[01:00:01] Interviewer: My name is Henry Green. I am here today to interview Maurice Benzacar. Today is June the 9th, 2013. We are in Toronto. The cameraman is Charlie Tyrell.
[01:00:29] Interviewer: What is your full name?
[01:00:31] Maurice: Maurice Benzacar.
[01:00:34] Interviewer: And what was your name at birth?
[01:00:37] Maurice: Mossed [ph] Benzacar.
[01:00:39] Interviewer: And where were you born?
[01:00:41] Maurice: I was born in Safi, Morocco.
[01:00:44] Interviewer: And how old are you?
[01:00:46] Maurice: 80.
[01:00:48] Interviewer: So first I just want to say how much we appreciate, Sephardi Voices, that you have um, agreed to be interviewed. It's very important for the project and um we are so pleased. So let's begin with, tell me something about your family background.
[01:01:12] Maurice: My family background we, my father's side came from, really, from Spain to Tetouan and from Tetouan to Safi, Morocco. And my mother's side came from Mazighen which is called El Jadida. She was born there. [01:01:36] My uh, father came to visit his sister in that city, I was told he met my wife, my mother, excuse me [laughs]. He met my mother at the age of 16, married her and uh, moved on back to Safi where my uh, brother was born there, Jake, Jack uh, Jack, yeah.
[01:02:00] Interviewer: Did, is your family from, long-time Moroccans or did they come from somewhere else?
[01:02:06] Maurice: I yeah, always, as far as I remember, I always in Morocco. We never uh, the origin of the Benzacar family is from Seville, Spain. as a matter of fact, I was told that my name derived from a prophet Zacharias and it was changed at the time in Sévillon to Banzachar to Benzacar. [01:02:34] The uh...I was told also that in 1310, there was a rabbi called same name as me, Mossed Benzacar, was the rabbi of Séville in that time. So this is more or less the background.
[01:02:51] Interviewer: Your parents, your grandparents, your grandparents uh, what occupation did they have?
-[01:02:59] Maurice: My grandfather from my father's side I was told he was a very wealthy businessman and he lived in a big home and he received all the [Hebrew] that travelled from Israel in those days, in the 1898 and [inaudible] to collect money he uh, he was a philanthropic person. He opened a business for people. He was very wealthy.
[01:03:29] Interviewer: Do you know the particular business?
[01:03:31] Maurice: Pardon me?
[01:03:31] Interviewer: The particular business he did?
[01:03:33] Maurice: Uh...I think they were in the wheat business. You know? My mother’s side, her father was in the textile business but he was a very, very orthodox person and as a matter of fact he was a cabalist in the was that he had the zohar, studied zohar all day long as, from - he used to sleep right, I remember him that, that grandfather I remember. [01:04:06] My grandfather from my father's side I didn't know him at all. But I was told also, coming from Tetouan they were very Hasidic, very religious persons, very orthodox. So I came from both homes, of a very Jewish religious families.
[01:04:23] Interviewer: So tell me some memories you might have of being with your grandfather. Do you have memories?
[01:04:31] Maurice: Not from my father's side. I don't remember any of it. But from my mother's side I remember him that he was very humble, very [inaudible] and we used to go to that city for Marrakesh, you know Marrakesh it's a very warm, very hot in the summer so we, we would, we would go to the Atlantic to Mazagan, where we spent our summer there and we stayed my aunts and uncles and grandparents during the summer.
[01:04:59] Interviewer: And what would you do with your grandfather? Did he teach you something, did you....
[01:05:07] Maurice: No, not really. He was a really quiet person, the really affectionate, lovable, you know we spent time Friday night Shabbat with the whole family, nothing special, I mean the age, I mean, when I used to go there I was eight to ten years old so I didn't have no - I was playing outside the whole day long or going to the beach for that way.
[01:05:31] Interviewer: What was a Shabbat dinner like?
[01:05:33] Maurice: Shabbat dinner was a big thing in my family. Shabbat was really, especially in Marrakesh where I grew up. It was called the little Jerusalem, you know, you know. You had the shoffar [inaudible] Friday at four o'clock were everybody had to close their shops and it was very, very important. Friday night the whole family got together and Saturday the same thing. My father will bring all his friends to the shul. Today in North America you have big synagogues with banquet halls. In those days it was a small synagogue so you had to Kiddush, you came to the home of the whoever invited you. [01:06:16] But mind you, the life in, in Morocco, not only the Shabbat, was every day. Lunchtime the whole family got together and at night the whole family had supper. We didn't have supper unless my father came and sat down, all of us children wait for the father. So it was a, something uh, on, going on all the time. We didn't wait for the Shabbat, it was a family gathering at all times.
[01:06:43] Interviewer: Would you say hamoutzi or [??] after meals?
[01:06:47] Maurice: [Brokata mazon?], Kiddush, Geffen [ph], bloti [ph]...very, very, very religious person. WE had no choice because the, the life was Zionist and Jewish. Every, my mother used to say always to me, if I, if I don't see Jerusalem you'll see it for me. She never saw Jerusalem but I did.
[01:07:13] Interviewer: How was it Zionist?
[01:07:16] Maurice: What?
[01:07:17] Interviewer: How was it Zionist? You said it was a Zionist life.
[01:07:19] Maurice: They, they, the fact that we, we were yearning to, to hear about Israel, to, to, the love for Israel. And that's how I felt for - at home, with my parents and. And they were - if I remember during the independence, 1948 we were glued to the radio to listen to the vote and how they were voting and we were jubilant. We were happy to hear that the state of Israel was created finally. [01:07:54] And then at that time we had Shlehim [ph] come into Marrakesh, Casablanca, all the cities to recruit, to take young people to Israel. As much as they could and uh we uh...so the movement started that way and people, with the creation of this Israel everybody wanted to leave. [01:08:18] But not as much as, as long as the French were there. But the movement was on. And I remember uh, having uh...Saddat, the people were, when you asked me about Zionism, the love for Israel was for me to be a Zionist. I mean we want to go. Heard Israel was, for us, something that was unique and uh...the uh...trying to recall, trying to remember the...[01:08:56] Under the French protectorate we consider more or less, we were leaning more to the French-speaking people from the - my parents spoke Spanish and, and French and they were fluent. My mother didn't speak French - didn't speak Spanish so she spoke to us in French so we were sort - we understood exactly what went on. The...
[01:09:22] Interviewer: Did you, if I can just get back to your parents again, you said tht you were born in Safi and did you continue to live in Safi or did you...[overlap]
[01:09:48] Interviewer: You said you were born in Safia...
[01:09:49] Maurice: Safi.
[01:09:50] Interviewer: Safi, did you stay there or did you go...
[01:09:53] Maurice: No uh, at the age of three we moved to Marrakesh.
[01:09:57] Interviewer: Why did your parents move to Marrakesh?
[01:09:58] Maurice: Because my father’s business was in Marrakesh from Safi, his brother who was very wealthy had sent him to Marrakesh to be his representative there in his wheat business. Then we moved there. So really I knew Safi only when I went back on vacation in the summers to visit the family there because Safi of Mazagan had the beaches and we were there to spend the summer. But uh...
[01:10:26] Interviewer: You father's name was...
[01:10:29] Maurice: Samuel.
[01:10:30] Interviewer: Samuel and you mother's?
[01:10:31] Maurice: Rachel.
[01:10:32] Interviewer: And what is your mother's maiden name?
[01:10:34] Maurice: Ifergan [ph]
[01:10:35] Interviewer: And what year did they marry?
[01:10:38] Maurice: Hm...I don' t know. I really, she was, 1906...I think they were married in 1920 I would believe.
[01:10:47] Interviewer: And you said you were born in 1933. Did you have other brothers and sisters? What are their names? And when are their...
[01:10:58] Maurice: Uh my oldest brother his name was Jack, named after my grandfather Jacob. My uh, sister was named after my grandmother on my father's side and then I had another brother, older than me, Albert. And uh, sister called Mathilde Mazaltov and another, at that time when I - when we moved to Marrakesh, that's all we were, four of us...four? Five. Five. [01:11:31] And a brother was born Pilhas [ph?] was born in Marrakesh. We were all born in Safi, except for Pilhas who was born in Marrakesh in 1940.
[01:11:41] Interviewer: And where did you live in Marrakesh? Did you live in the mellah or did you live in..
[01:11:44] Maurice: No, no we lived outside of the mellah. We lived in a beautiful home. In Arabic it's called riad, you know it's uh, with garden and so on. And uh, this is where you lived and uh we had maids and sort of a butler to be with us, to take us to school and uh, it was a good life, I mean uh, we had everything we needed at the time.
