The world saw the end, this week, of one of the most remarkable marriages in history with the death of Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. They had known each other for over 81 years and were married for 73. He has been by her side through some of the most consequential moments in the United Kingdom’s history, from the Second World War to the end of the British Empire to multiple royal scandals.
Though it all Prince Philip shared the queen’s sense of duty, even if he served in his own unique way. He was known for his wit, even if it was sometimes offensive. He spoke his mind, which could get him in trouble with some, but also endeared him to others.
Prince Philip will always have a special place in the hearts of Jews and Israelis as the first member of the British royal family to visit the Jewish state after its independence. While his visit was not in an official capacity, it did break an unspoken boycott of Israel by the family. Apparently, there was ill will due to Zionist violence against British authorities in the Mandate period before the creation of the state.
Prince Philip came to Israel to visit the grave of his mother on the Mount of Olives and attend the ceremony recognizing her as a Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem for hiding three Jews in her palace in Athens. His mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, led a remarkable and troubled life. A German princess, she was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, born in Windsor Castle, married to a Greek prince who was forced into exile. Later she was committed to a sanitorium with a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia and became estranged from her family.
Princess Alice was torn during the war, her daughters having married German princes, some of whom were Nazis, while her son, Philip, served on the other side in the British Royal Navy. She lived a monastic existence helping the poor and risked her own life to save a Jewish family. A woman of deep religious conviction, she founded an order of Greek Orthodox nuns and died in the gilded Buckingham Palace with no earthly possessions.
Like his mother, Prince Philip represented the mixed European heritage of the aristocracy that was completely upended by the tumultuous conflicts of the twentieth century. As a Greek and Danish prince of German heritage, with connections to the royal families in England and Russia, he essentially had no home. It’s no wonder that he sympathized with Jewish and Israeli causes all his life. He understood what it meant to search for a home and a nationality.
He found his place in Britain when he was sent to boarding school at Gordonstoun in Scotland, founded by the exiled German-Jewish educator Kurt Hahn, who would go on to start the outdoor educational program Outward Bound. Hahn’s philosophy was to build character through adventure, leadership, and concern for others. Prince Philip, like the Jewish people over the centuries, had to have a portable identity, tied not to a particular piece of land, but to sincerely held principles.
Eventually, Prince Philip, through all the hardship and turmoil of the century, found a home and stability in his marriage to Elizabeth around the same time the Jewish people found their homeland in Israel. It has been an unforgettable 73 years for the Queen with her consort and the Jewish state in its ancient land and a hopeful reminder that each of us has a place in the world if we have the strength to find it.