Sylvia in 2013

Sylvia in 2013

I was born in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) although my parents, of Jewish background, were living in the Belgian Congo. My mother went to Bulawayo when I was due to be born so I would be born British and not Belgian.  I went to a Convent School in Elisabethville in the Congo and began to speak English with a French accent. My parents, having come from very religious backgrounds – there were many rabbis and other Jewish clergy in my father’s family – made sure that we observed all the Jewish traditions in a moderate fashion. My mother was very unhappy in the tropics as the climate made her ill, and the age of eight I moved with my mother to London. We lived in West Kensington for four years with my brothers Cecil and Anthony and my cousin, Jack Marks. It was the Great Depression and my father called us back to Africa in 1936 where he was General Manager of the hotels on the Copperbelt in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). After a year, there being no secondary education in Nkana/Kitwe, where we lived, I was sent to boarding school in Cape Town (2000+ miles away and a five days train journey) and subsequently to the University of Cape Town where I studied at the South African College of Music.

Although during the Jewish Holy Days I went to one of my aunts who lived in Sea Point, a suburb of Cape Town, and attended synagogue, I often questioned the whole concept of religion. It seemed to me that the reasons people went to synagogue were very superficial. While the rabbi or cantor would be holding forth from the pulpit, the men downstairs would be talking to each other so loudly one could hardly hear what was being said or sung. Everything was in Hebrew, so I understand nothing; the women upstairs would be looking to see what everyone else was wearing; the girls would be trying to see which boys were downstairs and the boys would be looking at the girls. I suppose there must have been some sincerely religious people in attendance!  Anyway, I did not take any of it seriously. Then, whilst in Residence at university, I met a young Jewish man who liked to talk about God. We went for many evening walks around the campus, talking all the time about God and what we believed about Him. I said I thought Moses had made Him up so as to control His people and make them live good lives.

In 1944, before World War II ended, my mother moved down to Cape Town “to make a home for Sylvia”! After eight years away from home during my formative years and three years of ‘freedom’ at university, I was not overjoyed at having my mother attempting to control my movements although I knew it was because she loved me! I had a full-time job in a printing works in Cape Town, but I was also doing a great deal of performing as well, with my mother prompting me to go from one performance to another. Being young, I had many offers to broadcast and appear as soloist with the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra. In those days broadcasting was live.

In 1946 I went on holiday to Port Elizabeth and stayed in a hotel where there were some ex South African Air Force pilots also appearing to be on holiday but doing some flying instruction here and there.  I had always wanted to fly ever since I was taken for a flip in one of my uncle’s aeroplanes as a treat for my fifth birthday. During the war my brother Cecil was a bomber pilot and he had promised to teach me to fly when he came back.  At this time, though, he wasn’t back, and one of these young men at the hotel offered to take me along to Uitenhage in a small plane, where he would be doing some instructing.  He gave me a lesson on the flight and I spent the time at the airfield sitting on the ground and going through the motions of take-off every time he did a circuit.  So he let me take off on the way back, and fly the plane to Port Elizabeth.  He did the landing, of course.  On my return to Cape Town, I immediately joined a flying club and spent every weekend at the airfield. I even entered a women’s flying competition in Johannesburg with very few solo flying hours.  Misjudging the height on a ‘forced landing’ and deciding to climb again, I nearly took the roof off a hangar ahead of me!  But I did quite well in the other parts of the competition.

In 1948 I decided to leave Cape Town and stay with my brother and his family in Salisbury, Rhodesia. He was now flying for Central African Airways. By the time I arrived he had been transferred temporarily to Lusaka in Northern Rhodesia, so I lived with my cousin and her mother. A month or so after I arrived, I met ‘Sue’ (Salvator) Benatar who was the brother of another friend of mine from the days in Cape Town. I was put in touch with him because he was the Rhodesian Advanced Amateur Ballroom Champion and I wanted to do some ballroom dancing again. I had done some in Cape Town but stopped when I started flying as I could not afford both hobbies. But in Salisbury my salary in a furniture shop was much higher, so I could afford both! Sue took me to the dancing studio and liked my dancing so much he invited me to be his partner for the next competitions! You can imagine how flattered I was! It was shortly afterwards that we became engaged and became husband and wife on 12th September 1948.  As he was a Sephardic Jew (a Jew of Spanish descent) and I was an Ashkenazi (Jews mainly from Russia, Poland, Germany and so on) we asked the Rabbis of both congregations to marry us. However, the Ashkenazi Rabbi refused.

