Son of Reform rabbis passes away while on holiday in the Philippines

Benedict Romain, son of Jonathan and Sybil was on his honeymoon in the south-Asian country


Rabbi Jonathan Romain’s son has drowned in the sea in the Philippines on his honeymoon.

Benedict Hayyim Anidjar Romain, 34, died on Sunday. Rabbi Romain said that the weather “suddenly turned” and his son was caught in a rip tide. The rabbi last saw his son two weeks ago, just before he and his wife Stella, 30, left for their honeymoon to the island country in Southeast Asia.

The couple was married last summer by Rabbi Romain after being together for four years.

Benedict was a sculptor who studied fine art at the Cardiff School of Art and Design and at Oxford Brookes University. His “totally distraught” widow is an online designer.

By chance, Stella’s parents, who are not members of Maidenhead Synagogue, were on holiday near to the island where the couple were staying and are with their daughter there now.

Rabbi Romain and his wife Rabbi Sybil Sheridan, a part-time minister at Newcastle Reform Synagogue, are awaiting details of their son’s repatriation, having decided not to make the journey to the Philippines. “By the time we get there, a 17-hour flight and then another half-day travel, we hope he will have been brought home,” he said.

They have three other sons and are both former chairs of The Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors.

Rabbi Romain told the JC his son, who had lived in London, had grown up in Maidenhead Synagogue and was involved in Reform Synagogue Youth (RSY) where he had been a camp madrich.

He said: “It’s deeply painful. But I know from seeing so many others suffer a massive bereavement that, one day, we will laugh and sing again. Although I must admit it doesn’t feel like that right now.”

Benedict’s work as a sculptor included making fine art props for films. He also made a sculpture of a prayer book turning into a dove for Maidenhead Synagogue. “It’s right by the synagogue entrance. I love walking past it every day,” Rabbi Romain told the JC.

The minister also told the JC that being a rabbi was helping him cope with his loss. “I have officiated at several hundred funeral and grieved with many congregants over the years, which makes me aware, though it’s obvious really, that my grief is not unique and that many others have suffered searing pain too, so there is nothing exceptional about what our family is facing.

“It has also shown me how those who were beyond comfort at the time, eventually re-enter the stream of life and, although they never forget and the pain is always deeply etched in their memory, they can still have happy lives and consider themselves blessed.”

Members of the Maidenhead synagogue paid tribute to Benedict, who was a cheder volunteer as well as a High Holidays shofar blower at the shul. John and Susie Dunston, described Benedict as full of "gentleness, kindness and modesty", telling the JC: "We both have the most vivid memory of the last time we saw Ben, vigorously blowing the great shofar at Yom Kippur.

We also have the fondest memories of our encounters with a much younger Ben. He was Susie's assistant for Class Aleph at cheder, where he was always fun, patient, adored by the children, totally reliable, ready to learn himself and lovely to be with.

"John loved having Ben in the GCSE class, at least after he had overcome the anxiety of "teaching" the Rabbi's son: Ben was even then full of quiet enthusiasm which made John's role a joy."

Another Maidenhead congregant, Sheila Veniar, described Benedict as the “gentlest of giants. Sometimes there are people who seem to fit so much into a lifetime, who grasp every moment to do what they love, it’s as if they knew their time was limited, and I feel Ben was one such soul. He was such a free spirit with adorable quirkiness and the warmest of hearts, and I feel hugely privileged to have known him for so long.

"Thank you for creating such a gift and a blessing for us all.”

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