When just a few weeks ago I received a kind invitation from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, to attend a dinner to celebrate the 2010 Royal Tour of Canada of Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, I was more than delighted. I was thrilled.
The thrill was rooted in appreciative nostalgia. Both my parents enjoyed the safe haven of England during the World War II. I was born in that safe haven.
So, my gratitude to England is enormous, and the opportunity to see and possibly even greet the Queen is, for me, an event of the goose-pimple variety. The lead-up to the event was relatively uneventful, until the day itself, when just as we were getting ready for the dinner, the power went out in the entire area surrounding the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto, where the dinner was scheduled to be held.
We made our way via stairs rather than elevator to the Canadian room for dinner, and everyone was in good spirits, sans air conditioning and in the midst of a pronounced heat wave. I was in the midst of a discussion with Toronto Archbishop Thomas Collins when the lights came back on. We both decided that we would not advertise this as an ecumenical miracle.
The person in charge of the evening let us know that everyone would have a chance to meet and greet the Queen. However, based on the number of people in attendance, and considering how quickly he said this part of the evening should take, I calculated that everyone would have 3-1/2 seconds with Her Majesty. Talk about talking fast!
As we were announced, my wife, Leah, and I were warmly greeted by the prime minister, and then proceeded to Her Majesty, after which we were welcomed by the Duke of Edinburgh and Laureen Harper.
Now, back to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. I thanked her for gracing our country, and then told her that according to Jewish tradition, when meeting royalty, we recite a blessing. I recited that blessing for the Queen to hear, which concludes with the words, “She’natan m’kevodo l’vasar va’dam.” Translated, that means we acknowledge God for having given Godly glory to human beings, in this case the Queen. There is nothing more elegant to say to royalty than that their majesty is a reflection of Divine glory.
Her Majesty responded by saying, “Thank you very much.” I understood this to be the Queen’s way of saying “amen.” Having squeezed so many words into 3-1/2 seconds, I did not have time to respond then and there. So, I respond here by saying, “You are most welcome.”
Her Majesty is welcome for all she has done in her sparkling life to inspire so many, for galvanizing Canada, for capturing the hearts of young and old alike, for aging with such dignity and steadfastness, for her great gift of unprecedented longevity and concomitant stability in a turbulent world.
A word about the dinner itself. It was clear from the outset that the dinner organizers, no doubt reflecting the hosts, aimed to please. The invitation clearly stated that dietary requirements would be honoured. Our table, which included Frank Dimant and Michael Mostyn of B’nai Brith Canada, had four kosher meals, all served with class. We were all delighted to be in the presence of majesty, and would have willingly gone hungry. For us, the meal was an extra.
That the request for kosher meals was so eagerly and happily carried out reflects what Canada is all about – profound respect for all authentic traditions. We dare not take this for granted. Those whom we thanked for this were most gracious in their response, saying it was nothing. But it was not nothing. It was, and remains, a very significant something of immense importance. So, to the prime minster and his wife, and through them to all Canadians, we say, for this and so many other blessings – “Thank you very much.”
Rabbi Bulka heads Congregation Machzikei Hadas in Ottawa and is rabbinic emissary for Canadian Jewish Congress.