'Sue' Benatar

‘Sue’ Benatar

My career as a concert pianist (where I am known as Sylvia Schulman and which had its beginnings in Cape Town during and after my days at the College of Music – part of the University of Cape Town) took a back seat for about five years but I was persuaded to get back to the piano in 1953. This was an eventful year – Mount Everest was conquered for the first time, there was a big Rhodesian Jubilee celebration in Bulawayo attended by Queen Elizabeth (wife of King George VI) and Princess Margaret and it was also when Sue’s sister Marie was killed in a car accident.  This upset me enormously as I was terribly afraid of death and for a vibrant, lively woman who was close to me, to suddenly die was a huge shock. Sue and I were also questioning the purpose of life and how we could improve the quality of our lives in general. I suppose God knew we were ready for ‘the truth’ and the following year Sue and I met Knights of Bahá’u’lláh, Kenneth and Roberta Christian and their young son Roger.  We had never met Americans before and we were very excited to come into contact with them. They never mentioned the Bahá’í Faith to us although we became very close friends. We often heard about American friends of theirs in Swaziland, John and Val Allen, and that they visited Salisbury from time to time. On one occasion they asked us if they could borrow some blankets from us for a friend who was passing through and staying at their place. They warned us that he was an Egyptian and ‘rather dark’ and that they would bring him to meet us before we agreed to lend the blankets! Sue assured them that this made no difference to us and, in fact, his mother was born in Egypt. But one day I will never forget was when Hassan Sabri stood at our front door waiting to pass the test for using our blankets. He and Sue hit it off straight away and teased each other unmercifully ever after (Jew versus Arab).

Sue had tried to find a job for Kenneth who had been a Professor of English Literature at a university in Michigan. A promise of a position at the future University of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland in 18 months’ time came up, but another opportunity in Athens presented itself to Ken (through Dwight Allen, he told us) and the family left to go there after six months in Salisbury. We were all devastated at having to part, but kept in touch by correspondence. We were taught the Faith by Lawrence Hautz who arrived in Salisbury six months later and had been given our names by Ken and Roberta as possible future Bahá’ís, although the pioneers had been warned to be wary of talking to ‘white’ people about the Faith! Larry took little notice of this and launched into teaching us straight away. Because he was so keen to form the first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Salisbury (the first in the whole of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland), we took pity on him and became Bahá’ís just before Ridván 1955, the first ‘white’ people to do so in the Federation. We promised ourselves that if we didn’t like being part of the Bahá’í Community, we would just leave.  The other Bahá’ís at that time were Melvin and Helen Hope, Claire Gung, Nura Faridian (now Steiner), Nathan Shamuyarira and Moses Makwaya. We served on the Local Assembly and various committees. From time to time we would have visits from John and Val Allen, Bill and Marguerite Sears, Bob and Keith Quigley and others from ‘the south’. With John and Audrey Robarts also living in Southern Rhodesia (Bulawayo, about 300 miles away) we saw them quite often too.  Sue was Treasurer of the National Assembly of South and West Africa for a time and also an Auxiliary Board member.

About nine months after we became Bahá’ís I was asked to accompany a young student singer from Rhodes University whose home was in Salisbury. I agreed and we met for our first rehearsal. Expecting to hear an average voice, I nearly fell off the piano stool when this enormously beautiful bass baritone voice came out from such a young man. This was my introduction to 22-year-old Norman Bailey, who went on to become one of the great Wagnerian singers of the 20th Century. Although we had been warned to keep our Bahá’í teaching activities to the indigenous people of the country, I could not restrain myself from asking Norman (who had originally intended to become a Presbyterian minister) why he thought there were so many sects of Christianity. This started an ongoing discussion about the Bahá’í Faith for the three weeks of our rehearsing for the concert. Sue and I introduced him to the other members of the Faith who by now included Shidan (brother of Hushmand) and Florence Fat’hé-Aazam with their 18-month-old son, Denny, and we all had wonderful social get-togethers until Norman was due to return to Rhodes in Grahamstown. He was so attracted to the Faith that we gave him the address of Rosemary and Emeric Sala, the pioneers in Port Elizabeth, the nearest city to Grahamstown. He lost no time in contacting them and he declared in their home in 1956. He came back with the Rhodes University Choir as soloist in the middle of the year. Doreen Simpson was in the choir and later, in Salisbury, she became Norman’s wife – the first Bahá’í wedding in the Federation.

