Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Seventy Years A Slav

Posted on: May 27, 2022

My Booba  (grandmother) bought me and all my cousins souvenir books of Princess Margaret’s wedding to Anthony Armstrong-Jones. It was beautifully illustrated with formal wedding pictures and informal photos of the happy couple, taken during their courtship. I looked at it many times. To my exacting eye, Princess Margaret was not truly beautiful, not like Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn or Jean Simmons. When you get old, any young person looks beautiful but I was ten.

I was a little surprised that Booba engaged with the celebrations of Princess Margaret ‘s wedding as  we were not what you might call royalists. Tsar Nicholas II was certainly no particular friend to the Jews when my grandparents left Russia and Poland. Booba was naturalized British but my other Booba, my father’s mother, was Russian all her life and had to report to the Home Office in accordance with the Aliens Act of 1905. The same applied to my father’s older siblings, he being the only child of his family born in England.

They were not Russian speakers as Yiddish was their first language but there was some syncretism: my aunt’s samovar, lemon tea taken in a glass; frequent use of the interrogative ‘Nu?’ and men dancing the kazatsky at weddings and bar mitzvahs. My father was able to execute a fine kazatsky, as did his nephew, my cousin Norman.

It was not so much the Russian connection as the socialist tradition which stopped my family becoming enthusiastic about the British monarchy. However, there was no resentment and when individual members of the Royal Family evinced kindly or conscientious behaviour, we liked them. My mother considered Prince Philip very handsome. I didn’t think so myself, until I became old enough to see, as I said, that everyone is beautiful under the age of about fifty.

In dramas about the English Civil War, we were on the side of the Parliamentarians and were irritated when they were portrayed as rigid killjoys while the Royalists got all the best lines, the good wigs and the cute dogs.

My brother-in-law, whose work in the charitable sector was recognized with an OBE, was invited with my sister to events where Royals, Ministers and sometimes Prime Ministers were present.  A photo of my sister and brother-in-law shaking hands with Prince Charles and Princess Diana adorned the walls of my parents’ house and was later displayed in their rooms in a Jewish Care residential home, along with a photo of my brother-in-law being introduced to the Queen. They also met – in reverse chronological order – Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, Harold Wilson and Edward Heath. There was a photo of my sister shaking hands with Norman Tebbit, which she feared could be used as kompromat.

More than one member of my family met Princess Margaret but they did not warm to her. I am sure that it was mutual.

Some years ago, the then Prince Charles attended a COP climate change conference and was introduced to the UK team from the department of Ed Miliband, at that time Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. My son was a young and minor cog in the machine and was not introduced, but Prince Charles turned back before leaving the room, to speak to him and shake his hand.

This is a mensch!

I liked Princess Diana because she seemed so natural and kind. I read articles and watched programmes about her life and mourned her untimely death with most of the world. Later, I hoped that Charles would be allowed to marry Camilla. Why should people who have loved each other so long be forbidden to marry?

I  watched with interest all of the Netflix series The Crown and took away from it the perception that personal suffering is not lessened or cushioned by royal status.

In recent years, finding myself at odds with the Left as never before, I  am offended by excessively hostile posts about the Queen and other members of the Royal Family although certainly they have some duds. Such is life.

The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee is sure to arouse strong feelings, pro and contra.

Did you know – of course you did – that Jubilee is a Hebrew word?

The Jubilee occurred every fifty years and involved leaving the land fallow for a year (shemita) as well as cancelling debts and releasing slaves.

יוֹבֵ֣ל הִ֗וא שְׁנַ֛ת הַחֲמִשִּׁ֥ים שָׁנָ֖ה תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם לֹ֣א תִזְרָ֔עוּ וְלֹ֤א תִקְצְרוּ֙ אֶת־סְפִיחֶ֔יהָ וְלֹ֥א תִבְצְר֖וּ אֶת־נְזִרֶֽיהָ׃ כִּ֚י יוֹבֵ֣ל הִ֔וא קֹ֖דֶשׁ תִּהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם מִ֨ן־הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה תֹּאכְל֖וּ אֶת־תְּבוּאָתָֽהּ׃

 That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, neither shall you reap the aftergrowth or harvest the untrimmed vines for it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you: you may only eat the growth direct from the field.

Leviticus 25: 11 – 12

Yovel, the Hebrew word for Jubliee, becomes iobeleus in the Latin Vulgate. The Greek Septuagint uses a circumlocution which does not sound like jubilee but references the release which takes place in the fiftieth year.

All right, since you ask, the Greek version is:

 ἀφέσεως σημασία αὕτη, τὸ ἔτος τὸ πεντηκοστὸν ἐνιαυτὸς ἔσται ὑμῖν· οὐ σπερεῖτε οὐδὲ ἀμήσετε τὰ αὐτόματα ἀναβαίνοντα αὐτῆς καὶ οὐ τρυγήσετε τὰ ἡγιασμένα αὐτῆς ὅτι ἀφέσεως σημασία ἐστίν ἅγιον ἔσται ὑμῗν ἀπὸ τῶν πεδίων φάγεσθε τὰ γενήματα αὐτῆς

Leviticus 25: 11 – 12

Apheseos semasia, something like ‘a significant release’, is the term which translates yovel, jubilee.

In the case of Her Majesty, it is seventy years on the throne, not fifty. Her coronation is one of my earliest memories. Like so many other families, we acquired a nine inch television set for the purpose of watching it. I was bored by the coronation but soon discovered the delights of Muffin the Mule and Prudence Kitten.

I hope that this forthcoming Jubilee will be an apheseos semasia for us all, a time of release from the manifold troubles which beset us, royals and commoners, yeomen and labourers and all those who, like my grandparents, travel to this land from distant shores.

27 May 2022


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