Keren David

There is something Jewish about the Windsors

'I should like to propose a Yiddishe update in which the Royal family is not deposed, but transposed — reimagined as a Jewish clan in North West London.'


Britain's Queen Elizabeth II reacts as she meets military personnel during her visit to the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth in Portsmouth, southern England on May 22, 2021, ahead of its maiden operational deployment to the Philippine Sea. - The aircraft carrier will embark on her first operational deployment on May 23, leading the UK Carrier Strike Group in engagements with 40 nations including India, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore. (Photo by Steve Parsons / POOL / AFP) (Photo by STEVE PARSONS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

May 27, 2021 11:06

It is the misfortune of the Royal Family that along with their wealth and privilege, they serve as the nation’s foremost soap opera. And as with all long-running dramas, we find strange echoes of our own lives in their traumas and their triumphs.

In 1992, Sue Townsend wrote a novel, The Queen and I, imagining the Royal Family deposed and sent to live on a council estate. Some family members struggled more than others — William and Harry thought it a great adventure — and eventually the whole thing is revealed to be a bad dream.

I should like to propose a Yiddishe update in which the Royal family is not deposed, but transposed — reimagined as a Jewish clan in North West London. It seems to me more and more, as the weeks roll by, that we have much in common with the problems that beset The Firm, and not just because they — like many of us — had a foreign surname that had to be changed because it sounded too Germanic.

Imagine the Queen as Bessie Goldenberg, formidable matriarch, pillar of her local shul ladies’ guild, local WIZO chairwoman, owner of many hats for shul and tireless macher on countless committees — so many in fact that she hardly saw her children as they were growing up. Her daughter Hannah is a chip off the old block, and no one really minded the divorce because the first husband was clearly a nebbuch. Her sons are rather less satisfactory. Chaim, the oldest, has spent a lifetime waiting for his mother to pass over control of the family lingerie import business, Ed is a blameless but dull accountant, and no one talks about Avi, since the unfortunate revelations about his friends from the timeshare in Florida.

Then the next generation. Both of Chaim’s sons fell in love with girls from rather different backgrounds to their own, to the horror of the extended Goldenberg family — although once they’d weathered the scandal of Chaim’s own second marriage (to the chazan’s ex-wife!) they were ready for anything. They were initially appalled when young Danny, heir to Goldenberg’s Frillies, met the daughter of an Anglican bishop. But the gracious and beautiful Katy converted to Orthodox Judaism, and now, modest and demure, she is only slightly irritating as she shows the other female members of the family how to bake their challah and roast their chicken.

But the second son, Harrison, is a different story. His wife Yoko is older, American and has a strong ethnic identity of her own. She is not content to join the Jewish community and leave her old life behind. She clashes with Katy when her new sister-in-law offers to teach her to bake babkas and tries, tactfully, to explain why it’s not a great idea to wear a trouser suit, however cool, to shul.

And then there's the wedding, and the bridesmaids' outfits. Classic broiges. Everyone cries. It’s difficult.

Yoko sees that Harrison has not been able to develop his own identity, so smothered is he by years of tradition and the expectations of his family. And so she suggests he sees a therapist — and moves to California — and there’s a big row about money — and the Goldenbergs are left, confused and bereft, wondering if they will ever see the grandchildren, and why Yoko was quite so insulted when Katy explained to her that halachically he wasn’t really part of the family, he could never be Jewish.

The similarities are all there to see: an older generation bound by duty and tradition, their lives set out for them, expecting their children and grandchildren to follow suit.

A middle generation grasping towards selfhood while still respecting their parents’ values. And a new generation who want to redefine everything.

In the stories of Katy and Yoko we have the classic Jewish approach to outsiders who marry ‘in’ — often only really accepted if they reinvent themselves. And while some Jews who marry ‘out’ find graceful ways of balancing their families old and new, others end up furious and resentful, railing at the unfairness of being born into a heritage that they had no choice about.

What can we learn from this transposition? Maybe old traditional families need to think about how to welcome newcomers with more support and kindness. And maybe grandsons should have a little more respect towards older people who did the best they could, and had a completely different set of challenges to face.

In other words, some of the issues you may be having with your family are very similar to those discussed at Buckingham Palace. Just be thankful that Oprah has no interest in the running of the ladies’ guild or the future of your family business.

As for me, I’m going to send this column to my agent.

May 27, 2021 11:06

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