Royal baby, Jews and international fascination

So we have a new royal baby in the United Kingdom. Mazal Tov! As someone who worked in communications for Buckingham Palace for three years, from 2009 to 2012, I was both delighted to hear the news and interested to gauge the global media reaction to the new arrival. It’s a story off the Richter scale of the mainstream news agenda, generating interest from almost every outlet in every country in the world (to give a sense of international interest in the royals, the wedding of Kate and William in 2011 was broadcast in 180 countries). It means that the queen, at the grand age of 87, leads a family of four generations, with the succession mapped out for another generation. 

Americans, of course, have long been fascinated by the monarchy. Since becoming queen more than 60 years ago, Elizabeth II has met every U.S. president, with the exception of Lyndon Johnson. It is worth remembering that, at the beginning of her reign, President Harry Truman occupied the White House, and Winston Churchill was the British prime minister. President Barack Obama was not even born when she became queen, nor was Prime Minister David Cameron, or Tony Blair for that matter. As monarch, she has remained a steadfast figure in an age of enormous political, social and economic change. 

When Elizabeth II was crowned at Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953, Jacqueline Bouvier, later to become wife of President John Kennedy, was one of the thousands of journalists in London to report on the coronation (she was working for the Washington Times-Herald). The queen’s first visit to the United States took place in 1957, on the 350th anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement, and she has been most recently in 2007, as well as three previous visits in 1976, 1983 and 1991. Her grandchildren have followed in her footsteps, with William and Kate visiting California in 2011, and Prince Harry visiting as recently as May this year. 

If the volume of U.S. media coverage of royal stories is anything to go by, the fascination of Americans with the British monarchy has intensified in recent years. There are a number of factors in this; certainly films like “The Queen” and “The King’s Speech” have magnified global interest in the monarchy. Of course, the combination of affection for an elderly monarch, and the increasing prominence of the “third generation” of William, Kate and Harry, with their mixture of composure and glamour, has also generated interest. It appears that President Obama and the queen enjoy a warm personal chemistry, cemented on a state visit in London in 2011, when it was revealed that the first daughters had ridden in a carriage on palace grounds on a previous visit to London. At a more conceptual level, there has also been a growing public appreciation of the stability and continuity engendered by the monarchy, at a time of economic turbulence and falling trust in politicians and in a number of public institutions. 

The American media presence in London for recent big-ticket royal events has been enormous. All the major U.S. networks have come here in droves. There were reports that one large U.S. network sent a staff of 400 to cover the wedding in 2011. American tourists have flocked to London, and a must-see on their itinerary is a visit to watch changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace or another royal venue (they helped make 2012 a record-breaking year for inbound tourism to the United Kingdom). 

So trans-Atlantic interest in the monarchy may be booming, and as British Jews, we, too, have reason to be thankful for the monarchy. This may not be immediately obvious to our American co-religionists. In the United Kingdom, we do not have a separation between church and state. The Church of England is the official religion, and an onlooker could easily think that minority faith groups could feel excluded and marginalized, but nothing could be further from the truth. As it happens, the Church of England provides a protective umbrella for faith, ensuring that the importance of faith is woven into our constitutional architecture, even in an increasingly secular society. 

One of my favorite moments of last year’s Diamond Jubilee, marking 60 years of the queen’s reign, was a gathering of the different faith communities in the United Kingdom at Lambeth Palace, the home of the archbishop of Canterbury. Each of the major faiths in Britain brought an object of particular significance to their tradition and history in Britain to show to the queen. The Jewish community showed her the Codex Valmadonna, which is a Talmud dating from the Middle Ages, before the Jews were expelled in 1290. At another Jubilee event, this one at Buckingham Palace, one Jewish community leader was able to wish the queen, “Ad me’ah ve’esrim, Your Majesty” (“until 120,” a common birthday wish for a long life). This was well received on translation, even though some of the media reporters at the palace understandably required an explanation. 

