Q: Nina let’s start with some general information. What is your full name please?
A: Nina Sarah Hallak-Raby [00:19:00?].
Q: And this was your name at birth?
Q: Where were you born?
A: Lebanon. Beirut.
Q: Let me thank you for participating in the project of Sephardi Voices. We would like to start with some memories of your experience, of your family’s background, or stuff that is very informative but important about your family’s background.
A: With pleasure.
Q: What are your memories of that…asking about your family, their origin, their background, can you just provide us with some details about that?
A: Of course, gladly. My background is really Lebanese, really. My parents originated from Syria, which I still have the accent of a Syrian Jew, myself. Until nowadays, wherever I go to speak Arabic, they think that I am a Syrian woman, because I have the accent of my parents. At the same time, the way I speak, they know I am a Jewish – Syrian Jewish. My husband is a Lebanese, his mom is completely Lebanese, and his father is Syrian. So his accent is more a Lebanese accent, Aliyah Shalom, I mean. If I have to start from my youth, if you want, we’ll start this way until I got married with my husband. I grew up in Lebanon, I was born in Beirut, I grew up in Lebanon, I used to go to Alliance Israelite Universelle, which I continued until a high school degree. We learned four languages. The stronger was French, of course, because it was Alliance. And then we had four hours a week Hebrew. An hour of English, then hours of Arabic a week. Unfortunately I had to, when I finished high school, I had to go out and work. My father passed away very young, and we had to help mom. I took some courses of secretary and short hand, and I found a job very – I mean an interesting job. But before applying to jobs in a big company, I was really young, and they had been asking about my curriculum, and when they saw “Jew” I didn’t have big chances.
Q: Can I ask you about your grandparents?
A: Which grandparents, both of them?
Q: Both of them. And if you can just clear up, when you talk about Syria, which part of Syria –
A: Damascus. I’ll start with my grandparents from my mom’s side. We used to go visiting them. Me and my brother and my mom used to stay in Beirut. I remember one year, maybe I was seven, eight or nine years, I don’t remember which year. We were in the Synagogue, it was a holiday. And normally the kids, they go out and they play. And I remember vividly until now, a bomb went into the front of the Synagogue full of kids. My grandpa from my mom’s side, they are Kohanim, they were doing the Kohanim. They dropped everything, they rushed to the entrance of the Synagogue holding – I still have in memory how they were holding kids all in blood. And my other uncles, they were Hatanim, in the Synagogue, they were afraid for us. Of course my mom was not with us. They took us home to be secure. That’s what I really remember, a bad experience. My grandpa also, on Kippur time, it was a very nice reunion in his house. He was a Rabbi, and the tradition was really beautiful. I still have this in memory, I still have my uncle, on Yon Kippur, before Kapporois, one uncle used to play violin, and everybody, in the atmosphere, they used to wake us up in the middle of the night to do Kapporios. Then they immigrated to Lebanon, due to the situation of the Jews. The condition really wasn’t very well. Each one came alone to join my mom. Only one left to Syria for the house and the business of my grandpa. He was in textiles. He flee Lebanon, maybe I was ten years, I don’t remember the year. He came with charcoal on the face with the [6:45 (inaudible) kafiangal], knocking at the door, and saying, “open the door for me.” I got really very scared that time, and everybody run at the door, and saw my uncle Nassim who flee Damascus. Literally closed the door, closed the business, and walked out of – and this is the end of Syria, Damascus. My grandparents Hallak, on my father’s side, I don’t have any experience with them. All that I remember is that my grandpa was a Rabbi teaching kids the Torah. He was very old, of course, when I grew up. He passed away – I was maybe not even ten years old. My grandmother, the mother of my father, origin – I think she was Ladino. I don’t know if she was from Spain, but according to her she married my grandpa in Egypt. And then they moved to Damascus, and then they moved to Lebanon. My father’s siblings, there were…six kids. So maybe I should say five. His older sister lived in Israel. From the family, her husband Sasson Hakim I think. I know for sure it was Hakim. She was honoured in Israel. Her older son was participating, he killed Lord Moyne, and he was hanged in Egypt, I think. When I went to visit her in Israel she showed me of course all the pictures. She passed away already, of course. And I have no records, because all my family of this side also passed away. I have only one aunt who lives. The younger brother of my father – she came from Aleppo. So until now I go, I visit her, and she took me to the cousin to see the Hakim family, they are in textiles. I think one of them, I don’t remember, he was sent like an ambassador for something.