Our son, Mark Alan, who had come into our lives in 1956 and was only a few months old at the time of this wedding, was in his carry-cot in our Land Rover during the wedding. Whilst this was in progress a child’s screams were heard – poor Mark had fallen out of the cot onto the iron floor of the car! As the wedding was being recorded, these screams can be heard on the tape. Our daughter, Odette Natalie, was born a few years later in 1960. Doreen and Norman moved to Austria where he continued his studies as an opera singer.

In order to bring the Faith out of the shadows in the Federation, due to the laws which divided the black and white communities – not exactly the same as apartheid in South Africa, but socially very restrictive – the Local Assembly asked Sue and me to meet with Sir Roy Welensky, the Prime Minister of the Federation, whom we both knew well, and try to get official permission for the Faith to be practised openly. We were received in his office where we explained it to him, and he was extremely interested and receptive. He said it was strange that he had always wanted to be a Jew but could not be recognised as such because his mother was not Jewish (in Jewish law one takes one’s religion from the mother not the father) and here we were, being Jewish, and now following another religion. Of course, we explained Progressive Revelation to him as well as we could in the brief time at our disposal. An official letter from him as Prime Minister was written to the Assembly allowing the Bahá’í Faith to be openly practised in the Federation. As a result of this the National Convention of the Bahá’ís of South and West Africa (covering 15 countries of Southern Africa) was held every year in Salisbury, our Assembly having the task of organising the event.

A memorable event occurred not long before the passing of the beloved Guardian. A meeting of Mr Musa Banani, the only Hand of the Cause in Africa at that time, with Auxiliary Board members in Southern Africa, took place in Salisbury. The Board members were Ali Nakhjavani, Bill Sears, John Robarts, Bob Quigley, John Allen and Enoch Olinga. The meetings took place at Shidan and Florence Fat’hé-Aazam’s home and also at ours.

This was a wonderfully happy time. The combination of Bill Sears and Bob Quigley had all of us in fits of laughter during the breaks and the meal times. Soon after this event we heard that Bill Sears and John Robarts had been made Hands of the Cause. A short time later we were all shocked and grief-stricken at the passing of the Guardian, which seemed to me to throw the whole Bahá’í world into a state of confusion.

In January 1958, Sue and I decided to travel to Kampala by car to attend the laying of the foundation stone of the African Bahá’í House of Worship. We took one of the African Bahá’ís, Willard Mahlunge, with us. Mark was just over one year old and as he was too big for a normal carry-cot, we bought a large suitcase and had a mattress made to fit in it. Of course, we took the lid off! This was when we bought the Land Rover and had an extra petrol tank fitted because of the long distances between petrol stations. This trip and the experiences we had is a story in itself but suffice it to say that it was unforgettable. Being only two months after the Guardian died, one can imagine the grief that everyone was feeling, especially as Amatu’l-Bahá Rúhíyyih Khánum was in tears most of the time. Sue had been asked to be an official photographer for the event and instructions were given to photograph Rúhíyyih Khánum as much as possible. When we drove back from Kampala to Kenya, Sue was asked to be at the airport to photograph her arrival. When she saw him as she stepped out of the aircraft she was quite fed up with him for taking further shots of her! However, it was a great experience.

In early 1963 after seven wonderful years as Bahá’ís in Salisbury, being part of a great active community which included Shidan and Florence Fat’hé-Aazam with their children, Melvin and Helen Hope also with their children, the Hautzes and other friends, and becoming parents to our lovely children, Mark and Odette, we moved to England.  This was just prior to the First World Congress at the Albert Hall, where Sue was one of the photographers. As soon as we arrived we trudged in the snow of one of England’s worst winters (February 1963) to find 27 Rutland Gate, expecting to be given a warm welcome (having come from an extremely warm Bahá’í Community in Rhodesia) as we had written to the National Assembly informing them of our move to London. However, dear Betty Reed came to the door and after we introduced ourselves she said, “Why have you come to London? We don’t need more Bahá’ís in London!” Those who knew Betty will understand this.  Her one thought was to carry out the directions of the Administration of the Faith for the good of the Faith. At that time, and in fact, at any time, Bahá’ís are asked to spread out and not congregate in large numbers in any one place, particularly the capital cities of the various countries. But we were very taken aback and disappointed with this ‘welcome’!

We lived in London for a short while, Sue working for the photographic firm Dixons.

