Rosamine Hayeem

Rosamine Hayeem

11 October 1936
Bulawayo, Rhodesia
09 February 2024
Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, United Kingdom
Words by
Abe Hayeem her husband

The light has gone out of the world with the death of my darling wife Rosamine, who despite her genetic respiratory lung condition of PCD (Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia) which caused doctors to give her three days to live when she was born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia in 1936, she graced this world for the last eighty seven years. She was a delightful, intrinsically good and exquisite woman it was a privilege to spend fifty nine years of my life with, and it will be hard to recover from her loss. She radiated warmth, compassion and humour, and charmed everyone who knew her. She was open, honest, with a disarming ability to express herself with simple wry humour and lucidity. People loved her conversation and anyone on her email list cherished the long letters they received.

Both Rosamine’s and my backgrounds were from British colonial countries, mine from Bombay, India, and Rosamine from Bulawayo in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Both used the British education systems, and both of us were from strongly Zionist communities. Rosamine grew up in a thriving emigre community in Rhodesia, that came from Poland and Lithuania, and there were many German Jewish refugees brought out in the 1930s. Rosamine was an only child from Lily Fryde, whose family came from Johannesburg.

an exquisite capacity for observation and understanding of people, situations, and their social milieu

Rosamine was sprightly, academically brilliant, with a strong penchant for reading, literature and books which never left her. She had boundless energy despite her tiny frame, which she put to great use in her writings, poetry, journalism, and teaching, showing an exquisite capacity for observation and understanding of people, situations, and their social milieu. Her pupils loved hearing her read to them in different accents.

She came top in Rhodesia in her Cambridge (like GCSE) exam and received a scholarship to Cape Town University aged sixteen. Even though she was doing well in this new setting, she decided she wanted to be a journalist and impressed the editor of the Cape Times, the top South African newspaper at the time, who eventually gave her a job, so she left university and became a reporter.

Her mother Lily, divorced from Rosamine’s father, David Fryde, who came from Polish families who had settled in Sutherland in the United Kingdom, was the first woman accountant in Rhodesia. Lily was energetic and prominent in the Bulawayo Jewish community, raising her bright, highly politically aware and socially active daughter, with frequent visits to Johannesburg, for serious medical treatment for her genetic lung condition. After her mother died tragically at forty nine years of age, Rosamine emigrated to Israel in 1959, which she had previously visited, helped by her South African relatives who were amongst the early pioneers to Palestine. She was taken under the wing of her mother’s cousin, ‘Auntie Birdie’ who was married to Reverend Michael Cohen, a leading minister in the Bulawayo community. This was part of Rosamine’s ‘Yiddish’ background, and where her wit and sense of humour was derived.

a gift for languages

Rosamine, with a gift for languages, picked up Ivrit very quickly, and it was at the club for immigrants in Tel Aviv, the Mo’adon Ha’oleh in 1965 where one could join Hebrew classes to advance one’s knowledge, where I met Rosamine, who was the outstanding student in the class. We formed an instant attachment to each other.

I was an architecture student from London, who decided to volunteer at the dig at Masada near the Dead Sea in 1965, after hearing a lecture by Yigal Yadin, one of Israel’s ex-generals. I also wished to spend part of my ‘year out’ practical training in an architect’s office, and I got a job with the famous Bauhaus architect Arieh Sharon, who had been asked by Ben Gurion, to ‘plan Israel’ after the displacement of the Palestinians in the 1948 war, to replace the destroyed villages and land with Jewish towns and settlements.

Rosamine and I decided to be together, and despite her love for the hot climate in Africa and the Mediterranean, she reluctantly left Israel for London, leaving behind her beloved dog Riri, so I could resume my architecture degree. Five months after we met, we got married at Hampstead Synagogue. The whirlwind romance stunned my traditional Iraqi Jewish family, who had emigrated to the UK from Bombay, India, in 1960.

an ability to think in Talmudic terms

Soon after my degree, and the 1967 war when we had thought of returning to Israel, we adopted two mixed race children, Gilad and Lilya. With Rosamine’s penchant for thoroughness, to give them a Jewish identity that would enable the most flexibility in their future lives, we had them converted at the London Beth Din, which involved both of us undergoing detailed ‘education’ with teachers in Jewish halachah, despite our own backgrounds, mine in an Iraqi religious community. Rosamine picked up the prayers and an ability to think in Talmudic terms with alacrity that impressed her teachers.

After the conversions, it was not long after adopting our two older kids, that Rosamine gave birth in 1970 to our daughter Judith Deborah, who tragically was born with Spina Bifida, complicated with hydrocephalus, and the need for constant delicate neurosurgery to drain spinal fluid via shunts into ventricles in the brain. Years of hospitalisations and even trips to Toronto for more advanced neurosurgery followed, including battles with Jewish and other state schools to have Judith, who was extremely bright and fortunately mobile, educated together with other children in the normal way. The rest of our lives were a constant fight for equal rights for people with disabilities and against the racism that Gilad and Lilya experienced in schools. This echoed the antisemitism that Rosamine had experienced in ‘white’ Rhodesia.

fight against injustice and for equal rights for everybody

It is this fight against injustice and for equal rights for everybody, which included ‘Never Again”, that signified Rosamine’s intrinsic character that she had from an eight year old when she gave her doll’s clothes to African babies at the sub-standard hospital for black Africans that she used to visit near her neighbourhood. Her concern for the black population continued through school and into university in Cape Town when her involvement with meetings amongst black and coloured groups to oppose apartheid caused her to be expelled from South Africa. This also caused uncomfortable relationships within the white community in Bulawayo. To escape from this, Rosamine as a teenager, made an amazing hitchhiking trip on her own over vast distances from Cape Town to Umtata in the Transkei in South Africa, a dangerous feat for a girl of seventeen. Later, during her life in London, Rosamine and I were fond of travel to many countries, the US, Canada, Russia, India, Egypt, Turkey and Europe including France, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, to name a few.