Q: Let’s move to your parents. What was your father’s name?
A: My father’s name? Abdul Hallak
Q: And where was he born?
A: I think in Syria.
Q: What was his profession?
A: A salesman. In the schmatta business.
Q: And your mother?
A: My mom, she used to be a teacher in Damascus, Syria. But when she got married she didn’t work, she became a widow –
Q: She was born also in Syria?
Q: Ok, and what was her name?
A: Olga Masslaton Tarab Hallak [10:34].
Q: How did they meet each other?
A: You know, it’s magic. It used to be like that.
Q: When did they get married, do you know?
A: I think in the 40s. Unfortunately I don’t have pictures of my late dad. It was a very difficult time for my mom. My grandpa on my mom’s side used to come help, and that’s why they used to bring us in summer time to Syria, to Damascus.
Q: Any idea how old she was when she got married, your mom?
Q: And you said that she was a teacher?
A: In Syria. Alliance Israelite Universelle.
Q: When she became your mom, to you and your siblings, she kept teaching or?
A: No. As soon as they were in Lebanon, the custom of course, the mentality, a woman didn’t have to work. When I married my husband, I was first a secretary in L’Oreal Paris, the branch. And my boss offered me really a very good salary to continue working, so the family objected. Especially the Rabbi family objecting the situation. But even though, I continued, but in the old days, the woman didn’t have to go to work. It wasn’t a good reputation.
Q: Let’s move to your siblings. How many brothers and sisters did you have?
A: I have only two brothers. My older brother Joe, Joseph, and my younger brother is Morris – the name of the grandpas. Joseph is the grandpa from my father’s side, and Morris is my mom’s side, grandpa. That was the custom. I have the name of my grandmother from my father’s side. Her same was Serena. So I used my name in school – Sarah, for my Hebrew name.
Q: Can you tell us something about your siblings?
A: Well my older brother, he always felt responsible of the family because my mom was a widow. We had to work and study at the same time. My brother was very very bright, he always had the first mark in Alliance. He was even sick one year, very sick, had something in his blood, and when he went to do his exam he was still having the fist, always the first of his class. Finally when we grew up and graduated from the Alliance, the Hebrew teacher wanted him to be a Hebrew teacher, and my mom refused to send him in Morocco somewhere to preform and continue. Because both my grandparents used to follow him for the Hebrew prayers, and he was great. And my mom refused to send him. My aunt, who was Hakim, wanted to take him to Israel. And my mom said, “I won’t separate those kids. Joe will stay here.” So he continued in American university, he took his degrees, and finally he was a teacher of math in the American university in Beirut. Then he wanted to go more advanced. He made doctor in physics. Then after doing a doctorate in physics, he was graduated from Paris, they sent him to Florida, he met his wife, and now he lives in the States. But he didn’t want to have his degree, to sit down and restudy. So he changed, he became an optometrist. And until now he is in research, and he still lives in Long Island.
Q: How close were you to them –
A: My brother? We are still pretty close, but not like we used to be, because I don’t see them very much. He has three kids, the three kids are lawyers, each one in a different field. Two are married, and the last one is not married.
Q: Let’s get back to your childhood. What are your earliest memories?
