Together with many millions around the world, over the past few days I found myself glued to the TV watching the memorial services and funeral of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. As I watched, I realized that the way that Queen Elizabeth had led her life was a remarkable example of what we as Jews strive to achieve – Tikkun Olam – making the world a better place.
My earliest childhood memory is seeing the Royal Family, Princess Elizabeth together with her father King George VI, her mother Queen Elizabeth and sister Margaret, in a Royal motorcade coming down the main street near my home in Johannesburg, South Africa. It was May 1947. I was three years old, and my parents had dressed me in my best clothes with ribbons in my hair. It was an unusually cold winter day, with a few snowflakes drifting in the air, which is extremely unusual in Johannesburg which rarely sees snow. We walked the two blocks to where the parade would proceed down Louis Botha Avenue. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the cheering crowds waving Union Jack flags, and not really understanding what all the fuss was about.
However, for most of my childhood, every time that we went to a public event, we were reminded that South Africa was a British Colony and a member of the Commonwealth. Before every showing of a movie in a cinema (Bioscope in South African English), play, concert, or ballgame, the audience would stand to sing God Save the King. Later that became God Save the Queen When King George VI died, and Elizabeth became Queen in 1952. That ceremony later disappeared when South Africa declared independence and left the Commonwealth in 1960, whereupon blessing the Royal Sovereign was no longer required.
When Hadassah heard of the passing of Queen Elizabeth on September 8th, as Communications Chair I was called upon to help write a Letter of Condolence from Hadassah International. Many of the countries in which Hadassah International has a presence are currently, or have previously been, a part of the British Commonwealth. Many of us have experienced Queen Elizabeth as our sovereign during at least a part of her reign. Writing the letter was very emotional for me; it brought back many early memories.
In 1947, on that South African tour, Princess Elizabeth marked her 21st birthday, and made a vow:
“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”
Queen Elizabeth did a remarkable job of balancing the needs of the countries who were seeking to leave the Commonwealth, and the needs of the United Kingdom. She was wise enough to see the flow of history and did not oppose the quest for freedom and national identity. The Crown remained on good terms with most of the countries it had governed. Given the politics involved, that was a remarkable achievement.
In the late 1990s, my husband and I spent four months living in London. We spent whatever free time we had touring the UK. Besides a remarkable visit to Buckingham Palace (the only working, lived-in palace I have ever seen), we took a trip to Scotland for the Edinburgh Arts Festival. It was summer, and the Queen and Prince Philip were at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. The King and Queen of Sweden came to visit and were granted a royal welcome. A long parade with the four Royals in a horse-drawn carriage paraded down the streets of Edinburgh to the sounds of a 21-gun salute. There were many young Scottish families around us who had brought their children to see the parade.
From the response and outpouring of admiration by millions of people around the world who followed the ceremonies leading up to the burial of Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen was an extraordinarily successful Monarch. She did spend her life in selfless service to those she perceived as her people.
As we celebrate Rosh Hashanah and ask for forgiveness on Yom Kippur, we can reflect on the Queen’s remarkable life. For 70 years she did the best that she possibly could to make the world a better place.
She will always be remembered for a blessing.