JWR Wandering Jews

Jewish World Review Sept. 10, 1998 / 19 Elul, 5758

Queen Elizabeth

London Diarist

A Chassidic Yankee in Queen Elizabeth's Court

By Rabbi Yitzchok R. Rubin

RABBIS RECEIVE ALL SORTS OF INVITATIONS. Thankfully, there is no shortage of simchas (joyous occasions) in our communities. And with time, a rabbinic leader inevitably becomes quite a invitation maven, seeing almost every conceivable invitation out there.

But recently, one invitation came in the mail that was, well, unusual, to say the least.

The writing was neat yet bold, the thick paper had a yellowish buff --- and on the envelope's back was the parcel's most fascinating feature: the Royal Seal in gold lettering. The address? "Buckingham Palace."

I was dumbfounded.

The envelope was opened immediately. Inside was an invitation to the "Queen's Garden Party."

I'm just a Yankee rabbi --- what business do I have with that august residence? I wondered.

I must admit that I know very little about kings and queens. Before settling in England, actually, the most important queen I knew of was that section of New York named Queens which borders on Brooklyn (also known as King's County.)

I took it as a given that my wife and I should accept. After all, it's not very often that one gets the opportunity to recite a bracha (blessing) over encountering a monarch, as prescribed by the Talmud.

With a twinge of excitement I began preparing for the event.

The invitation's instructions were both detailed and specific: Men were allowed to wear "morning suits," "lounge suits," or "native dress" --- invitations, it seems, were extended to a cross-section of folk who were nominated to attend the event in recognition of some community work or similar activity.

Native dress. I considered wearing my shtreimel, the fur hat worn by Chassidic Jews on the Sabbath and religious festivals, but felt that I may well be mistaken for one of the Royal Guards. A "morning suit"? That, I soon learned, is a frock coat, which most Chassidim have aplenty. The ladies were told to wear hats, which the Rubin household has quite a few.

We would be fit for a, ah, queen.


THE AIR WAS EMOTIONALLY-charged as we neared the palace. Hundreds of befrocked gentlemen together with behatted ladies could be seen streaming toward the main gate. Each had their precious "entry-tickets" in hand, and all shared in the sense of occasion.

Indeed, my wife and I were about to rendezvous with history.

Within moments, we were swept up in the throngs who were walking toward the massive stairs that led from the garden up to the palace. There we all stood, gently being told by ushers or coutiers to form several columns.

Now this is one area I'm experienced with, I thought. When visiting the Gerrer Rebbe in Jerusalem, we Chassidim are adept at forming columns (shiras) so the Rebbe can pass through the masses like Moses at the Sea. A Rebbe, after all, is the closest thing Judaism has to royalty.

With great dignity the gathered stood to attention while a military band played our National Anthem. It was while watching this little lady standing there in front of the crowd, that a wave of thankfulness ran through me.

Where else could one find such unity? In America, I met some very adept leaders. I have also paid a visit to more than one American president and shared all too many political events.

Given the power vested in the American presidency, one would expect some feeling of unity when in the presence of POTUS.

In truth, it isn't anything like that.

The American Commander-in-Chief is but a politician who manged to make it to 1600 Pennsylavania Ave. by, let's face it, no small amount of wheeling and dealing --- he has a very simple agenda: further election and more power.

In the Queen, however, we find an office that is there just to bind the various strands of the country. She will outstay any one prime minister, only to invite the next for tea. She will remain that one person whose sole job is to keep us under one flag. Call her the "great unifier." And those who tamper with this magic do so at great peril to our country. Indeed, no one entity could ever keep the citizenry together with such benign an action.

In the past, Jews have encountered endless regimes that made it nearly impossible for them to live and prosper. The fact is, in England, the monarchy has evolved into a symbolic magnet that allows for our individualism, enabling us to be as religiously observant and distinct as we choose. For this alone, Jewry on these shores is grateful.

While watching the Queen standing with her great grace, I felt a charge of warmth as I intoned the blessing prescribed by our Sages.

Rabbi Yitzchok R. Rubin is a London-based columnist.


©1998, The London Jewish Tribune