A: My earliest memories was, well, we were really very close to both grandparents, but mostly my grandpa from my mom’s side. Because my grandpa of my father passed away very young – I mean I was young. So my other grandpa used to come every morning. Bring the bread, and cheese, and drove us to school, to cross the street, in a secure way. And have breakfast with us in the morning. So whenever we had something, he used to take us after school. We had food – the fridge was always open for us. So that’s what I grew up with. To be more like, with the other side of my family, because the Hallak family were already too old. And my oldest uncle, he was in the business of watches, repairing watches. And that’s why my younger brother took more studies to repair good watches. He studied in Beirut, my younger brother, he took his diploma from there. Then moved to Israel, he worked with Citizen Company. Then when I was here, I called my mom, and I said, “I need your help because I must help my husband.” And she said, “well ok I’ll try but I don’t want to come to a cold country.” We said, “ok, try at least six months and we’ll see.” Of course it wasn’t an easy experience for her. And finally my husband was insisting to keep her, and she stayed, she helped us a lot of course. She never wanted to learn English. She spoke Hebrew a little bit, and French, the first language, with my kids at home all the time. And sometimes when we don’t want the kids to understand we used to speak in Arabic, and they caught the language. But not very well, not very clear, because I remember, my older son David, he’s a pharmacist, and they brought him from Boston to Florida, and he puts his name “David Rabbi” so the Lebanese people knew that he was Lebanese. And tried to speak with him in Arabic, and he used to speak in “cassar” [19:33] Arabic. Completely… but I have my youngers, Joyce and Aldo. Aldo was exposed in Brooklyn with the Syrian community, and Joyce is very easy with languages. And the funny part is that, when my son Aldo, he is a CA and CPA, established in New York where he met his wife, of course. And before he went there – my younger brother married his wife from Lebanon but immigrated running away from Lebanon in ’76, because ’76 was a terrible time in Lebanon. And she insisted that she wanted to be married in New York. And they reserved a Synagogue, of course, because we used to do it in the Synagogue. She reserved everything. The day of the wedding the Rabbi came and asked my brother, “who is your mom?” And he says, “Olga Tarab.” And he looked at him and he says, “do you know who I am?” And my brother says, “I’m sorry. I have no clue.” He says, “your mom is my cousin. This Synagogue is for Tarab family, and I am a Rabbi also, from Masslaton Tarab too.” So it really was a reunion, even from her cousin Behar family. A cousin of my mom.
Q: Can you describe for us the place where you grew up in your childhood?
A: My childhood, I grew up, we called it “La Rue du Normandy.” I didn’t belong to the ghetto Jewish Wadi Abu Jamil. I didn’t grow up la bas – over there. So we had, we were with other few Jews. Behind us we had Muslims. In front of us we had lots of Jews. One building completely, it was “Avtar Shalom, Man” [22:28]. And then Iraqi people who flew from Iraq and used to hide Sasson family. And on the other side also we had “Man, another family Marabi, Bargadi” [22:41]. You know, we had a few families. I could say that I was really very lucky because we were protected by the Muslim neighbours. And you know, the Muslim neighbours, my mom was a widow, so we had to protect her and the kids. We used to have protection from them. And I used to play with them, with the Muslims.
Q: Any memories or anecdotes from the time you actually were with your non-Jewish friends?
A: I don’t know, they used to give us all the time chocolates, because they had a factory of chocolates and candies. And we had a good understanding, because, also they gave the wall of the factory – I think it was on the back yard of the house of my Hallak family. And if we go to my Hallak family, grandparents, they used to throw us candies. They knew we were there, and used to throw us the candies. We were young.
Q: Which language did you speak at home?
A: French. With my mom, I mean.
Q: And with the non-Jewish friends, or others, which language?
A: Arabic. And of course with my Hallak grandparents also it was Arabic.
Q: So your non-Jewish friends were actually invited to your house?
A: No, they never – my mom never allowed it. But we were allowed to go down and play with them. But to invite them – never. My mom never allowed it. She used to say, “there is a limit. We don’t go over the limits. It’s time to go back home, we have to go back home.” One day she was watering the plants. And we had a neighbor, a Muslim, I think he was a Muslim. And one day he came up and he said, “you lady, you never learn your lesson, how many times do we have to tell you, do not water your plants, I would like to sit and have my “nargiletah” [25:37].” He says, “you lady you never listen. I’m going to tell your husband!” He thought my grandpa was her husband. Because my grandpa was always… One day she said to him, “alright, you know what, go to my husband, go tell him! Accuse me to my husband. Go to him.” So he didn’t know that it was my grandpa. So that’s, I never forgot that, because until before she passed away we used to remind her about it.
Q: What do you remember about your schooling time?
