This year, the month of June is marked by a special two-day bank holiday to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Here we are: The second Elizabethan Age – which is set to continue, as Queen Elizabeth II, indefatigable still at 86, is not yet ready for retirement.
I was born in 1955, and like, many other baby girls in the 50s, my parents named me after the Queen – and I was even called by her pet name, Lilibet. As people gathered to watch the Coronation of the young Queen on that sparkling new invention, television, those, who had lived through the bleak 1930s and the horrors of World War II, dared to look forward – and hope that their daughters and their sons would inhabit a better and more peaceful world.
They were right to be hopeful. Despite the continuing eruption of famine, war and genocide, across the globe, shadowing each succeeding decade, the past 60 years have also witnessed stunning social change: the development of a vibrant youth culture in the 50s and 60s, the rise of women’s liberation and gay liberation in the 70s and 80s, and a re-assertion of the values of compassion and community in the 1990s. During the first years of the 21st century, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 2001, the spirit of renewal has seemed less evident Nevertheless, the rapid advances in technology, which have their sinister side, also herald new liberating opportunities for individuals and communities throughout the world.
So how does it all look from a Jewish perspective, this second Elizabethan Age? Of course, there are so many different Jewish perspectives. As those who attend synagogue on Shabbat and the festivals know, the prayers of the community, following the Torah service, begin with a prayer for the Royal family and the government of the country. As a minority living in other peoples’ lands, the fate of individual Jewish communities in our various ‘host’ countries has always depended, both, on the nature of the majority culture and on those in power. Whether or not one is a royalist, there is no doubt that, for the most part, Jews have experienced safety and security in Britain during the past 60 years. We have also become part of the nation’s fabric. The greatest challenge we face is finding ways of participating in the wider society, which has become increasingly multicultural, as Jews – as proud Jews, who embrace our sacred inheritance and also embrace the liberating spirit of the times. As Queen Elizabeth II marks her Diamond Jubilee, may we all celebrate her personal achievement, the advances in British society during her reign – and the continuing life of the Jewish community. Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah