Babs’s story is written below but there is no doubt that she played a huge role in many community activities in Harare (Salisbury) during her long and productive life. She was involved in the threatre and produced hundreds if not thousands of costumes through WVS. She also chaired WIZO for many years and catered for many community and private events together with her sister Anita. Her husband Alphonse (Al) owned a car sales and garage company for many years and was known for his wonderful tenor voice as a member of the Sephardi Congregation choir.
The initial material provided below was hand-written by Babs and kindly typed for the website by Brenda Gill (nee Kaplan).
Lithuania – Father – Ephraim (later Mayer) (Sklar)
Parents: David Sklar – Gentleman Farmer
Sarah (nee Berman)
David married twice – sired 13 children
My dad was born in September 1878 – died March 1942 (63.5)
Left (escaped) from Lithuania in 1897 to South Africa with Phillip. Another younger brother, Isadore, also ran away from Russian Pogroms – went to USA in 1904 – settled in Brooklyn.
Dad, on arrival in Cape Town, went straight up to Pretoria by train and became involved with the small Russian Community.
Julius Lurie and wife Rachel, my grandparents, left Latvia in 1891 with two daughters, Annie 6 and Bertha 4. They also came to South Africa and went to Pretoria. My grandparents eventually had 7 children – 6 girls and the youngest, Willie, a boy. The girls were all talented in one way or another in the musical field – all were attractive except for Edie. They were very popular and invitations were in demand for their musical soirees, which were normally every Saturday night. Grandpa Julius, also being Russian, knew a lot of these new émigrés and would invite them to 34 Pretorius Street, where my mum and dad met. The “Lurie” House was a very popular house with the young Jewish crowd. The house was always full of member of the Jewish Community.?
Annie (eldest) was a quiet, likeable girl
Bertha (2nd) Mum – very attractive and lively
Edie (3rd) Unfortunately not as attractive as others
Mary (4th) attractive, vivacious – terrible flirt – all the boys chased her
Dora (t\5th) very attractive – also popular
Minnie (6th) really beautiful
Willie (7th) Bill – big, powerfully built – also good looking. First class footballer – played for the Transvaal 1st team. Known as “the Tank”. Terrible tease, made my grandmother’s life a misery with his tricks. We all loved him, as did everyone who knew him.
It was a bright, sunny day – actually January 7th 1914 – 7:30 a.m. when I arrived in this world – the second child to Bertha and Mayer Sklar – farming in a place called Eloff in Eastern Transvaal. My memory starts at the age of 3 when I recollect being a flower girl to a cousin of my dad’s, by name Freda Ponofsky, who married Horace Smulian. My very early years at Eloff were very happy times. I had a lovely nanny by name Serena, who on hindsight, must have spoilt me outrageously. There was also the Head (Baas Boy) Zacharia who put me on a Shetland pony and led me through the mealie fields daily. My father was considered a good farmer (I learned many years later that his father, my paternal grandfather, was a top class farmer in Lithuania). There were approximately 800 head of cattle on the farm. One was slaughtered daily – I so distinctly remember this because we had a bull mastiff dog – must have stood 3.5 feet tall – (he was huge – in fact we rode him at times) and he stayed outside all night guarding the carcass.
I can still visualise my mum in her kitchen, wearing a long white apron, producing the most fabulous food – a wood stove and the ice safe (today’s refrigerator) consisting of a large wooden box enclosed on 3 sides – the top front door being wire netting. Across the top were pieces of sacking – soaked in cold water with coal piled on top.
I can still see her kneading the bread and collecting horseradish outside the kitchen door. Our Farm Store was just a short way from the railway siding and I loved to go along there and sit on the heaps of coal and eat it – everyone maintained this was the reason for my continued good health almost my whole life.
At the age of three I was driven in a horse and trap to the first largest town, Delmas, to hospital to have my tonsils removed. My memory is thus – lying on a high white bed – and this huge black cup coming down over my face – then waking up in another room with a nurse feeding me ice-cream!!
Approximately .5 -.75 mile up the road was a very large farm owned by two families by name Blieden and Kaplan – (the wives were sisters). They farmed potatoes and eventually became the potato kings of the Transvaal. I am including this anecdote, as the Kaplans had a daughter – probably 6 months older than I – and we became very firm friends. The Bliedens had a daughter named Hilda, but she was older. The mothers had a very deep affection and respect for my mum.
So life went on – at the age of 4 my parents presented the family with another baby girl – Anita. This time mummy went to Pretoria for the birth as our grandparents lived there in a huge, rambling house. In fact we must have visited Pretoria many, many times as I knew all my mother’s family very well. Anita was a very beautiful child – in fact won a beauty contest at age 3 or 4.
When I was 6 my father came to me one morning and told me to go up to Molly Kaplan. When I returned, about noon, he told me that mum had presented us with two brothers – they were identical twins – but so much so they were indistinguishable – named Sidney and Mannie. The only way we (and mum and dad) could tell which was who – Sidney has a small ball of flesh on the lobe of his left ear – Mannie on the right. My mum was in her 7th heaven – she now had 3 boys and 2 girls – very sadly, Sidney died at the age of 6 months.
At this time, my father was having problems with his brother Phillip, who had apparently been helping himself to the cash from the farm and store and he was now forced to sell the farm – the cattle were shipped to Ermelo to be kept on the Mirvis’s farm.