A: Schooling time, I was very – a very shy person. I didn’t have my father, so I wasn’t really like my other girlfriends. I used to go and always be very serious and shy. We used to have a picnic in the school, they used to take us, and I used to share those. And it used to be some nice times also, but it wasn’t an easy life. Like my brother used to say to my mom, “where is my dad? Everybody has a dad.” So my mom used to cry. And it was difficult.
Q: Let’s talk a little but about the daily life when it comes to the community where you grew up. What kind of neighbourhood was it – you say it was out of the ghettos, not there.
A: No, the fact is, when I grew up, at the age of 16 almost, I wasn’t allowed to go out, first of all. After the experience of my cousin, after his bar mitzvah, he was wearing a Magen David. And he had problems with that, and we were always afraid to show or wear a Magen David or a chai or whatever. Always hiding ourselves. But when my older brother started – the Hebrew teacher wanted him as a Hebrew teacher in the Alliance, they were missing staff. Like a Maccabi, it was the community, in Lebanon, had the Maccabi to reunite the young generation. And even on every Saturday night they did not let us go to the movies or somewhere else. They want us to be secure. We used to go to Talmud Torah school by the family Tarab also. But anyway, they altered every Saturday night, the new generation was disco dancing, you know, they used to put dates, you’d drink 7-up, Coke, we’d dance. I used to go with my older brother and an older friend of my older brother. I used to go out with them. So that’s kind of, a time that it was fun, when we grew up. Then of course I had to restudy, and consider to put myself in studies and advance. Because having high school, my mom didn’t agree, all of us we had to learn. So I worked during the day, and I used to go with my brother, make my baccalaureate degree, at night, with my older brother, who continued his studies as well. And that was a time that you don’t enjoy your time. Because my mom was of course very traditional, in tradition. The holidays come, we have to help, even baking for her, and the house, especially the kitchen, at Passover time. We used to help her. So we didn’t really – I didn’t really enjoy my childhood.
Q: So who were the neighbours, Shia, Christian?
A: I think it’s Shia. I think. But I wasn’t, when I grew up, I wasn’t allowed to be with them all the time. My mom refused. To go to a movie, it was a whole story, with my mom. Even to go from 3 till 6, especially a girl, it was, I had to bargain with her to make a deal. “Mom, all my friends are going. Mommy, why can’t I go?” So that’s the way it used to be. I didn’t complain. I was, according to her, an easy child. But my younger brother, he went everywhere, he participated in the Makabi. He played with 6 of his friends in his class, he wasn’t interested in studying. He says, “why do I need to learn the history of France? Do I need it? I don’t need it. I want to do something else.” He used to say to my mom, “my brother is always ahead of the class, and me I am at the end of the class.”
Q: Let’s talk about the cuisine at home.
A: It’s more Syrian of course, not Lebanese. And I had a big problem with my husband. Because I used to cook Syrian food. My husband was Lebanese, from his mom.
Q: What was your favourite?
A: Oh, there is many. The “gubebah” [32:35], the first. I’m sure you know it. On Rosh Hashanah we used to make the dolma, you call it the “dolma-u” [32:44], but it’s the Swiss chard stuffed, that’s for the Berachot, we used to make each Berachah alone on Rosh Hashanah. We kept it from my grandparents, even though I have on Pesach time a picture of my Seder with my grandparents Hallak, because of course we have to honour the father’s side before, and then the mother’s side. So we used to go the first night with the father, Hallak family. The second night we joined the other part of the family, which was a very big celebration over there. Everybody was gathering around the table. We used to have more fun over there because it was more people, more cousins to meet. And we were very very traditional. My mom was very serious. I mean, they used to make us nervous. This is the day, kosher for Pesach, don’t come this corner, you know.
Q: Were you parents and grandparents dressed up? Their costumes, the way they were dressed –
A: No, we were ok. As long as we don’t have really very, you know, I was always a conservative person, due to my mom. And tradition in the house. When I grew up the other friends, the Jewish friends from my class, used to go in a different way of clothing. A little bit more open, used to go to the beach. Which, I used to love to go, and my mom refused. But I went. Despite everything I went to the beach.
