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Bubbe Elizabeth the Second

When did the Queen of England, star of the Olympic opening ceremony, become a Jewish grandmother?

Rachel Shukert
August 03, 2012
Queen Elizabeth II speaks during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012.(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
Queen Elizabeth II speaks during the Opening Ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on July 27, 2012.(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Most 86-year-old women, whatever their ethnic persuasion, do not arrive at important events via helicopter parachute, escorted by a hot piece like Daniel Craig; many of them can’t even stand up in the shower anymore. But everything else, from the ongepotchket peach lace dress to the passive-aggressive “oy, mein back” shuffle to the seats to that face, seemingly caught constantly in mid-kvetch, saying “For this you made me come out in the middle of the night, sitting outside in the rain like a dog?” Not a trace of her former impersonal friendliness, of smiling Gentile stoicism, remained. At the Olympic opening ceremony, somewhere in between the coal miners performing a Dickensian rendition of the “Stool Boom” number from Waiting for Guffman and the interpretive dance salute to the National Health Service, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, became the whole world’s bitchy Jewish bubbe. I half expected her to take an ancient sucking candy from that famous purse of hers and unwrap it loudly during the moment of silence “for everyone” that the IOC creepily rammed into the ceremony at the last minute.

Was she like this all along? The question of any stray Jewish heritage within the British Royal Family has been explored mainly by the British Israelite movement—for the most part a cheerful and benign group of loonies who since the time of Queen Victoria have held that the Ten Lost Tribes somehow found their way to the sceptered isles, where they became the progenitors of the British people, making the Windsors direct-line descendants of King David—and the usual bunch of anti-Semitic Internet crazies who believe that everyone in a position of power today is somehow a secret Rothschild taking part in a crypto-Zionist Judeo-Bolshevist conspiracy to control the world.

Whether it’s the Jewish question of her own family, or indeed, in any other capacity, the queen’s personal views on the Chosen People are, as on all other matters, a mystery. The princess royal “regrets to say that she has never been to Israel”—as it was written to me in the letter I received from her male secretary (early feminist click moment, there) when I wrote to her for a school project at my Jewish Day School in approximately 1988 in a manner so politely chagrined I was ashamed I had asked. Prince Philip has been to the Jewish state, albeit in an unofficial capacity, when his mother Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark was honored as one of the Righteous of Nations, and of all the many, many, many groups, ethnic or otherwise, upon which he has aired, shall we say, impolitic remarks over his equally numerous years in the public eye, Jews have, almost shockingly, not been among them.

On the other hand, well, let’s just say it’s not missing any fingers. Prince Harry’s youthful swastika-wearing may have been a genuinely innocent, and well-atoned-for, joke gone wrong, but the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s habitual Heil Hitler’s certainly were not. And even the cuddly Queen Mother, the Lots O’ Huggin’ Bear of the British aristocracy, had, typically of her time and class, plenty of not-so-nice things to say about the Jews behind closed doors. More recently, the late Princess Margaret became so discombobulated at a dinner party by comedian and U.K. national treasure Stephen Fry’s admission of matrilineal descent that she allegedly started screaming: “He’s a Jew! He’s a Jew!” to the assembled guests. Although, to be fair, the issue was a touchy subject for Margaret; the most memorable note of several her vengeful ex-husband Lord Snowdon apparently left around the house for her to find in the waning days of their marriage read: “You look like a Jewish manicurist and I hate you.”

It’s an observation not totally out of left field. When you look at pictures of the aged Princess Margaret, sans tiara and imperial sash, she does look not unlike your mother’s cousin Frieda who started doing nails after her divorce from that schmuck with the dry cleaner. Similarly, if there’s a more classic example of the archetypal nebbish than the young Prince Charles, I have yet to see him. Of course, one could argue that rather than Jewish, they just look German, perhaps lending some credence to Kafka’s famous assertion that these two groups are far more inextricably linked than either is entirely comfortable with, but that’s a whole rabbit-hole of head-measuring pseudo-science I don’t even want to get into.

The point is the queen, and her increasing forays into Judaic grumpiness of late: the shpilkes at the opening ceremony, the hissy fit with Annie Leibowitz, the open disapproval for the “creepiness” of the headless mannequin wearing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress that someone put right in the middle of her living room. Has she been hanging out with Camilla’s friend Joan Rivers lately? Or is she just really, really old? Which itself raises the question: Do Jews act like old people or do old people all act like Jews? Are we just born without the self-censoring part of the brain that takes other people eight decades and/or a massive stroke to attain, or is there something in the pool water at the indoor aquatic aerobics classes? Which came first, the suffering or the refusal to do it in silence?

As for Her Madge, if at the closing ceremony she starts complaining about the angle of the chair back and would it kill them to get her a cold glass of water, but not too cold, because oy, it bothers her dentures, I guess we’ll see if the Bubbification of the Sovereign is complete. In the meantime, pass the sucking candy and G-d save the Queen.


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Rachel Shukert, a Tablet Magazine columnist on pop culture, is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great. Starstruck, the first in a series of three novels, is new from Random House. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.

Rachel Shukert is the author of the memoirs Have You No Shame? and Everything Is Going To Be Great,and the novel Starstruck. She is the creator of the Netflix show The Baby-Sitters Club, and a writer on such series as GLOW and Supergirl. Her Twitter feed is @rachelshukert.