What Jubilee?

June 1, 2022 by Henry Benjamin
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As technicians prepare to colour the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge purple tomorrow as part of the Jubilee celebrations marking Queen Elizabeth’s 70 years on the throne, Australia and New Zealand’s Jewish communities will be spectators only.

Queen Elizabeth

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom and the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth of which Australia and New Zealand are members, wished Queen Elizabeth II “many more years of blessing” in a prayer that he issued last week in honour of her Platinum Jubilee.

Four days of celebrations will take place in the United Kingdom starting on June 2 to mark the occasion have made little impression on the distant colonies.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry was unaware of the celebrations starting this week but prepared a statement wishing the 96-year-old monarch congratulations immediately they were advised by the JW.

In his prayer, Mirvis also called for the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the entire Royal Family to be blessed with years of health and strength.

“Her crown is honor and majesty; her scepter, law and morality. Her concern has been for welfare, freedom and unity, and in the lands of her dominion she has sustained justice and liberty for all races, tongues and creeds,” he said.

“Together with all our fellow citizens, we fervently pray that she be granted many more years of blessing so that she may continue to bring honor and glory to the Crown and to all her people,” he added.

The rabbi additionally blessed the Royal Family that they should be granted “wisdom and understanding … so that they and we may walk together in the paths of unity, freedom and harmony, and may a new spirit inspire the nations of the world so that we may live together in righteousness and peace.”

“In this year of joyful remembrance and celebration, we express our deepest sentiments of loyalty, esteem and gratitude,” he concluded his prayer by saying. “We pray for the peace and prosperity of Britain and the Commonwealth, for the well-being of the House of Israel and for the redemption of all mankind under the sovereignty of God. May this, our prayer, be Your will speedily in our days, Amen.”

But the President of the Organisation of Rabbis in Australasia Rabbi Yaakov Glasman did not respond to JW’s questions about how the Australian orthodox community would mark the occasion.

No responses were received from Jewish day schools Bialik College in Melbourne and Moriah College and Masada College in Sydney.  Mount Scopus College in Melbourne told the JC  that there is nothing planned while Sydney’s Emanuel School remarked: “Nothing on the Jubilee. Lots of Reconciliation Week and Shavuot activities though.” The reconciliation is an ongoing process between post-1788 New Australians and the country’s Indigenous people.

The New Zealand Jewish Council is yet to respond.

Major care institutions Montefiore and JewishCare in Sydney and Melbourne’s Jewish Care have also remained silent.

David Knoll, co-President of the Union of Progressive Judaism emailed J-Wire with the curt message: “May she live to 120!” But the progressive synagogues do not come under Rabbi Mirvis’s remit.

J-Wire turned to respected historians Professor Suzanne Rutland and Rabbi John Levi to proffer explanations for the seemingly disinterested communities.

Stephen Rothman shows Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis a model of Sydney’s Great Synagogue 

Professor Rutland said: “When I grew up in the Australia of the early 1950s Empire Day was still a huge event. My high school history teacher in the early 1960s at North Sydney Girls’ High was a huge admirer of Britain and the monarchy and the Anglo-Jewish community in Sydney was still more British than the British. Indeed, we were not allowed to hold meetings of Zionist youth movements on synagogue grounds in the 1950s. I still remember the excitement of the Queen’s first visit to Australia and going to my cousins’ place near Bondi Beach so we could watch the drive past.

We certainly now live in very different times, accentuated by the latest election results. I am not aware of any particular event in the Jewish community, certainly not the Australian Jewish Historical Society, to mark the Queen’s jubilee. From my own lived experience, I think support of and interest in the monarchy started to wane in the 1960s, with opposition from the student generation to the Vietnam War and the emergence of more radical politics, reflected in Gough Whitlam’s short term as Labor PM. I think there were some leading Jews who supported the referendum on making Australia a Republic in 1999, but I think since then there has been a major generational sea change, also within the Jewish Community, where the traditional veneration of the monarchy and the Queen no longer exists.”

Rabbi John Levi added: “I can clearly remember being shown the chair on which Harrow-educated Melburnian Sir Archie Michaelis proudly sat as a spectator at the coronation in Westminster Abbey.  He was permitted to bring it home to Melbourne as a cherished souvenir.

On Monday morning my primary school would assemble to sing God Save the King and salute the Union Jack.

