Succumbing to the royal hoopla, 15 years after aliya

First Person: Though many years passed since I left, there's nothing like the spectacle of a royal wedding to make me feel British again.

Prince William and Kate Middleton 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Prince William and Kate Middleton 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
As the final preparations are being made for Prince William’s lavish wedding to Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey in London on Friday morning, I have to confess that until a few days ago, I was rather indifferent to the hoopla surrounding this royal event.
At first I put it down to the fact that I’d uprooted myself from my birthplace, London, more than 15 years ago, resettling and rededicating myself to the intricacies and spirituality of the Jewish capital.
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Obviously, I told myself, a general lack of interest with the royal family had been growing inside me for a long time, and on numerous return visits to the UK, I often wondered how Britain could justify the cost of having a queen when there is so much poverty, and endorse a hereditary monarchy when it proclaims to be a democratic country.
I was even known – mostly during my days as a radical student with socialist leanings – to suggest that Elizabeth II vacate her official Buckingham Palace residence and hand the keys over to the multitude of homeless people sleeping rough on London’s streets every night. It’s big enough to house them all, I argued.
It was only earlier this week, when a Channel 2 producer called to ask if I’d like to be part of the presentation team discussing Friday’s wedding live on Israeli television, that I realized I’m not really one of the many British republicans – some of whom are marking the day by holding anti-royal wedding parties. Rather, I’m symptomatic of a generation that loves to poke fun at the royal family while at the same time recognizing that the institution is part and parcel of what makes us feel inherently British.
Even though many years have passed since I left and I am thousands of miles from my former home, there is nothing like the spectacle of a great royal wedding – the carriages, the soldiers, a real prince and princess – to make me feel British again.
As I told a friend on Thursday, without the royal family, Britain would be nothing. I am not just talking about the millions of tourists who visit each year searching out the stately homes and museums filled with royal history, but more the grandiose events such as this that offer a glimpse of what used to make Britain great and serve to unite British citizens everywhere.
According to the British dailies, there will be around 5,500 street parties held across the country on Friday, with local authorities closing off key streets so that neighbors, who barely say good morning to one another, can sit side by side and celebrate an event seeped in historical tradition.
The ceremonial procedures of William and Kate’s wedding, such as the parade of the Queen’s Guards in their red jackets with gold trim and black bushy hats, will keep hundreds of millions of people worldwide glued to their TV sets; and the famous balcony appearance – once the happy couple have tied the knot – at Buckingham Palace will allow most British people to rejoice in a rare national moment.
The proceedings have invoked some of my earliest memories. The Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations were in 1977, and at the age of five I joined my school friends and family members at a traditional street party organized by the neighborhood committee.
I have a vague recollection of sitting at a long table munching on British-style sandwiches, eating cake and drinking tea, of course. The party planning committee even gave little souvenirs to the children.
Four years later, I clearly remember watching as Prince William’s father, Prince Charles, married Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981. Even though I was more of a tomboy than a princess fan, the significance of the royal family as part and parcel of my British roots was not lost on me.
For months afterwards, the event captured my imagination and I worked hard to save my pocket money so I could buy a souvenir wedding brochure with glossy photos of the happy couple on their special day. Despite my radical musings at university, it was one of the few childhood possessions I brought with me on aliya.
I also remember the feelings of disbelief and shock when Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed on a Paris highway in August 1997. I arrived in London a few days later and happened to be there for her funeral.
After experiencing the collective mourning of the Israeli people when prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was murdered in 1995, I was shocked to see a similar outpouring of emotion from the usually stifled British public. The amount of flowers that amassed outside Diana’s residence in St. James’ Park were astounding.
Some polls taken over the past few weeks suggest that 80 percent of Britons do not care about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s big event, and some cynics say it is only the media that is promoting such a royalist agenda.
But behind the scenes and in our hearts I truly believe that even among the staunchest anti-royalists, there is a sense of pride that the British still know how to put on a good show – and that they are secretly happy the world’s spotlight will shine on their nation today.