[01:12:11] Interviewer: Your maid, your butler, were they Muslim or Jewish?
[01:12:15] Maurice: Muslims.
[01:12:15] Interviewer: And what language did you speak to them?
[01:12:17] Maurice: Arabic.
[01:12:18] Interviewer: And what language did you speak to your parents?
[01:12:21] Maurice: French.
[01:12:22] Interviewer: Where did you learn your Arabic and where did you learn your French?
[01:12:24] Maurice: With the [inaudible]. We didn't learn Arabic like today they teach them in school how to write. It was slang, you know we went outside we talked to them with the domes - with the domestique at home, the uh...the guy who took us to school and uh...waited for us to come back again, the lady who came to do the laundry. One came to do the ironing. [01:12:52] So they, we were uh, spoiled in that way because the labour was very cheap. You know, sometimes you had an Arab who had 13, 14 children, he was happy if you took a child, just feed him. So some of them lived with us, you know. We'd give them a quarter where to live and take care of the household and so on.
[01:13:15] Interviewer: Did - your neighbours in the riad, were they Jewish? Were they Muslim? Were they Christian?
[01:13:21] Maurice: It was mixed, mostly Jewish but uh, there were some Muslims. They were very friendly. As a matter of fact I have nothing to say about the Muslims of Morocco. They don't be called, they don't want to be called Arabs, they want to be called Muslim as of today when I have a chance to talk to them. [01:13:38] They were very friendly, very uh, as a matter of fact, when people started to leave they were crying. They didn't want us to leave because [something falls, inaudible] [01:13:57] Made livelihood with them and so they were very friendly. As a matter of fact we want, I went to Morocco four years ago with my congregation, with a rabbi and so on. We stopped in the highway with all [inaudible]. You know on the highways we had all the protection we needed. So...[01:14:22] I have nothing to say about them. They were always very friendly but now with the islamization and the Islamics and so on, there is a party that uh, uh, they're not so happy with what's going on in the Middle-East and so on and they - and the king he's trying to balance that between the group. As a matter of fact today they are probably...three or four thousand Jews living in Casablanca, they are safe. [01:14:48] The only thing is that some of the people who live now in Morocco they [inaudible] in France or in Canada or in Israel, it depends.
[01:15:01] Interviewer: So when you, when you were young and you went to school, what school did you go to?
[01:15:06] Maurice: Alliance Israélite.
[01:15:08] Interviewer: And what, what children went to Alliance Israélite? Jewish or Muslim [overlap]?
[01:15:12] Maurice: Only Jewish, in those days only Jewish.
[01:15:15] Interviewer: Only Jewish.
[01:15:16] Maurice: I went, we went to the, during the day we went to uh, to Alliance Israélite, a secular school and uh, we had one hour of Hebrew a day and uh, after coming home at five o'clock we had a snack and we went to the cheder. So this is how I leaned to read and write and pray. That’s all they teached us and unfortunately they didn't teach us how to speak Hebrew. That's the only sad part.
[01:15:44] Interviewer: Did you have a bar mitzvah?
[01:15:45] Maurice: Yeah, of course.
[01:15:45] Interviewer: Do you remember it?
[01:15:47] Maurice: I remember.
[01:15:49] Interviewer: Tell me about it.
[01:15:49] Maurice: Ah...very...
[01:15:51] Interviewer: Was it a party?[overlap]
[01:15:54] Maurice: In my case it was not a party because my mother just lost her father so it was between like, nearing the month of her sitting Shiva but I remember my other brothers bar mitzvah it was like a one week uh, partying every night. In mine, in my case we don't, we didn't have in Morocco the Shabbat that they have here or the, the [inaudible]. We did the bar mitzvah Monday mor - Sunday night the party at home and Monday morning we went to the shul so we walked with the friends and family and guests to the synagogue. [01:16:31] You did your part, you put your tefilin on and you were done from there.
[01:16:37] Interviewer: Did um…your friends from Alliance, did they come home to play with you? Did you go to their house?
[01:16:43] Maurice: Oh yeah, we had a lot of uh, field, open field near our homes and we went to play soccer most the - the common sport there is playing soccer. We don't have hockey or basketball inside.
[01:17:00] Interviewer: So the neighbourhood you said had also some Muslims in it. Did it have Christians? Did it have people from Greece?
[01:17:08] Maurice: [overlap] Some, some Christians but not as much. But the - it was a, what we call it, the French town Ghélize, you know, lot of Christians live there. Their churches were there but there was some Christians with the church in the Medina, in those areas, yes, sure.
[01:17:28] Interviewer: So did the Muslims that lived in your neighbourhood, if you were playing, did you play, did they play in the fields with you also?
[01:17:35] Maurice: No. Most of us Jewish but if...one of them came and want to play with, but mostly we were Jewish.
[01:17:48] Interviewer: Did you, did you have uh, did you have Muslim friends at all where you would go into their homes and...
[01:17:56] Maurice: No, not uh, not until the age of uh, no, I never had Muslim friends. Maybe at one time I had, not a friend but my father was doing business with this very wealthy Arab and he had this son where, you know, went out. He was much of a European person, like us, you know, than, than Muslim in those days. [01:18:22] So we, we went out and travelled to cities for example. There were, we had, my father was in business so every day we had business partners that were come and eat at home, the, the famous couscous and so on so they would all come so that, my father in, with our maid in the kitchen all the time.
[01:18:57] Interviewer: You mentioned that your father would bring his Muslim business associates home. So they would sit down and eat with you and...
[01:19:06] Maurice: Yes. Yeah. No problem.
[01:19:08] Interviewer: And did your father go into their homes and have meals in their homes?
[01:19:12] Maurice: Yes, sometimes. Like uh, when there is a wedding or something like this but they will have a special shohet to come and uh, and prepare the food kosher for us, especially for the occasion. They know we were kosher; we would not eat their food so that was respected.
[01:19:32] Interviewer: Do you remember uh, going to the market maybe with your mother? Or some of the domestic staff to buy things in the market? Food to bring home?
[01:19:45] Maurice: Yeah, not, I mean most of the time the domestic will go with my father in the morning to the market, buy everything and send them home with the uh, shopping. The rest was uh, as we call it here, in those days épicerie, you know in those days so the - we placed our order and they will send everything home, all the dry goods, let's say cans and whatever but the fresh stuff it's done on a daily basis there.
[01:20:16] Interviewer: Do you remember going with your father to like a coffee house?[01:20:19] Maurice: Yeah.
[01:20:21] Interviewer: Did you father go the café houses?
[01:20:22] Maurice: No, not café house but the café with terrace, you sit down, you had a drink, yeah sure.
[01:20:29] Interviewer: would he play backgammon?
[01:20:31] Maurice: No, no they played cards, not, not in the café. At home, [overlap] he would bring people.
[01:20:35] Interviewer: At home.
[01:20:35] Maurice: But no, he will go to a café house, have his uh martini, whatever. I'll have a grenadine and that's all but uh, the social life was more at home.
[01:20:50] Interviewer: What did your bedroom look like?
[01:20:53] Maurice: My bedroom looked like any bedroom. Nice bed and dresser. I was sharing the bedroom with my brother, the two of us and the sisters were in one bedroom. And my oldest brother he had his own room.
[01:21:10] Interviewer: Did you have special books or things that you remember that were in the room?
[01:21:16] Maurice: No. Not, books of Torah we had plenty of them. My father had a whole collection of uh, storybooks, you know like, he, in Hebrew that he, he was fluent and he will read them to us and explain us stories. We didn't have TV in those days so I remember sitting around carpet and, and with him telling us stories and, from the books. [01:21:42] And that's all.
[01:21:43] Interviewer: What about a Seder. Can you tell describe what a Seder would be like at your house?
[01:21:48] Maurice: The Seder at home was really family, all the, not only our own family but people from the outside would, you know, would come. Doors were open and we had a - the first night was in uh, in Hebrew, the whole history and the second night was the translation of the haggadah to us. I remember one...
[01:22:13] Interviewer: Translation in what language?
[01:22:15] Maurice: In Spanish or in French, or in Arabic. It depends you know, how the mood of [inaudible]. But I never forget, one evening uh, when the American came in 1945 I believe and uh we hear knocks at the door. And my, my mother said, "Who's there?" [01:22:37] And there were three soldiers, American soldiers who were half-drunk and we invite them to come to our table and share with them the food and, but all, although they were drunk, I remember they uh, asked us, we offered them meatballs suddenly they ask us to eat the meatball first before they take. I mean it was...[01:23:02] And then the only part, the good part is they, they empty their pocket with chewing gum and candy and they put them on the table and we were so happy, my mother came, grabbed the whole thing, you know, it's not kosher you know, she called the maid and throw them in the terrace, you know. That was - but in the - during the occupation I mean, when the American landed Jewish soldiers, they were uh, driven to the synagogue and given two to each home to be invited for the Seder. [01:23:34] So they used to bring their matzo with them and their book for the, it was a very good experience also to have the American soldiers as our guest at the table for the Seder because you mentioned the Seder so I'm just [inaudible]
[01:23:49] Interviewer: Did...in the Alliance, when you went to the Alliance, was there any Zionist messages as part of your teaching there?
