Charedim share the values of our monarchy

The rigours of the pilgrimage to the Queen’s lying in state in Westminster Hall was not for the frail residents of Schonfeld Square but Elizabeth II’s passing has stirred deep memories in this Stamford Hill community

Rabbi Avraham Pinter, unforgettable Charedi Community Leader pictured with the Queen 2006

(This article was published in the Jewish Chronicle on 29/09/2022)

Schonfeld Square, a beautiful community for elderly Jews in the heart of Stamford Hill, is home to some of the oldest and frailest Jewish people in the country.

Not for them the rigours of the pilgrimage to the Queen’s lying in state in Westminster Hall.

That show of devotion was the preserve of the able-bodied — or at least for those more able than our Schonfeld residents.

Some of our cherished residents have very little left of their faculties. They have lost their recall of a rich past completely.

Their closest and dearest are not recognised. We will cherish and care for them every day that they are with us. But this great national moment has not touched their souls as it once would have done.

But for most of the Schonfeld Square family, the Queen’s passing has stirred deep memories. Their sorrow, love and patriotism has been expressed in gentle and profoundly meaningful ways and we have reminisced together.

Mr Bernstein, then a young lad, represented Hendon County School at the Coronation. Reverend Eli Kohn was such a regular at royal events that Prince Phillip once told him: “I recognise you, I’ve seen you before.” Betty Morris shared her collection of letters from the late Queen Mother, some beautifully framed.

As a Schonfeld Square family, we were silent, bowed our heads and shared the great national loss.

What is it that lies behind the deeply royalist instincts of the strictly Orthodox? Why did schools that remain obliviously open on public holidays throughout the year close in deference on the day the monarch was brought to her final rest? What is the deep place within that has been touched?

At a fundamental level, it is a simple expression of hakarat hatov, gratitude by a people for the gift of freedom to be themselves and pursue their purpose in this world as they see it. Those who are older are acutely aware of the fragility of this gift, as they have known its deprivation.

The late Queen, and our beneficent Royal Family, bestowed this gift on us wholeheartedly. The diversity of faiths in this country, including Britain’s Jewish minority, have been made to feel welcome and valued.

In Schonfeld Square, I heard that the Shotzer Rebbe of London of blessed memory (Shulem Moskovitz 1877-1958) gave the Queen Mother a blessing for arichat yamim, long life, when she promised to assist with the rescue of thousands of children in the Kindertransport missions.

While I can’t personally vouch for the provenance of this tale, or that this blessing was indeed conferred, I know that it captures well the feeling across British Jewry towards our Royal Family.

In our modern times, Charedim can sometimes feel like an offence against modernity; a hang-up from a backward age. We may wonder about our place in modern Britain.

The monarchy, too, rebels against modern reason. It clings to the past and to a time of deference. It is deeply entwined with faith. It stands in sharpest contrast to our definition of modern values and democracy.

Yet the week of mourning for the Queen brought an outpouring of feeling from the British people and reverence from across the world.

This unmodern, mystical institution embodies the spirit of the nation and provides its sense of self, forged through time. Who else but our monarch can command this depth of respect and love?

In the mourning has come an acknowledgement that in these tempestuous, polarised times, it is the institution of the Royal Family, led by a most extraordinary monarch, that has held our nation together.

There is great comfort in that. There is great comfort in knowing that with King Charles III, this continues. We would be fearful of a Britain without its monarchy. We feel it deeply when we say: God Save the King.

Chaya Spitz is CEO of Agudas Israel Housing Association and the Interlink Foundation and is a member of the Pinter Trust steering group