Proofread by: Rebecca Lash

Transcribed by: Sonix

Interview date: 12/5/17

Interviewer: Lisa Newman

Location: Toronto, Canada

Total time: 00:32:01

Albert Benzaquen: Born in Tangier, Morocco, September 1947. Arrived in Toronto, Canada, 1958.


Lisa Newman: [00:00:15] And you are?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:00:16] Hi, I'm Albert Benzaquen. Hebrew name, Avraham Benzaquen, and I was born in Tangier, Morocco,

Lisa Newman: [00:00:27] When?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:00:28] In nineteen forty seven, September nineteen forty seven. And I've been here in Toronto, Canada since nineteen fifty eight.

Lisa Newman: [00:00:37] who were your parents?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:00:39] Yeah my father Aron Benzaquen, my mother Vida [ph] and I also have two sisters, one born in Morocco. Esther. And Denise was born here in Toronto.

Lisa Newman: [00:00:54] And your mother's maiden name?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:00:56] Haleiwa.

Lisa Newman: [00:00:58] Do you know how your parents met?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:01:04] What they tell me or what I remember anyways. Um, they were both at a Hi Alai [ph] game and in Tangiers and they were introduced by friends. My mother lived was born in Alcazar, so she had gone back. And then, of course, her friend started bringing her over and that's when they started getting together. And so my father brought her over to Tangiers and stayed with his mother. And then from there they got married. And that's the story.

Lisa Newman: [00:01:42] What language did they speak with each other? [AB: In Spanish] and with you? [AB: Spanish Yeah] Did you hear Hebrew [inaudible]?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:01:52] I went to the school that I went to, L'alliance Francaise Iraelite, was a French speaking school, but that the instructors, the teachers were all it was all done in Hebrew. So we had both French instruction and Hebrew instruction.

Lisa Newman: [00:02:12] And what's your understanding about earlier generations where they might have come from, how long they were in Morocco?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:02:21] I remember as far as my great grandparents, so I can't really say exactly, but I would assume they go back to right down to the Inquisition. I would say in fourteen ninety two, [LN: tell me about the great grandparents] they also lived in Tangiers, and.. um... yeah, well I can't remember too much about them, but from what I know, they, they lived right in Tangiers for the longest time [LN: do you know what work they might have done?] My grandfather was a butcher in a kosher shop. My great grandparents, I really can't tell you. My mother was always a housewife, I'm assuming, as my grandmother was. And so the women were usually at home. Yeah

Lisa Newman: [00:03:16] Do you know how many generations her family was there?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:03:21] My my mum's, they would have gone back also, you know, right to the beginning when they first came to Morocco, you know, [LN: are you the first born?] I'm the first born. Yes. Yeah. I was born in forty seven and yeah. After that three years later my sister came. Yeah.

Lisa Newman: [00:03:47] So what was it like, what did you do as a little child?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:03:51] As a child. Well I went to school as I mentioned to you, L'alliance Francaise. I was a very good student and I really enjoyed it. It it was a time where I had a lot of friends. And so life was great. Yeah.

Albert Benzaquen: [00:04:14] And yeah, I remember, you know, bringing schoolwork home and sitting with my dad at the kitchen table where we would practice, you know, the the math and and the geography, so I remember the lessons, you know, but the seasons and [laughs] yeah, it was fun.

Lisa Newman: [00:04:34] With your friends what language did you speak with them?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:04:39] If you know, about Tangiers, It's a very sort of I would call it European kind of city. There were people from Spain and I spoke to them in Spanish. Although my schooling was done in French, my the language in the street was Spanish. And with my friends, it was all in Spanish.

Lisa Newman: [00:05:03] What about Arabic? 

Albert Benzaquen: [00:05:06] Arabic? No, at that time, Arabic, even the the Arabs themselves only spoke Spanish, although they may have spoken Arabic among themselves, but in the street, it was all done in Spanish.

Lisa Newman: [00:05:21] Did you have Arabic friends?

[00:05:23] No, not at all. Not at all. We had once in a while was a woman that would come in and wash clothes and things like that. The man who brought his goats to give us milk [laughs], he spoke Spanish also, you know, but they weren't friends no. We sort of-

Lisa Newman: [00:05:40] Was, do you remember fights with other kids? Arabic.

