April 11, 1934 - November 19, 2022
Mount Sinai Simi Valley - Kamenir Chapel
6150 Mount Sinai Drive
Simi Valley, CA 93063
Sondra S. Bell
April 11, 1934 – November 19, 2022
Sondra (“Soni”) Skol Bell, beloved wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, cousin, and friend, passed away peacefully in her sleep at the Maravilla Retirement Community in Santa Barbara at the age of 88. She is survived by her beloved children: Lisa Bell-Williard (Tom), Susan Bell-Warner (Scott), Jula Bell-Liebi (Adam), and grandchildren: Brian, Eric, Shayna, Sara and Margaux.
Soni deeply loved her family and friends. She was a remarkable woman who inspired those around her to value love and to learn to share their feelings with true affection. She was a vivacious beauty — outgoing, charming, engaging, compassionate, adventurous, funny, playful, creative, and giving. She had a passion for The Arts, and a wonderful talent for singing and playing the piano. She also had an eye for antiques, paintings, sculpture, mosaics, fashion, and jewelry.
Coming from the green lushness of the East Coast, Soni came to love California’s golden rolling hills, ranchlands, and beaches. She loved flowers of all sorts, especially wildflowers, lilies, roses, and orchids. She also particularly loved snuggling up with one of her series of favorite dogs.
Beauty was important to Soni and she was indeed a beauty both inside and out. At Maravilla and Fountainview, she took great pride in being a “fashionista” and being known as “The Hat Lady” for her collection of self-designed hats. Soni took great joy in “bargain hunting” and her finds were legendary.
Soni was a life-long supporter of Jewish Community charities, especially the National Jewish Women’s Council and the United Jewish Fund. She also was a strong supporter of children’s music education programs, and a lover of animals. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Soni’s memory to whichever Jewish, Children’s Music, or Pet Rescue charitable organization is dear to your heart.
Soni grew up in Parkchester, New York. Her father, Isidore Skol (Skolnikoff) emigrated from a village on the Crimean Peninsula, near Kyiev. By trade, he was a highly skilled dental technician/instructor/ tool designer. Family lore has it that he made Jimmy Durante’s and Talulah Bankhead’s dentures! He was a strong supporter of the Jewish Welfare Fund. Soni’s mother, Marcella (New York born) was a fiery intellect with a slightly bohemian bent. She taught Special Education for 35 years in the New York public school system and was a sought-after teacher mentor.
Soni adored her elder brother, Alan Skolnikoff. Their extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins surrounded them with love. Alan studied psychiatry in Basel, Switzerland and became an internationally renowned psychoanalyst, settling in San Francisco. Soni and her husband Louis moved to the Los Angeles Area where Louis established a thriving law practice. Marcella and Isidore eventually followed to be close to Soni and their granddaughters.
Alan and Soni’s personal connection remained steadfast until Alan’s death (2016). They regularly reached out to one another to share the latest family and world news, to share their love of The Arts, and to seek each other’s advice and support.
In their early, formative years, Soni and Alan took full advantage of all that New York City and family had to offer: museums, theater, symphony, opera, dance – instilling in them a love of creativity, diversity and learning. Soni had a particular aptitude for music. She had perfect pitch. She played folk guitar, played piano by ear (she knew how to swing!), and sang beautifully.
Around the time Sondra left for college to study education at New Paultz University, Marcella and Isidore purchased a “demonstration house” which was exhibited at MOMA. They rebuilt it on a piece of “country” property they had purchased in Croton on Hudson. The “Museum House” was a modern Japanese-inspired puzzle box of a home with moving walls and indoor/outdoor living space that had a profound effect on everyone who visited it. Soni continued to live at the Croton House after graduating from New Paltz. She taught 4th and 5th grade students at Roaring Brook School in Chappaqua.
Even before she met Louis, Soni was an adventurer. In her younger years, she rode a bike across Canada with a youth hostel group. She travelled through Europe with her college roommate, Judy, and visited her beloved brother, Alan, at his medical school in Basel, Switzerland. She also played guitar and sang folk songs at various camps and clubs in the Poconos.