Given the attention the monarchy pays to minority faiths, it is not surprising that it is very popular in these segments of the population. Our own community enjoys positive relations with the royals. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was a guest at the royal wedding and other “state” occasions. Royals are patrons of some Jewish charities and organizations. At a community event last year, Prince Charles praised the “talents and contributions” of the Jewish community in Britain, especially its philanthropy. In shul every week on Shabbat, a special prayer is recited for the royal family. 

The monarchy, therefore, is regarded positively in both the Jewish community in Britain and among the American public. Public popularity and sentiment can be fickle, and the institution is mindful of that. In time, the new royal baby will come to appreciate that while he will not become king of America, his family is the subject of public fascination the world over.

Zaki Cooper worked in the Buckingham Palace press office from 2009 to 2012 and writes in a personal capacity. He is a trustee of the Council of Christians and Jews.

Rosh Hashanah and the art of beekeeping

I never told my wife about the bees.

My wife, the rabbi, has suffered my enthusiasm for urban farming with bemusement and exasperation, anger and forgiveness. Much like God Herself suffers the Children of Israel.

Last Monday morning, for instance, after returning on a long night flight from New York, she was up way too early, making coffee in the kitchen, when the two pygmy goats burst through the open hallway door and charged like plains buffalo for the dog-food container. Goldie (yes, Goldie Horn) used one of her mini-shofars to crash the tin lid, which skittered across the floor, followed by a shot pattern of kibble.

“ROB! GOATS!” I heard.

I rushed in to shoo them off and herd them, like a wannabe Jacob, back into the pen, from where they had managed once again to escape.

And where, six months ago, I found the bees.

This was back when I got it into my head that my urban farm, with two goats, five chickens, four dozen artichoke plants, a summer garden, plus pomegranate, lemon and fig trees, really needed a beehive. Because the year before, my tomatoes and peppers had failed to thrive. 

“Bees,” Pete, my very laconic farmers market plant man said. “Incomplete pollination.”

We all know that bees around the world are dying off due to a mysterious condition called colony collapse disorder. At the same time, urban farmers are trying to revitalize the idea of home hives. The bees get a small population bump, the neighboring plants get pollinated, the homeowner gets honey. Urban farmers take the idea that “change begins with me” quite personally — maybe too personally.

What I didn’t do was raise the idea of bees with my wife. How do you tell a woman from Brooklyn — I mean concrete, black-hat Boro Park Brooklyn, not hip, home-brew, aquaponic-farm Brooklyn — that you want to put a beehive 40 feet from her bedroom window? Here’s how: You don’t.

I ordered a book, “The Backyard Beekeeper.” Imagine my relief when it arrived in a plain brown wrapper.  

The book was a revelation. Bees are an alien civilization — complex, hierarchical and orderly. You watch over the hive without intervening too much in their self-contained lives. In short, you are Spinoza’s God, they are humanity. The idea is to buy a hive, order a queen and her drones, then put their universe in motion. They do the rest.

The queen produces eggs; the drones mate with the queen; the workers, which are nonreproducing females, build and clean the honeycomb, get nectar, make honey. The hive is the model functional society; the beekeeper’s job is to not screw it up.

The more I read, the more amazed I was. Bees, it turns out, serve as a kind of evolutionary model for human tribal behavior. If natural selection affirms the power of selfishness, seeing life as a zero-sum game — either I pass down my genes, or you do yours — bees live a life of sacrifice, subsumed for the good of the group.

In his book “The Happiness Hypothesis,” Jonathan Haidt posits that humans have coevolved according to both our culture and our genetics. Genetically, we are predisposed to compete, to win out against others at all cost — survival of the fittest. But we are also hive animals who benefit by developing and following rules and laws that enable our group to succeed.

Haidt (and others) view religion itself as a set of rules that re-create hive behavior. We increase our chances for survival — and for happiness — by being part of a group. Morality and religion are intertwined. Future generations can no more reinvent morality from scratch than a single bee can re-create a hive.

“When opponents of evolution object that human beings are not mere apes, they are correct,” Haidt writes. “We are also part bee.”

Of course, a tribe like ours is not exactly a hive. It isn’t even always a tribe. We remain individuals, freer than bees to strike out on our own. But here’s the lesson the bee book taught me: It is only in the hive that we, as individuals, can thrive.

