Jewish bloodlines turn up in most interesting UK places
June 15, 2012 | Jewish Tribune
Stephen Burstin Special to the Tribune
LONDON – Seder Night at Buckingham Palace may not be in Queen Elizabeth’s diary of events but placing an order for Matzah may just be on the cards for a future King of England.
When Prince William tied the marital knot with Kate Middleton in last year’s fairy tale wedding he is said to have married into a Jewish blood line stretching back centuries.
William follows his father Prince Charles as heir to the throne and his new mother-in-law is the former Carole Goldsmith. Despite five generations of Goldsmiths marrying in church some royal observers say there’s a very real Jewish heritage in the Goldsmith clan.
The revelation is just one of countless Jewish links that continue to surface among English society both past and present.
Not of royal blood but certainly considered a blood brother to one monarch was Sir Ernest Cassel whose best pal, King Edward VII, was the wayward son of Queen Victoria.
Cassel was born in mid-19th century Germany where his father, Jacob, owned a small bank but the son arrived in England penniless at 17. With an enormous capacity for hard work and a natural business sense he was soon a major player in the private banking sector and one of the country’s wealthiest men by the beginning of the 20th century.
Cassel mixed in the grandest circles befriending the then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith and a young Winston Churchill. So constant a companion was he to King Edward that he earned the nickname Windsor Cassel.
The Jewish Connection is present in modern day British politics too…and in whichever political direction you turn.
Current Prime Minister David Cameron’s great, great grandparents were stalwarts in London’s Jewish community. His paternal great, great grandfather was Emile Levita, a German financier who was granted British citizenship in 1871.
Levita was a director of the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China, which became Standard Chartered Bank. He married into the wealthy Danish Jewish Rée family.
Today, when Conservative PM Cameron taunts his greatest adversary in Parliament, he may just have a moment’s hesitation before heaping insults, because facing him is Labour leader Ed Miliband, Jewish opposition leader.
And the official referee on these heated occasions is the speaker of Parliament – the current holder of the post having a possible dilemma as to who to favour when the war of words gets nasty. He is John Bercow, grandson of Romanian Jewish immigrants.
But if Bercow’s attempts at mediation are in vain and the two opponents come to blows in Parliament, they can seek treatment for any injuries sustained just yards away at the famous St. Thomas Hospital…and it’s thanks to a scion of the Rothschild banking dynasty. For in the late 19th century, before the advent of the National Health Service, hospitals relied on public donations to survive. And it was Lord Nathan Rothschild and his wealthy co-religionists who often came to St. Thomas’ rescue when it was in dire financial straits and on the verge of closing.
Religious Jews who found themselves in hospital also had much for which to thank Rothschild. With the massive influx of East European Jewish immigrants to London from the 1880s onwards, Lord Rothschild came to a very special arrangement with the governors of St. Thomas Hospital and, more importantly, its sister hospital the Royal London in the capital’s East End where 200,000 impoverished Jews lived. In return for further massive donations from London’s wealthiest Jewish families the hospitals began providing kosher food, Jewish only wards, facilities for celebrating Shabbat and even separate ice chambers for Jewish bodies.
The arrangement was unofficial with all parties shaking hands on it and all keeping their word for many years.
At several other famous London landmarks a surprise or two lurks for the connoisseur of Jewish trivia. Standing proudly outside the Houses of Parliament is a statue of Oliver Cromwell who led his anti-Royalist forces to victory in England’s 17th century Civil War. Authoritarian and cruel maybe, but Cromwell later orchestrated the return of Jews to England after 350 years of forced exile.
Just feet away and competing for the attention of passersby is the monument to another of England’s leaders at time of war – Winston Churchill. It is not readily recalled that Churchill was often at the forefront in defence of Jewish interests. He opposed the 1905 Aliens Act that sought to restrict Eastern European Jewish immigration; was one of the lone voices against harsh immigration quotas during the 1930s; and before a packed Parliament after World War II he urged Zionists seeking a Jewish state to: “Persevere! Persevere! Persevere!”
Not all heads of state though were as sympathetic to the Jewish community. In the shadow of the dreaded Tower of London, symbol of oppression, torture and execution in bygone days, the visitor is reminded of the tragic fate that befell the country’s Jewish leaders in medieval times.
In 1255, the body of a young Christian boy was found at the bottom of a well in the garden of a Jew. On the promise of having his life spared he was induced by the local priest to ‘confess’ the boy had been murdered by several prominent Jews, despite the widely believed assumption he had wandered into the garden and slipped into the well.
The heads of 18 leading Jewish households in England were then accused of the boy’s ritual murder, taken to the Tower of London and, after prolonged torture, hanged.
It’s a far cry from 200 years earlier when the Tower was built by King William I after popping over from France and vanquishing the English, earning him the sobriquet William the Conqueror. He invited French Jewish moneylenders to join him and help prop up his new realm.
So delighted was he with the service he received from his Jewish ‘bankers’ William ordered that all his new castles, including the Tower of London, be sanctuaries for Jews at times of anti-Jewish violence by the populace. What a tower of strength he was!
Journalist and tour guide Stephen Burstin specializes in Jewish-themed conducted tours of London. www.jewishlondonwalkingtours.co.uk