Queen celebrates anniversary with British Jews

500 attend gala ball at St. James Palace to mark 350th anniversary of community.

queen and jews 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
queen and jews 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
The Queen, together with His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, paid tribute to the British Jewish community on Tuesday night at a special reception at St. James's Palace, on London's famous Pall Mall, to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the Jewish community. The event, which saw over 500 people from the Jewish community greeted by the Queen, was a celebration of the future as much as the past, with representatives from a broad selection of Jewish communal organizations, Jewish schools and youth movements attending. To commemorate the occasion, Britain's chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, presented the Queen with a hanukia and Rabbi Tony Bayfield of the Reform Movement presented a kiddish cup to Prince Philip. The Chief Rabbi said of the gift, "It is a symbol of light, and we felt for all sorts of reasons that was the gift we would like to give to the Queen. We are celebrating 350 years in a country that has led the world in tolerance that has been a wonderful home to Jews, especially those fleeing from persecution. "The British Jewish community is intensely loyal both to Britain and to the royal family especially, and this was simply a way of saying thank you." Rabbi Sacks also paid tribute to the contribution the Jewish community had made to modern Britain and said that Jews were well represented in public life in the UK. "It [the Jewish community] has contributed some of the greatest scientists, musicians, doctors, lawyers, two of the last three lord chief justices have been Jewish, several Nobel prize winners, people in business and finance, and some of the best known faces in television. For a small community, I think it's probably produced a disproportionate number of people who really have contributed to life in this country." The event was a magnificent highlight in a year of special events to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the resettlement of Jews in England, following the expulsion by Edward I in 1290. At the event, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, co-chair of the 350th anniversary steering group and co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum, a multi-faith group, commented, "I have been especially pleased by the way in which Jewish communities countrywide have joined together in the 350 celebrations, and there can be no higher accolade than this reception hosted by the Queen and Prince Philip. In our celebrations, we are not only marking a special anniversary in the history of this community but we are sending out a message to new communities, still struggling to find their way in Britain, that service and commitment to crown and country do not require a loss of cultural or religious identity. We are no longer Englishmen of the Jewish persuasion but, proudly, British Jews." Rabbi Dr. Abraham Levy OBE, head of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews Congregation and co-chair of the 350th anniversary steering group, concurred, "This Royal reception, the culminating event in this 350th anniversary year, underlines the way in which we have been received in this country and highlights the dynamic and mutually enriching contribution of the Jewish community to British life." Henry Grunwald QC, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and another co-chair of the 350th anniversary steering group said the event was a great honor. "The presence of the Queen and Prince Philip at today's reception at St. James' Palace is a great honor bestowed by the Crown on our community. It acknowledges the valued role of the Jewish community in Britain today and over the last three and a half centuries. As British Jews, we believe in the importance of contributing to British society. Tonight has been a memorable recognition of the legacy of our commitment and of those who have gone before us." Vanessa Lipman, summer program director at Federation of Zionist Youth, remarked, "A wonderful occasion marking 350 years of Jewish life in Britain. I am privileged and excited to represent FZY along with so many people from all areas of Jewish life. I am proud of the part that Jewish people have played in British society over the past 350 years. Long may British Jews continue this contribution and give the Queen and the Board of Deputies further reason to throw parties at St. James Palace!" Others commented how the event reflected positively on Britain and its relationship to its Jews. Professor Sir Ivor Crewe, Vice-Chancellor, University of Essex, said: "This is a celebration for Britain as well as the Jewish community. In no other Western country has the Jewish community enjoyed 350 years of uninterrupted freedom and protection of the law. The presence of the Royal Family and others outside the community at the celebration is an important recognition of the healthy state of Jewish integration in Britain. We retain our distinction without being in any way separate. The evolution of the place of the Jewish community in British life makes it possible to be British and Jewish in equal measure, a double blessing for British Jews. I hope this is a model for other, more recently arrived, religious minorities." Emily Maitlis, BBC News presenter, said, "The image of the 'wandering Jew' may be as romantic as it is iconic. But in all honesty it's not much fun, 350 years in the same place is indeed something to celebrate. Here's to the next 350..." "Tonight's occasion marks the successful integration, rather than assimilation, of the Jewish community in the UK. The story of 350 years of the Jewish contribution to UK history is rightly celebrated. The participation of many minority groups illustrates that we are all caught in a network of mutuality - whatever affects one affects all. Tonight's celebration is a celebration for all minorities for we have all benefited from and contributed to this country," Edward Kessler, founder of Centre for the study of Jewish-Christian Relations and Centre for the study of Muslim-Jewish Relations in Cambridge, said. Several students also represented their Jewish schools at the celebration. "It is such an honor to be representing King David and the Manchester Jewish community at this reception. This is a once in a lifetime experience and I feel very privileged and am so excited to be at such a gathering of high profile dignitaries from around the country. I really hope this reception will help to further enhance the standing of the Jewish community in the UK," Rachel Price, Headgirl at King David High School in Manchester, said. Pini Shebson, Headboy at Hasmonean High School, said: "I am very excited at this incredible opportunity to represent my school at such a prestigious event. Meeting the Queen is a true honor and I appreciate how lucky I am to have been singled out for this momentous occasion in recognition of this milestone for British Jewry. It is especially poignant as my grandfather recently attended a similar event as a Holocaust survivor who was given a new chance at life in the UK. Without that chance I would not be here today." The UK Jewish community has hosted an array of events organized by a cross-community steering group to mark the 350 anniversary of the resettlement of Jews in Britain. Despite the presence of a handful of Jews at different times during the Tudor and Jacobean periods, there was no official community in England until after 1656, when Manasseh ben Israel, a Dutch Rabbi, petitioned Oliver Cromwell to allow Jews to return. The Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who came from Amsterdam, founded the Bevis Marks Synagogue in the City of London. Built in 1701, it is the oldest synagogue in the UK. Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and Poland arriving in the 18th century soon outnumbered the Spanish and Portuguese. The 19th century saw the Jewish community gaining increasing civil rights. In 1855, Sir David Salomons became the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London. In 1867, the first Jewish MP, Lionel de Rothschild was finally admitted to Parliament and a few years later, a Jew became solicitor general and the last disabilities were removed.