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Celebrating the British Royals and Reform Judaism on Victoria Day

Celebrating the British Royals and Reform Judaism on Victoria Day

Triangular British bunting/flags in foreground; out-of-focus garden party in background

Growing up in Ottawa, Canada, I looked forward to Victoria Day, which falls this year on Monday, May 21, as the official start of the summer season. With it comes some combination of beach, beer, barbecue, and, finally, an excuse to wear sandals and a t-shirt. This year, the long weekend will mark a more historic moment for the British Crown and the rest of the Commonwealth – the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

I admit I am a royalist, but it comes naturally; my mother is British. Waking up in the early morning hours of July 29, 1981 to watch Lady Diana Spencer marry her prince, I am excited for another royal wedding. And yes, I am eager to see Meghan in her dress. I am a hopeless romantic at heart. But this time, there is a stirring of something harder to name – a sense that change is upon the royal family, and by virtue, on all of us.

I called this an historic moment, but what makes it so?

First, some history. In 1936, King George V died and his elder son, Edward VIII became king, but only for a few months. He was in love with Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American woman, and since the king also is the figurehead of the Church of England, he could not, in that era, be married to a divorcee. Edward chose love and abdicated the throne. His younger brother Albert became king, taking the name George VI, and served until his death in 1952. Because he had no sons, his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, became Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, and is, indeed, the same Queen Elizabeth who rules today. She’s also Prince Harry’s grandmother.

The future duchess, Meghan Markle, is a well-known American actress. She is also divorced and biracial, the child of an African-American mother and a white father. Even though the likelihood that Prince Harry ever will see the throne is extremely low (there are currently five people ahead of him), this marriage even 20 years ago might have been frowned upon. It is heartening to see British royalty evolve and reform in this way.

This evolution reminds me of the story of Reform Judaism and the strides it has made to reform and renew Jewish life. In its early days, the movement made changes to worship, including introducing musical instruments and adopting family pews, sometimes called mixed gender seating. Later on, Reform Judaism ordained women rabbis and cantors and welcomed interfaith families, same-sex couples, and transgender Jews. In Israel, too, our movement offers alternatives to the ones offered by the state-sanctioned authorities.

The creativity and pioneering spirit offered by Reform Judaism plays out in other ways, too. Recently, Temple Shalom in Newton, MA, named Rabbi Allison Berry and Rabbi Laura J. Abrasley as co-senior rabbis, marking the first time two women will serve together as senior rabbis of a Reform congregation. In many ways, the 1972 ordination of Sally Priesand, the first woman rabbi in the Reform community, paved the way changes such as this one.

So, what will I be doing this Victoria Day weekend?

I will be hoping for warm weather for my fellow Canadians, wherever they are; I will be watching Meghan and Prince Harry marry; and I will be reveling in pride at Reform Judaism, the largest and most diverse movement in North America, and its ability to evolve and adjust in response to events and changes in the world around us.

Rabbi Esther L. Lederman is the Union for Reform Judaism's director of congregational innovation.

Rabbi Esther L. Lederman

Published: 5/14/2018

Categories: Jewish Life, Arts & Culture, Reform Judaism
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