A royal arrival (Lawfully Chic)

On the afternoon that I visited the Museum of London, there were signs up reminding that it was 99 years since the First World War was declared. In 1913, of course, Britain’s monarch was one King George V, the current Queen’s grandmother, who ruled until 1936.Nearly a century later and everyone is talking about the next monarch who will bear that name. No matter that he’s just a few weeks old, we want to know everything about young George Alexander Louis: what he’s wearing, who is visiting him, what nicknames he’ll be known by. And to mark the historic birth of our future king (Republican aspirations of overthrow aside), the Museum of London has put on a tiny slip of a display looking back at the young prince’s predecessors.The exhibit includes a pleasantly coherent family tree that traces the royals as far back as King James I, the royal who succeeded the first Queen Elizabeth (although it’s not all encompassing; interestingly, although the Queen Mother appears next to King George VI as his consort, Wallis Simpson – whose love inspired Edward to abdicate and changed the path of British history – is conspicuously absent). In a stroke of fun, they have also listed how these long-dead monarchs are related to baby George, so we learn, say, that Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg, who died in 1772 and was married to Frederick, Prince of Wales, would have been his eight times great grandmother.

Among the few (as I said, this is only a baby-sized exhibition, barely a wall’s worth of memorabilia) items on display are shoes from the mid-19th century, worn by Queen Victoria’s offspring. Prince Albert Edward’s tiny black boots are there, in an impeccable condition that suggests the young royal was not permitted to engage in much outdoor play. Meanwhile only one of Prince Leopold’s shoes is on show, leading you to speculate what the punishment might have been for a royal who misplaced his possessions.

There’s also a dress and cap worn by the future King Edward as a baby in the early 1840s, when his mother had been on the throne just four years. The dress is embroidered with three sets of ostrich feathers, which apparently signify that the wearer is one day to inherit the throne. And there’s an uncomfortable looking cap worn in infancy by the future King Charles I. Although slightly stained, it’s in fairly good shape considering it dates back to 1600.

If nothing else, this is a touching reminder that even our great statesmen and women were babes in arms once, dressed in fussy outfits by their adoring parents. Kate and Wills, being the trendy sort, might choose to dress their son in more modern garb, but it’s curious to think that in a few centuries little George’s Boden jackets or baby Hunter wellies could be displayed in a glass case at a museum.

Given the brevity of the display, I wouldn’t recommend making the trip just for this, but it’s certainly worth stopping off at en route to one of the museum’s other summer shows (among them the fascinating London Cycles, which looks at the capital on two-wheels, and another exhibition that celebrates 90 years of the Radio Times by showcasing its most memorable covers). And if you got a spare 15 minutes in the area, it’s well worth taking a peek. Young eyes will be fascinated by the royal timeline and may even be driven to find out more about these doughty kings and queens; the rest of us will recall that for all the talk of an unprecedented media circus around George’s arrival, curiosity about the royals has been part of our country’s heritage for a long time.

A Royal Arrival, free display, 28 June – October 2013, The Museum of London

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Royal Baby, Royal Motherhood? (The Forward)

He’s not yet two days old, only weighs 3.8 kg and doesn’t even have a name. Yet Baby Cambridge, third in line to the throne and pronounced beautiful by his doctor, is currently occupying the world’s attention. Kate, it seems, has done her job.

Throughout British royal history, the existence of the heir and the spare has been of the utmost importance. Queen Victoria may have presided over the industrial revolution, but she was also celebrated for being a mother of nine. Henry VIII divorced and beheaded two wives and divided the church all because he wanted a wife to give birth to a son. As the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I’s failure to marry and procreate plunged the political classes into crisis mode.

But whereas once the lack of an obvious heir put the country’s future stability at risk, that’s hardly the case today. The Queen is head of state, but her duties are ceremonial; uncertainty about the next monarch would not send the markets into a spasm. Theoretically, had William chosen to stay celibate, it wouldn’t have mattered (except to legions of wannabe-princesses): The royal line would have gone in another direction, but the U.K. would have been just fine. But that’s only in theory. We all know that had Kate not done what every pundit and gossip magazine had demanded since the first slice of wedding cake was snaffled — had a child, stat — she would have been seized on as a failure, not quite guilty of treason, but not far short.

Regardless of her being an educated, not noticeably imbecilic graduate in a time of female leaders and businesswomen, and despite the overriding view that women can achieve the same as men (possibly provided that they “lean in”), all along it has been about Kate becoming a mother.

