The guest of honor at the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award dinner, held June 23 at The Pierre, was Prince William’s uncle, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex. Created by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, in 1956, the award is dedicated to the personal development of young people ages 14 to 25 from all backgrounds. According to a press release, it encourages “mental challenge, perseverance and interaction with others.” Founded in Israel in 1985 by Yehuda Arel it is also know as the Israel Youth Award. According to National Award Authorities office in Herzliya, “The programme operates in eight geographical areas and works to build bridges and create dialogue across diverse groups and cultures, bringing people together. “
At the microphone, the prince displayed a delightful sense of whimsy. When we chatted, I told him that in Montreal, during the war, my school day at Alfred Joyce — an Anglican school with a 98% Jewish student body — started each day with “God Save the King.” He shook my hand and smiled. Among the guests were award-winning actress Kirstie Alley; actress Marilu Henner, and Miss America 2011, Teresa Scanlan.
Seeking a Jewish connection with the royal family, I e-mailed Martin Gilbert, who is the official biographer of Winston Churchill and has been knighted by the queen. It was thanks to Gilbert that I learned of Prince * Charles**’s 2008 address at London’s Jewish Free School, in which he revealed, “My grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece, had sheltered a Jewish family during the Holocaust.” Hidden at the princess’s residence were Rachel Cohen, wife of Haimaki Cohen, a former Member of Parliament from Northern Greece, and the Cohens’ children.
When Gilbert called me from London on June 30, I asked him, “Did the queen dub you?” He said: “All the knighthoods come from the queen, but I was dubbed [struck lightly with a sword] by Prince Charles. My knighthood was given for two services, to British history and to international relations. I was consulted by [former prime minister] John Major on various policy issues and accompanied him on official visits to Washington, Israel and Gaza. In 2009 I was made a privy councilor, so I am now ‘The Right Honorable Sir Martin Gilbert.’”
My reason for asking about a royal Jewish connection was that in June 1967 — three weeks after the Six Day War — I met the Countess of Harewood at a fundraiser for Israel held at the London Hilton, which was attended by nearly 1,000 Jewish women. The countess, nee Marion Stein, a pianist, was then the only Jewish member of the royal family. Gilbert knew of no such other connection, but suggested, “There is a prayer for the royal family that is recited each week in synagogues throughout the U.K.,” and that I should contact Rabbi Nicky Liss of Highgate Synagogue.”
In his July 3 e-mail, Liss wrote to me: “To the best of my knowledge, the [following] prayer is recited in all Orthodox synagogues in the U.K. — though more Orthodox synagogues recite the prayer in Hebrew: ‘He who gives salvation to kings and dominion to princes, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom — may he bless our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth; Philip, Duke of Edinburgh; Charles, Prince of Wales, and all the Royal Family. May the supreme King of Kings in his mercy preserve the Queen in life, guard her and deliver her from all trouble and sorrow. May he put a spirit of wisdom and understanding into her heart and into the hearts of all her counselors, that they may uphold the peace of the realm, advance the welfare of the nation, and deal kindly and justly with the house of Israel. In her days and in ours, may our Heavenly Father spread the tabernacle of peace over all of the dwellers on earth and may the redeemer come to Zion and let us say amen.’”
My friendship with Café des Artistes owner George Lang, who died at 86 on July 5, began on September 9, 2001, at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society’s 120th birthday bash, held at Brighton Beach’s National Restaurant. After expressing his indebtedness to HIAS, host Lang introduced me as one of the immigrants HIAS had helped during the 1940s. He compared his arrival in 1946 (aboard the S.S. Marine Flasher) to “marrying the girl you love, then discovering she has money.”
At his 80th birthday bash, June 15, 2004, held next door to Café des Artistes, Lang delighted the guests with some fancy fiddling. In his autobiography, “Nobody Knows the Truffles I’ve Seen” (Knopf, 1998), Lang, who was born in Hungary, the only child of a Jewish tailor, details his World War II survival saga, including the name change, from Deutsch, to his mother’s maiden name, Lang (which, he noted, “means ‘flame’ in Hungarian”).
In his August 4, 2004, note to me, he wrote: “Heaven knows, I have had a life filled with the best as well as the worst. But it is not often that I read an article as enjoyable as yours in the Forward. In high school I had a literary teacher — that meant teaching Hungarian literature, of course — and he taught us that there are forwards which tell us what-how-why-pleasure-or pain. Remembering his good words, your article gave me a special array of feelings at the end of it, and I would very much like to tell you that you are a brilliant reporter/thinker.”
The lecture “Yiddish Culture in Montreal: Yesterday and Today,” sponsored by the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and held June 30 at New York’s Center for Jewish History, featured Rebecca Margolis, an associate professor of the Vered Jewish Canadian Studies Program at the University of Ottawa. While the event was an experience for many in the audience, for me it was a nostalgic revisit to a city in which, between 1941 and 1945, my mother and I found refuge.
By the 1950s, Margolis noted, “Montreal was the world’s center of Yiddish culture, with 50% of its Jews speaking Yiddish — down from 77% in 1911, but way up from the 3% in 2006.” It was a city where “the Jews created their own library — di folk-bibliotek — a source of both Yiddish works and Yiddish translations of the world’s literature.”
Margolis, author of the recently published “Jewish Roots, Canadian Soil,” (McGill-Queen’s University Press), wove a cultural tapestry of Montreal, where Jewish students attended British Anglican schools (as did I) or full-time Yiddish secular schools. “The Jewish community became an example of what other immigrant groups could establish in Quebec, where Hasidic schools are subsidized by the Province of Quebec, as are all ethnic schools,” she said.