The Malta Independent 5 June 2020, Friday

Marie Benoit's Diary: Farewell darling Shelley

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 21 May 2019, 14:47 Last update: about 2 years ago

TThere is only one Shelley in Malta, possibly in the world, Shelley Tayar. She was unique in so many ways, larger than life and all those who knew her loved her.

Her friends Rose and Julius Nehorai have told me that Shelley was born in Jerusalem. "She had lifelong friends from both the Palestinian and Israeli sides. Many times it has been said that if ladies such as Shelley were to be handling it, there would have been a much better chance of peace."


She was a psychology and journalism student in the US and after finishing her studies, she enrolled with the US army and worked in Public Relations. She then travelled to post-war Germany where she worked as a foreign correspondent. Shelley R. Deutch Tayar worked as a writer and correspondent in Europe for nearly thirty years.  She has always been active in both Jewish and non-Jewish communities. In her own words, she was a model of and for the wandering Jew.

Julius and Rose reminded me of the following anecdote. "On December 2007 Shelley awoke in the middle of the night to find two intruders in her bedroom. She summarily dismissed them, telling them to get out and wait until she got dressed. When she emerged she told them she had quite a shock so she needed a glass of brandy but they could join her if they went downstairs to fetch it.

After they had loaded up her car and run away with their haul, Shelley was as much disturbed by the loss of transport as the stolen goods. When the police failed in their attempts to find the car she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Previously, Only in Malta had run a feature about her car, with illustrations showing weeds blossoming from the wheels as the vehicle had not been moved for quite a while. Shelley ran a classified ad in The Times of Malta with the same picture with the caption: "Would the people who removed my car please ensure that the flowers are watered and let me know where I can find it?"

Yes, I remember the incident clearly. Apparently the two thieves propped a ladder they found below her bedroom window and surprised her in her bed. Within days she had called me and asked me to put an advert in The Malta Independent on the same lines as the one in The Times, which I did. I had asked her why she persisted in keeping the car when she never drove it. "It gives me a sense of security," I remember her telling me.

Her first husband fell ill, quite soon after their marriage. "Only rats abandon a sinking ship," she had commented. They had two sons. Her second husband was George Tayar, who had been married to her sister Gita.  She always described her second marriage as a very happy one.

 I remember George and Gita coming home with the first mangoes and avocadoes we had ever seen and which they had brought from Israel.

Shelley gave me two books. One was An Account of Malta's Jewish Community since 1800. Much to her delight I serialised most of this work in First, The Malta Independent's monthly magazine, when I was editor. Our readers loved it. It was researched by Dr Alan Keighley who wrote the historical section of this book while Dr Andy Welsh saw the whole project through to completion. Dr Andy Welsh in his Introduction writes: "This book chronicles the story of the Jews in Malta over the last 200 years and celebrates among others two very special Jews - George and Shelley Tayar - who demonstrated the humanity of Jewishness in their lives. Loving people, generous to a fault, and faithfully practicing their ancient religion, root as it is both of Christianity and Islam, worthy members of a race which has miraculously survived repeated persecution, pogroms and massacres throughout its long history, even down to the present."

When Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was brutally murdered in Pakistan, many Jews were particularly touched by his last words affirming his Jewish identity. Many were moved to reflect on and analyze their feelings toward their lives as Jews. So a book was published. I am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the last words of Daniel Pearl, was another book Shelley gave me with the following dedication:  "With much love, admiration and a Big Smile."

This was Shelley, optimism itself. I remember when she had lost money when the Chemical bank collapsed. More heartbreaking was the news that one of her two sons died in the States. No matter what, she chose to smile. This doesn't mean that she did not suffer heartbreak but she chose to be positive, thus encouraging others. 

 I am Jewish  inspires Jewish people of all backgrounds to reflect upon and take pride in their identity.

Among those who contributed to this book are Elie Wiesel, Milton Friedman, Kirk Douglas, Shimon Peres, Vidal Sassoon ... and Shelley Tayar.

Let me quote from her piece in this book:  "Centuries before the Christian Era, one of the Jewish sages defined Judaism in six seconds. He said, 'Love they Lord they God with all thy heart, with all thy might and with all thy being, and don't do unto others what you don't want done to yourself.' That was the core in the budding bulb of my Jewish being... I received my identity through my heritage. My family, refugees from the 1492 Spanish Inquisition, arrived many generations ago in old Palestine and settled in the Old City of Jerusalem. I was gened to recover whatever spark from every catastrophe... and that the general good should be placed ahead of the individual good.

Neither my parents nor I ever experienced anti-Semitism - that came through a third party when we children assisted Holocaust refugees from illegal boats to Palestine (now Israel). Once the refugees were supplied with forged identity papers, we children were instructed to tell the searching British troops that all people in our house were immediate family and were visiting from Tel Aviv.

The social and learning layers on my Jewish core grew through impressions, traditions and people I was introduced to.

My father often smoked a narghile with the Emir Abdallah (King Hussein's grandfather) and the bishop of Jerusalem brought us a Dalmatian puppy as a gift. I especially loved the pomp and glamour of Jewish tradition. As a small child, I attended the coronation of Rabbi Ouziel Rishon LeZion, chief rabbi of Jerusalem which was held in the ancient synagogue Horvat Yehuda (destroyed in 1948 by the Jordanians). I was overwhelmed by the golden crown placed on the rabbi's head and his purple, gold, and silver vestments and the pageantry. The same night of the coronation a neighbour Professor Joseph Klausner (author and famous history professor at the Hebrew University) came to the house with a stack of Jewish children's novels, and I started on my Jewish voyage of passion for knowledge...

I remember my father banging on the table and passionately saying: 'There is no nature preservation programme better than that of the Bible. Do you know that a Jew is forbidden from living in a city without green?; that any fruit windblown to earth belongs to God the custodian and therefore only the poor can pick it? Do you know anything of the biblical laws of 'do not destroy'? I spent four years up the Brazilian Amazon (on a research expedition from the Sorbonne around 1910) and learned firsthand that if you cut those trees down then you cut a treasure of undiscovered medicines."

"... I learned of the Jewish command, 'Enjoy life,' despite of agonizing pain in life (I am handicapped). I learned that we Jews have to salvage what we can and beam our positive currents - to help others and it helps us. I believe that Judaism is not only heritage tradition, ethics and faith but also a whole encompassing spirit - the vibrating immortal spirit of the Jewish people."

Shelley had an unshakeable belief in God and was a believer in peace especially between Palestine and Israel. She sympathised but discouraged you from dwelling on the negative in your life. She was unbelievably courageous and fiercely independent. She could always be relied upon for a genial opinion on most things often laced with wit. She did not just give the advice but set the example. She was an inspiring and inspirational force. To say her friends will miss her is an understatement.


[email protected]

  • don't miss