[01:24:05] Maurice: Not so much. But...you know, I went to school in the...early...'39...no, probably '36, I was five years old when I went back to school there, but I would say that uh,...[01:24:25] You know, the only thing that came close is the, the blue and white, you know, the flag, you know. It was always shown or that the, or the, you know, if you played in the soccer team or basketball team, you know, the uniform was blue and white, or the star of David. So we see more of the Star of David everywhere. So but...nothing sort that, no like, the soccer team was called the Machabee. [01:24:54] This one uh, each one had a Jewish name, Mizrahi, whatever and this is what kept us, the movement in our head was always the, the uh, the colours and also the, the names that they were giving the, the team and so on.
[01:25:13] Interviewer: Were you member of the soccer team or...
[01:25:16] Maurice: Yeah, yeah. We had one of the finest, they had, they played among themselves, all the Jewish form each city. Each city had a Jewish soccer team and they have championship among them and basketball also. Yeah.
[01:25:30] Interviewer: And what position did you play? Do you remember the position you played in soccer?
[01:25:35] Maurice: No, I didn't. I mean, as a kid I was playing uh, defence but that's all.
[01:25:41] Interviewer: Um...were your parents involved in any Jewish organizations, special Jewish organizations?
[01:25:51] Maurice: Yeah, my, my parents were involved in, you know, giving the, in the arts, they were involved in the sefer torah [?]. They were involved in uh…JNF, because in those days JNF, we didn't, the word JNF was not known to us until I came here. Was Keren Kayemeth Israel. So whenever they came they raised money from the Keren Keyemeth and as a matter of fact even when you call to the Torah you will give a neder [ph] your pledge to Keren Keymeth and do uh, to the uh...the synagogue itself. [01:26:36] But Keren Kaymeth was always in the mind of everyone. That's one thing I remember when you mentioned Zionism is JNF.
[01:26:45] Interviewer: Did, was there a charity box at home?
[01:26:48] Maurice: Yeah the tzedakah box was, everyone had one at home. And they had Shlehim [ph] who come collect them.
[01:26:55] Interviewer: And who were the shlehim?
[01:26:57] Maurice: You know uh, people who, from, within the city itself or sometimes they had, they came from Israel. I remember having a family, the associate business of my father who came from Israel by the name is Klimker [ph] who were German Jews and it was Palestine at the time, it was not Israel yet. [01:27:20] And in the '40's when they came to teach the farmers ho to grow uh, vegetables and watermelons on the -w as something unique and that was for the first time in my life really, I heard the family talking Hebrew among themselves, you know, with their children and so on. It was a, so this is, was in 1945, '46, something like that.
[01:27:48] Interviewer: A few questions about the warriors. During the Nazi occupation, the Vichy government, do you have memories about this?
[01:27:58] Maurice: Yeah. Very, very good memories. I remember that time where uh, Jews were...lic - they were dismissed from their jobs in the banks, in the post office. Any, any French institution, you know, were dismissed form their job. [01:28:20] I remember, I was a boy scout and I remember uh, within - they assembled all the kids with their parents at Alliance Israélite school where they told us that we can not now b scouts because it's a French institution. So crying and singing the goodbye to everyone and, and then I remember, as a kid, asking my father, why? Why? [01:28:48] He said, "No, no, it's gonna come back." He wouldn't tell me why but that was the era of Vichy, Pétin and it, in the school I mean everywhere was Pétin, Maréchal Pétin. We, as a kid we didn't know what they were talking about. But eventually it came out so some of my father’s friends were very well-to-do. They find themselves with nothing the day. [01:29:13] No job, no money and my father who was in business and he had, you know, we were supplying all the French army with wheat and all that so he, we were able to help those people at the time. Not with the, financially but at least with goods so they can eat. Because uh, uh, wheat is, you make bread, you know and that's the main thing, is to have bread at home.
[01:29:53] Interviewer: Was your father then part of some movement within the Jewish community to help these people who lost jobs? Was it organized or was it just random?
[01:30:02] Maurice: No, they were, the Jewish community existed the, the, as a matter of fact I was, my home was not far from the rabbinical tribunal you know, so where all the dayanim were there and the affairs of the city. The Kashrut and the whole things was right there ever marriages and divorce you could see people going to divorce. It was done all by the rabbbanim, the dayanim and so my father at the time was involved of the movement of the Jewish community. [01:30:34] That when I come to Canada, that's, I had some seeds there to, to belong.
[01:30:42] Interviewer: And did, was there any problems that ever arose where the Vichy government looked into your father or something?
[01:30:52] Maurice: Well they, what they usually, they used to do, I mean, they used to go to homes and uh, because people, I remember friends who take their jewellery, put it under the tiles and built walls to cover and uh, they called it La Commission des prix, you know, they used to come and look and sometimes even, you know, the wheat was all in bulk, you know, huge storage. [01:31:22] And they'll put right under the sugar or hide it and try to sort of uh, give it to the people, sell it at least because there was nothing in the market. Don't forget that uh, [inaudible] everything that Morocco could produce, it was sent to, to the, to their army and so on. [01:31:41] And uh so uh, we tried to help people, yes. I remember that.
[01:31:48] Interviewer: Did uh, during this period...it was also a period fo Zionism. There was...
[01:31:58] Maurice: Yeah, the movement yeah.
[01:31:59] Interviewer: Do you, were you a member of a Zionist youth movement?
[01:32:05] Maurice: Yeah, yeah. There was the charneter [ph] in Casablanca. They used to recruit young people to come to the, their meeting and I was one of them. I remember I was 16 or so. I went to a meeting and I was ready to make Aliyah to Israel and I didn't but my father wouldn't let me and so. But there was movement, a lot of kids when to Israel before the uh, creation of the state of Israel.
[01:32:34] Interviewer: And the...
[01:32:35] Maurice: But not during the Vichy time. No, we are not allowed to leave the country in those days. Don't forget that we, we, we were lucky because the yellow star and uh, in, was ready to be, we were just 48 hours between the SS and the American landing in, in the Allies landing in Morocco. [01:33:00] And I remember my father went out and he came back and told my mother don't let the kids out today. And because during the, in Morocco the, the Cholera time or the typhus and so on, they used to stop people in the street give us needles. So we were afraid to take needles. Today they're going to be outside giving needles so don't, don't let them out. So we were scared. [01:33:24] But that was that the, the uh Vichy, the army was fighting the landing of the Americans. They, they were fighting each other. They would let them land. That was the last resort then. And uh, I think the SS, if I remember, they were in their hotel and the am - the FBI disguised as waiters and so on went to the room and arrested them all. [01:33:50] And that was uh, after the uh, landing of the American people the, picture of Roosevelt was in every home. They were the saviour. We were not touched. But talking about the uh, the Nazi era, I was touched by, by my story with my wife. My wife was born in Lisbon, Portugal. Parents both Moroccan but they moved from Morocco in 1923 or '24 to Lisbon because he, he was looking for a job, he had two boys with him and he established himself there. [01:34:31] And so the two boys were born in Safi and my wife and her sister, another sister, another boy were born in Lisbon. And time came when my mother-in-law, who was they, they had children there with her and she decided that she wanted to go back to uh, Morocco, to see her family. [01:34:55] And she said, "Okay, fine. I'm going to go to Belgium to Brussels to open up a business and I'll come, I'll invite you to come to Brussels, all of you." That was the deal. So he went to Brussels and he opened up a little shoe factory and he was doing well and the correspondence started between the two of them. And uh, he was taken to Auschwitz, he was [inaudible] with the name Haim Cohen so it was, no, no way to escape. [01:35:30] They took him, we have the date, we have the train, the number and everything. And I said to my wife, just last night, I said, "Your guys were lucky because if you had...gone to see him there you would also be gone." And unfortunately she didn't know her father. And, unfortunately, her mother, when she came to Morocco at the age of 36 she contacted typhus and she died. So she doesn't know her mother. So it’s a sad story also for my wife. [01:36:03] So my wife was uh, raised actually, I mean each child went with the grandmother, with another aunt and so on but my mother - my wife being the age of four or five, three, four, five years old I believe, her uncle just got married and he sort of adopted her and he had nine children after that. She was number ten and you talking about Shabbat, you know. That table, her uncle was well-to-do and he had his nine children plus her, that's ten, he and his wife, 12, I came on as 13. [01:36:41] He had a sister he used - then 14 so there was a table at lunch for 14 people and at night it was [inaudible] so it was a big villa. The picture of it I show you there, was taken at there. And uh, and on top of the 14 there were always guests. So that's the social life and the, it was around the table all the time.