Albert Benzaquen: [00:05:48] Not at all. Not at all. I think I think we got along very well. You know, I believe it's only after only after the Israel got its independence that the problem started. But as as far as I remember, we didn't have any problems, you know, in Tangiers. You know, it wasn't like some of the other places you hear about in the Middle East and things like this [LN: growing up, did you think that this was a place your family might have to leave or?] It right after the independence, which was in forty eight. It started getting a little bit touchy. There were some families that had left and, you know, in correspondence with them, because my parents had already friends in Canada, they started saying, why don't you come over? It's great here in Canada, you should live here. And I think my parents started getting the idea that things weren't going that well in in Tangiers. So they decided at that time maybe it's a good move.

Lisa Newman: [00:07:01] Did they think of going anywhere else?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:07:03] They were offered at the time, places like Argentina and Venezuela, because we speak Spanish. We were offered Montreal because we spoke French. We were offered Israel because obviously it's a Jewish homeland. But they decided to come to Canada because of what they had heard from their friends that were already here.

Lisa Newman: [00:07:29] So going back to you as a little boy in school, how far did you go at Alliance?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:07:37] Well, I was 12 when we left, so I can't really say I know when I came to Canada, they put me in grade four and then I skipped a grade seven. So I don't know. Yeah so uh...

Lisa Newman: [00:07:49]  So what was it like coming to a new country?

[00:07:56] It was. It was for us. It wasn't so bad. I can tell you for for us the main thing was the weather, because we came in October, the end of October and was cool here [chuckles] compared to what we experienced in in Morocco itself. But in general, I think the problems were with my parents because I went to they enrolled me in school right away. I started learning English. It didn't take me very long, but for them it was difficult. The weather, my father came. He was a plumber and a welder in Tangiers. He had established the place of work. And over here, the first finding work was very difficult. He didn't have the language. He was forty five years old. He was considered an old man already, you know. Forty five, my father said. Forty five years old. I'm old. So I still remember him coming home some nights and just sitting at the kitchen table crying, you know, because, you know, he said that he walked into the factory where he was going to work and they handed him a broom and told him to sweep up, you know, and he said, what's going on here? You know, so and it didn't take very long, although, you know, for them to find out that he knew what he was doing. He was a master plumber and a welder. And so when they did find out, they put him to train other people to do their jobs, you know, so that was a but all in all, I think they they enjoyed their life here in Canada. They always felt that it was the best country in the world.

Lisa Newman: [00:09:44] Did they? And when they when you first came, did they get help from any Jewish organisation?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:09:51] To get here, I think it was the it called the JIAS? J-I-A-S or [LN: Jewish immigrant aid] Exactly. Jewish immigrant aid. That was it. Just to get to get here. I remember them getting also things like clothing, like winter clothes for the time because we didn't really come prepared for the for the winter here. We didn't have the the coats or. Or things like that, gloves, scarves, boots, and I remember that and, yeah, that was about it, really. I think they probably helped my dad find a position, you know, they would send them to places to be interviewed for the jobs, but that was it. [LN: your mother worked?] No, my mother was a housewife. And I guess when you people ask that, you know, I always hesitate and say, my what? My mother was a housewife because housewives really do work a lot [chuckles], you know? So, yeah, no, my mom stayed home.

Lisa Newman: [00:10:51] So going back now, I'm sorry, I'm jumping around a bit, but going back to Tangier, uh, your brother had a business. [AB: Yeah] With a partner? 

Albert Benzaquen: [00:11:01] Yeah, yeah. I mean, no, it wasn't the partner. He worked for a company there. Yeah.

Lisa Newman: [00:11:06] And what did they leave behind? For instance the-

Albert Benzaquen: [00:11:10] when I remember when we were getting ready, they had to sell everything that, you know, we owned. We only came with some suitcases, with clothes. Everything else was sold out or given away to family and friends or things like that. The main thing I would have thought they have given away was it was family and friends leaving behind, you know, people that had been there for for years. Yeah. So that's mainly [LN: did you own a house?] No, we didn't. It was rented a small house. I still remember, Calle Venezuela, that was the name of the street. It was a small place, you know, but it did for what we needed.

Lisa Newman: [00:12:05] What reactions did other people have when they learned you were leaving?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:12:09] Um, I remember people coming over. They were they were sorry to see us go, but I think a lot of them understood how things were going, because at the time, although there were a lot of Spanish and French and Italian Portuguese people living there, they also started immigrating back to their own homelands. So it wasn't like a big shock for for them to see that, you know.

