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Growing Up With The Queen #743

09/09/2022 05:39:39 PM


Rabbi Irwin Huberman

Parashat Ki Teitzei

Growing Up With The Queen


I am my mother’s son.

For many years, as I was growing up in Montreal, Queen Elizabeth II, in many ways, was a cherished member of our family.

One of Mom’s prized possessions was a black and white photo of King George and Queen Elizabeth’s motorcade taken in 1939 by her high school’s caretaker.  

She attended Byron Bing High School – a public school dedicated to “reducing the ethnicity” of the children of local immigrants.

As a child, Mom kept a scrapbook of articles about, and photos of, Princess Elizabeth as she performed her royal duties. 

To this day, a six-inch pink figurine of the Queen sits on a shelf in my parents’ den. It is solar powered, so when the sun hits it at a certain angle, the Queen’s hand pivots side to side from the wrist.

In 1940, the 14-year-old poised princess, showed remarkable confidence, as she calmly assured the children of the United Kingdom in a radio address, “that in the end, all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace."

In 1945, she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service to assist the war effort, as she trained side-by-side with other British women to be an expert driver and mechanic. 

More than anything, my mother loved the Queen for what she stood for: Loyalty, honesty, duty, resilience, and public service.

On her 21st birthday, long before she became queen, Elizabeth pledged, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service…”

Does it sound familiar? Regrettably not so much these days.

I was having lunch earlier this week with a friend, and this topic came up: “Who, as a child, did you look up to?” 

While we agreed that if you were a Yankee fan during the mid-1960s, it was Mickey Mantle, we also acknowledged that in those days, we had world leaders, who inspired us to be better: Mahatma Gandhi, Golda Meir, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill, among many.

Regrettably, if you were to ask someone born since the turn of the millennium who their role models are today, many would name entertainers.

Who does a new generation look up to? Polls say Lizzo, Beyoncé, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg top the list.

Where have all the great leaders gone?

We live in a world where too many politicians claw for survival based on polls. Athletes auction their services.

Indeed, the world became a bit more “leaderless” with the passing, Thursday, of Queen Elizabeth II. 

For the Elizabeth was more than a storybook princess, who became queen. She was a person, who led with forethought, balance, kindness and - perhaps above all - a sense of humor.

In spite of mistakes that she made along the way – she was willing to acknowledge imperfection and improve.

She also maintained strong connections with England’s Jewish community.

When the Queen turned 90 in 2016, England’s former chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, praised her as someone “whose greatness speaks across ethnic and religious divides…Her contribution to British society is immeasurable and the respect she has shown for all religions has enriched our lives.”

Although she never visited Israel, her husband and grandson did.

During a 1996 visit to Poland, when it was called to her attention that her tour had bypassed Auschwitz, she demanded that her itinerary be amended so that she would place a wreath at a Jewish memorial in Warsaw.

In 2015, in Germany, during her final foreign visit, she met with Holocaust survivors, and laid a wreath at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

My mother was raised in a Jewish home with deep connections to social justice, compassion and the kindness. These were the “Jewish values” Queen Elizabeth stood for.

In spite of the Queen’s privileged upbringing, over 70 years, she never stopped thinking about how she could serve her country and the world with dignity.

I have spoken with many who met her. I played a part in planning the logistics of her and Prince Philip’s royal visit to Canada in 2005, and I will never forget how so many commented about how valued and special she made them feel.

How many leaders do that today?

At this time of the year, as we draw toward completion of the reading of the Torah, we can easily compare her with another leader: To this day, Moses inspires Judaism with the same values.

He was humble, compassionate, wise and concerned about the welfare of those he served.

Both Elizabeth and Moses were thrust into positions of leadership. Both were raised in royal courts. Both never forgot who they served.

It may be worthwhile during the next few days to sit with our children and grandchildren – and watch a few YouTube videos about one of the most amazing personalities of our time.

She was someone you could look up to. She respected Israel. Above all, she listened and recognized the joy and the pain of others.

As my mother, 97, struggles these days with cognitive clarity, I’m not sure she can truly mourn the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

But I am my mother’s son. And even though I received my American citizenship last November, I was saddened yesterday to learn of the Queen’s passing.

For my mother and the Queen were kind of soul sisters. Within a strongly Jewish home, my Mom’s respect for Queen Elizabeth reminded my brother and me that we were part of something bigger – the family of humanity.

So, today we stand together and honor a type of role model humanity may never witness again - no matter what religion or what citizenship defines us.

For Queen Elizabeth was a true leader who exemplified that there is no asset more important on this earth, and after we are gone, than a Shem Tov – a good name.

Mom thought so, and Mom has always stood for what is right.

Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman


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