Lois Hainsworth (who had asked me while she was in Kampala and I was still in Rhodesia to accompany her singing at a recital she was to give at the Wigmore Hall in London directly after the Congress) asked me to come to Dalston Hall in order to accompany her for a concert at Summer School there. I think it was there that Betty Reed was urging the friends to move out of the big cities and particularly out of London, so Sue and I decided to follow this advice. It so happened that Dixons wanted to open three new shops and they offered Sue the position of manager at any one of the places. These were Reading, Oxford and Cambridge, and after visiting Cambridge, we liked it so much we decided to move there at the end of 1963 without having investigated either Oxford or Reading! We found a house in a new housing estate which was under construction called Mulberry Close, and it was just within our means to lay down a deposit and apply for a bond. The cost of this terraced house was £4000.

At that time there was a wonderful Persian lady in the Cambridge community called Homayoun Dastan who put up the whole family, Sue and myself, Mark aged 7 and Odette aged 3, in her small house for three weeks awaiting the completion of the house we were to occupy. We had bought some furniture which had to be assembled by hand, and Homayoun was willing to allow her house to be completely taken over by this occupation!  The first house to be completed in the new close was number 63 (!) and our family was allowed to move in although the grounds were still very muddy and the builders were around for many months to come. In 1964 Odette (then 4 years old) and I went to Langenhain near Frankfurt to attend the Dedication of the European House of Worship. During that time I was accompanist to Norman Bailey at a concert for the Bahá’ís which took place in a nearby hall. In 1967 Sue and I with the children went on Pilgrimage for the first time. Unfortunately, Mark developed acute appendicitis the day we arrived in Haifa and was rushed to hospital for an operation. This spoilt our Pilgrimage programme. As a result the Universal House of Justice gave us the wonderful bounty of an extra three days during which Mr Faizi and Ethel Revell took us to Bahji where we stayed overnight. We were also invited to lunch with Rúhíyyih Khánum. The following year Sue and I went to the International Conference in Palermo, Sicily. This was followed by a few days in Haifa. What a joy to go there two years in succession!

I remember that we went to a Bahá’í Weekend School (probably Lyme Park, not far from Manchester) and it was there that we met the Hellaby family for the first time. In fact, I think that again it was Lois Hainsworth who asked me to attend the School to accompany her at a concert there. The piano was dreadful! The Hellaby family were all musical and also performed. Julian was particularly gifted as a pianist. When he was 16 years old I had been invited by Madeline to play for a fireside at their home. It was while I was there that I heard Julian play for me. He was learning with a local teacher in the village and I suggested to Madeline that he be sent to a really good teacher as he needed direction from a more experienced teacher.  As a result he travelled regularly to get tuition from Denis Matthews, a famous pianist and teacher.  It was some distance to Newcastle, where Denis gave his lessons, and Julian stayed there with John and Kathleen Coates.  Julian has gone on to be an outstanding concert pianist and is an examiner for the Royal Schools of Music. His nephew Blake, who lives in Cape Town, appears to be following in his footsteps.

We spent eight wonderful years in Cambridge where Sue remained with Dixons for a short while and then joined another photographic firm, University Cameras, right opposite King’s College.  Our Bahá’í Community was a wonderfully warm and active one. Ray and Mahin Humphrey, Esfandiar and Parichehr Khavari with their children Vafa, Dana and Safa, John and Dorothy Ferraby with Brigitte, Homanyoun Dastan, Gloria Faizi (Mr Faizi visiting from time to time) with May and Naysan, Derek Cockshut and his future wife, Sima who was a niece of Homayoun’s, Moojan Momen and Wendi Worth (later Momen), Farhang Jahanpour (who gradually brought in other members of his family from Iran) all became part of our lives. I remember that Derek Cockshut brought Barney Leith to our house before he was a Bahá’í. Our children went to the local schools, receiving a very good education. I performed a great deal as soloist, accompanist and chamber music player. I taught at both the Cambridge Grammar School for Boys and the Cambridge Grammar School for Girls as well as Perse School for Girls and Homerton College. I remember that Taraneh Afnan, daughter of Shomais and Abbas, was a pupil at Perse School and came to me for piano lessons. Johnny Yazdi was a pupil at Leys School in Cambridge as well and we were privileged to be asked by his parents, Aziz and Soraya Yazdi who lived in Kenya, to act as guardians for him. The Cambridge Bahá’í Community was doing extension teaching in Bedford and, by coincidence, Sue was offered a very good job there as manager of another photographic firm. We decided to move to this goal town in August 1971. Another coincidence was that the Bailey family had also moved to Bedford from Potters Bar.  This meant that it became easy for Norman and me to work together for concerts and BBC broadcasts. In September I went to the Oceanic Conference in Reykjavik, Iceland, where we were to give two concerts on the same night – one for the invited public in a new concert hall which the government had constructed at the request of the famous pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy, whose wife was from Iceland, and one for the Bahá’ís.  Seals and Crofts also performed at these concerts.