Albert Benzaquen: [00:12:36] Yeah, they were doing exactly the same thing. Yeah.

Lisa Newman: [00:12:39] And before well, again, going backwards, um, what do you remember about things like Shabbat at home?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:12:49] Well, Shabbat is was very special at home. Friday night. I remember we used to take a shower and get ready for for for the the day. We would always spend it with my grandparents. So I remember my parents and I and my sister walking over to my grandparents place and having our Shabbat dinner there. Yeah. And they lived in a very Jewish area as opposed to where we lived, which was a very Spanish area. Yeah. [LN: What would you eat for dinner?] Um, well, my grandmother would always bake loaves of bread for, or challah as we call it here... for I think she would I still remember my the specialties that I like were the little meatballs and peas and potatoes. That was a good they would always make chicken and fish. Meat was very expensive. And although my grand, my grandfather was a butcher, you could hardly ever bring a piece of meat home [laughs]. That was left for the rich.Yeah, it was very [inaudible]. 

Lisa Newman: [00:13:58] What about going to synagogue, to shul?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:14:01] Yeah. Synagogue Shabbat. Um, we went uh.

Albert Benzaquen: [00:14:07] I can't remember the name of the synagogue, to tell you the truth. I think it was called Naon [ph], but yeah, it was very small, you know, within walking distance, far from everywhere, really. And we had a street called Calle Synagoga [ph], which was a street with one synagogue after another. And people would stand outside the door and and ask you if you're Jewish [chuckles] to come into their synagogue, you know, so [LN: to make a minyan] to make a minyan. That's right. Because there were so many that that they needed to grab people off the street [chuckles]. And because we dressed the same as everybody else, they couldn't tell whether you were Jewish or not, except for [motions to head], you know, and people didn't wear kippas that much over there. So, uh.

Albert Benzaquen: [00:15:02] So you were twelve. Were you preparing your Bar Mitzvah?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:15:05] I was, as a matter of fact, I was the when we came to Canada, we didn't have a synagogue yet and I was the first Sephardi Bar Mitzvah here [chuckles. Yeah, [LN: who taught you?] A couple of people we had Rabbi Nazri, who, who conducted the services at the time, and then there was Mr. Frank Levy, may he rest in peace. He passed away. He taught me my haftarah. There was David Hazaan who wrote the speech that I read, you know, following my bar mitzvah. And that was it [LN: and they were all here in Toronto]. And they were here in Toronto already. Yes.

Lisa Newman: [00:15:51] Had you started studying in Tangier?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:15:54] Not at all. Not at all. The only time I studied, I was here in Toronto. Yeah. [LN: And what was the synagogue?] The synagogue? We hadn't set it up, but it was a house that they they they had rented at on Brunswick Avenue, you know. Yeah. And that was it. They just had some loose chairs sitting there. And then afterwards they brought the Torah, which the Torah itself they borrowed from another synagogue because we didn't have ours yet. Yeah

Lisa Newman: [00:16:28] Thinking back again to Tangier, do you remember holidays like Rosh Hashanah?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:16:35] Yeah. Yeah.

Lisa Newman: [00:16:36] What was that like?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:16:37] I was beautiful. I like I said, there were always spent with a family. My father had seven siblings in the family. We all used to get together and at my grandparents place always. And we celebrated the holidays like that. Everybody would come and everybody will bring something like food. And and that's how the holidays were spent. Yeah, I remember there wasn't much room. And as a matter of fact, a lot of the holidays were [chuckles] and eating were it was done standing up because [chuckles] you didn't have that much room in the place.

Lisa Newman: [00:17:17] Yeah. What about, uh, Passover, what customs do you remember?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:17:20] Well, actually, the same as we do here. You know, it's this is really no different than the Sephardi Custom is always gone for so long that each family does it the same way, you know, except I still remember my grandfather used to have a big brass tray. I was just looking around because, yeah, I think he has one here, where they would put where they would put the matzah and the charoset and all the stuff around, and then they would pass it from hand to hand as we have a custom of doing bibhiluya [ph], we pass it over the Everyone's head to show that we are free, men now we left Egypt and now we're free. And so my grandfather would do it for his son and then each of them would do it for their own children and the tray would be passed from hand to hand over people's heads. It was very nice and a lot of singing loud [chuclkles] [LN: different than the singing you hear here?] Uh, not among the Sephardi, but different from the some of the Passovers that I've spent with the Ashkenazi people here, yeah. We have it's more it's more alive [chuckles] [LN: can you sing any song that you like a lot?] Well the bibhiluyah, we can do that. And so we hold that tray when we pass it over people's head and it's [singing] bibhiluyah sanumi mitzrayim, alachmaanya bene chodim,