To the public, her entire purpose up until now has been to produce the heir (and then the spare). Going forwards, her only concern is to raise him in a fitting manner. If he is an inquisitive child, she will be praised; if he follows in his uncle Harry’s footsteps and is one day photographed in Nazi uniform or in the buff, you can be sure it’ll be her fault.

It’d be ridiculous to criticize Kate for conforming to expectation — she may have been required to have a baby, but I can’t imagine she sees it as a negative. Nevertheless, the nature of the coverage — the focus almost singularly on Kate rather than William in the past nine months; the media surrounding the hospital for days; the number of live Royal Baby blogs — signifies the continued centrality of motherhood in public life.

And it’s true of Jewish life, too, a matrilineal religion where motherhood is often held up as the holy grail of Jewish womanhood. In the strictly Orthodox community, it’s pretty much the only expectation, but even in less devout Jewish circles where we emphasize academic and professional success, we rarely do so at the expense of motherhood.

For all that, it takes two to tango. As newlywed Jewish women will testify, they, not their new husbands, bear the brunt of questioning about when they will start a family. If not wanting children is seen as unusual for a woman in the wider world, in the community it is generally viewed as an aberration. How many jokes have the Jewish mother as a punchline? Can you think of any that riff on the Jewish father?

And yes, communal life is arranged around the domestic, which historically was the preserve of the Jewish woman. But it goes deeper: Biblically, women may have been strong role models, but they were often depicted through the prism of motherhood, not least Sarah, who allowed Abraham to take another partner because she herself has failed to reproduce. The megillah Ruth ends with us learning she has given birth to the line of the future King David. As for Hannah, mother to Samuel, I remember learning about her in Hebrew classes, my teachers clearly implying that childlessness was the worst fate that could befall a Jewish woman.

Obviously, much like hereditary royalty, Judaism will survive only by its members producing the next generation of “the firm” — and women are kind of crucial to that. The madness surrounding Kate’s pregnancy is — maybe for ardent royalists — survivalist; in Judaism we obsess about motherhood because we care about the fate of our people.

Still, is this elevation of motherhood — because it is motherhood specifically, not parenthood — a necessary part of that? Is it healthy, in 2013, when women can achieve in any area, to place quite so much emphasis on whether they will fulfill their duty to give birth? And, at least in the Jewish community, will we ever view producing the next generation as quite the joint responsibility it is?

Even as we strive to declare Judaism’s modern, forward-looking credentials, when it comes to maternity we are really no different than the overexcited crowds around Buckingham Palace, waiting for our women to do her duty. Perhaps we haven’t changed since biblical times as much as we’d like to think.

This post was originally published by The Forward. Read the original here

My two weeks in writing

Last week I enjoyed a foray into sports journalism (sort of!), reporting on the row over a petition urging Uefa to move the U21 tournament from Israel to a less controversial location. Having spoken to a number of players opposed to such a boycott, it was interesting to discover at the 11th hour that players including Didier Drogba were actually denying having backed the statement.

Moving to more lighthearted subjects, the news of the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy sparked an irreverent blog post about the future royal baby, which in turn earned me a mention in the Evening Standard’s coverage of a potential royal circumcision. My tweet about Pippa Middleton – “Cannot WAIT for Pippa’s book of tips about being an auntie”– also found its way in to the Mirror’s round up of the most humorous posts on the site.

Other stories I covered included a Lords debate following the Palestinian United Nations upgrade vote, and the BBC’s ruling over a complaint about its coverage of the protest against Habima at the Globe Theatre, a story I covered at length.

Toward the end of the week, I was in parliament for a panel event for young Europeans, in which Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith revealed that he would be nervous to place a bet on the future of the Jewish state. Continuing my coverage of the Tories, I questioned party officials on why the much-delayed report about Aiden Burley’s behaviour at a now infamous stag party last December had still not been released.

I also covered the launch of a new Orthodox Jewish feminist organisation – not, as some might assume, a contradiction in terms – but an American initiative being brought across the Atlantic. And I wrote about a conference on Lithuanian Jewry that is set to take place next week in London, and that is the subject of some controversy, due to the involvement of the Lithuanian Government.

For the Independent’s online comment section, I offered an opinion piece about the census results, which were released in Britain this week, and what they really revealed about the state of religion and faith in this country. “Are reports of the death of religion just being exaggerated?” I asked. And, in a sign that I have not yet divested myself of my tween pop passions, I wrote for Optima about the legacy of the Spice Girls.