In the end, everyone was an Elizabethan. Queen Elizabeth II’s 70-year reign ended quietly with her death last week. And with the accolades from across the globe came a sense of wonder that the 96-year-old monarch’s greatest contribution may have been her steadfastness in her role as wearer of the crown of state and a symbol of continuity in the United Kingdom.
That remarkable constancy — a particularly British devotion to form and ceremony arising from England’s entrenched class system — was a fulfillment of Elizabeth’s promise very early in her reign of unending devotion to service and to her imperial family. Her formality in that role differed from the looser, more informal royals of Europe’s other remaining monarchies. But then, how many of us can name the king of Norway? (Answer: Harald V). Yet, somehow, although Americans may feel superior in not being weighed down by the pomp, the castles, the cost and calls to duty of an outdated monarchy structure, many Americans still thought of Elizabeth II as “the” queen and felt an affinity toward her.
For British Jewry that was certainly true. Within months of acceding to the throne in 1952, Elizabeth met with the British chief rabbi and leaders of the Jewish community. Jewish leaders and the ambassador of the 4-year-old State of Israel attended her coronation soon after. And over the years of her long reign, she cultivated a warm and trusting relationship with the UK Jewish community, with particular focus on interfaith relations and commemoration of the Holocaust.
And yet, the queen, who visited more than 100 countries during 271 foreign trips, never visited Israel. That was a source of frustration to British Jews and some Israeli officials. The reason was ascribed to the unsolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict along with other excuses, but it amounted to a de facto boycott of Israel.
The boycott was lifted just five years ago when Prince William made the first official royal visit to Israel in 2018. There were, however, many unofficial visits. Prince Charles — now king — visited in 1995 and 2016 for the funerals of former Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. But we can’t help but wonder whether the queen’s refusal to visit the Jewish state had an echo of British hostility toward the Jews of its colony in pre-state Palestine more than 70 years ago.
Today’s Israel was as surprised as anyone at how quickly the queen seemed to slip away after being a consistent fixture on the world stage for so long. Israel’s leaders joined other world leaders in mourning her passing and recognizing her legacy of leadership and service.
Elizabeth’s death marks the end of an era. In the course of her 70 years of service she overlapped with 15 British prime ministers, 14 American presidents and seven popes. May the memory of this gentle and devoted lady be for a blessing. JN