Lisa Newman: [00:19:15] Thank you. um any other holidays that you remember?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:19:22] Purim was really nice. Uh, Purim. I remember we, we went to school in the morning, early in the morning and then they would marches down to sort of it wasn't it was a school lunchroom where they serve breakfast in the morning. And I still remember underneath the plates, they would put some coins, you know, the gelt we call it here. We put chocolates here. But in Morocco, they used to put real coins, which we could then use to buy things with. And for us, getting that that franc, which was the monetary unit at the in Tangiers, was a big deal because you kids hardly ever had money. So then we would go out and buy candies with it and things like that was very nice. Yeah, different customs, yeah, so yeah, aside from that, I of the other holidays, typical, you know, Hanukkah came around, we lit candles, we sang songs and went to shul.

Lisa Newman: [00:20:32] any songs different there than here?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:20:36] Hanukkah no, they're exactly the same. Exactly the same.

Albert Benzaquen: [00:20:41] So yeah. That's all I can remember. Really.

Lisa Newman: [00:20:46] Did you remember what, what your future dreams were at that time before you knew you were leaving.

Albert Benzaquen: [00:20:55] Um I, I still recall uh at school them mentioning about going to university and of course Morocco has a thing of sending their their students to the Sorbonne in France, which would have been fantastic for us. You know, although I was still very young, we were already talking about future plans to, uh, to go to France to study there at the university. But, of course, we came to Canada and that sort of threw plans to the back.

Lisa Newman: [00:21:32] Did you ever go to a wedding in Tangier?

[00:21:36] As a matter of fact, I have no I didn't. No. I don't recall

Lisa Newman: [00:21:41] or a bar mitzvah or another kid?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:21:44] Yeah. Yeah. [LN: What was that like?] Yeah. Um, it was typical. We had the the boy would get up and, uh, and usually what they do is they go out and have an Aliyah they read from the Torah a little bit. Their taught their, their portion and um and then he would he would give a little speech about to thank everybody and to think his parents and give a little Dvar Torah and uh on the Parsha of the week. Yeah. And that was that was typical for all the boys, you know, to, uh, to to learn that portion and to and to make sure to give it over to the people 

Lisa Newman: [00:22:29] The Dvar Torah would be given in what language?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:22:31] In Spanish. Yeah.

Albert Benzaquen: [00:22:33] Yeah. As a matter of fact some of the songs we sing even at Petah Tikva today are uh are done in Spanish.

Lisa Newman: [00:22:44] [background communication] Do you speak Spanish day to day?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:22:51] Um, I do speak Spanish fluently, although it's getting more difficult because there are you know, my, my family does not speak Spanish and there aren't that many people that speak Spanish unless you meet someone who does and then that's it, you know, but slowly it's I'm forgetting it a little bit. I start making in some, uh, some English words with it also. Yeah. But at Petah Tikva I'll speak Spanish with the people that, you know, the elders [chuckles].

Lisa Newman: [00:23:25] Tell me about your education here in Canada.

Albert Benzaquen: [00:23:28] When I came, I went [well], to many schools starting with grade four at Ryerson Public School, then skipping to grade seven went to King Edward Public School. My high schooling was done in Central Tech, Bathurst and Harbord, then I went to Ryerson for my for my college. Yeah, I did electronics and I did architecture. Um,

Albert Benzaquen: [00:23:59] And that was it. Yeah,

Lisa Newman: [00:24:02] How did kids here accept you when you were new?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:24:06] Um it was, it was is interesting. I still remember my first day at school, my first day at school and being used to the way school was in Morocco, which was very strict. I still remember sitting on my chair facing forward like we always did. We never turned and I found a little boy in the back behind me slapping me in the back of the head, which was very interesting. And, uh, so I you know, I never turned because I tell you, Morocco, you don't chew gum. You face forward all the time. Recess came along and we went outside and the boy came over to hit me. And so I punched him. Well, he was bleeding. And of course, I don't know, it was almost like a revolution started over there because they they took me to the office and they called my parents and the principal gave me what they called the strap. And this was my my my first day at school, not even knowing the language, not knowing anything, and it was a little bit of a traumatic experience. Yeah, [LN: what did your parents do?] well, my parents, you know, they're like they always do, you know, it's always your fault [laughs], you know. And well, anyways, they just took me home and gave me the lecture about, you don't do these things. And, you know, you should have talked to the boy, you know, but how can I talk to him? I don't even he didn't know the language and I didn't know the language. All I know is that I was being hit all the time. Yeah.

