King Charles III and the Jews
6 Facts about Britain’s new king.
With the passing of Britain’s beloved Queen Elizabeth II at age 96, the longest serving monarch in the United Kingdom’s history, her eldest son Prince Charles has become Britain’s newest monarch. Here are six facts about King Charles III, Jews, and Israel.
Circumcised by a Rabbi
King Charles III has something in common with thousands of British Jews, he was circumcised by Rabbi Jacob Snowman (1871-1959), a brilliant physician and one of London’s leading mohelim (Jewish ritual circumcisers).
It's widely believed that the tradition dates back to the early 1700s, when Britain’s King George I – who was born in Germany – imported the custom of German noblemen to have mohelim circumcise their sons, though some have disputed this account, claiming that this royal practice is far newer. It’s unclear why this became a tradition, but some speculate that their extensive experience reassured anxious parents that their sons would be safe during the procedure. Charles’ mother Queen Elizabeth wanted only the best for Charles, so she turned to Rabbi Snowman, who was well known in London’s Jewish community.
Unlike Queen Elizabeth II, who never visited Israel in all her long years on the throne, her son Charles has made trips to the Jewish state. One emotional visit occurred in 2016, when he travelled to Jerusalem for the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. While there, Charles visited the grave of his grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece, who saved Jews during the Holocaust and was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. She is buried in Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
Born in 1885, Princess Alice was the great granddaughter of Britain’s Queen Victoria. She married Prince Andrew of Greece and moved to Athens with her new husband. She was intensely unhappy. A religious Christian, Alice watched as her husband drifted into a life of dissolution. With the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, her three daughters all became ardent Fascists and married Nazi officials. Only her son Philip, King Charles father, defied Nazism, moving to England and fighting with distinction in the British air force during World War II.
Princess Alice remained at home in Athens alone; her husband had long since left her and was completely devoted to a life of drinking and gambling. During the Holocaust, Princess Alice invited a Jewish family she was friends with, the Cohens, to move into her apartment with her. Her building was next to the Gestapo’s Athens headquarters, and Princess Alice was even brought in for questioning at one point, but she refused to divulge the fact that she was sheltering Jews.
After the Holocaust, she was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Alice founded a religious order and died in 1969. Her wish was to be buried in Israel. At first her family ignored her request, but in 1988 the Royal Family arranged for her remains to be reinterred in Jerusalem. On his 2016 visit to her grave, Charles brought purple flowers that had been grown in Scotland – her favorite – and placed them on her grave.
King Charles visited Israel again in 2020, when he attended the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. There, Charles lingered, speaking with Jewish Holocaust survivors at length, and hearing their stories. “He was very interested in how it was in Auschwitz and how we managed to survive,” explained survivor Marta Weiss, who met the newest monarch during his visit. “He was very sympathetic. He came across as genuinely interested, not just doing it for the sake of it.”
He Owns His Own Personalized Kippah
King Charles III owns his own personalized kippah: a blue velvet yarmalke adorned with the official royal crest of the Prince of Wales, his previous title, embroidered in gold and white thread.
One of the first sightings of the royal kippah was at the installation of Britain’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mervis in 2013. Charles was the first member of the royal family to attend an installation of a chief rabbi.
Friends with Leading Orthodox Rabbi
King Charles and Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Britain, of blessed memory, forged a close bond, brought together by their public roles as community leaders in Britain and by their shared commitment to making the world a better place. When Rabbi Sacks died in 2020, Charles delivered an emotional eulogy for his friend and teacher.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks “and I were exact contemporaries, born in the year of the foundation of the State of Israel, and, over many years, I had come to value his counsel immensely. He was a trusted guide, and inspired teacher and a true and steadfast friend. I shall miss him more than words can say…. He taught us how to listen to others, and how to learn from them without compromising the convictions of either party; he taught us to value participation in the common life of the nation; and through it all, he taught us the need to respect the integrity and harmony of God’s Creation.”
Adding Portraits of Holocaust Survivors to the Royal Collection
Last year, King Charles commissioned seven major new paintings to add to the official Royal Collection of art, displayed in Buckingham Palace: seven paintings of Holocaust survivors. The project was part of the prince’s long-standing aim of educating future generations and ensuring that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten.
King Charles himself wrote an introduction to the exhibit’s catalog: “Behind every portrait is a unique story, of a life lived, of love, of loss. However, these portraits represent something far greater than seven remarkable individuals. They stand as a living memorial to the six million innocent men, women, and children whose stories will never be told, whose portraits will never be painted. They stand as a powerful testament to the quite extraordinary resilience and courage of those who survived and who, despite their advancing years, have continued to tell the world of the unimaginable atrocities they witnessed. They stand as a permanent reminder for our generation – and indeed, to future generations – of the depths of depravity and evil humankind can fall to when reason, compassion and truth are abandoned.”
Seven Portraits: Surviving the Holocaust went on display in Buckingham Place in January 2022.
Touched by Jewish Prayers for the Royal Family
Each week, Jews across Britain and the Commonwealth pray for the welfare of the monarch and their near relations in synagogue on Shabbat. For decades, that meant praying for the welfare of Queen Elizabeth II – and her son, “Charles, Prince of Wales, and all the royal family….”
In 2019, at a royal Hanukah party at Buckingham Palace, King Charles praised Britain’s Jewish community and formally thanked them for their prayers. “I say this from a particular and personal perspective, because I Have grown up being deeply touched by the fact that British synagogues have, for centuries, remembered my family in your weekly prayers. And as you remember my family, so we too remember and celebrate you.”
King Charles III is consoling his nation from the depths of his very own grief. It is a testament to his commitment to a life of service and giving to others.
After Queen Elizabeth II's death, Britain's Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, noted that "Throughout her extraordinary reign, she conducted herself with grace, dignity and humility and was a global role model for distinguished leadership and selfless devotion to society… Every week in synagogue we have prayed for her welfare, well-being and wisdom, and she never let us down."
We wish those very same qualities for her son, Britain's new king, and extend our deepest sympathies and our wishes for a long a successful reign.