The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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Marie Benoit's Diary: Setting up the Tayar Foundation

Marie Benoît Tuesday, 17 December 2019, 13:06 Last update: about 6 years ago
Members of the Tayar Foundation for Jewish Heritage in Malta: Daniel Pariente, Sarah Azzopardi, Damon Camilleri, Rabbi Reuben Ohayon, Dennis Mizzi and Julius Nehorai
Members of the Tayar Foundation for Jewish Heritage in Malta: Daniel Pariente, Sarah Azzopardi, Damon Camilleri, Rabbi Reuben Ohayon, Dennis Mizzi and Julius Nehorai

I am not a funeral goer. I believe in treating people well when they are alive. Going to their funeral is not going to do them any good. Anyway, this relatively new fashion of clapping inside the church and on the church parvis at the end of a sad ceremony makes me cringe. Where on earth did that come from, this clapping?

Arrangements for my funeral have already been finalised. Just close family and certainly no clapping.

I am a bundle of contradictions. There are some funerals I simply do not want to miss and Shelley Tayar's was one of them.

I know exactly where the Jewish cemetery in Marsa is so I had a very clear idea, a few months ago, of where I was heading. However, with all those new signs and directions because of road works, I took the wrong turning and that was that. I could actually see the Turkish and Jewish cemeteries but simply could not reach them. I regretted not being present immensely although I had said goodbye to Shelley on her deathbed so perhaps it was not so serious.

Shelley's son Ariel Deutch, his cousin Nili Baruch,  Rina Arnold, Gita's daughter and Nili's brother Philip

So I was happy when Rose and Julius Nehorai sent me an invitation to a get together to celebrate Shelley at their home. This was certainly not a uniquely Jewish evening.

There were several guests from the Jewish community but also Maltese and maybe other nationalities - a gathering which Shelley, who was so inclusive and cosmopolitan, would have liked.

Her son Ariel Deutch, came out from America to pay his mother his respects. There were also two cousins from Scandinavia, Philip Baruch and his sister Nili and Rina Arnold who is Shelley's sister Gita's daughter. She came from Texas where she lives.

Jewish hospitality was very present in several ways including an open bar and a table heaving with delicious canapés and chocolates.


Rose Nehorai

Prayers were led by Mr Ohayon and then members of the family recounted several stories about Shelley. All remembered her fondly.

One story ran that Shelley would put a Mars bar on her husband George's grave as he loved chocolate so much. (I may give the same instructions).

Perhaps, apart from celebrating Shelley's life, the significance of that evening was the launching of the Tayar Foundation for Jewish Heritage in Malta.

This voluntary organisation aims to safeguard Jewish heritage on these islands such as Kalkara Cemetery and Ta'Braxia Cemetery. It also aims to bring awareness to the general public, locally and internationally, of the history of the Jewish communities that lived in the archipelago, through cultural activities and public lectures.

 Another aim is to promote the study of Jewish communities in Malta and the local cultural heritage.

Rabbi Reuben Ohayon and guests pray

Julius Nehorai told me: "It is also a way for us, who have known Shelley, George, Gita and other members of the Tayar family, to pay them tribute for having been ambassadors of the Jewish culture and history in Malta and beyond but also to perpetuate their commitment to the Maltese Jewish community."

Philip Baruch, Shelley's cousin, remarked that "George was a saint. He has brought more tourists to Malta than anybody can imagine. His first wife Gita did a lot of charity work and always had an open house to all visitors no matter if it was a delivery boy or government minister or the president of Malta."

The setting up of the Tayar Foundation for Jewish heritage in Malta by gathering members of the Jewish Community, cultural enthusiasts and researchers/academics, appears to be the right way to value a local rich, millennial history, whilst expressing gratitude and affection to the Tayar family.

For those interested in the history of the Jews in Malta, the most important work, as far as I know, is by Professor Wettinger: The Jews in Malta in the Middle Ages. Unfortunately this has been out of print for some years. The only way to consult it is to go to a library or borrow it from a friend.

More accessible is An Account of Malta's Jewish Community since 1800.  This chronicles the story of the Jews in Malta over the last 200 years. Alan Keighley researched and wrote the historical section, Dr Andy Welsh saw the whole project through to completion. Shelley, too, had a hand in this. Her Rerminiscences of George: my husband is both touching and witty.

In the introduction to the book Dr Welsh explains that Ferdinand and Arabella, King and Queen of Spain, "uniting the Crowns of Castille and Aragon, decided to have only true Roman Catholics living in their dominions; these included Malta and in 1492 all Jews living here were expelled. 'Expelled' does not of course mean they all left, but those who elected to stay had to profess Christianity, and there are many Jewish surnames which attest to this." So Malta's connection with the Jews goes back a long way.

Sarah Azzopardi-Ljubibratic who is keenly carrying out research here regarding the Jews said: "The purchase of the plot of Kalkara cemetery goes back to the end of the 18th century; meanwhile, Ta'Braxia has been in use during the 19th century. Both Kalkara and Ta'Braxia sites are currently in need of an urgent restoration to avoid their irremediable deterioration. "

The Foundation aims, among other things, to give a second lease of life to these sites and to shed light on a long and fascinating journey through Jewish history. However, the Foundation does not only wish to work on the past. It's ambition is also to preserve the present memory of the Jewish community and to connect with the general public.

May this Foundation take off and thrive.  After all the Tayar family are the oldest family continuously living in Malta. Let their name be remembered.


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