[01:37:04] Interviewer: When the Americans came in did it mean jobs for people?
[01:37:09] Maurice: Yeah, they created jobs, first of all restaurants and bars were always occupied and uh, and they...the...they stayed uh, I remember...working uh, the, you know, they opened up even business at the time. [01:37:30] But it, at one time it stopped and in 1950 the American core of engineers, with the Atlas constructor, it's a name of the company but uh, it's a, there were five companies and Atlas constructors, they had to build strategic air command bases in Morocco. [01:37:59] Ben Guerir near Marrakesh and Wasser [ph] near Casablanca, [inaudible] different to be more closer to Europe in case of a war. And that created a job, lot of jobs. People French, Jews, Muslim, everybody start working with the...
[01:38:21] Interviewer: And did you?
[01:38:22] Maurice: I did. I worked for them in, from 1951 to 1957 when I came to Canada.
[01:38:29] Interviewer: And...
[01:38:29] Maurice: This was, then this is when I more or less, I learned my English, whatever I learned so far.
[01:38:38] Interviewer: And what kind of job did you have?
[01:38:40] Maurice: I was uh, working in the field and then, for a year, and then when I moved to Casablanca at [inaudible] I went, I was in the cost accounting office and I was doing a lot of field work, checking all the work around the field, you know, time check, you know, see what time they came on and so on.
[01:39:09] Interviewer: The uh, your wife's name is?
[01:39:14] Maurice: Élise.
[01:39:15] Interviewer: Lise. And her maiden name?
[01:39:17] Maurice: Cohen.
[01:39:17] Interviewer: Cohen. And what year did you marry?
[01:39:19] Maurice: 1955.
[01:39:21] Interviewer: 1955.
[01:39:39] Interviewer: So um, when did you decide you were gonna leave?
[01:39:44] Maurice: Well, when they decide I was, as a matter of fact I was working with the American air force and uh, you know the word got around. People started to leave. And uh, they had Israel was created in '48 and first task was to send people outside to bring people to Israel. [01:40:11] And families were going because, at that time, when I got married, that's when the king of Morocco came back from exile. And then the, the independence was given to Morocco and to live in an Arab world at the time was scary and people, they were thinking what will happen? [01:40:36] And uh, so they start, the word got around, people start making Aliyah. And I remember they had uh, station radio called Aliyah Tanoar [ph] and every Friday, every Saturday night we'd gather around the radio and uh, they were talking to their family by radio, telling that they were doing good, please come, join us, you know, we have all the freedom, we don't answer Jewish states. [01:41:06] So people, so there were facilities to go out of the country. So what happened then, you know, officially they could not send people to Israel. So there was a cover up. The, joint hiyas [ph] had an office in Casablanca with an American flag and they are helping Jews to go to Canada or to United-States and Australia. [01:41:36] And at the same time they uh, were sending people to Israel. So they, but I think it was done with the knowledge of the king and they were, from history, they were getting paid also for each, each Jew going out and this is where the movement started. [01:41:57] So I find out, through a colleague of mine that he was going to Canada. Another one going to Canada. I say, "What is that? Where..." So he told me go, this is the office, they give me the address and I went and I applied to come to Canada. We didn't know anybody so what happened in those day is the Jewish immigrant services here, an agency under the flag, the auspices of United Jewish Appeal and the Canadian-Jewish congress...[01:42:27] They had made a presentation, knowing what is going on. Made presentation to Canadian government to help them bring Jews from Can - from Morocco to Canada and hopefully uh, become Canadian citizen and they would never become a public charge. That they will take care of them from A to Z. [01:42:51] So Dr. Cage [ph] was the national uh...the vice-president of the agency, made presentations to then Diefenbaker who uh, made it a little bit easier for us. So the movement start a claim that those who want to go to America and those who want to come to Canada. So we did all our papers, we give them all the information, we did our medicals and we send them to Paris, you know. [01:43:19] That's done by the agency, the office of Hiyas in Casablanca. Went to Paris and they made presentation to the embassy in Paris because there was no exchange of ambassadors between Morocco and Canada at the time and everything had to go through Paris. So the paper came Monday with, that we got our visa to come to Canada. [01:43:44] And uh, we came, we arrived uh, Friday, was a very, very uh, hard uh voyage, as you say to, from Morocco to uh, Paris. And I remember the fist stop in Paris, we uh, we went to see our family there. My wife, the people, the uncle who raised her moved to Marseilles with his nine children so we went to visit with them and stayed one month. [01:44:15] My wife had a brother also in Paris, [inaudible] who went before us. We stayed with them for a month visiting and then we took off. We took off, we went to Paris and I'll never forget going to Les Invalides where the, you know this and for the first time in my life looking at the flag and airline, El-Al plane, looking at the stewardess, the pilots, there was, that was my joy and the pride in my life to see something that I never heard in my life, or see in my life. [01:44:57] So we took an, the hayas [ph] made arrangement to give business, of course, to airline so the trip was Paris- New York, New York- Toronto. So Paris- New York was with El-Al. Believe it or not we left it was a, you know my wife was expecting our second child so she had very bad uh, uh, how you say, pregnancy. [01:45:26] Vomitin and all that, was very, very sick and then we went to uh, we flew from Paris to London. The plane came, we had to go to London right away to uh, take the food from them and so on and from there we flew to Iceland and from Iceland to Newfoundland. It took us from Friday at 8 o'clock when we left to we arrived the next day, New York at 6 o'clock. [01:45:53] So I asked the pilot, you know, there was an open, I said, "Why so long?" You know it was 24, 25, he said, "We didn't want to cross the ocean so we went through the land." But uh, it was so exciting to go in the plane and listen in Hebrew, "Fasten your seatbelt. Shalom" and all the [Hebrew]. You know, you know, like I felt like it is something really new. I don't know how to describe it to you. It was really nice. And uh, we landed a Friday night here. It was shocking to us. [01:46:30] We were met by a young secretary who worked in JIAS, taking us to a hotel on Bev - Waverly street, on Spadina avenue called Waverley hotel and dropping us there a Friday night with a baby, he's 11 months old. My wife is expecting, very bad pregnancy, no food, no thing. [01:46:55] Shabbat and...we just went to sleep, we were so tired. And in the morning I asked the, I called the bellboy there to come with croissant, café, whatever. He said, what, what kind of coffee you want? I said, "Café au lait." They didn't know what...Toronto was so backward in those days, you know? We couldn't...[01:47:24] You know I couldn't believe it. I mean, coming from Morocco it was a French Protectorat but...we had every[thing]. So he didn't know so he brought me a cup of foam with a coffee and milk on the side. I said, how can I...give me something to warm the bottle for the...no, put it under the tap, you know hot water there were...[01:47:44] So we were shocked. We didn't know. The snow, it was cold and we didn't know what to do, really. So we went to uh, walk and I had an address of a friend of mine who came before me and I went to see him. We talked for a while and then, and they made [laugh] life look black. You know it's very hard, you know. I don't know hwy you came, you know and so on and so on. [01:48:09] Back to the hotel, no food, no nothing. And uh, the Jewish community was not really for us. The Ashkenazim they know nothing about us. They didn't even, when I said Morocco they think it's Monaco, Gracy Kelly, I said, no it's Morocco! You know. And so I uh...[01:48:32] We went, and we went to, Monday morning we, I went, first of all I went looking for milk for the baby. He was in a special diet because my son had uh, surgery when he was four year, forty days old. He had [inaudible] which means a blockage of the intestines. So in those days kids died after three months, that's it. [01:48:52] So we find out right away and we were able to uh, make the surgery for him and he lived. Thank god he's still living now. He's 56 years old and we're happy to, with the outcome. But to leave us there without anything so Monday morning I went to the office of JIAS, I said, "I want a place to live." So I had a little bit of money with me so we went to find a place. [01:49:20] Knock at the Jewish home, children? No children. No dogs. [laughs] Close the door on our face. What...what's going on? What is this? In Morocco the doors were open to the children, that's the life. Nobody wants them. So finally an Italian home took us. We rented a flat from them and we stayed there one month and my wife remembered pouring water on the floor, not knowing...it leaked downstairs. [01:49:50] the Italian woman, she came running, she said, "Out!" She said, okay. So I...we were close to December and I went to Rosedale, St-Clair [inaudible] and I find an apartment, private apartment on the third floor. I was so happy, it was not too expensive, 60 dollars a month, fine. And after that we couldn't make it [?]. We were tired. My wife was sick like a dog, you know. What am I gonna do? What are we gonna do? [01:50:24] So I said, you know what? I'm gonna go to the travel agency downstairs. I'm going to buy a ticket for you and the kid. You go back and I'll try to raise enough money for me to go. Okay. We'll go back. So I went to the travel agency downstairs and I said uh, "You know, we're French, we came here and we want to...to go back home." Yeah? Why? I said, "My wife she's not doing good here, we have to go back." [01:50:55] She said, okay. So I said, but I have enough money to buy one ticket and the baby. When I have enough money I'll - She said, "Okay, fine." So we made the arrangements and we went home, I went upstairs, stayed... the travel agency, she was downstairs, I went upstairs and we sat there, waiting. The next day I have to make arrangements -