In 1972 Noman and I toured South Africa for three weeks for the Arts Boards of the Cape and Transvaal. After that I went back to Rhodesia for a five-day visit to friends and relatives. Following this, I travelled back to England via Haifa, where Sue’s niece was to be married. At the same time, Norman was rehearsing a major role in Samson and Delilah which was to be performed in the open air at Caesarea for the Israel Festival in that period. He was also visiting Haifa before the rehearsals and I had permission for a three-day visit as well. During that time we performed From the Sweet-Scented Streams for Charles Wolcott, member of the Universal House of Justice, who had set this prayer to music.

In 1973 I was part of a team organised by Mary Hardy that went to Northern Ireland to help the Bahá’ís with their teaching work. I gave concerts in each of the towns visited.

The following year the four of us, Sue, Mark, Odette and I, went on holiday back home to Salisbury. The Faith had made enormous progress in the years we had been away and we were fortunate that a meeting of members of various Southern African National Assemblies took place at the same time and we were able to meet up with many old friends.

In 1976, after moving to Luton to pioneer (this was Bedford’s goal town) I developed a solo recital programme called “Sylvia Schulman Plays Piano Music For You (from W.A. Mozart to Billy Mayerl)” during which I mentioned the Faith at various points. I offered this programme to the Bahá’í Community and performed it in several towns and cities of the UK including a tour of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

Sue and I served on the Local Assemblies in various capacities most of the years in England and also on different National Committees. I continued with my career as a pianist at the same time, gaining enormous experience as accompanist to outstanding soloists and as soloist myself. Some of the highlights were performances at London’s Wigmore Hall, the Purcell Room (London Embankment), the Cambridge Festival and Harewood House in Leeds. Lois Hainsworth and I were the first to give “Musical Firesides”, I think, and after Norman Bailey and family came to live in England he and I did the same.

Our 15 years in England were rich with wonderful experiences and many Bahá’í friends and activities. We lived very near to Ted and Alicia Cardell and were able to attend all the famous Cardell picnics where we met so many wonderful Bahá’ís. We attended many Summer Schools, the Coleg Harlech ones being the most memorable, and also Weekend Schools. I would like to mention the names of all the friends we made but it would fill up several pages!

At the end of 1977 Sue, Odette and I moved to Cape Town as UK overseas pioneers. It was a goal of the British National Assembly for two pioneers to go to South Africa but other people who had tried had been refused entry. Because I had been domiciled in South Africa for a number of years I had permanent residence status. This was not the case for Sue but one of my cousins who wanted him to run his photographic business in Cape Town enlisted the help of lawyers to get the necessary permission.

Sue was diagnosed with hairy-cell leukaemia in 1989, the same year that both my brothers passed away in England. However, we were both blessed by being able to visit the Bahá’í World Centre six times during Sue’s lifetime of which two were Pilgrimages. I have been there eight times, the last time being my third Pilgrimage. For over five years Sue’s illness meant that he had to be constantly monitored at Groote Schuur Hospital. After he had a bad fall at home in April 1995 I rushed him to hospital, and he passed away a few days later.

Looking back at that time, I think I was casting about to see what future course I should take. I had a couple of music jobs going but no real Bahá’í life as we still did not have an Assembly in that area. I tried to sell my house but without success.  I was about to investigate the possibility of moving to Grahamstown where Bahá’ís were needed when I had an unexpected phone call from Shohreh Rawhani (the lively Shohreh Youssefian whom I had known in England from when she was 11 years old!), the Secretary of the National Assembly. She said that the National Assembly would like me to move to Johannesburg and become Office Manager at the National Centre. This was early 1997. I knew straight away that this was the path to take and I agreed immediately. Later Shohreh told me how surprised she was as the National Assembly had been sure I would not leave Cape Town!

I still had my house on the market and two weeks after I agreed to go to Johannesburg, someone bought the house at a very good price. I flew to Johannesburg for five days to find a house there and bought the second one I saw. All the doors had opened for me, which proved to me that I had made the right decision!