A: Both sides. But it was more joyful with my mom’s side, in the holidays.
Q: Can you tell us, describe Shabbat at home? How was it?
A: Shabbat, it was really, really a pleasure to have the Shabbat. The Shabbat time – before my grandparents, on my mom’s side, my mom insisted that we follow the rules of my grandpa Tarab. Kabbalat Shabbat first, after the Kiddush. The Zmirot and she was really strict about it. So, even my older brother, we didn’t have the right to warm up the food on Shabbat, and if my neighbours came and by mistake they warmed up the food for the neighbours they sometimes come and warm it up without telling them. My older brother used to take the pot and throw it. We weren’t allowed to eat food warmed up on Shabbat. So she was really very strict, my mom.
Q: The Synagogue, did you go to the Synagogue?
A: Mind you, my generation never went to Synagogue. I used to go, follow my grandpa, with my brothers, every Friday night, they had like you have a reunion now to gather for a youth service. So I know all the prayers for Shabbat. We used to make Kabbalat Shabbat, the prayers, and I used to come back with my brothers and continue the Shabbat, the service of Shabbat, at home. Even though my mom didn’t have dad, she insisted that my brother should say to her, “eshet-hayel” [38:00] all by himself, and all the way, before making the Kiddush.
Q: Bar mitzvah of your siblings?
A: The bar mitzvah of my older brother was a very emotive one. Very emotional one. But on those days the bar mitzvah, the boy has to make a speech. And he did it really very beautiful, he prepared it. He knew that my grandpa from my Hallak family, from my father, he wasn’t there anymore. So mostly from my other grandpa, everybody was there, even the whole Synagogue of Meghen Abraham, and he opened a Midrash, my grandpa. The Hallak I think they had the Baruch also in the Synagogue of Alliance Israelite Universelle. Because they had the Synagogue part of the school. When I got married I went back to the Synagogue. I was insisting that I wanted to see my family. Because the Rabbi family, they used to go to another Midrash. And I enjoyed the prayer very much. I used to understand. Because it was familiar for me. So, we used to know when we had – I mean, step by step, my mom used to listen to this piece. You know how we say the Cohanim, what we say. You know, she “haita madricha otanu” [39:59]. Well, to me. Of course, to my brothers, and especially to my older brother who was very much indeed knowledgeable with it. Indeed, when my mom passed away, and my two brothers were fighting, to say something from the Torah or – my older brother used to say, “don’t tell me where it is, bring me the Sefer, the book, and I’ll open the page you’re looking for.”
Q: Excluding the Synagogue, any other Jewish locations, memories?
A: The other Jewish location was Wadi Abu Jamil. Which you have the butcher who’s a Muslim, who had a great respect for my grandpa. You had also the cheese and all the dairy stuff, another store, completely different. You have a lot of Midrashim. A few. Each one, let’s say my Hallak family, it’s Alliance Israelite, but it wasn’t open all year. My grandpa it was Midrash and Man. Then you have different Midrashim for different Minhagim. We had also a Midrash for Ashkenazi people. Yeah, there were a few, I don’t remember, one was also from Tripoli in Beirut…
Q: Any unique –
A: Way of doing, it was Simcha Torah in Maghen Abraham. It was a joy to be affiliated with Hatorah to the Synagogue of Maghen Abraham. I have some pictures of my wedding, you will see how big it was. It was really very joyful, because most of the Midrashim used to come and join Maghen Abraham. And they used to dance. And on every holiday we have the Mullah, we’d have the president of Lebanon, he have the high, you know, they used to come and congratulate us. I used to have this picture, but I don’t know where it is anymore.
Q: Let’s go back to the street – any unique superstitions you can glean from these days when it comes to daily life, or any other things you can think of?
A: We used to be scared to go out because we were Jews. My mom used to protect us so much. Well, I can’t say that maybe because she was a widow and she always was scared. She didn’t give us the permission. In the afternoon, yes, after school from time to time, or Friday afternoon, we used to have an hour or two before Shabbat. But don’t remember that we had to come back from school. We used to leave school early on Fridays. I used to help her prepare for Shabbat, and my mom was, she was a very clean person, and everything should be, I don’t know, around her lichvot Shabbat. So, on the street we used to play with some, when I grew up, maybe 14 years old or something, I don’t know the age, I used to play with my Jewish neighbours. Not from my class, because they didn’t live around us.
