(RNS) — I admit it. I have a thing for royalty.
Which means this: There was a time (I’m not kidding you) when I could have named all the kings and queens of England in order. I could probably go pretty far with that, even today, though I have a bad habit of messing up some of the Edwards.
It also means that I have seen “The Crown”. Twice.
And yes, it also means that I tuned in to the coronation of King Carlos III.
The ceremony moved me, strangely. I say “curiously” because I don’t have a great love for the monarchy as an institution, but as a student of religion, Anglican rituals moved me.
Especially the part where King Charles was anointed with oil. That, in particular, moved this rabbi, who is very familiar with the Biblical symbolism of kings anointed with oil. That is the origin of the term “messiah”, from “mashiach”, one who is anointed.
But, there was one part of the anointing oil story that touched me much more deeply than even the ancient Biblical symbolism.
The oil came from Jerusalem. Not just from any part of Jerusalem. It came from the Mount of Olives, not far from the final resting place of King Charles’ late grandmother, Prince Philip’s mother: Princess Alice of Battenberg.
Here is the story. And, yes: it is a Jewish story.
Princess Alice was born in Windsor Castle and grew up in England, Germany, and Malta. After marrying Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark in 1903, she lived in Greece until the exile of most of the Greek royal family in 1917.
During World War II, Princess Alice remained in Greece. There, she took in Jewish refugees. She founded a Greek Orthodox order. As a result of her heroism, Yad Vashem recognized her as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.”
Princess Alice died in 1969. She wanted to be buried in Jerusalem. In 1988, her body was transferred to the crypt of the Convent of Saint Mary Magdalene in Gethsemane, on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
So, yes: As I watched King Charles III formally ascend the throne, the story of her grandmother’s heroism sat with me.
I thought, too, of his uncle’s blatant betrayal of Britain—I mean the Duke of Windsor, the former King Edward VIII, “David”—and his embrace of the nazis
I thought about the contrasts and smiled.
I smiled for yet another reason.
Last April, I led a mission of Reform rabbis to Krakow, Poland, to bring humanitarian aid to the Ukrainian refugees who have been arriving in that beautiful city. In particular, we were there to work with the staff of the Krakow Jewish Community Center — JCC Krakow. Its CEO, Jonathan Ornstein, is one of the most inspiring and competent Jewish leaders in the world, and it was a privilege to work with him.
Shortly after arriving at the JCC, we noticed that there was a portrait of (then Prince) Charles and Camilla (then Duchess of Cornwall) on the wall.
A few years ago, Prince Charles took an interest in Holocaust survivors in Krakow. On a visit to that city, he requested a meeting with some of them and asked about their needs. They told him that they longed for a place where they could socialize and have fun.
On his return to the UK, Prince carlos contacted World Jewish Relief, a London-based charity that helps Jewish communities. This led to the creation of the JCC in Krakow, which has been partially and generously supported by your patronage.
Add to that: the presence of a diversity of religions at the coronation; The King’s Welcome to Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain — attractive him and his wife, Valerie, to “crash” into St. James’s Palace on Shabbat, so he could walk to the coronation. … You don’t have to be a royalist to feel that, as far as the Jews are concerned, this king is a mensch.
And, if you know the history of the Jews of England, you would smile even more.
Go back to 1290, All Saints’ Day, to be exact. Because it was on that day who knows how many times King Charles’s grandfather, King Edward I (nicknamed Longshanks), expelled the Jews of his kingdom (the origin of the term “Judaism”, by the way) from England. The expulsion followed a period of blood libels and acts of mass violence.
While some Sephardic Jews did return to England in Elizabethan times, it was not until the mid-17th century that Oliver Cromwell officially invited Jews to resettle in England, partly out of some Biblical admiration for Jews, but mainly for economic reasons. As Anthony Julius writes in his magisterial “Evidence from the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England”, anti-Semitism has been a constant theme in English history, changeable, as Jew-hatred always is, but constant, especially in its various literary forms, as in Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens.
All of which is to say: the coronation of King Charles III represented a tikkun, a reparation, of some of the darker issues in British history.
For that reason, if I had been there (the invitation probably went to the wrong email address), I would have joined the crowd in proclaiming, “God save the King!”