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For British Jews, Interest in the Royal Baby Can Only Be Good
LONDON — As the July 22 arrival of Prince George of Cambridge made headlines around the world, Jewish community newspapers busied themselves trying to find a Jewish link to the future monarch’s birth. With reports of his mother’s Jewish descent having been greatly exaggerated (and rubbished by none other than Doreen Berger, the chairman of the Jewish Genealogy Society), other links were investigated. Probably the strongest to emerge was that the royal baby was born in the private wing of a major hospital in London that was named after philanthropic Jew Frank Lindo (1872-1938).
As someone who worked in communications for the royal household from 2009 to 2012, I was both delighted by the news and interested to gauge the global media reaction. Americans, of course, have long been fascinated by the monarchy. Since becoming queen over 60 years ago, Elizabeth II has met every U.S. president, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson. It is worth remembering that at the beginning of her reign, President Truman occupied the White House and President Obama was not even born. As monarch, she has remained a steadfast figure in an age of enormous political, social and economic change.
The Queen's first visit to the States took place in 1957, on the 350th anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement. In 1976 she came to Philadelphia and presented a replica of the Liberty Bell to mark America’s 200th anniversary. Her grandchildren have followed in her footsteps across the Atlantic, with William and Kate visiting California in 2011, and Prince Harry visiting as recently as May this year.
If the volume of U.S. media coverage of royal stories is anything to go by, the American fascination with the British monarchy has intensified in recent years. Certainly films like "The Queen" and "The King's Speech" have magnified global interest. The combination of affection for an elderly monarch and the increasing prominence of the "third generation" of William, Kate and Harry, with their mixture of composure and glamour, has also generated interest. It appears that President Obama and the Queen enjoy a warm personal chemistry, cemented on a state visit in London in 2011 when it was revealed that the "first daughters" had ridden in a carriage on palace grounds on a previous visit.
The American media presence in London for recent big-ticket royal events has been enormous. All the major U.S. networks have come here in droves. There were reports that one large U.S. network sent a staff of 400 to cover the wedding in 2011. American tourists have flocked to London, and a must-see on their itinerary is a visit to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or another royal venue.
So transatlantic interest in the monarchy may be booming, and as British Jews (with a similar population to Jewish Philadelphia), we, too, have reason to be thankful. This may not be immediately obvious to our American co-religionists. In the UK, we do not have a separation between Church and State, yet the Church of England provides a protective umbrella for different communities, ensuring that the importance of faith is woven into our constitutional architecture, even in an increasingly secular society.
One of my favourite moments of last year's Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years of the Queen's reign, was a gathering of the different faith communities in the UK at Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Each of the major faiths in Britain brought an object of particular significance to their tradition and history to show to the Queen. The Jewish community showed her the Codex Valmadonna, a Talmud dating from the Middle Ages, before the Jews were expelled in 1290. At another Jubilee event at Buckingham Palace, one Jewish community leader was able to wish the Queen, "Ad me'ah ve'esrim, Your Majesty." This was well received on translation, even though some of the media reporters at the Palace understandably required an explanation!
Given the attention the monarchy pays to minority faiths, it is not surprising that it is very popular in these segments of the population. Our own community enjoys positive relations with the royals. The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, was a guest at the royal wedding in 2011 and has been present other "State" occasions. Royals are patrons of some Jewish charities and organizations. In shul every week on Shabbat, a special prayer is recited for the royal family.
The monarchy is therefore regarded positively in both the Jewish community in Britain and amongst the American public. Public popularity and sentiment can be fickle, and the institution is mindful of that. In time, Prince George will come to appreciate that whilst he will not become King of America, he and his family are the subject of public fascination the world over.
Zaki Cooper worked in the Buckingham Palace press office from 2009 and 2012 and writes in a personal capacity. He is a Trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews. Follow him @zakicooper.