Royal Treatment

By Rachel Ellner

Published June 01, 2007, issue of June 01, 2007.
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A baby girl from a large family in the Riverdale section of the Bronx is receiving a lot of attention in Belgium. She’ll be getting a lot of benefits, as well. Four days after her birth, Batsheva Paola Spira became goddaughter to Paola Ruffo di Calabria, queen of the Belgians.

Some 140 years ago, King of the Belgians Leopold II instituted an unusual tradition: The seventh consecutive daughter or son born to a Belgian family gets a special godparent. The queen is responsible for the daughters, and the king gets the sons. To qualify for this honor, the family has to be of good character.

Batsheva’s father, Alain Spira, was born and raised in Belgium. He owns A. S. Diamonds, a New York City wholesaler. The baby’s mother, Naomi, is a designer in the family business and took art courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The Spiras have business and family ties in Belgium.

“I always knew about that tradition,” Alain said. “When I grew up, there was a religious family of seven boys that named their seventh after King Baudouin. So I contacted the Belgian consulate the day after Batsheva’s birth.” The Spiras, who are ultra-Orthodox, felt uneasy with the term “godparent,” so they noted only that they would be honored if the queen would bestow some kindness on their child.

The tradition’s origins, and even its existence, remain obscure. Only one or two qualifying children a year now come to the attention of the royal family. “Oddly enough, people from the consulate asked, ‘Is this true?’” said Linda Edwards, assistant to the Belgian Consul General in New York.

“They jumped on the idea,” Spira said. As luck would have it, the king and queen were coming to New York for United Nations business that weekend.

“It was thrilling,” Naomi said. “The queen was very elegant, refined and soft spoken. She handled most of the conversation.”

The ceremony, held in Manhattan on Mother’s Day in the lobby of 7 World Trade Center, was also a last-minute gift to Belgian paparazzi. Little Batsheva made front pages and newscasts all over Belgium, Edwards said.

The family arrived in a stretch Hummer rented by Alain’s father. “He was like a little kid seeing the king,” Naomi said. Each of Batsheva’s sisters wrote a letter to the queen, and 6-year-old Avigail presented her with flowers. The girls also presented the queen with jewelry for each of her five grandchildren. “The girls were a big hit in school,” Naomi said.

Little Batsheva’s benefits include free education and twice-a-year access to the castle.

Batsheva’s sisters already have been exposed to French at home, but meeting the queen and king brought the family closer to Belgium. “Now the children want Belgian passports,” Naomi said.


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