The bad news is that my grandson’s upcoming bar mitzvah will not be a royal affair. Queen Elizabeth has declined his personalized invitation.
However, Her Majesty did respond to the young Anglophile with a lovely letter, writing in part — via her Lady-in-Waiting — “Although unable to attend your Bar Mitzvah celebration, The Queen greatly appreciated your kind invitation.”
Born and bred in Southern California, my grandson Zachary (Zach) Austgen, now 12, became a believer in the British Isle when he was 7. That’s when he visited England on a family vacation that included his two older siblings. His loyalty to the crown was sealed during a second visit last year, highlighted by views of Buckingham Palace and the Changing of the Guard and attendance at the musical “Billy Elliot.”
Two weeks later, it was the parents’ turn to gasp as the mailman brought an envelope embossed with a crown.
His letter to Her Majesty was handwritten — and without any parental input. It included a photo of himself and a drawing he made of the queen and himself at his bar mitzvah party.
“Dear Queen Elizabeth,” Zach wrote, “I am writing to you today from La Jolla in California to invite you to my Bar Mitzvah. I would have emailed you the electronic ‘Save the Date’ notification, but we didn’t have your email. My Bar Mitzvah is on the 6th of January of 2018 and I would love you to come.
“You are my role model, I am a huge fan of you and England, I have visited London twice already and I am going again after my Bar Mitzvah. My after-party to my Bar Mitzvah will have an English theme, with a huge British flag at the entrance.
“Thank you for reading this and I hope to hear from you soon! — Zach”
Zach’s father, Tim, and his mother (my daughter), Ronit, have over time adjusted to their son’s fertile imagination and unusual projects.
“In first grade, when he was barely 6, a class assignment was to represent the Great Wall of China in some way,” his mother said. “Almost everyone entered a drawing, but Zach insisted he wanted to make a cake representing part of the Great Wall. He somehow befriended a pastry chef and together they made the cake wall.”
But the bar mitzvah invitation to Queen Elizabeth seemed so far out that the parents tried to prepare Zach for the inevitable letdown, figuring there was no chance he would receive a reply. Two weeks later, it was the parents’ turn to gasp as the mailman brought an envelope embossed with a crown and the letters E II R (Elizabeth the Second Regina [Queen]).
Zach’s fondness for the sceptered isle and its ruler took some time to ripen.
“The first time our family visited England, I was 10 years old,” he said. “I thought then that the way the British spoke, they were putting on airs. But I now know that everybody talks that way — and I can now understand what they’re saying most of the time.”
However, it wasn’t until his second visit to London, in the summer of 2015, that Zach learned to fully appreciate his hosts.
“I think the reason I fell in love with England was because of how the British act — they are very formal and orderly. They give off a certain vibe that makes you feel like you are part of a big, organized group. As I crossed the streets of England with everyone else in their fancy suits, carrying their fancy briefcases, I had this great feeling. I felt special.”
This from a youngster who was raised in an environment where a T-shirt, shorts and flip-flops are considered dressy.
The Austgen parents have a tradition that whenever one of their three children formally joins the Jewish peoplehood, she or he can choose the destination for their next summer vacation. There was never any doubt that Zach would opt for England, but this time he also wants to visit the countryside and, at his father’s request, take a side trip to Wales.
To show that he bears no grudges toward the queen for skipping his bar mitzvah, Zach said he is considering doing the right thing by dropping in on Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace during next summer’s family visit.