[01:51:28] Interviewer: So we heard a knock at the door. Yes? We went there. My wife didn't speak a word of English so we heard that you are newcomers, you 'Re going to, you want to go back to France. I said, "Yes." Can you, we would like to invite you to come down, you know, that was the spirit of Christmas, you know. [01:51:51] We said, "Sure." So we went downstairs, and they had a member of the family who came from Luxembourg who spoke French so my wife was able to speak with them and we sat down, we had a beer, we had this and that, we ate a little bit and...they were happy to see us and when you go, have to go back? And...[01:52:12] Anyway, at the end you said, "Okay, what church are you going tonight? I mean, tomorrow night? The messe for Christmas?" I said, so I look at my wife...and I said, we...we don't go to church. So she said "Why?" Said, "We'd like to invite you." I said, you know, like this and, you know, I was so scared because you know, I just came back from a country where the anti-Semitism was there and so on. [01:52:42] And I said, we, we, we're not Christian. [laughs] No? I said, "We're Jewish." You don't look like a Jew. You don't act like a Jew. [laughs] I said, "True[?]" Anyway, we stayed, we talked and, so I said, "Listen, we're different. I mean, we are brought up as a Frenchman, I was in, I learned, I been to Alliance, I'm not Yiddish-speaking and so on." Anyway, we changed the subject. [01:53:08] We want and I said, "That's the way we are." So I said to my wife, "You know, let's go back and lock the door because tonight they're going to kill us. Put a bomb under the bed." [something falls] So ha, the next day they came with a Christmas tree, with candies, with a blanket. We didn't have blankets, we didn't, because we didn't receive our uh, container, you know. We had like, a container. And...it was a, there were more of a, how you say? Acceuillants uh, more uh...greeting...
[01:53:48] Interviewer: Welcoming.
[01:53:49] Maurice: Welcoming us more than our own brothers. Anyway, from there we stayed a month. We moved because they was too far from our friends in the area we were so we moved to Major street, near College. [01:54:04] And uh we...now I have to look for it, I was looking for a job at the same time so I couldn't find nothing. So I said, I'm gonna go back to mechanic, you know, see if I can...So I came to, I walked all the way, believe it or not, from where I live in Bloor street to Bathurst and Wilson, walking to look for the address, you know, that is Jewish vocationals sending me in the cold. [01:54:33] And finally I come to this uh, gas station, garage, body shop, the whole work, owned by the fellow by the name Goldenschwartz, in those day it was the - there was no dealerships like today and so on in '57. And I uh, asked him for a job. So he took me for - to the office. He said, this is not fit for you. This is for - I came with a gabardi and...this is for Goyem. [01:55:02] I said, I want a job. I don't have, I spent my last penny and I want a job. So here I am, a person who didn't take, want to take charity wouldn't, wouldn't take handout from anybody putting uniform and pumping gas. And our own people coming. I was era [?] of Hanukah, people coming with their cars, two bucks. I said, "Happy Hanukah." [01:55:34] They said, because Hanukah was something for us Jews to [inaudible] become like Christmas. And they, they didn't believe I was a Jew. They couldn't. It was something unique really. Here I am more than, more Jew than they are. I am more of a Zionist. I am more of a, who knows my prayers like, and better than anybody else. [01:56:05] I was, was sad. I was disgusted. And then I quit. I said, "Not for me." And I'm sitting home and I had to pay my rent, you know, it was 50 dollars rent. I saw the Italian I said, "I don't have any money to pay your rent." So he said, "Don't worry about it." So my milkman came to collect the weekly milk. I said, "I have no money." He said, "Why? You not working?" I said no. "Here, call...[the name] of this guy and he, they always need drivers. [01:56:43] I said, okay, sure. So I called him the next day. He said, come for an interview, I go for the interview and he says to me, what did you do in Morocco? I said, you know, what I told you. I worked with the American Air Force, this is my education, the family background and so on. And he says, "Okay. I'll call you." Call me back, he said, "Okay, come such and such." They were- it was a Jewish company, Alliance Dairy and come. I go with the driver, he showed me the route and uh...he came back and he told him, I don't think he's for the job. [01:57:23] So they, I went to see them, they were sitting and eating lunch and I said, "Why? Give me a chance. How do you know from being with this guy for three hours that you're closing the doors on me?" So they look at me, he says, okay, come back the next day. So I went again for a day or two and uh, so I start delivering milk, you know. [01:57:51] Ha, in those day everything was delivered, you know. You didn't uh, there was no stores. So I...go to, mostly it was Jewish customers, all of them, you know, Viewmont, Hillmont, it was a few customers like, and one store anyway. And I used to say, "I am from Morocco." [in Yiddish] No. What kind of a Jew you are? [01:58:24] I said, listen, in my country we spoke mostly Hebrew and French. Anyway, so my boss he say, you know to, you know for you to get more customers maybe you should put a chai or something like that. So I did. So I came to one house and she says, "You’re very smart. You know, you put a chai, star to make yourself look like a Jew. And, and you want to uh, to sell yourself as a Jew." I said, "Listen, you want to believe me or not, but I am. [inaudible]" [01:58:59] So that the transition. It was very hard to uh, make them believe that, or, my wife was, by profession she is a fashion dressmaker you know. She, she, she's very capable with her hands and so looking for in those days to, people to come to make alterations. I bought her a sewing machine and, and they used to come to my home and look at the wedding pictures for example. [01:59:31] And she said, "You're smart. Really, you came here, you rented your dress and your husband a suit to send it to your family." They were so backward the people. They didn't believe that we lived in a country where fashion was first-class and that we also came from middle-class families, or wealthy people. [01:59:56] There were poor people in Morocco I don't say no. Of course there were families who lived in - you asked me before if I had my bedroom, so yes, but there were families that were ten in one room! They were poor. I, there is nothing to hide there. But when we came here, we came with uh, with our knowledge, with our fashion, with everything. We, when we looked at the people who were walking in the street with the curls in their hair and plain [plaid] pants, jackets and so on, what kind of people are, you know? [02:00:28] So this is how, as a matter of fact we taught them how to dress and how to, to, to eat even. Because when you came to a wedding in those days piece of [inaudible] and chicken and herring and that was the whole evening. the cuisine, the French was, learned, you know we taught them. [02:00:52] I invited my boss to my home once to look at two plates, two forks, this and that. Why so? You know, we put everything in one plate? No, that's the French way. That's how we were. So in going back to...so then when I was in the dairy they took me in inside, to be manager. So at that time there was a big influx of immigrants coming from Morocco in the 60's and the Jewish immigrant service they called us to help, to help them. [02:01:30] Because they didn't have enough staff to help. They didn't know exactly the uh, the uh, type of people are coming. They never - they didn't want to make the same mistake they made with us. So we, what I did is I become a board member. You know, they call on us like, let me [inaudible] [02:01:55] They called six or seven of us, of the leaders of Morocco because when I came here, I'll go back to, to the religious part but uh, I'm just telling you, so I put my name there and when the day come, came to that they needed volunteers to meet people at the airport or so. [02:02:14] They called the first one, he was working in the bank. The other one work at, but I was outside, I was in my car as a manager, sales manager going from one store to a restaurant and so and so. I had all the time in my hand. So I was there and then the first thing I told the director of JIAS at that time, I said, "You want my help? My way. I want when if their families are coming I want to make sure that the apartment is ready, that the furniture is there that they will have something to eat in the morning and so on so." [02:02:48] Go ahead. No problem. And this is how I did it. As a volunteer. I was not staff [inaudible] on my own time. And I used to go rent us an apartment, furnish it, put stuff in it. My wife would come with me, we will do the bed, we'll buy sugar, milk, butter, cheese and, and few things, coffee, whatever, tea that when they come in the first thing they see -