Lowell Johnson was living in a flat he had occupied for about 35 years in Hillbrow, once a prime suburb of Johannesburg, but now dilapidated and crime-ridden, and due to bad eyesight, he was not able to drive to the Centre to carry out some of his work for the National Assembly. I had the pleasurable task of fetching him and taking him home each time. He had been urged by friends to leave Hillbrow but he was reluctant to do so. It was then suggested to me that a flat be built on to my house for him. Lowell and I agreed to this and I set about drawing up a plan and finding someone to do this professionally. It worked out very well as I had a large uncovered patio stretching the whole of the width of the house off the lounge and dining room. Adding the flat to half of it, covering the patio and adding railings and steps to the garden, made a huge improvement. This gave Lowell a door to the patio and entrance to the main house from there. I also had another resident in the house: Lowell’s ex-wife, Edith, who had been living in Dominica for 21 years, had been asked to help him with the archival work to write a Ten Year Crusade Diary for Southern Africa. She was to come for six weeks before pioneering to South Carolina in the United States. I offered to put her up for that time. Six weeks just scratched the surface of the work and she stayed with me for eight years!  We were all active members of the Bahá’ís of Roodepoort, a suburb of Johannesburg, and led a very active Bahá’í life. The three of us became like a family, did our shopping together, went out for meals together and so on. We jokingly said we were the Roodepoort Bahá’í Youth Group!  My musical activity in Johannesburg was minimal – the one constant was my job as resident pianist for the Gauteng Choristers which became one of the top African choirs in the country.

The National Bahá’í Centre in Houghton had become too small and the community was asked to look for another place. As it sometimes took 45 minutes to an hour for me to get to work each morning, I decided to look in places closer to my home. I looked at many places and was shown a property on about 22 acres in North Riding (about 20 minutes away) which was ideal but at first sight seemed out of range for us, with a main imposing building containing a huge entrance, a very large conference room and two other smaller ones, a dining room and professional kitchen and so on. There was also an administrative block with 10 offices including a board room, an accommodation block with 10 en suite bedrooms, a vast warehouse, a rondavel (a westernised version of an African-style hut), a very large five-bedroomed thatched house and four other houses and a great deal of vacant land. There was also a beautiful little chapel in the gardens. The owner was very interested to know that the search for property was for the Bahá’í Faith as he had met Bahá’ís some years before in Hawaii and had been very impressed. So I was asked to find out what the price was. The property was built by the owner as a Literacy and Life Skills Training College. The price being asked was about 10 times as much as the National Assembly had been wanting to spend and they turned it down. After two years of searching without result, I suggested that I go back to the “ideal” place and see what had transpired there. The owner was very pleased to hear from me! He had always hoped the property would go to the Bahá’í Faith. Circumstances had changed and the property was now available for a little more than half of the original price. The National Assembly was still hesitant since such an amount was not readily available. Speaking to some of the members of the National Assembly I said that the Guardian and Universal House of Justice did not have readily available money for the buildings at the World Centre either but once the appeals went out, the money was forthcoming in one way or another. So the appeal went out and the response was enough to set the ball rolling. Now many changes have taken place over the years and a part of the land has been dedicated to a future House of Worship.

I moved to Swellendam as a pioneer with my one remaining cat, my dog and my maid on 1st November 2006. My son Mark who had developed nasal cancer came, at my persuasion, to get some treatment from my good Bahá’í friend Dr. Zaida Rivené, skilled chiropractor/kinesiologist/nutritionist on whose farm I rent a house. She had had a great deal of success with such illnesses. Unfortunately he felt he had to go back to his work in England although he really needed a lot more time here to get him on the road to recovery. After a few months the cancer had reached his liver and he came once more with the intention of staying 8 weeks. After 10 days he passed away in my arms and is buried in a beautiful spot near where I live on Zaida and her husband Jim’s lovely Egyptian Arab horse farm. Odette still lives in England and my five grandchildren were all born and continue to live there – Mark’s three sons and Odette’s son and daughter.

I have many friends in this beautiful town, and am even more involved with concert performances and teaching, and working hard with the other four pioneers making an effort to build a community. We have weekly devotional meetings, there are children’s classes and we have had many firesides. We find it difficult to interest people in the Ruhi Institute but have had a few courses. However, we keep our minds fixed on using every opportunity to bring about a thriving Bahá’í community in the future! Being very healthy and active at the age of nearly 89 (people do not believe it!)  I expect to be around, if it is God’s Will, to witness the achievement of this goal!


Sylvia Benatar

South Africa, June 2013

Sylvia in Zimbabwe, 1950s

Sylvia in Zimbabwe, 1950s