Lisa Newman: [00:25:56] Continue after that

Albert Benzaquen: [00:25:58] It was after that. It was fine. After that it was fine. But it just the you know, the whole experience of how different cultures conduct their educational system. Morocco was very strict. The teachers I still remember one teacher coming around and said, when you hear my footsteps, I want you to I want you to tremble, because that's in Tangiers the school is set up where the students sit in one class all the time, and the teachers are the one that traveled around and come to the class as opposed to here where they have the students get up and go to their for for gym, there for lab or whatever, you know. So he used to say that and the kids were [LN: How do you say it in Spanish? Oh in Spanish, cuando eschuchas mis pies, quiero que trembles [laughs]. Yeah

Albert Benzaquen: [00:27:07] That was interesting times. Yeah.

Lisa Newman: [00:27:11] And after college you worked?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:27:15] I went to work for Northern Telecom. It's no longer around but they were, they worked together with Bell Canada and I did design work for them. I also worked at York University in their facilities,

Albert Benzaquen: [00:27:34] I was director of facilities management for the construction of their buildings. Following that, I went to work for the province of Ontario as project manager for the construction of jails and courthouses throughout the province.

Lisa Newman: [00:27:56] And tell me what's been important in your Jewish life here in Canada?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:28:03] Um, well, family life is very important. It's been good. It's it's now at my age, I take a lot of classes. I'm very interested in my in my religion and my background. So I found this to be beneficial for me you know.

Lisa Newman: [00:28:26]  If you were to describe your identity, what would you say?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:28:33] I still consider myself Moroccan, I'm a proud Sephardi. I like our customs. I like our music. I like our foods. Um, it's I find that very appealing. You know, it's a it's a nice thing. Yeah. Yeah. I guess I shouldn't compare, but I do compare it and it's it's a day and night thing [chuckles]. You know, I find that our customs are more developed, more, you know, it's obviously [LN: do you pass them on to the next generation?] well, it's, it's, it's difficult. My children are obviously like I said, my son is now studying in Yeshiva Or Somayach [ph] in Yerushalayim. He's been there for the last couple of years, but it's a it's an Ashkenazi school. So he's learning that sort of thing. Although when he is when we're in Toronto we we go to Petah Tikva. So he's got a little bit of both. A bit of both. My daughter, she's very frum [chuckles] she's but she's involved with so many groups here. Hillel, Hasbara. And yeah, she just came back from a trip in Connecticut where, you know, where they were doing presentations. The chief Rabbi of Israel was there. Yeah. So, yeah, she's very involved with all these things. She gave a talk at at um Shaar Hashomayim [ph] about campus life here in Canada, you know, so, yeah, I for a girl is a little different. I think she'll probably end up marrying an Ashkenaz and that would be the end of our [chuckles], you know, at least her Sephardi [laughs].

Albert Benzaquen: [00:30:34] That's the way it works.

[00:30:39] Is there anything that you would like people to know, uh, when they watch this tape in the future? [AB: Um, can you just sort of, uh] what would you want people to think about or learn from hearing your story?

Albert Benzaquen: [00:30:59] Um, it's it's harder for me to say, because I was very young when I came to, uh, to Toronto. But I think what I would like to tell people is that we're all Jews in the [back]. There's, I'd like to see less division among the the groupings. I don't even know what to call it, but the different groups of Jews and I'd  like to see less of a pointing out the color of the kippah you wear and where you doven and you know your customs. We're not all I mean, we're all from all over the world and we have to get used to that, you know. So I think that would be a main one. I think if we all consider ourselves just Jews, we would learn to get along better and go on from there. That's about it.

Lisa Newman: [00:32:00] Thank you.

Albert Benzaquen: [00:32:01] OK, you're welcome.