UK Jews, queen mark 350th anniversary of community

Sacks: We're celebrating in a country that has led the world in tolerance.

queen and jews 298 88 (photo credit: AP)
queen and jews 298 88
(photo credit: AP)
Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, celebrated the 350th anniversary of the British Jewish community at a reception at St. James's Palace on London's Pall Mall on Tuesday night. More than 500 people, including representatives from a broad selection of Jewish communal organizations attended. Britain's chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, presented the queen with a hanukkia and Rabbi Tony Bayfield of the Reform movement gave a kiddish cup to Prince Philip. Sacks said, "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." Sacks also praised the Jewish community's contribution to modern Britain and said Jews were well represented in public life. "It [the 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 the highlight of a year of special events celebrating the 350th anniversary of the resettlement of Jews in England, following their expulsion by Edward I in 1290. Sir Sigmund Sternberg, co-chair of the 350th anniversary steering group and co-founder of the Three Faiths Forum, said, "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." Prof. Sir Ivor Crewe, vice-chancellor of the 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. Three hundred and fifty years in the same place is indeed something to celebrate. Here's to the next 350..." Several students represented Jewish schools at the event. "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," said Rachel Price, headgirl at King David High School in Manchester. Pini Shebson, headboy at London's 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." Despite the presence of a handful of Jews during the Tudor and Jacobean periods, there was no official community in England between 1290 and 1656, when Manasseh ben Israel, a Dutch Rabbi, petitioned Oliver Cromwell to allow Jews to return. 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 Sephardim. The 19th century saw increased civil rights for Jews. 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.