On April 29, 2011, I joined two billion people worldwide in watching Prince William wed Kate Middleton. I was so excited, I kept waking up to see if it was time for their ceremony.
It all brought back memories for me of the wedding of the groom’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, many years ago when I was a young child. Then, my mother and I set our alarms for two in the morning, and we watched the beautiful wedding on TV together. Looking back, that wedding was one of the most formative events of my childhood. We were so excited by the pomp, the pageantry, the beauty of that royal wedding. Everything about it was the opposite of my own life.
I lived in blue jeans, not fancy dresses. My parents’ house was comfortable, but looked exactly the same as every other house in our suburb, a far cry from the castles and palaces where the royal couple would live. We had wholesome meals together as a family most nights, but they were informal, sometimes eaten while watching TV in the kitchen. I was a happy, much-loved child, but I felt so ordinary. Nothing in my life felt remarkable; nothing made me feel beautiful and special and precious, as Charles and Diana seemed.
For years afterwards, in fact, I imagined the rooms Charles and Diana were occupying, the meals they ate. Whenever I saw pictures of them in magazines, I scrutinized them, not looking so much at the photos’ subjects, but examining the pictures’ corners and edges, hoping for a glimpse of a book that was just put down or an ornament that sat on a shelf, trying to guess from a stray piece of clutter what was going on off-camera, trying to get a sense of the life – the beautiful, royal life – they lived away from the public’s gaze.
As I turned on the television to watch Prince William wed Kate, I had the same momentary thrill. It was all so beautiful, so grand. But this time around I couldn’t relax. The wedding was early on a Friday morning, and I knew we were having lots of Shabbos guests that night. I went and fetched our silver from the dining room and polished as I watched.
As I shined our sparkling Kiddush cups, our Shabbos silverware and coffee service, I thought of the British crown jewels I’d once seen on a visit to London when I was a child. How I’d gaped at the gold and silver tureens, platters and objects d’arts on display. I longed for a life where I’d eat beautiful meals on such magnificent silver. It seemed to me then an impossible dream, a vision of loveliness I could never hope to share.
Yet today I was about to use formal silver, I thought, as I polished the modest pieces in my hands. All through that early morning as I watched William and Kate’s wedding, I padded back and forth between the kitchen and dining room, preparing that night’s Shabbat dinner, taking out an extra table and chairs, selecting tablecloths and china plates.
As a child, I’d longed for formality and specialness, and as an adult I found it. Not in Buckingham Palace or Windsor Castle, but somewhere closer to home. As a child, I’d yearned to be part of an ancient family, steeped in tradition, living a graceful life amid the informality of the modern age. And I found it, years later, in a most unexpected place.
Each Friday evening we sit down to a beautifully laid table and live like royalty.
Judaism teaches us God gave the Jewish people a day each week when we become royalty. A day each week when we are elevated to become partners with God, and are even imbued with an extra soul. The day is Shabbat, and though there are many mystical interpretations of the transcendence of this day, I have always been drawn to it for its practical beauty.
The beauty of eating in the dining room instead of the kitchen for one day a week. The beauty of having leisurely, formal meals. Of focusing on guests and our families without the distractions of the outside world intruding and stealing our attention.
Each Friday evening we - like countless other Jewish families the world over - sit down to a beautifully laid table. We begin our meal with songs and blessings. We thank God for the gifts He has given us. We sing a song of welcome to the angels who are sharing our Shabbat table. We formally bless our children, and we recall the majesty, the uniqueness, of the Jewish people.
This atmosphere of grace and beauty continues all of Friday night, and into Saturday morning, when we enjoy a gracious breakfast again in our dining room, take a leisurely walk to synagogue, enjoy another formal meal full of blessings and song, and then enjoy an afternoon of guests, of learning Torah, of taking walks outside, and generally of seeking to raise ourselves to higher levels of holiness.
When I was a child, glued to the television of the last British royal wedding, I so rarely felt exceptional. I never felt that I was interesting, or beautiful, or elevated in any way. Looking back, I recognize now that my very soul was crying out for validation, begging me to help it connect with something bigger, and to recognize its uniqueness and importance. My childish self seized on the specialness and beauty I saw in the British royal family, though obviously that could never be my home.
This time, long after William and Kate’s lovely wedding ended, I sat down to my own formal table. For the evening, I too was royalty.