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Why I empathize with Harry and Meghan

So the British royal family is screwed up. Aren't we all?

In this July 10, 2018, file photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, from left, Meghan the Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry stand on a balcony to watch a flypast of Royal Air Force aircraft pass over Buckingham Palace in London. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex told the story behind their departure from royal duties directly to the public on Sunday, March 7, 2021, when their two-hour interview with Oprah Winfrey was broadcast. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

(RNS) — The closest I ever come to encountering royalty is when I sing “Avinu Malkheinu” on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

True — we choose not to translate it, to avoid gender specificity. But, it really means “our Father, our King.” Rosh Hashanah is when we crown God as king, once again, and pray for a world restored to divine sovereignty.

It is easy to understand why we don’t translate malkheinu as “our king.” We Americans have no use for kings or queens.


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But, despite that rejection of royalty, the British royals have long fascinated us.

What was my main media mania in the early days of the pandemic? I binged “The Crown.” And then, I rewatched “The King’s Speech” and “The Queen.”

Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan is like the as-yet-unreleased next season of “The Crown.”

Oprah could have called that show “The Windsor Knot,” or even, “The Windsor Not,” because Meghan found herself in the Windsor knot, to the point of despair and almost suicide. The British royal family came across as cruel, dismissive — and racist, in their not-so-subtle rejection of Meghan’s biracial background and their truly disgusting concern over the potential racial features of Meghan and Harry’s children.

That the royal family refused them protection? That couldn’t have been racism, could it? I mean — these are people whose ancestors helped slice and dice Africa and had fun watching the natives have a go at each other.

Let us not forget David/aka Edward VIII/aka the Duke of Windsor and Wallis, with their googly-eyed romance with the Nazis.

Why do I have such compassion for Harry and Meghan?

Because the story of the British royal family is like the story of so many of our own families.

Consider the teachings of the late, lamented Rabbi Edwin Friedman. In his classic Generation to Generation, he continues the work of family therapist Murray Bowen, viewing families (and organizations and religious institutions) as systems.

These systems tend to repeat patterns over the generations. And, more likely than not, they tend to make one person the “identified patient” — the one who must bear the burden of the family pathology, and who therefore acts out.

Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his wife Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, wave from the Ascot Landau Carriage during their carriage procession on Castle Hill outside Windsor Castle in Windsor, England after their wedding ceremony on May 19, 2018. (Paul Ellis/pool photo via AP)

Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and his wife Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, wave from the Ascot Landau Carriage during their carriage procession on Castle Hill outside Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, after their wedding ceremony on May 19, 2018. (Paul Ellis/pool photo via AP)

Let us review the last several generations of the British royal family. From generation to generation …

  • Harry and Meghan. The stresses of palace life ultimately pushed Meghan to consider suicide, as it did with her late mother-in-law, Diana. (Harry, give me a call. I can recommend a very competent therapist who can help you figure that one out.)
  • Prince Andrew, a walking tabloid dream, with his predilections to make bad choices in friendships, i.e., the late Jeffrey Epstein. Let’s not go there.
  • The late Princess Margaret. As “The Crown” makes clear, her lifestyle bordered on libertine, at least by royal standards. Consider her various love affairs and marriages with “commoners.”
  • David, King Edward VIII, the Duke of Windsor, who fell in love with a commoner — a divorced commoner, to be precise — then abdicated and lived the rest of his life in exile.

But why do I find this family history so compelling?

Because the story of “inescapable” family patterns is the story that we all share.

How many of us have patterns in our families that go back generations? Inherited toxicity?

Come to think of it, consider the families of Genesis. Our family story is an extended narrative of sibling rivalry:

  • Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel because God rejected his offering and accepted Abel’s offering.
  • Noah has three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham winds up with a curse.
  • Abraham has two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac “wins;” Ishmael loses.
  • Isaac has two sons, Esau and Jacob. Jacob “wins;” Esau loses.
  • Jacob has twelve sons and one daughter, Dinah. True, they all remain within the covenant. But, Joseph is the favorite son, even though Judah becomes the namesake of the Jews.
  • Rachel and Leah. Rachel was the favored wife of Jacob, with Leah being the more fertile.
  • Moses and Aaron, with Moses representing the “hard” version of leadership and Aaron being more acquiescent to the people’s wishes, as in the Golden Calf story.

Let’s face it; it is not only the British royal family that is dysfunctional.

It is our family — the larger, historical family of the Jewish people — that is dysfunctional, not only historically, but still torn apart by ideological and internecine, intra-ethnic conflict.

One last thing about Meghan and Harry. It is about that delicate, fraught subject of race.

Meghan is mixed race. In passé racist terms, she is a “mulatto.” Using the same racist terminology, this makes her children quadroons, or one-quarter Black.

Consider the words of Isabel Wilkerson in “Caste” — probably the best book I read last year:

Louisiana had a law on the books as recently as 1983 setting the boundary at “one-thirty-second Negro blood.” Louisiana culture went to great specificity, not so unlike the Indian Laws of Manu, in delineating the various subcastes, based on the estimated percentage of African “blood.” There was griffe (three-fourths black), marabon (five-eighths black), mulatto (one-half), quadroon (one-fourth), octaroon (one-eighth), sextaroon (one-sixteenth), demi-meamelouc (one-thirty-second), and sangmelee (one-sixty-fourth).

Meghan’s experience, and that of her children, only makes it clear that it doesn’t matter how wealthy you are; how much privilege you might claim; the title that you once had. Racism is alive and well.

As for me, I prefer the television world of “Bridgerton,” where race exists, but it is no barrier to being a royal.

Maybe “Bridgerton” is the disruptive “midrash” on the Windsors.

We all still have a lot of work to do.