Arrivals: Bobby (Sylvia) Lavender (not quite 90)

"We were Reform Jews in England - I was the mother of four sons and I didn't want to sit alone in synagogue, so it suited me."

bobby lavender 88 224 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
bobby lavender 88 224
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Bobby Lavender, who will be 90 this month, arrived as a new immigrant two and a half years ago. Within two months of settling in, she had opened a nearly new shop in the retirement home where she lives, Beit Protea in Herzliya, and single-handedly runs a profitable business, the proceeds of which all go to help the less fortunate. Other residents bring her unwanted gifts or superfluous goods. Occasionally she walks down to the main drag, Rehov Sokolow, and finds some item she can buy and sell at a profit. Her customers include the Filipino caregivers as well as fellow residents. "I only accept good stuff, no rubbish," she says firmly. In London, she volunteered for years in a charity shop in aid of Jewish Care, and she missed it. "I used to do everything there, the accounts, the window-dressing, the selling," she says. "I'm very gregarious and like being with people." In Beit Protea she is known by everyone and enjoys many friendships. One of her best friends is someone she met the day she moved in. "She's a youngster - only in her 70s - but we get on very well," she says, with a completely straight face. FAMILY BACKGROUND Bobby, who was given the name Sylvia but never remembers anyone using it, was born in Brighton in 1918. Her parents both came from Poland as children at the end of the 19th century and were very English both in speech and lifestyle, something their daughter inherited. "I went to a private school and met and married my husband in 1939 when I was 21," she says. "We had a good life together. He was a director of Fortes, the catering firm which owned hotels all over the world, and we used to travel a lot and get the VIP treatment." Bobby raised four sons and always had a live-in nanny. "In those days you had Irish girls who'd come over to England," she remembers. Two sons live in the US, one in England and the oldest, Roger, lives in Ra'anana, which is one of the reasons she decided to move here after her husband died in 2004. "I wouldn't dream of living in America; the one in London I'd been with for years; so that left Israel, and here I have grandchildren and great-grandchildren so why not?" UPON ARRIVAL "I stayed with Roger, and his wife, Annette, looked around at retirement homes. I liked this one the best as it's completely English speaking. I didn't think I would get in as the waiting list is long, but I was lucky and managed to. It's very friendly and the staff are wonderful. And it's near the children, but not too near, so it's perfect." LIVING ENVIRONMENT Home is a small apartment with a sitting room, kitchen and bedroom. Knickknacks are all over the shelves, and pictures of the children and grandchildren cover the walls as well as some paintings she did when she settled here. A large portrait of her as a child with her mother in Edwardian dress hangs on one wall. "I got rid of all the possessions - the Wedgwood dinner service, the crystal, the silver - what do I need it for?" On the bedroom wall, surrounded by photos of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she has a picture of the queen, who sent her a congratulatory note when she and her husband celebrated 60 years of marriage. ROUTINE "I wake early, around six, and usually go to the pool at seven or walk for half an hour for exercise. I make my own breakfast in my room, and if it's a day the shop is open, I go down and open up at nine. There's always plenty to do in the shop, tidying up, changing the window, pricing things. Every day there's a different class on offer - sewing, painting, ceramics and all sorts of crafts. Once a week we do pool exercise and there are things like physiotherapy available. "At 12:30 I have lunch in the dining room, and we sit around and chat until we go for an afternoon rest. Then I usually visit someone or have friends and grandchildren visit me. In the evening they put on marvelous entertainment and lectures." FAITH "I'm not religious although my son and his wife are very Orthodox, so if I go for Shabbat, I have to stay over. We were Reform Jews in England - I was the mother of four sons and I didn't want to sit alone in synagogue, so it suited me." LANGUAGE "Oh terrible. I know a few words, but here everyone is so helpful that somehow you don't need language. If I want something and one of the workers doesn't know English, we manage with sign language, they seem to follow me. When I go into town I walk into a shop and say, 'Anyone speak English?' and they all jump and try to be helpful." CIRCLE "I've made loads of friends and everyone knows me here. I get on with everyone." FINANCES "Thank God I'm fine; I had a lovely flat in London which I sold when I came here. I've no idea how much it costs me here for laundry and stuff like that, my son takes care of everything." PLANS "Well, I don't think I'll expand the shop, and I'd like to get some more help with it. How much longer can I go on at 90? Mind you, I don't feel 90; people often ask if there wasn't a mistake made on my birth certificate. "The family is planning a big 90th celebration for me, and my other sons and their families will all be here. I'm really looking forward to that. "I'm very happy here, it's a fantastic home. I can't find one fault with it," says a very contented Bobby. To propose an immigrant for an 'Arrivals' profile, please send a one paragraph e-mail to: [email protected]