The Sklar family once again arrived in Pretoria at grandma’s house! Dad went diamond digging. Mum opened a small fruit and vegetable shop. Everything was so beautifully displayed. David (eldest brother) had to go to the shop with me each afternoon and polish the apples: after which we played marbles and kennoki (?) – one day I had so many marbles I had to find a container for them. I looked in several places and eventually found a glass bottle in my mothers’ dresser, to all intents empty – I heard a rattle, saw nothing – emptied it. A few days later mum was frantically searching her draws and asked me if I had seen a bottle – I said yes – I took it – HORRORS – it transpired that the rattle I heard was a DIAMOND my dad had sent in. This would probably have helped to put them on their feet again. This was the first hiding of my life – (deservedly so). Now my parents had to look farther afield – I was probably now 7 or 7.5. Mum’s sister Dora, married to Sydney Jacobs, was living in Kimberly, as was her only brother, Bill. They persuaded us to come to Kimberly in the Cape. The family had found a business – a small hotel, the Empire? – the back of which touched the fence of the BIG HOLE – DeBeers Diamond Mine. That was the beginning of the “hotel” career which would last my parents for the rest of their lives. I went to Arcadia School – I believe I was always top in class. No pre-school in those days, so only Dave and I went to school.
Opposite us was a family by name Davids – son named Benny – I think he was 12. By now I was 8.5 years. Benny took a shine to me – I used to run away – which I did for many more years. Family once again – to Salisbury to mum’s eldest sister Annie – married to Phil Bloom. Mum, dad, Anita and Mannie left in the New Year to lease and run Trussons Hotel in Bindura. Dave and I remained in Salisbury, both at boarding school. I at the Dominican Convent and remained there for 5 years. Parents came back to Salisbury to lease the Langham hotel.
Now in matric class – again 4 years top of class. Left school in October 1930 to take job in government – three weeks before matric. In March I was offered a job with African Consolidated Theatres – movie – as cashier. This is where and when my love for acting/music/theatre/movies began. I gradually took over complete control of the booking plans, arrangement of programmes, overseeing and vetting contents and printing of these weekly programmes. The theatre manager, by name Horace Green, was a wonderful man to work with over the 9 years. I probably knew everyone in Salisbury, including kids. I let the Jewish kids into matinees for free. Across the road (from the Palace) was the Lounge, a tea lounge which held tea dances every Tuesday evening (more later).
I was now well installed with theatres. I had my 17th birthday with lots of friends. We went to the Lounge with Mark (Benatar) and Issie for dinner/dance practically every Tuesday night. The crowd would meet there every Sunday afternoon for parfaits, banana splits, etc. There were far more boys than girls at that time – we (the girls) were always in demand for dances etc. The Jewish Guild organized picnics at Hunyani River BEACH – 30-40 of us – girls would provide eats – boys transport – usually a 7-ton truck – and drinks. No alcohol – possibly beer only. About mid-1931 young man by name Morrie Blake arrived in Salisbury – ex-South African. He had been a ballroom dancing teacher and he invited the Jewish boys and girls to come to the Guild Hall every Sunday afternoon for ballroom lessons. We loved them and you must know that, in time, many of us became very good dancers, especially the boys. We went to Meikles Hotel every Saturday night in large parties and everyone danced with whomever they fancied. I can only remember one occasion when I was not invited to a large ball – my fault as I waited for a particular partner who never asked me on that occasion.
Further biographical details below provided by Linda Goldsheft (Babs’s daughter) – November 2004
Babs’s own story doesn’t even detail her war days but it is mentioned briefly on the Centenary page. It doesn’t mention that she was a Captain in the British Army; was in Nairobi for 6 years during the war; she was asked to march in the Victory Parade in London post War but declined for some reason. Mom returned and married Al Naim in 1946. Mark was born in 1948 and Linda came in 1950. She and Anita Price started the WIZO Catering at the Guild Hall as there was no-one doing eats for Brachot after Bar Mitzvahs and it snowballed from that. All the Wizo fund raising was dedicated to helping in Israel. Her name can be found on a plaque in WIZO House in Tel Aviv and also in a Gan in Eilat that was dedicated in 1975. She dedicated her entire life to the Jewish Community – as well as non-Jewish via WVS (Women’s Voluntary Services). In 1960 was awarded The Rosecrutian Order for her services, among others. In 1960 when all the refugees fled the Congo – we didn’t see her for 3 weeks as she was at the Agricultural Grounds organizing and working with refugees to see they were fed, clothed and kept warm etc. It was mentioned in the Centenary page that she was wardrobe mistress for the annual WVS Pantomimes – but it was so much more than that. She clothed all the musicals they produced like “Annie Get Your Gun, The King and I, Summer Song, South Pacific, The Flower Drum Song, Desert Song, Sound of Music” numerous Scout Shows, Variety shows – and the list goes on. (We had a huge metal shed in our back yard that was filled with all the costumes from the various shows – and I remember spending endless happy hours in that shed dressing and making up. When “Summer Song” was produced in 1962 , Dad, Mark and I all performed in the show and Mom was backstage doing the costumes.) To this day she is still National President of WVS and is still involved with the Wizo Catering at the tender age of 90. Babs is an amazingly accomplished and capable woman. She is self deprecating about all she has given to the community over the years and is loved by many. She will continue to be involved as much as possible until her dying day.