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Voice for a Multicultural Britain, Prince Charles Goes to Synagogue

April 30, 2003
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The heir to the British throne has reinforced his close relationship with the Jewish community by inaugurating a new synagogue in Manchester.

Britain’s Prince Charles inaugurated a synagogue in Manchester on Monday. In addition to unveiling a plaque and planting a tree at the Bowden Shul, he attended a service and two receptions.

A spokesman for St James’ Palace — the Prince of Wales’ official residence — emphasized the importance Queen Elizabeth’s eldest son places on such events.

“The prince’s diary always aims to reflect the wide variety of groups, religious and ethnic communities there are in Britain and to celebrate the success of the rich culture they bring to the country.”

Traditionally, the British monarch is known as “Defender of the Faith” — referring to his or her role as head of the Anglican Church of England.

But, to the umbrage of some traditionalists, Charles has described himself as “Defender of the Faiths” — signaling his intention to embrace all the major religious communities in Britain, not just the State’s official religion.

Over the years, it has become increasingly common to see the prince donning both Jewish and Muslim skullcaps in visits to Jewish and Muslim communal events and putting on religious ceremonial garb for the openings of Sikh and Hindu temples.

Jewish leaders praised his latest official duty in inaugurating the Bowden Synagogue.

A spokeswoman for the London-based Jewish Council for Racial Equality described the prince’s visit as a positive endorsement of a multicultural Britain.

“In the royal family, Charles is the one who identifies most with a pluralistic communally diverse society. He recognizes that Britain is certainly not just a white, Christian country and being seen in a synagogue is putting his money where his mouth is.”

In addition to the synagogue inauguration, the prince also attended a reception at the adjoining community center for both Jewish and non-Jewish people involved in his volunteer development program for underprivileged youth, the Prince’s Trust.

The close involvement of a number of synagogue trustees in the Prince’s Trust — established in 1976 to help disadvantaged young people set up in business — helped convince the prince to travel to Bowden for the event, a local Jewish official said.

The prince’s spokesman also commented that the 55-year-old royal was particularly impressed by the vibrancy of the Bowden congregation — one of the fastest-growing in Europe. “The new synagogue is a very important development in an area of a rapidly growing Jewish community — it is a great success story and the Prince was delighted to attend.”

Barrie Bernstein is chairman of the Bowden Synagogue Trust, a body set up to relocate the shul from an intercity area of declining Jewish households to its new location in the south Manchester commuter belt.

Since its move, the congregation has seen its membership increase by 40 percent to just under 800 members.

For Bernstein, who was in charge of organizing the inauguration, Charles’ visit was a momentous day.

“It was a real milestone for us, definitely one for the memory banks,” said a clearly still enthused and proud chairman.

“Prince Charles was both interesting and interested,” adds Bernstein, who was particularly impressed by his royal visitor’s inquisitiveness about all aspects of synagogue and Jewish life.

“When he opened the inaugural plaque, which stated the date was 26 Nisan 5763, he wanted to know how the Jewish calendar worked and how it differed from the Gregorian system.”

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