I was born and grew up in England, and the Queen was always part of our lives and a topic of discussion. Her face was on all currency and postage. Many Synagogues had a special prayer they would say for her each week, and much has been written about her warm relationship with the Anglo-Jewish community.
In 2001, the Queen honored my grandfather, Rabbi Nachman Sudak, with the title Officer of the British Empire, awarding him a prestigious medal at Buckingham Palace, with all the pomp and ceremony only London is capable of.
From 1959 until his passing in 2014, at the request of the Rebbe, he directed the Chabad Lubavitch institutions and activities across Great Britain. It was for those efforts and accomplishments that the Queen awarded him.
Many were invited to the palace that day. Amidst the crowd of people there was one man who "stuck out." My grandfather was the only one meeting the Queen that day who was visibly Jewish in the sense that he wore his Jewish attire, hat, tzitzit, and Chasidic garb. He was also the only person at the event with whom the Queen did not share a handshake.
By Jewish tradition, and in respect to the sanctity of the genders, beside for one's spouse or immediate relatives, men and women will generally not make any physical contact with one another, including even a simple handshake.
The Queen was well aware of these traditional Jewish practices and respected them. Not only did his commitment to Jewish tradition not hinder his standing, the Queen recognized its beauty and she publicly awarded him.
After the ceremony at the palace, I rode in the car with my grandfather, and he let me hold the medal. Whenever I think back to that time, I remember how the Queen understood, appreciated and respected my grandfather, along with his religious observances and requirements, even while she lived a very different life.
Sometimes we feel that to fit in we need to change who we are. Sometimes we may even feel self-conscious that we may be seen as different, as "too Jewish."
The truth is, we each deserve to be proud of our heritage and our sacred traditions that have been part of the Jewish story for millennia. We definitely don't need to change to fit in. On the contrary, what we should be doing is learning more about who we are, what our heritage and traditions mean, and discover the most beautiful, meaningful and harmonious life the Torah teaches us.
In 2022, when there is perhaps greater awareness and sensitivity than ever before, about respecting and appreciating the culture and traditions of others, when we applaud and admire minority groups who maintain their lifestyle, some of that can and should also be afforded to Jews practicing Judaism. In a time when prominent newspapers are dedicating front page Sunday space to malign, demonize and maliciously mischaracterize the life of Chasidic Jews, this point is especially potent.
This week, as millions of people around the world are remembering the Queen, I join and remember a woman who graciously appreciated the Jews in her country, and as someone who respected Jews who respect their Judaism.
Before we jump to judging someone for choosing a lifestyle different from our own - let Queen Elizabeth's memory tap us with a gentle reminder.
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.