with Jewish communal figures as well as cordial relations with Israeli leaders, TOI reported, however while she paid official visits to dozens of countries throughout her tenure, she never visited the State of Israel.
In fact, no member of the royal family ever visited Israel in an official capacity until 2018, when Prince William arrived in the Jewish state on an unprecedented official visit, lifting the unofficial boycott, TOI reported.
Jonathan Arkush, the former head of the Board of Deputies, told The Times of Israel in 2016 that local Jewry had been pushing hard for an official royal visit to Israel since it was “not about time. It’s past time for a royal visit.”
An anonymous British government official told The Telegraph in 2015 that “until there is a settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the royal family can’t really go there,” according to the TOI report. Though many British leaders, including prime ministers, had paid visits to the Jewish state, the official claimed that “in Israel so much politics is caught up in the land itself that it’s best to avoid those complications altogether by not going there.”
TOI also reported that despite the snub, the queen still enjoyed close ties to and loyalty from British Jews, and also met with many visiting Israeli dignitaries during her decades on the throne.
In 1972, British Jews vowed to plant one million trees in Israel to honor the queen’s 25th wedding anniversary to Prince Philip, according to the report.
During a visit to Poland in 1996, Queen Elizabeth was criticized for not scheduling a stop at the Auschwitz concentration camp, as was reported by TOI. In a last-minute addition to her itinerary, she instead visited and laid a wreath at a Jewish memorial at Umschlagplatz in Warsaw, where Jews were rounded up and transported to the Treblinka extermination camp.
It was not until almost two decades later that she did visit a Nazi concentration camp, the report indicated. On her last official foreign trip before her death, Queen Elizabeth traveled to Germany in 2015, visiting Berlin, Frankfurt and Celle. TOI reported that while it was her fifth state trip to Germany, the queen made her first-ever visit to a concentration camp, stopping to lay a wreath at Bergen-Belsen and meet with Holocaust survivors at the site.
After listening to their stories she responded: “It must have been horrific.”