The date was the 17 December 2013. I had been installed as Chief Rabbi only a few months earlier at a ceremony which, for the first time, had been attended by a representative of the Royal Family – His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales.
His presence there had been hailed as a significant compliment to the Jewish community and it was my first real opportunity to properly engage with him.
Now, I was to have that chance again at an event at Clarence House, organised to highlight the persecution of Christians in the Middle East.
The Prince of Wales walked over to shake my hand and, with the warmest of smiles, he said, “Chief Rabbi, I want to wish you a happy anniversary!”
Naturally, I smiled back, but my mind was racing. To which anniversary could he be referring? He had surely not forgotten that my installation had been just a couple of months earlier. My wedding anniversary is during the summer. Was this just an awkward mistake? He must have sensed my hesitation because he quickly explained, “It was a year ago today that your appointment was announced, was it not?” I thought about it for a second – and he was right!
I was touched that Prince Charles had remembered such a detail. I expect that he was probably well-briefed by a trusted aide, but since then, I have discovered that he has a particular fondness for the Jewish people, which goes well beyond a mere courtesy. The Prince of Wales is certainly an ‘ohev Yisrael’ – a friend of the Jewish people.
Prince Charles has made clear his significant respect for faith communities in general. Indeed, it was this which led him to announce, when celebrating his 60th birthday, that when he will be King, he will amend the title of ‘Defender of the Faith’ to ‘Defender of Faith’. A small but significant change which speaks volumes about the respect he has for the faith of others.
The Prince of Wales has seen in our Jewish community an unrelenting commitment, both to our unique religious tradition and to our environment; a deep and principled faith alongside diligent public service.
He sees that we are proud to be Jewish and proud to be British and he admires that we see no contradiction between these two essential aspects of our identity.
This admiration was evident when I took him to visit the Yavneh schools in Borehamwood. He was visibly impressed when he heard about the outstanding academic results at the school, but it was when he heard about the impressive culture of community service among its students that his eyes really lit up.
We salute His Royal Highness for the numerous manifestations of his friendship, whether it be his patronage of World Jewish Relief or the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust; his work to commemorate the Kindertransport or the opening of a Jewish community centre in Krakow; his presence at the Israel 50 celebrations at St Johns Wood Synagogue and the Israel 70 celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall; his attendance at the funerals of Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres – these are but a few examples of the future Monarch’s sincere affection for our community.
On the occasion of his 70th birthday, we drink a ‘l’chaim’ to a true friend and wish him many happy and healthy returns.
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