On anniversaries and a very special Jubilee

(Photo: Unsplash/Hello I'm Nik)

Jewish academic and Hebrew scholar Irene Lancaster reflects on some significant anniversaries this year.

Today is the 5th anniversary of the Manchester bombing, which took place on 22 May 2017, killing 22 people.

It is also the 5th anniversary of my association as a writer with Christian Today, having been invited to contribute in the wake of this terrible event which hit my home town.

This year is also the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the Balfour Declaration, which led to the creation of the State of Israel, now enjoying her 75th year as a sovereign state once again.

And last, but certainly not least, this year also sees the twin anniversaries of Wimbledon (100 years in her present venue) and the Queen's Platinum Jubilee of 70 years. She has reigned longer than any other woman in history, as well as being the longest-serving British monarch.

What is the link of Wimbledon and the Queen, you might ask? Well, at the latest State Opening of Parliament, the present Black Rod, who plays an indispensable part in this age-old British pageant, was not only the first woman to take on this role, but came from her job managing – guess what – Wimbledon itself. And she certainly has the voice to match. Not for nothing is Wimbledon regarded as the peak event in the global tennis calendar.

Just as we are now all joined together via social media and electronics, so this country is joined together in weird and wonderful ways of a different order, which never fail to surprise the unsuspecting visitor, not least from the USA, many of whom seem to think that we are strangely old-fashioned, and yet an eternal source of fascination nevertheless.

This eternal fascination with our history was splendidly in evidence during the first official event to mark the Platinum Jubilee, when the Queen attended the Royal Windsor Horse Show, taking us from the reign of Elizabeth I up until the present day. History was gone over in a way that was certainly not politically correct, with the great and the good revelling in all this country's achievements in exploration, travel, arts, politics, war and sport since the Spanish Armada of 1588.

Naturally, the anti-royalist, Oliver Cromwell, was got rid of pretty quick, which was a great pity, as he was the one who allowed the Jews back into this country in 1656. And even though Jews were the only ethnic community not mentioned throughout the show, it was interesting to contemplate the fact that if not for Cromwell, Jewish composer and conductor, Debby Wiseman, would not have been in charge of the music for this great occasion.

And then we come to another anniversary, that of Classic FM, which is 30 this year. Many, if not most of the pundits compering this first Platinum Jubilee show, also feature on this increasingly popular music channel. Where else in the UK would you hear best wishes for Pesach, and an entire Chanukah show devoted to Jewish music? What other channel would cite the Israel Philharmonic at the drop of a hat, not to mention voting Schindler's List the best movie composition of all time, and number 10 in the entire list, together with Mozart, Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Tschaikovsky and Vaughan Williams?

Which brings us to another serendipitous occurrence – yes the winning Platinum Pudding was baked in my childhood home town of Southport, thus far famed for its sea which never comes in; a fleeting visit by 19th century American authors, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville; and Lord Street which was the inspiration for the Parisian Boulevards. These were built by King Napoleon III in the 19th century, after his stay in our town before the French revolutionary year of 1848.

It was my mother who told me all this on our weekly outings to a proper coffee shop on this famed street, when she would regale me with all sorts of fascinating titbits about France, the Romance languages and her own history of running away from the Nazis in that – to her at least – magical country and especially the people in Nice who hid her for so long during the war.

Yes, Southport was magical as a town for children under 10, and Mum fell in love with it as a refugee from the Shoah. Now I can take my grandchildren around when they visit from Israel and show them where famous American authors (who also visited their own country as a desert in the 19th century), wandered our dunes, and proudly point out that the town of my childhood has now even produced the winning pudding (based on trifle) for the 70th Jubilee anniversary of the Queen's reign, joining the Coronation Chicken and Victoria Sponge and putting Southport on the map once again.

Talking of Jubilees, funnily enough we have just been looking at the Biblical Books of late Leviticus, and reached chapter 25 this weekend, which is all about celebration of Jubilees, not to mention the Shemittah Year, when the land must rest, as well as the key global issues of poverty, injustice and the remission of debts.

On this subject, I hope in the near future to review the much-anticipated translation of the greatest work on this subject, 'The Shabbat of the Land', by the highly-revered first Chief Rabbi of Israel under the British Mandate, Rav Kook (originally from Latvia, if you are interested!). Rav Kook, became Chief Rabbi of Jaffa and then spent time in England, helping to garner the votes which went towards the signing of the Balfour Declaration. The British thought that Rav Kook was a pushover, and were pleased when he was appointed Chief Rabbi of Israel under their Mandate, but looks are ever deceptive, and Rav Kook gave them a rare run for their money from 1922 to 1935.

Anyway, the former Jewish chaplain at Cambridge University, Rabbi Yedidya Sinclair, who I met in 2003, during the launch of my book on Abraham ibn Ezra (on which I've written for CT), is now living in Israel and has produced a superb translation of Rav Kook's masterpiece, winning praise and endorsements from around the word. So very much looking forward to reviewing this work of art for CT.

So, those who find it hard to believe there is a G-d (and who would blame them in this brittle and materialistic world), might like to ponder the fact that there must be a meaning to so many anniversaries and celebrations taking place at this time of year. There must be a reason for all these seemingly random events, and whatever the state of the nation, the fact is that Queen Elizabeth has carried on through thick and thin, through bad times and good, attracting the admiration of the entire world throughout the ups and downs of her reign.

And it certainly isn't mere coincidence that the Jewish community are coming to the end of the Omer counting period of 49 days, as we finally reach the festival of Shavuot, seven weeks after Pesach. So we await with expectation the weekend of the Platinum Jubilee, which morphs into our festival, when we receive the commandments and also read the Book of Ruth, starting at the end of Shabbat on 4 June and lasting until the end of 6 June.

But for me, we are back where we started, at the moment of the Manchester Bombing, when I was first contacted by editor, Ruth Gledhill, and asked to contribute to Christian Today. Since then, I hope I have contributed something to Christian understanding of Jews, which it is all about after all. And, maybe as a fitting tribute to those who have worked with me during these years: the rabbis, priests, friends and colleagues, who have offered information and insights, comments and suggestions, I leave you with this anniversary first article that I penned five years ago on 30 May 2017, as a reflection on my home city of Manchester, our pilgrim festival of Shavuot, all the Ruths I have known and much more: Ruth, the ultimate pilgrim: How the Jewish festival of Shavuot can help heal Manchester's wounds