In London, Rosamine and I got involved with the Anti-Apartheid Movement, in which we were very active, together with many Jewish friends as well, and we were pleased that major figures in the struggle for black freedom were in fact Jewish. This seemed to be the tradition in Civil Rights movements across the world, where Jews felt these conformed to the ethical codes in their religion that called for justice and mercy for the oppressed, and the fight for equal rights. We also joined the Jewish groups fighting for these values which included Jews Against Apartheid and the Jewish Socialist Group, and of course later JfJfP and Jewish Voice for Labour.

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour

Rosamine was very vocal in voice and print over these struggles which naturally led to realising that the Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories are also struggling for freedom and justice, and that this must be faced by Jews themselves who should not be disdained by fellow Jews, in fighting for the very values that are repeated in our prayers as the basis of Jewish ethics. (Some of these values are stated in the verses detailed below*, that I expressed in my hesped.)

Rosamine and I were particularly concerned with Israel’s disproportionate actions and collective punishment against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and the horrific destruction and killings of civilians and particularly thousands of children following the 7 October Hamas assault, and hoped that the Jewish community would wake up to the numerous breaches of international and humanitarian law, including Torah law and Jewish ethics, that puts Israel’s own status as a legitimate state in jeopardy, and the immediate need for a ceasefire to negotiate bringing back all the hostages, on both sides.

After the sad and tragic death of our youngest daughter Judith at the age of forty eight in 2019 and a subsequent bout of breast cancer in the same year, Rosamine’s health deteriorated, and especially the progression of her PCD and her lung condition.

She never stopped writing to her friends

Many bouts of hospitalisation followed and sadly a withdrawal from active participating in the many causes that were dear to her, except of course using social media and Zoom on line. She never stopped writing to her friends on her email circuit.

In 2023 and then into 2024, she was very ill, over the past few months getting frailer and frailer, with huge weight loss, and then on 4 February was rushed in to Emergency at Northwick Park Hospital.

She was courageous and fighting right to the end with severe breathlessness, pneumonia and lung infection. She was so frail at twenty four kilos, that it was all too much for her, and she went peacefully after a morphine dose. It was a shattering experience though she looked serene when she finally passed away on Friday night, 9 February, (also Erev Rosh Chodesh of Adar Rishon). It is a great wrench to at last be separated from her after nearly fifty nine amazing years. I will miss her terribly.

People said of her:

“She was such a lovely little lady and a true fighter, like you said to the end.”

“She was a courageous soul who’s strong spirit radiated from her frail body. I feel privileged to have known her.”

“She was a great woman (I don’t have to tell you), her feistiness more than making up for her size. You have been together for so long it must be difficult to imagine life without her, but you two had such an incredible relationship all these years that she will always be with you.”

“She was  a fine and dedicated person. What one calls a mensch. I am also sorry for you because I know you were inseparable and nothing I say will help you get over your grief.

“She was a wise, encouraging, thoughtful and caring person, and a great fighter for justice. No doubt her actions in the world, her fight against oppression, and her love will live on.”

“I can barely imagine how devastated you must be and she has been such a courageous woman, so frail and yet so determined to stand for justice.  To say she was a real mensch hardly touches the surface.”

“The world is a lesser place without her.”

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*Also in my speech I referred to Jewish Law and Haftorah:

So it’s no wonder that when the Torah emphasizes the importance of actively fulfilling the core value of justice, it repeats it twice: “tzedek, tzedek tirdof! Justice, justice shall you pursue!” (Deut. 16:20). This is usually interpreted to mean justice and only justice, achieving just ends through just means.

Thus says the LORD, Do justice and righteousness, and deliver the one who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor. Also do not mistreat or do violence to the stranger, the orphan, or the widow; and do not shed innocent blood in this place. (Jeremiah 22:3)

And do justice and righteousness in the land .(Jeremiah 23:5)

In the Torah, mercy, or its English synonym, compassion, constitutes a fundamental attribute of the divine character, a reality highlighted in Exodus 32–34 and the account of the golden calf. The nation of Israel had been miraculously delivered from slavery in Egypt.

The Old Testament does not treat justice primarily as a legal concept. Justice tends to merge with “steadfast love,” “compassion,” “kindness,” and “salvation.” Justice has to do with how a loving creator has made the world.

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. The rest is commentary”. Rabbi Hillel.

What is mercy in the law of Moses? Again, Mercy is compassion shown toward someone whom you have the power to harm.