Sunday, November 18, 2007

King and Country

I was amazed this week to read about the marriage, 60 years ago, of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. This is what the archives - recently opened - tell us about their wedding:

"Princess Elizabeth, as she was then, and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten were married at the height of postwar and rationing; like all brides at the time the Princess had to save up her clothing ration coupons for her wedding dress.

The book says that the government gave the couple the standard extra 200 clothing coupons, allowed to all brides, but that they were also inundated with coupons sent by women from all over the country - all sent back because passing on coupons was illegal. Among gifts from abroad were 131 pairs of nylons and 500 cases of tinned pineapples from the governor of Queensland. The New York Institute of Dress Designers sent 25 dresses as a gift, 20 of which were given to other brides getting married at the same time.

…Anxious not to appear too extravagant at a time of rationing, the royal family limited the wedding breakfast to 150 guests and three courses, with partridge as the main dish since it was not rationed."

I was amazed because I didn't realise that even the queen was rationed during/after WWII. It is incredible to see the Royal family as bound by the same rules of the rank and file, sharing in the distress and suffering of the nation, having to exercise a degree of restraint and modesty in difficult times.

Indeed, this is the true Jewish way. The king is instructed (Devarim 17) לבלתי רום לבבו מאחיו - "that he not raise his head above his brethren". A Jewish king must be accessible to the nation and not be so aloof, allowing himself to become detached from his nation.

I was connecting all this with our current leadership here in Israel. Sometimes I really get this sense of an ivory tower.

A friend said to me today; how is it that Olmert hasn't spent a few days living in Sderot? The city is daily under rocket fire. How can he not go there and share at least symbolically in their daily torment?

Likewise, I was jarred by the arrogance of this statement today. The High School teachers have been on strike for a month now. For over a month kids have not attended school. Does Olmert care enough to come off his high-horse? This is a quote as to why Olmert sees no reason to engage the teachers in conversation

"With all due respect, there is no reason why the union head should meet with the prime minister in person," he said. "The finance and education ministers have my full backing in carrying out the negotiations and reaching an agreement. The teachers must take part in our plan to reform the education system and make it better. The strike is uncalled for."

If students have not been in school for a month, then however much faith and belief you have in your Education and Finance minister, one would imagine that the PM might care enough to intervene. This is a national crisis of extreme proportions.

Or maybe he is simply so out of touch that he doesn't quite get it?

I love the accounts of Begin who lived in a 2 room Tel Aviv apt. which would be filled with the Likud faithful - the Amcha, rank and file - every Shabbat afternoon to talk and debate ideology. Leaders have to lead. They need to be above the nation in some way, and yet they also must know how to be in touch with the people, to share in their pain, to empathise, to be connected.

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