Soni first met Louis when he was a sports announcer for the Blind Brook Polo Club in White Plains, New York. At the time, Soni was on a date with another gentleman, but Louis offered to take her horseback riding and they fell in love, literally. Soni’s horse took a sudden jump and she was thrown to the ground. Louis swept her up and carried into the house. As he carefully looked her over to make sure she had not broken anything, he was struck by her beauty and she was struck by the concern in his handsome eyes.
Not long afterward, Louis visited Soni at her parent’s Croton home. He stared into the log fire and told Soni about his dreams for their future life. In the bright flames, he envisioned children and a wonderful future filled with love. Soni replied, “that sounds like a marriage proposal.” Startled, Louis stuttered, “I g-g-g-guess so.” Louis and Soni were married at her parents’ home on June 21,1959. Together, they shared a deep mutual affection that neither took for granted.
As they embarked upon their lives together, Louis focused on his law career and Soni focused her energies on creating a loving home for their growing family. Lisa, Susan, and Jula soon arrived. Soni took particular pleasure in exposing her girls to The Arts that were so dear to her heart: piano lessons, ballet, singing and acting… She even signed them up with a talent agent to act in commercials. She also made sure that her girls had every educational opportunity and involved the whole family in the local Stephen S. Wise Temple Community – learning about their Jewish heritage, singing, dancing, swimming in the temple pool, hosting “chess club”…
Lisa graduated from Pomona College and Hastings College of the Law. She practiced law for a while, but also taught public school Music in Bolinas-Stinson before focusing on caring for her parents and singing in a big band. Susan graduated from UCLA, majoring in Communications. She worked in television and film development, advertising, corporate communications and catering. Soni enjoyed seeing Susan perform live musical theater for children, and her family’s active involvement in their Marin County synagogue. Jula attended Boston University and graduated from USC’s Music program, where she studied Opera. Although somewhat mystified by Jula’s punk rock career, Soni reveled in the classical, blues, country, jazz, and folk songs Jula would sing for her. Jula worked in film production and as a film studio vocalist for movie sound tracks and TV commercials before establishing a successful dog walking and pet care business, “Dog Camp L.A.”
As her children began to fledge, Soni enrolled in the University of Judaism’s 2-year Wagner program. She completed a certificate in Para-professional Counseling. The program played to all Soni’s strengths: her interest in people, her compassion, and her desire to empower herself and others. Her greatest challenge was the program requirement to complete a research paper. Her program advisor suggested that she choose circumcision as her research topic, which provided Soni with a lifetime supply of off-color jokes that she devilishly loved to share.
Although she took great pride in her daughter’s educational and professional accomplishments, Soni was most happy when each of her girls found loving life partners: Lisa and Tom (Brian and Eric), Susan and Scott (Shayna and Sara), and Jula and Adam (Margaux). She took great pleasure in getting to know and love each of her new sons-in-law and grandchildren.
Throughout her life, Soni made extended family and friends a top priority. She was truly a friend in deed to those in need. She was a compassionate listener and had a particular talent for making you feel like you could accomplish anything you put your mind to. Her enthusiasm was inspiring and boundless. Friday nights at her Bel Air home were often an excuse to bring people together for Shabbat dinner. She especially enjoyed family gatherings, like the hectic and musical family Passover celebrations at the Russ home and Thanksgiving and Chanukah celebrations at the ranches or at one of her children’s homes.
As a friend, Soni was steadfastly loyal. She was also hilarious and great fun to be with. Hanging out with Soni often felt like stepping onto the set of the “I Love Lucy” show. Soni being Lucy, of course, and the rest of us being Ethel, or maybe an additional Lucy. She inspired that kind of fun loving mischief.
Despite being more of a “city girl”, Soni joined Louis in his love of open ranch land, horses and dogs. Together, they owned an interest in The Hermitage ranch in Ojai, growing oranges, lemons and avocados. Soni enjoyed hiking, row-boating and fishing with her girls in the stocked lakes. She and Louis also were partners in the development of the Malibu Riding and Tennis Club. But Sky Meadow Farms in Leona Valley and Royal Oaks Ranch in Three Points were all their own. Louis, considered himself a “Gentleman Rancher”. He explored multiple ways to make the high desert ranches self-sustaining, dabbling in a variety of businesses: horseback rides, apple and peach orchards, Xmas Trees, cattle… Meanwhile, Soni became an expert fruit canner, pie maker, and fruit brandy distiller.
