Pnina Benyamini was a belly dancer, a yoga instructor with a zest for a healthy lifestyle, a cultural icon to her roots and generally a person admired and adored by so many that became infectious to the community of Chemainus.
Benyamini fought a courageous battle against cancer for 16 years. She died Oct. 30 at the age of 63 with her family by her side.
“We were all holding her hands,” said son Adam Benyamini-Lamb, 33, who was alongside brother Daniel Benyamini-Lamb, 29, and dad Richard Lamb.
Her loss has been felt by so many.
“Pnina was a very dynamic, generous, community-minded resident of Chemainus,” Susan Beaubier indicated.
“You were such a free spirit and you loved to dance,” noted Bev Knight. “She was very special to this community and will be very missed.”
“Pnina was the first person I met when I moved here 32 years ago,” added Candace Kirby. “She was a beloved friend and mentor to so many. Her huge smile is so present to me right now.”
“She wanted to give me and my brother everything she could in life,” said Adam. “She knew so many people. Everybody knew who she was.”
He was always characterized as “Pnina’s son.”
“It’s something we got very used to,” Adam confided. “She connected with so many people. My mom was out there for everybody. She was very much a free spirit.”
Pnina was a free spirit with a rather incredible tale of how she wound up going from Israel to the Yukon and winding up in Chemainus.
She was born in Petah Tikva, Israel and raised in Ramat Gan in the Tel Aviv district, the middle child of three in her family.
Pnina was into dance, theatre and yoga at that time and taught belly dancing. She worked at a health and fitness centre in Tel Aviv, teaching swimming, exercise and massage therapy and “loved her job there,” according to Adam.
She also once spent two years working as a lifeguard in a kibbutz.
At 28 years old, she met Richard Lamb who had been living there for seven years. The romance blossomed and Pnina agreed to come to Canada with him on a three-month fiance visa. When the visa was up they tried unsuccessfully to renew it and then decided to take the big step to get married at Richard’s mother’s house in North Vancouver on March 8, 1986.
Their spirit of adventure took them to the Yukon to find gold.
After spending a summer there, “they realized very quickly the gold waasn’t going to pan out,” quipped Adam.
They moved to Chemainus and set down roots with an expanded family after Adam was born in Ladysmith and Daniel in Duncan. Pnina became immediately involved in the community that continued throughout her time here and also with the Cowichan Multicultural Women’s Group which resulted in TV appearances on Shaw Cable’s Kitchen Culture program, with audiences following her through two pregnancies.
“I was on TV with her,” noted Adam. “She was teaching people how to make their cultural foods.”
Pnina had a home-based studio to teach belly dancing, yoga and massage and she taught yoga outside the home at the Margaret Moss Health Centre and the Cowichan Community Centre.
On top of all that, “she was a snowboarder, she loved riding horses,” said Adam. “She loved all animals.
“She had the energy of like three people. I felt growing up she had way more energy than I did. She was very positive. She was very engaging and cared about people and what was going on in their lives. She would put herself out there to help.”
But at the same time, Adam added, “she went through a lot of adversity with her cancer.”
She kept beating it, but fought three recurrences.
“She was always very positive in attitude,” said Adam. “She rarely felt down about it.”
A small outdoor funeral service and burial was held for Pnina according to Jewish custom.