In 1954, dressed in my national service uniform,  I stood to attention as the Queen swept by along a crowded street. Every film performance concluded with the (British) National Anthem while the audience stood in loyal respect.  By 1960, when I returned to Australia after years in Israel and the United States, the same image of Her Majesty flickered on the screen but the audience no longer paid such respectful attention.
Synagogues were much slower to change. But change we did. We no longer prayed for the Queen Mother, Phillip Duke of Edinburgh and on and on. For some, it had been the only prayer in English amidst an ocean of Hebrew liturgy. I was startled to discover, through my interfaith appearances, that the local churches were content to simply pray “God Save the Queen” and omit the Jewish obsession with the Windsors and the Mountbattens.  Nevertheless, when business is bad the newsagents can still rely on a startling article on the Royal Family to boost magazine sales. The magic remains.
So what happened?
Australia’s physical appearance has changed. Australia Day is under attack (to my great regret). People no longer anglicise their surnames. We have no established religion. Gallipoli and Singapore changed our perception of the Empire. Do you remember when the maps were nearly all coloured Imperial Red? We dropped the British caste system. We lost our Imperial Honours system. We legitimised the Australian accent. The need for us to have a “Chief Rabbi” is gone. The Jubilee belongs to England. And rightly so.”
Rabbi Ben Elton is Manchester-born and the spiritual leader of The Great Synagogue, the oldest one in Sydney. He told The JC: “Every week at The Great Synagogue we pray for The Queen of Australia and we send Her Majesty all our best wishes on her Platinum Jubilee. The days of Australian synagogues holding special events for Royal occasions are probably behind us, and that is a reflection of the wider Australian attitude towards the Monarchy, which is great respect for the current Queen but a diminishing emotional attachment to the institution. We will see what happens to the constitutional arrangements in Australia once the next reign begins. But until then we wish The Queen ‘until 120!’”

Sam Tatarka, Chief Rabbi Mirvis, Jennifer Huppert, Danny Lamm and Jeffrey Appel in Melbourne in 2014

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry took pen to paper as soon as it was aware of this week’s celebrations saying:
“For seven decades, and more, The Queen has exemplified service, duty and dedication. She has seen an Empire become a Commonwealth and has steadfastly supported the rights of all peoples to determine their own destinies. She has demonstrated throughout the world her commitment to multiculturalism, antipathy to prejudice and celebration of diversity. That is why she enjoys the respect and affection of Australians of all backgrounds and all political affiliations.

The Queen has been Head of State of the Commonwealth of Australia for most of its history. Most Australians have never known anyone else in her role. She will be a model for all Australian Heads of State who may follow.

Throughout her reign, Her Majesty has been a sympathetic friend to Jews across the globe. She fulfils the words of the Book of Proverbs describing the woman of valour:

“She is clothed with strength and dignity…She speaks with wisdom, and the law of loving kindness is on her tongue.”

We invoke the Jewish blessing on a Sovereign and thank God, the source of all glory, for her peaceful reign. In accordance with Jewish tradition we wish Her Majesty life until she is one hundred and twenty, in good health, with happiness and with the affection of everyone whom she has served so well for so long.”

Meanwhile, back in London, the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth will on our behalf

have written privately to HM The Queen, to extend warmest wishes on behalf of the Jewish communities of Great Britain and the Commonwealth and enclosed a copy of the prayer

issued a video message on social media on the subject of Shavuot and the platinum jubilee

will give the Thought for the Day on the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 on Friday morning (this is a prime time national radio broadcast)

be present at the National Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of the Queen and the Royal Family

will attend a lunchtime reception at the Guildhall organised by the City of London.

When Sydney Harbour Bridge turns purple on Thursday, the Queen’s Jewish subjects in Australia ands New Zealand will learn of the celebrations. But not from their community according to the cloak of silence J-Wire experienced..





2 Responses to “What Jubilee?”
  1. Adrian Jackson says:

    I saw some of the 70th event on TV in Melbourne and it was great. We are so lucky to have a Constitution Monarchy in Australia, and in other commonwealth countries. In comparison many republics are hopeless, corrupt and undemocratic.

  2. DAVID SINGER says:

    Great article.

    We should all be diminished by the apparent failure of our Jewish communal organisations to mark the historic Jubilee of our Head of State – especially as we have prayed for her in many Australian synagogues every Shabbat for the last 70 years to be preserved in life and be guarded and delivered from all trouble and sorrow and be blessed with a spirit of wisdom and understanding in her heart to uphold the peace of the realm.

    Many might question whether she has dealt kindly and truly with all Israel as we have also prayed for her to do during those last 70 years.

    We need to remember however that it was Great Britain that gave birth to the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine recognising the historical connection of the Jewish People with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.

    I wonder how those Australian Jews feel who have received Imperial honours awards from the Queen or Orders of Australia awards from the Queen’s representative – the Governor General – in recognition of the work they have done for many of those forgetful organisations.

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