Ephraim Mirvis, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, issued a special prayer in English and Hebrew to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. It was shared by Beth Israel’s Rabbi Jonathan Infeld at the opening of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver annual campaign Sept. 8, hours after the Queen passed away.
“In an age of profound change, she signified order and justice; and in times of tension, she offered generosity of spirit,” the prayer read. “A defender of faith with an unfailing sense of duty, she was a steadfast guardian of liberty, a symbol of unity and a champion of justice in all the lands of her dominion.… In life, she was a most gracious monarch, who occupied a throne of distinction and honour. In death, may her legacy inspire the nations of the world to live together in righteousness and in peace.”
History’s longest serving British monarch, Elizabeth II passed away 70 years and 214 days after ascending the throne upon the death of her father, King George VI.
Canada’s Governor General Mary Simon paid homage to the Queen and, on Monday, the government announced that Simon and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, perhaps accompanied by others, would represent the country at the monarch’s funeral Sept. 19.
President Isaac Herzog will represent Israel at the Queen’s funeral. Jewish leaders around the world joined others in lauding the Queen’s service.
In 2005, the monarch attended a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. According to reports, she refused to be ushered away by staff, instead remaining to speak individually to the attendees and listening to each of their experiences of survival.
“She gave each survivor – it was a large group – her focused, unhurried attention. She stood with each until they had finished telling their personal story. It was an act of kindness that almost had me in tears,” the late British chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks wrote afterward. “One after another, the survivors came to me in a kind of trance, saying: ‘Sixty years ago I did not know if I would be alive tomorrow, and here I am today talking to the Queen.’ It brought a kind of blessed closure into deeply lacerated lives.”
Queen Elizabeth II was patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, a British government-funded charity that promotes International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Buckingham Palace seems to have maintained an unspoken boycott of Israel, one of the countries the Queen never visited, although she met many Israeli leaders and knighted the former prime minister and president Shimon Peres.
British-Israeli composer Loretta Kay Feld. (photo by Michal Sela)
Loretta Kay Feld was asked by someone close to Queen Elizabeth II to compose three tributes, which, said Kay Feld, “were gifted to Her Majesty to honour her 70 years on the throne, a life filled with grace, fortitude and dedication to her country.”
One work is a personal song, called “The Queen’s Soliloquy,” that premièred last February. The second is “A Symphonic Medley of Music for Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee,” which includes four instrumental segments – from “Soliloquy,” the pieces “We Never Felt So Glorious” and “The Lord Chamberlain’s Processional March and Song,” and the third tribute Kay Feld composed for the Queen, which premièred last month, called “70 Years a Queen.”
Kay Feld was born in London and trained in music composition and drama at the Royal College and Guildhall School of Music. She toured with plays and musicals in the West End of London and has published several books. She is a prolific, award-winning composer, lyricist and author, who now lives in Ra’anana, Israel. She made aliyah 11 years ago and is in her final year of a master’s at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
“I wanted to come here [Israel] since I was a child in Hebrew school but life has a way of changing your plans,” she said. “I got married and lived in America. I gave concerts all over New York, from 1973 into the ’80s.”
Kay Feld wrote for a children’s television network and composed music in many genres. She has written about 900 songs and musical compositions. One of those is the song “Hymn for Israel.”
“I wrote it after the Yom Kippur War [in 1973] and I received letters from Moshe Dayan and Menachem Begin thanking me. The ‘Shabbat Song’ I wrote is also on YouTube and is sung in communities all over the world. ‘I’m Going to Keep America Singing,’” she said, “was performed at the inaugurations of presidents Obama and Biden, played by the Marine band.”
Making aliyah was one dream come true. Composing for the Queen was another.
When Kay Feld was 19, she performed for the royal family at the Variety Club for Great Britain at Victoria Palace and, after the show, was escorted to the box where the royals were seated. She remembers speaking with Princess Margaret and shaking hands with Queen Elizabeth II.