[02:03:14] Maurice: ...thing to eat in the morning and they, they come to the [office?]. That's what we did. Sometime I had ten, twelve families coming. I would have twelve keys in my hand and I have volunteers among the group and people. So it was in with me that uh, so that's what we did and finally, uh, the love of helping people was in, with me, finding jobs for people. I had a lot of contacts. [02:03:40] And uh, I become, they ask me if I can, I want to join the agency. And I said okay. But they didn't have a budget to pay me in those days. $100 a week. I said, okay, I'll take it. My wife was making more than me. We moved to a house then and we had uh, uh, when I was in the dairy I bought a house on King [?] and Wilson so we, we had a little shop for my wife and she was doing well. [02:04:10] I came on staff and I changed things, more better, you know it, all, with all the contacts I had I find jobs for people. Some of them today are millionaires in our city here. They are doing very, very well and uh, and I thank to the federation who helped all those immigrants to settle in. So when I joined the JIAS it was only Moroccan Jews coming at the time from 1960 - I came in '57 there was the influx in 1963, '64, '66. [02:04:47] So I joined the agency in '64 and in '67...'68 the Czechs came. After the Czech uh, they start coming here. Those Czechs were vacationing in Rome so they left everything there and they came. So there were doctors among them, veterinarians. They were uh, musical, they really were uh, high-class people. So we helped them. Not us, directly us but the government helped them but it, because there were some of them Jewish I was there at the airport to meet them and give them all the necessary and make sure they move to a nice Jewish area. [02:05:38] So then in '68 also came the Polish. When Dubchek was...coming out and telling all was the, he tried to find the origin of some of them to get out of the country and I was busy with the Poles. And then in...between Czechs, Polish and Moroccan and then Iranian and here and there and you know, Israeli whatever come, any Jew that came to Canada and then in 1972, '70, the Russians start to come. [02:06:11] Then I was busy with the Russians. And I even learned some Russian with them. And uh, they all came under the auspice of the government, as refugees but we were there to supplement the income from the government. And I put them in the areas here and some of them, they - a lot of them came as doctors and they could not practice here. [02:06:35] But they went, the passed their exams. Now once you pass your exam you need internship. Now the hospital could not take them because they didn't have uh, money to pay to foreigners. So I uh, went to see Dr. Levine at Mount Sinai hospital and I said, look, you don't have to pay. You don't need money to pay. We take care of them but give them - otherwise they will never be doctors. [02:07:04] And he did. He did it. They took him in as interns to the uh, uh, Mount Sinai and uh, I spoke to the public welfare and I told him they gonna be big contributors to our country, to the city. We have to help. So between welfare and us, we helped them and they got their license to become, some of them, right here on Bathurst street, they are doctors. And uh, one of them is my doctor for the last 30 years.
[02:07:46] Interviewer: One of the things you talked about is that the, in Morocco the um, the Jewish community was very well integrated in a way. And were there any Ashkenazi in the Moroccan community?
[02:08:05] Maurice: No, not, there were uh...maybe very few. Very few. More in Casablanca than in Marrakesh. There were very few. As a matter of fact they used to have their own services on Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, separately. Their, there were few Ashkenazi and that came after the war or before the war? They escaped and they, they were in, in Casablanca, not so much in Marrakesh, no. [02:08:39] But during the war we had many refugees that came, especially from Holland, and we received them in our home. We gave them, they used to come and eat with us and they went to sleep in their quarters there and we helped a lot of them. The refugees that came uh, from Holland, I remember that.
[02:09:03] Interviewer: Did you experience any anti-Semitism when you were in Marrakesh or in Morocco?
[02:09:09] Maurice: Yeah. [overlap] Well, you know the French. The French were uh, really anti-Semitic and they say that [?], till today, you know that nothing changed. The word "sales Juifs", you know, dirty Jew and there was [inaudible]. I never forget uh, during the war I was, [inaudible] was maybe 13, 14, I was walking and two little Frenchmen were attacking me with stones and things like that and just Frenchman on his bike was peddling going to the town and I ran to him. [02:09:49] And he stopped his bike and he yelled at them "Leave him alone!!" So they turned around and said, "Monsieur, he is Jewish." Oh, okay, go ahead. He kept on and they keep hitting me, you know. So this, you know, you asked me the question this type, I've seen in those days. [02:10:08] So uh...like during the war, I mean during the occupation or the era of the Nazis there were a swimming pool for example in Marrakesh, you know in Casablanca, there is the ocean is different. In Marrakesh the swimming pool was Friday for the Muslims, Saturday morning only, till noontime for the Jews and Saturday afternoon and Sunday for the Christian and the rest of the week was [inaudible]. [02:10:38] So we used to hide our identity just to, to go and swim, you know. Until one day, I remember a teach, a professor who stopped us from going to the pool on Saturday morning and he, so it was a strike until they open it for the whole day and for us to be there. After that, you know the, when Vichy time was over so it's uh, it was open to everybody. But this is the type of anti-Semitism that we [inaudible]. [02:11:08] I mean today is the same thing. Nothing changed but...
[02:11:11] Interviewer: Was there any Muslim anti-Semitism?
[02:11:14] Maurice: What?
[02:11:14] Interviewer: Any Muslim? Any...uh, hostility toward the Jews?
[02:11:21] Maurice: Yeah, yeah, yeah. At the time during the Vichy time they used to instigate the Muslim to go and try to rob the area of where the Jews live, throwing stones and so on. But the pasha of Marrakesh was a very [inaudible]. I don't know, he was a very strong man. He used to come out in the street and, with his army let's say and beat up those people not to touch us.
[02:11:50] Interviewer: what about the period of liberation in the mid-1950s when Morocco was becoming independent?
[02:11:58] Maurice: Morocco become independent...
[02:11:59] Interviewer: [overlap]
[02:12:02] Maurice: [overlap] No, no, I don't think no I mean because before the independence there were a lot of uh, uh, a lot of terrorism against the French but not against the uh, the Jews.
[02:12:19] Interviewer: Your family, you talked about all these, your brothers and sisters. Where did they go? Did they leave Morocco?
[02:12:29] Maurice: Yeah, they, they left before uh, after me - no, my young brother and sister they left in '56.
[02:12:42] Interviewer: This is uh...
[02:12:43] Maurice: They went on Aliyah, [inaudible] Aliyah.
[02:12:47] Interviewer: This is Shimcha and Pinhas?
[02:12:48] Maurice: Pinhas. They were - Pinhas was 15 years old and he, she was 16 so she, they went to uh, camp in Casablanca and from there they went to France. They stayed in France, in Marseilles I think for a couple of months, six months and then to Israel.
[02:13:11] Interviewer: And why did your parents send them to Israel?
[02:13:14] Maurice: My mother passed away in 1954 so before the - that's how the split come you know. Because when another passes away so everybody start to go his own way like, I, I went with my brother, we had an apartment to ourselves and the two little, my young - the oldest one was married already. So the two youngest, we send them to Israel right away. [02:13:42] And uh, my father uh, remarried in the meantime so we just split like, he, it took time for him. I think he, my other brother, Albert, went to Israel in '57 I think. He married there and my uh...
[02:14:08] Interviewer: Where did [inaudible]?
[02:14:10] Maurice: Oh she was married also. She went to France. So my, I went, I went, I left in '57 and my father came in '58 to Israel and believe it or not it was only in 1971, without seeing any of my brothers for 15 years that I was able to go to Israel by myself to see my father after 15 years. [02:14:35] It was a very emotional meeting. My mother, my wife went in 1970 by herself to Israel to meet her uh, brother that she hadn't seen since 1948 because her brother, younger brother left in 1948.
[02:14:58] Interviewer: To go to...
[02:14:59] Maurice: Israel. We was a 13-year-old. You know, they didn't have no parents so they just...
[02:15:05] Interviewer: Where did Jacques end up? Your older brother?
[02:15:10] Maurice: You want a coffee?
[02:15:11] Interviewer: No, no, we want to finish. We don't want to stop.
[02:15:27] Interviewer: So the question I was asking you was about Jacques. He went to - where did he go?
[02:15:36] Maurice: My brother. They also emigrated to Netanya.
[02:15:41] Interviewer: So uh, so you have a brother who went to Netanya, I'm just recapping here. A sister who went to France. Albert went to Israel also. You went to Toronto. And your, your younger sister and brother Simcha and Pinhas went to Israel. So your whole family when different places. What were your feelings about that?