As I read my secret book, I wondered if that is one reason that honey is the symbol of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which begins tonight. We Jews don’t say “Happy New Year” to one another. We don’t even say just “Good New Year.” We say, “Shanah tovah u’metukah” — a happy and sweet year.

The idea of honey, of the hive, is built into our wishes: Goodness is individual, sweetness comes from community. That’s why even the least practicing Jews find themselves drawn to synagogue on the High Holy Days. Maybe they don’t need to go to shul to know right from wrong, to feel a part of something larger than themselves, to experience the Mysterious. But how will their children know? How about their grandchildren? Individuals come and go — the hive remains.

Not long ago, just before I was about to have the bee talk with my wife, I noticed something unusual in the backyard: bees.

Dozens of them were crawling over the yellow pumpkin blossoms, buzzing back and forth to the goat pen. I followed their path to the round compost bin. At night (when bees sleep, too), I lifted the lid and peered inside: The bees had colonized the bin. And though I wouldn’t get honey from it, at least I’d provided the bees with a home, of sorts. 

I filed the book on my shelf, let the bees do their thing on their own, and never told my wife about any of it. The last thing I wanted to do, I realized, was disturb the hive.

Shanah tovah u’metukah.



We read the story of Queen Esther, Megillat Esther, twice – on Thursday evening and Friday morning. Let’s see if you know the story.

Put the parts in the right order.

__Mordechai tells Esther Haman’s plan.

__Mordechai will not bow to Haman. Haman decides to kill all the Jews on Adar.

__4. Mordechai saves the kings life by overhearing and exposing a plot to kill him.

__Haman is hanged along with his 10 sons.

__Vashti is canned. Esther becomes the new queen.

__Queen Vashti refuses to show up at the party.

__On the 13th day of Adar, the Jews outside the city of Shushan defend themselves. They win! They celebrate their victory on the 14th of Adar. That day becomes the holiday of Purim.

__The king can’t sleep. He reads his diary and remembers that Mordechai saved his life.

__Esther risks her life by going to Ahasuerus uninvited. She invites him and Haman to a banquet.

__At the banquet, Esther reveals that she is a Jew and that Haman wants to kill her people.

__King Ahasuerus throws a party.

__9. Haman visits the king. Ahasuerus calls Haman to take Mordechai around town in royal robes, riding a white horse.)

Now that you have put the story in order, find the hidden word by locating the letter in each sentence that matches the number below. (Hint: In the fourth sentence, the 11th letter is A.)

–  –  –  – –  –  –  – –  –  – –

6 7 2 1 1 1 2 1 2 4 1 2


For the Kids

Upside-Down Holiday

"Vanahafochu!" This is Purim’s most important word. It means: "And everything was turned upside down!" That is the story and the message of Purim. The people who were victims became victors; the servant became the master; the Jewish girl became a queen.

Esther’s name means "hidden" in Hebrew. So what are we being told? That there are two sides to everything — the side we see and the side we don’t.

Find the hidden Purim word. What do the letters in the circles spell?

On Purim, we read

the whole: __ __ O __ __ __ __ __

The Color of STOP!: O __ __

Purim’s bad guy: __ O __ __ __

The color of GO!: O__ __ __ __

Opposite of small: __ __ O

Purim’s queen: O__ __ __ __ __

The best Jewish

holiday in Adar!: __ __O __ __

by Abby Gilad


Why do we wear costumes and masks on Purim? Well, it could be to remind us that Queen Esther hid her Jewish identity from King Ahasuerus. Because of that, she was able to save the Jewish people. It could be a way for us to turn the world upside down for a little while, in the same way that the world was turned upside down in Shushan: Haman was hanged on the gallows that had been built for Mordechai; the Jews were not killed, but were able to defend themselves; and a day of mourning was turned into day of joy.

The Joy of Purim

Purim takes place on the 14th day of Adar. So we say: Mishenichnas Adar marbim besimcha. “In the month of Adar, we are filled with joy.” So, here’s a joke:Q:What do you call a steak ordered by 10 Jews?A: Fillet minyan!