The opening lyrics of “The Queen’s Soliloquy” are: “You may ask me what I’m thinking on my Platinum Jubilee / And of all these celebrations, what they really mean to me / Well, my mind keeps drifting backwards, to a life yet unforeseen / Trembling at my coronation, unprepared to become a queen.”
“If we make it to threescore and 10,” said Kay Feld, “we’re considered by Judaism to be filled with wisdom, and the Queen is definitely filled with wisdom. They say the Queen learned five languages when she was young, and one of them was Hebrew.”
Kay Feld said she was offered a singer from the Royal National Opera House for “The Queen’s Soliloquy” but instead chose classical and contemporary singer Shlomit Leah Kovalski, who was born in Jerusalem to parents who made aliyah – her father from Montreal, her mother from New York.
Jamie Clarkston Collins and Eli Schurder of SoundSuiteStudio in Jerusalem do post-production of Kay Feld’s music and the videos are directed and edited by Jason Figgis.
Describing her creative process, Kay Feld said, “I compose when I’m out walking along the sea or in nature, and I think about what I’m composing and usually it just comes to me as if from the air. I write all the music in my head and the lyrics usually come at the same time and I go home and write out the manuscript.”
For her third royal tribute, “70 Years a Queen,” Kay Feld said, “I tried to write a song that I felt everybody throughout the world would be able to sing if they desired to. The melody is simple and the lyrics memorable with a tinge of humour.” Such lyrics as “… 70 years a queen / Four children in between / The Grandmama of future kings / Elizabeth, our Queen.”
The music is accompanied by the singing of renowned baritone Noah Brieger, who, Kay Feld said, “Has an outstanding voice with a great tone. He sang the lyrics with meaning and emotion.”
Brieger, like Kovalski, was born in Israel. He graduated from the Jerusalem Academy of Music and continued his training in the United States. An award-winning performer, he has sung in dozens of productions at the Israeli Opera, including lead roles in Don Pasquale (Donizetti), La Cenerentola (Rossini), La Bohème(Puccini), Romeo et Juliette (Gounod), Schitz (Rechter) and more. He also has performed in Germany, the United States, France, Italy and China.
Kay Feld is excited about a new project she has been working on for a number of years – 1897, The Musical. There are 27 original songs and the choreography is by her daughter, Dorothy Eisdorfer.
“The story is about the degrading things they did in Victorian times, but I want to tell the story with dignity,” said Kay Feld. “It expresses the desires of two women, one in the lower and one in the higher class.”
Her plan is to hire an all Israeli cast and crew, “to showcase all the wonderful talent we have here in Israel,” she said. “I’d like to find enough funding so I can pay all the performers fairly.”
She wants to film the musical and livestream it globally “for all the world to see. It will be a most splendid performance.”
For someone whose music has been performed for presidents and queens, Kay Feld remains humble. “I just believe everyone has a gift,” she said. “And if one can use the gift to make the world a better place, that’s what matters.”
Toby Klein Greenwaldis an award-winning journalist, educational theatre director, teacher and the editor-in-chief of wholefamily.com. Anyone interested in supporting 1897, The Musical can write to Loretta Kay Feld at [email protected].
Weston Girls Estelle Sures, 17, centre, with Yvonne Harris, left, and Toni MacDonell before they set sail in 1953. (Photo from Estelle Sures)
The Weston Girls were named after the man who sent them from Canada to Great Britain – W. Garfield Weston, a Toronto businessman and philanthropist who came from Britain to Canada to open up a biscuit factory.
The young women who comprised the Weston Girls were sent from Canada to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and to get a greater view of the British Empire.
A total of 50 17-year-olds from across Canada were chosen to make the six-week trip that included the coronation and a few historic and cultural sites in Britain, France and the rest of the British Isles – all paid for by Weston.
Estelle Sures (née Flesher) was the only Jewish member chosen. At that time, she was living in Ottawa. Now retired, following a successful career in public relations, Sures lives in Winnipeg. While she spent most of her career and life in Winnipeg, Sures did have a five-year stint in Vancouver, where she was director of public relations at St Paul’s Hospital from 1980 to 1985.