[02:16:12] Maurice: Really bad. Sad. But uh, they, once I had my own family here so I become preoccupied with living in Canada, raising a family. We had the first child was born in Casablanca, he was, he celebrated his first birthday here. The other one was born here uh, Rachel then Rita and Jack. [02:16:43] Now so, there was always two, three years difference - the last one was five years and we uh, I was busy working and my wife also to raise the family so we didn't have really, the only thing we did is phone calls and correspondence. Today it's very easy with e-mails and phone, it's like uh...but those days it was very hard. [02:17:12] But we talk to each other. We have a very good relation with the brothers and sisters. We uh, we grew up in very, in a home where there was a lot of love and affection. And it's still today and I give it to my children also the same way. And even my children among themselves. [02:17:35] And one thing I told them, don't ever separate. Stay together in the same city. That's the only, it's true.
[02:17:46] Interviewer: Did your, your life as you were saying, because you worked for JIAS and were involved in helping immigrants come into the country uh, how did your life change at all religiously? Did you remain traditional?
[02:18:06] Maurice: Well uh, you know, Sephardim are very tolerant. You know, it's not, we didn't have conservative reform uh, orthodox, ultra-orthodox. We didn't know of anything like that. We were Sepharadim, we're Sepharade. We have a synagogue, women always sit separately, in the balcony of behind, whatever. And we pray the same melodies for the last 2000 years. Nothing has changed. [02:18:37] When I came here I...friend of mine says to me, "you know, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah we have to prepare ourselves." I said, "What for? We've got a beautiful synagogues here you can go it." He says, "No, you can't." I said, why? "you wouldn't understand a word. Their melodies are completely different than ours. [02:19:00] And it's true. You know, today, when you go to an Ashkenazi synagogue, the Hebrew is there. You know, the wording you can understand, the hazanim [ph]. But in those days it was...Shabbat, you know, word we didn't understand ourselves. You couldn't, melodies were completely different. So we had to have our own [inaudible]. [02:19:28] So I was one of the youngest of the group in those days. Many of them were 13 [30?] years older than me or ten years older than me or even maybe the same age but most of the people, our leaders, some of them were 13 years older than me. They were my friends, they become my friends because that's, that's all. [02:19:47] And I uh, organized the first midian [?] and we went to the YMHA as it was called in those days at Spadina and Bloor and they gave us the space to pray. We prayed on our, with our, there were a few families that were here. We prayed, we sing, we, we, you had people among us who could read the Torah. We came with our knowledge. I mean we didn't need somebody to hire somebody to read the Torah or to sing [inaudible]. We did it on our own.[02:20:20] So....that's, we brought the sefratorah from I think the tzedek [?] and we start yourself. In 1958 the uh, the director of the YMHA, Dave Andrews at the time, I don't know if you [inaudible], he was the director and he suggested to the leadership in my community to form an association, to form a committee, a group so that we have a voice. So that we go to congress or, anything like that you can, you speak. [02:20:56] But like this you don't have no voice. So they had elections and two of them were running for the presidency and the one who lost, who was French-speaking went to the Spanish-speaking and organized them as a congregation. We, so the French, that was on 9th October 1958, the division become between the French and the Spanish-speaking. [02:21:25] So our leader was Spanish-speaking, the leaders of the other side was French-speaking. But his wife spoke Spanish. Anyway, to make the story short we went as two groups and I was very involved in my community. The French [overlap] speaking...
[02:21:41] Interviewer: What was the name of the French-speaking...
[02:21:42] Maurice: at that time we called it Association Sépharade. And we were the first as, signatiares for the French radio in Can - in Toronto, the television because we were French-speaking so we helped the other French groups to the government to have, to give us our rights, you know. [02:22:04] And then we uh, established ourselves as a community. Later on we called it Magen David congregation and the Spanish called it [Peta Tikvah inaudible] congregation. And we went two separate. We tried to, some rabbis tried to put us together, it didn't work. So we had some connection with Rabbi Langner on Brunswick Avenue, we used to live all of us south, you know. [02:22:33] And we uh, had a little place to pray there. He has old synagogue so we prayed there. They find the place with Rabbi [inaudible] and on Cecil Avenue so they had a little synagogue. And....
[02:22:44] Interviewer: The had a Sephardic synagogue at Celil and Rabbi Oxes [?].
[02:22:48] Maurice: Yeah, he, it was an empty space so he give them the space there. And they start...
[02:22:57] Interviewer: Please go.
[02:22:58] Maurice: To start praying there and we prayed in the Rabbi Langner's synagogue also that was empty. We were there, we had Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and we tried to raise money among them - ourselves, you know, to uh, not to pay salaries or anything but to, buy book, to do things and it worked. [02:23:16] Sometime after that there was a somebody by the name Bierstack [ph] I believe who donated to sefertorah to us. They also tried to raise money, we start to teach the people that you have to pay dues. They were not used to that. And uh, it works. One day I met a guy who they, uh, who was the director of the [inaudible] Zionist movement. Not Bialik, where Bialik is today. There was no school at the time and he said, "Where are you from?" and I told him and he says, you know, why, why don't you come...[02:23:57] I said, "We need a place to pray up north because our people start to move north, you know the Jewish fam - people from Spadina to St-Clair and so on. I, he said, become a member here, create a branch and we'll give you a space. I said, okay. So I went back to my leadership and I said, listen, I found a new place up north. Yeah? [02:24:18] So we met with the guy. He says, "Okay, form yourself a branch, we'll call it Sephardic branch 603, Farmer Labour[?] Zionist movement, you know. Here all of a sudden we become Zionists now in Canada. And it gives us [inaudible] benefits, loans, action loans and, and so on. [02:24:43] So, that's, we were there, the other ones stayed south After a while the bought the old Shomer Shabbat on Harbour street and they made itself a synagogue. They paid 30 000 dollars. They raised the money among themselves. And we stayed in the building of uh, 1 Viewmont until they decided to have a school, Bialik and they told us you have to move out, we need the space. [02:25:16] So we bought a little house across the street, we made a shul there, 25 Viewmont and we were praying there.
[02:25:25] Interviewer: What year was that?
[02:25:26] Maurice: 1971 I think. And uh, I become the president of this shul. The guy who was before me he went to, he moved to L.A. and I made a speech I, I, usually every holiday, every Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah I will go to Eshaim [ph] to borrow form them their lunchroom to do the prayers or [inaudible]. [02:25:55] So that year I rented a marquis, a tent in the backyard and I said it them in my speech, "Next year, you have to help me. This canvas has to become bricks and we're going to have our own synagogue. Enough of [inaudible], enough of going asking. We have to have our own." They said, oh you know, everybody responded yes and then that Rosh Hashanah in kibu [ph] we had maboul [ph], you know the rain and mud and everything in the backyard. People were swearing at us. I said, I told you, you want a shul, you have to pay. [02:26:32] Anyway, the year after we stayed there for a few years and uh, there was a synagogue for sale on McAlister road, south of Sheppard. And I made an offer and without a penny and I called a meeting of the congregation and I ask everyone for a thousand dollars. [02:26:59] It was easy for me because every one of them received help -
[02:27:17] Interviewer: So they um, so you asked for the thousand dollars...
[02:27:21] Maurice: Yeah and uh, we made an offer, we...I put a down payment. I had a hard time because the uh, lady was, wouldn't give me any, she had dealt with the best [?] president and they didn't buy the shul and, and I told her, listen, I am the one who...making the offer. You can check my name everywhere in the city. I am reliable. [02:27:49] And uh, I'm serious. So she went along with me. I made - to make the story short I made the offer, it was accepted and the price was 349 000 dollars. Before she wanted 400 000 and I said, I cannot go back to my people, you know, when you buy a pair of shoes at 9.99, she said, okay, 399 000. So I said no. So anyway, I made her come to the 349 and uh, we sold the house, we paid part of it and I had a balance of 170 000 dollars. [02:28:29] And I made a promise that within five years I will pay the shul and I raised the money, exactly what we needed. And we burned the mortgage after five years. I have a, invitation I show it to you, when we burned the mortgage. And uh, it went, we did, paid the last penny and a friend of mine, a younger, younger, much, 15 years younger than me this time would become my friend. He was the president of the Oremet [ph] school and he wanted...