Soni and Louis started a local Jewish Chavurah, and Louis joined the Cowboy Lawyers Association, hosting annual rides at Royal Oaks. Louis and Soni also were active in local philanthropic organizations, like Sertoma, an organization dedicated to helping those with hearing impairments. And Louis served on the Three Points Town Council.
At Royal Oaks Ranch, Louis and Soni built their dream home. They furnished it with many of the beautiful antiques they had collected with the help of Louis’ father, Oscar. Louis built Soni a “Lover’s Lane” and a gazebo on a viewpoint where they could survey the beauty of the ranch together. They also took long nature walks around the lake and shared unforgettable sunsets. They both loved bringing their city friends and family out to the ranches to enjoy the beauty of nature and the star-filled night skies.
Because Soni loved the beach, Louis purchased a house in Ventura for their 10th wedding anniversary, where the family would often escape the heat of summer. The kids would play in the waves of the Pacific and fly kites on the windy beach. Louis and Soni would take romantic sunset beach walks. Soni deployed her creative skills to decorate a few local beach cottages for resale through her own interior design business, “Sunny Belle Interiors.”
Because Soni loved to travel and go on cruises, they traveled the world together, and instilled a love of travel and diverse cultures in their children. She also loved to dance and convinced Louis to take social dance classes with her. Together, they floated gracefully around the dance floor, a romantic sight to behold.
Sadly, life and retirement do not always go as planned. Soni’s beloved Louis, with his near-photographic memory, was struck with progressive dementia. Eventually, he needed more care than she could provide at home and was admitted to Memory Care at the Jewish Home for the Aging (now “Jewish Health”). To be close to Louis, Soni decided to move in right next door to Fountainview Apartments for Independent Living. There she was able to continue to see Louis frequently. Their affection for each other never faltered. Louis passed away on February 23, 2018. Soni missed him terribly – especially holding his hand. She will be buried at his side.
What Soni’s grandchildren will remember most about her: loving hugs, warm smile, grandma jokes, thrift store treasure shopping skills, exceptional fashion sense, sharing meals together (Shayna and Sara particularly enjoyed Grandma’s cheese eggs with croissants!), and her sincere interest in everything they were up to.
Soni’s family wishes to express their deepest gratitude to Maravilla Retirement Community in Santa Barbara, Jewish Health, and all the compassionate caregivers and medical professionals who helped give Soni the highest quality of life possible in her later years. The family would also like to thank all of Soni’s friends and extended family for the mutual love and support shared with her – the greatest gift of all.
To Soni on our 20th Anniversary 6/21/72
By Louis Bell, written at Sky Meadow Farms, Leona Valley
Eating raw carrots in a lonely ranch house
Looking out the window at the folded hills. A windmill turns.
Watching the firm but gentle breeze rustle the black walnut.
These are all the things one can do without a wife.
A bird stuns itself momentarily on the picture window
It rights itself and next heads for the nearby
Nectarines which “mysteriously” disappear leaving abundant pits
Below the tree’s shorn branches permitting only next year’s promise.
Inadequate tailed ground squirrels busy themselves
Engineering tunnels, planning mischief to us and survival
For them. Puppies wagging new born tails and testing out
Fierce barks in a modulated key. Horses graze in silence.
All these things one can watch without a family.
The water glistens at the sand’s edge, Breakers
Pummel and retreat to the safety of the sea.
Birds skate on muddied flats and moon reflects
Joyously on the shore lighting a path of hopes and dreams.
Waterfalls plummet into a turquoise pool. The ever
Widening circles disrupt the calm and are themselves
Interrupted by confining walls of tile. Noiselessly contained.
Distant mountains absorb most light rays leaving shades of purple.
One can enjoy this alone.
The world is full of beauty and pain. How sad it would
Be to travel through it alone. How glad to have wife and
Family to share it all. How quickly twenty years compile.
How empty it all would have been without a wife like her
Without children, indelibly stamped with our love.
How much more meaningful existence becomes
When one teaches or is taught
When one sees and is seen
When one learns to feel.
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