“Prior to our tour, he [Weston] had had a couple of boys tours to the British Isles, but, in the coronation year, he decided to send a group of 50 young women to foster a better understanding of Great Britain and foster closer ties. At the same time, he also sent 50 young women from Great Britain to tour Canada,” Sures told the Independent.
“The young women who were selected for the tour [to England] were from all across Canada, from the Yukon to Newfoundland, and there were four young women from B.C. One came from Prince George, one from 150 Mile House (a First Nations young woman), one from Dawson Creek, and one from Kimberley. One of the things he [Weston] was trying to do was choose young women, not just from cities, but who could represent all parts of the country.”
The selection was based on principals’ nominations of students from their schools and then, in conjunction with departments of education across the country, they made a selection of 50 young women to go on the trip.
“Those were the days when ocean liners were the way to travel,” said Sures. “It was also a way for the young women to bond. None of us knew each other before the trip. We took an ocean liner together there and back.”
The trip was well organized, said Sures, with two of Weston’s daughters, who were only a few years older than the other participants, leading the way.
As was the case with the other participants, Sures was selected during her high school graduating year.
“The trip had a big impact on all of us,” said Sures. “It was life-changing. It gave me a greater worldview and certainly inspired me to go on to higher education. After that, I received a scholarship from the National Council of Jewish Women to attend the University of Toronto.
“I think we all … wanted to give back afterwards and try to accomplish something, give back to the community and in terms of our careers.”
Sures was married in 1957. She and her husband Richard spent a year traveling overseas, later returning to Winnipeg (where he is from).
While the Weston Girls have kept in contact to a certain extent over the years, it was not until 2003 that they decided to hold their first reunion. “The first reunion was quite significant, because it was 50 years after the Queen’s coronation,” said Sures. “As you can appreciate, we had all moved on, changed cities, most of us had gotten married.
“When a few of the women, including myself, decided we wanted to have a reunion, there was a lot of detective work involved trying to find where people were. At the first reunion in Ottawa, we succeeded in having 38 of the original group attend.
“That first reunion sort of cemented our friendship and our desire to meet again. We had subsequent reunions in St. John’s, Nfld.; Victoria, B.C.; Burlington, Ont.; and St. Andrews by-the-Sea,” which is in New Brunswick.
Sures felt that this year, 2015, was time for another reunion, particularly with the establishment of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) in Winnipeg. She saw it as an opportune moment in history.
“I was quite thrilled, on a personal level, that 19 of the original group were able to come to Winnipeg,” said Sures.
The reunion lasted for four days, beginning with Sures hosting the women to a luncheon at her home, followed by a tour of the legislative buildings, and capped off by a dinner reception hosted by the lieutenant governor of Manitoba, Janice Filmon. The dinner reception, said Sures, “was very elegant and we all enjoyed it.”
On the Saturday of the reunion, participants visited CMHR and toured the Forks area, a popular local meeting place with historical significance. On Sunday, they spent the day at Assiniboine Park, touring the English Garden and Leo Mol Sculpture Garden.
“We also had a picnic in the park that day,” said Sures. “So, it was a lovely weekend, where we spent a lot of time together, but also had the chance to see the best of Winnipeg.”
Given that all of the participants are now about 80 years old, it is getting more challenging for many of them to travel. While Sures will continue to get together with some of the women in smaller groups, the next large reunion is not yet planned.
“When I go to Vancouver, which I do once a year or so, because I have children and grandchildren living there, I usually meet the women who now live on the West Coast and a couple of the women in Calgary usually fly in to get together,” said Sures. “Similarly, with people in the east – there is a group that meets in Montreal.”
Of the original group trip, Sures reflected, “I think it was just coincidental, but I was the only Jewish girl in the entire group. There were a lot of Francophone women, because of the large representation from Quebec. It gave me an opportunity to meet women from across the country, which ended up being lasting friendships.
“A lot of these friendships, as we got older, we saw each other in a different context, and some of us who maybe didn’t know each other that well on the trip became even closer friends later on.”