[02:29:13] Maurice: So I was telling you that uh, this friend of mine Jack, who uh, was a philanthropic also and he made, good, a lot of money in the business and uh he helped me pay also to pay for the mortgage of that synagogue Magen David congregation. By the way, Magen David congregation, we purchased a synagogue in 1978 and in 1983, as I promised I burned the mortgage of Magen David congregation. [02:29:53] And he came to me, Jack and he says, you know what? Now that you've finished paying the mortgage you come and help me to build the school. We were rent - the school was renting space at Sadat [ph] Israel, in the basement and we were struggling to hold the school a Sephardic school because that's the only Sephardic school in Ontario. And we want to educate our children, give them some Sephardic background, knowledge and uh, also [inaudible], which is the school is recognized by the, the board of education. [02:30:29] And some of our kids graduated form school, become doctors, professionals, lawyers and so on. So I did that and we had a land here on Bathurst street that was zoned for school and uh, we were applying and the owner of the land uh, wouldn't give the land that easy because he wants to build, on the six acres he wanted to build a housing complex and so on but we were fighting back and forth. [02:31:00] He couldn't touch the land because it was zoned for school and nothing else. so finally we were able to make a deal with him. He gave us three acres and we authorized the other three acres to be, to build housing and so on, which he did and he gave us the land for one dollar I believe. [02:31:20] And uh, we start to build the school and the, this gentlemen, Jack that I told you, he was uh, financing the whole thing .The school was becoming a school on papers but really we uh, it was a synagogue for the school, for bank [?], lunchroom for the school but it was a combination of everything. And uh, we opened this building. It was a dream come true uh, in 1997. [02:31:52] We start building in 1996. In 1997 we opened the building.
[02:32:01] Interviewer: And what's it called?
[02:32:02] Maurice: It's called Sephardic Kehila Centre and it housed the Oreyem [ph] Sephardic school and now it's called the Jodwek Oreyem [ph] ...because he had a big donation to keep the school going. We have the uh, the Iraqis also the Iraqi Jews Association. They have, they are renting space from us. We have the [inaudible] that rent space for us also there. So we have the school. [02:32:28] And uh, we have zareno [ph] for handicapped children that's renting space there. So we, it's a community centre and uh, we have weddings and so on. So really it's a big centre. We are very proud. It's unique in the Sephardic community in North America, I think it's one of the largest...
[02:32:54] Interviewer: How many students?
[02:32:55] Maurice: We have, the school, we have 250 students.
[02:32:59] Interviewer: And how many grades?
[02:33:00] Maurice: From nursery to grade eight. We have uh...
[02:33:05] Interviewer: Mostly Sephardic students?
[02:33:07] Maurice: Sepharadim, some Ashkenazi yes, some uh, Boukharan, you know the Boukharan also are of Sephardic origins. And uh, yeah, and we do have Ashkenazim some, it's funny that you ask me that question because we have even parents who came to do bar mitzvah on their children on our synagogue they want their children to be taught the Sephardic melodies and so on. [02:33:31] To be different from the others. I remember uh, talking about melodies and so on when, in 1971, my oldest son become bar mitzvah and we didn't have a synagogue of our own to, to the, to celebrate the way I want. So I was a member of Shari Shamait [ph] and uh, I went to see the rabbi, Rabbi Foreman at that time and I told him, my son is going to be bar mitzvah and I want him to uh, to read the havtorah in maftir [ph] Sephardic. He said, okay, no problem. [02:34:08] And my son was against it, "Why should I be different from the others?" I said, " Because that's your heritage." And we did it. And that Shabbat they was few weddings like hatan [ph] Shabbat and so [inaudible] and he, he did, he read the havatorah in maftir Sepharadim and people came to [inaudible]. I want you to teach the people that that was part of me to, how I want the people to know more about us than anything else. [02:34:39] And today uh, you know I was also the president of the Canadian Sephardic Federation, president of the Ontario Sephardic Association, president of Magen David congregation, vice-president of the Kehila so my whole life was between, I was the vice-president of the Canadian Jewish congress at one time. [02:34:59] I was in the, an honorary vice-president of the JNF, Jewish National Fund. I was in the Labour Zionist movement also. So I was, my whole time was spent in the community. So like I say, I was wearing two hats. One as a layperson, one as a professional.
[02:35:17] Interviewer: So how do you see your identity?
[02:35:20] Maurice: I see it as a Jew.
[02:35:23] Interviewer: Do you see it in nationalistic terms too?
[02:35:26] Maurice: Sepharadim, it's when I go to the synagogue. My food at home. But the couscous, things that we brought with us but mentality of my children, they are born here, they grew up here. I mean, although I speak French with my wife but my children at the table we're all English speaking.
[02:35:44] Interviewer: Do you see yourself as a refugee or a migrant?
[02:35:48] Maurice: Migrant. No, because really, again, Morocco is one country where Jews can go back and forth anytime they want. So we're not refugees [inaudible]. Because you know, a refugee from Iraq, form Syria, they cannot go back to their country. We can go back to our country. We were there four years ago, he was there not long ago. [02:36:13] I can go anytime I want and come back. So we choose to immigrate to Canada.
[02:36:20] Interviewer: Where do you consider home?
[02:36:22] Maurice: Now? Toronto.
[02:36:25] Interviewer: What identity do you want to pass to your children?
[02:36:30] Maurice: Jews.
[02:36:35] Interviewer: Do you think that your, or let me say it differently, what impact do you think the migration experience has had on your life?
[02:36:47] Maurice: It was uh, I don't think the, immigrants who are coming to this country to day go through what I did, what I went through. They, it doesn't exist anymore. Things have changed. I mean, in those days when I came you have the telephone, a party line, you know, you take the phone, somebody is talking, you have to wait until uh, the lines are free. [02:37:10] You didn't, you rented a place, no stove, you have to bring our fridge. Now, today, when I came here, you lived in a flat. There was no apartment in Toronto. You had a few apartments. Who lived in the apartments? Uh on, Yonge street and St-Clair it was old apart - but new? I remember coming up here was the Neptune drive-in, Hotspur. There were [inaudible] where professional people just moved there, or newlyweds. [02:37:39] There was no apartment, I mean I forget to tell you, when I, I was uh, going by here in Bathurst street and at Sheppard there were no more buses going through, there was a dirt road between Sheppard and this area. It was all farmland, nothing. Even the Jewish community centre was not there, nothing. And they built a plaza on Finch and Bathurst and I remember that there are two apartment buildings there, beside there. Rental apartment. [02:38:13] And I remember meeting this gentleman, I was there for a coffee and I meet this gentleman, Mr. Friedman and I was told he was taking, he was looking after the apartments. And I went to see him. "Can I rent?" Yeah sure! They were controlled by the government, rental and I rented an apartment. What a joy to rent that apartment, to be free, to have your own uh, place with your own bathroom like, I was home. [02:38:41] Here, when I came I had to share the bathroom with other tenants and the kitchen, everything, so here all of a sudden I find myself in a beautiful apartment, brand new and all few of my friends, three or four couples came to live with us. Now the problem is there was no transportation. So I had a car, my friend had a car so we used to give lift to one of them, back and forth and the Sunday we go out together. [02:39:08] Then it started and then we moved south and then we bought a house. And that's how - but today I see in my office today, even today, immigrants coming and sometimes they come for advice because it looks like a centre there, Sephar - so they, from Argentina, people well-to-do like...[02:39:31] They want to know where to go, where to rent, what to do and what not. And thank god I have this ability to do it and tell them, "No, you know what? If you have money go, instead of renting, rent, buy a house, do this and that." Where to live, what...so the, really the immigrants coming here today they don't have the rough time we had when we came here. [02:39:52] It completely different. things have changed here. I mean, even the weather has changed a little bit. It's not as cold as it was.
[02:40:06] Interviewer: So let me ask you one final question: What message would you like to give to anyone who would listen to this story?
[02:40:21] Maurice: What message...? [02:40:28] I don't know what the message to give to, what will be the message to give them? To give them a message...that uh, uh....[02:40:40] If, I don't think they will go through what I - how I went through you know, when I came to this country but a message that uh, to raise a family, to teach to the children the [inaudible]...to behave, the behaviour of the children in this country it's not the way we were raised. [02:41:04] You know, there's no respect, like how we grew up looking at our elderly in a different way. And this is very important that uh, even today, when I meet young people, even in my Shul, they pass by me and I said, "You didn't say Shabbat shalom." Why? You're how old? "18" When you reach my years I'm gone so who built this place?[02:41:36] Be grateful. Torah teach you to be[Hebrew]. Torah teach you to have the [Hebrew]. Stop by, say Shabbat Shalom. And I tell this to young people too. Event he kids in school. So really the message that I can give to them is to be happy if you're talking about the people in Canada. We have a good country, good government and they should be proud of the Canadian uh, system and the mosaic that we have here. [02:42:08] People of different religions they live together, they work together. In Israel, the same thing.
[02:42:18] Interviewer: So I wanted to thank you very much Maurice for taking the time to share your story with us for Sephardi Voices.
[02:42:24] Maurice: Thank you.