Q: Let’s move to the Zionist chapter. Who, if at all, your friends or people of your family, were involved in Zionist activity?
A: Yes, there was a lot. I’m sure you know Shulah Cohen, you know about her. I was a close friend with her daughter. My mom didn’t want me to. Why? Because she heard about Shulah. In spite of everything, I used to go when she had any entertainment or anything with the Arabs. She used to take me with her. I was afraid to tell my mom, because my mom didn’t agree. Organization like the community, the Jewish, we had a doctor who was really very involved in the community. Doctor…it will come back to me, even I have some picture of him at my wedding. And they took care of the community, what’s happening. I think he also was, maybe I have to check exactly, if he contributed to building the Synagogue Maghen Abraham, and then they made a section Tarab Talmud Torah, to have it for the boys. By the way, we were separated, boys and girls. In class, only girls. The school was separated with the left side boys, right side for the girls. Even at recess time. We could see each other but we don’t, we weren’t allowed.
Q: So any Zionistic activity at Alliance?
A: Oui. Like I said, we had clubs. And we had maître [46:50]. Aliyah Shalom. I remember before leaving Lebanon, he was kidnapped, and we never had any news of him. And then when I left I heard about Isaac Sasson, people who came from Aleppo, who came from Syria, helping them to cross the border and go to Israel. So they had a building on the front, and they used to shelter all those kids. The young generation. I mean, 20, 18, or something like that. And they used to sleep one night in Beirut, in those shelters, Jewish houses. And in the middle of the night, like Shulah, was – what was his name, the other guy who used to help her too – it will come back to me. Used to help her to take those people, and make them cross the border of Lebanon. And by the way I had a cousin who got shot on the border between Israel and Lebanon… He was older than his Bar Mitzvah, Robert, and his brother, Eric, he was 15 years old. And it was the time that they say, “oh, Israel, Zionism,” you know.
Q: Can you give us your memories about the war of 1956?
A: Yeah, ’56, like I told you, my cousin was wearing the Magen David. And walking down the street openly with his shirt. And an Arab came and took the Magen David, beat him up, and since then we were afraid. His parents used to live on Rue du France, which is quite far from us. It was behind the Terab community for Talmud Torah, very close to there. And at night no one – we didn’t go out. Never alone. Then the generation at this time, when I grew up, around 17, we used to make parties in the houses. With music, Cokes, 7-Up, dances. But not later than 11 at night. We used to have a very good time. We used to go on lots of picnics, up to the mountain. We used to be 10, 15 people. Let’s say, enjoy “Balba” [50:20] there is a play, [sans illuminaire, Betty Dean, check spelling] it used to be very nice. But during the day, not at night. Me, I don’t know. Me I never went at night. So, era for, they used to have a good time, the young generation. Even 20. Even 20, but we didn’t go to clubs or – the best way, we’d finish that, we used to love to have ice cream. And ice cream was really really good. It’s not like – you know, the olden days. And it was one spot, one store only. We used to go and all of us used to meet. So we were allowed to go, mom didn’t say no. But we weren’t allowed to eat the pastries over there. According to her, it’s not kosher, we are not allowed to even taste over there. Ice cream, yes. But not – so, we used to be reunion over there all the time, it wasn’t far from the district where we used to be.
Q: Do you remember the first time getting out of there was firstly thought in the family – immigration, leaving there, for Israel or another country?
A: Yeah, like I said, I was 18 years old maybe when my cousins, he was maybe 16, and his brother 14, something like that, and the chevrah came, and the Zionists, you know, “you will have a better life in Israel.” So they took him via – I don’t know – no, they took him crossing the border at night like the other Jews. And my uncle used to go to Cyprus, to go meet them. And one day his sister, no his brother’s wedding, he wanted to come and see the wedding, and he came with his military outfit. And he was killed by the Lebanese authorities, a soldier. And the day of the wedding of my cousin they called my uncle to come and to say, “is that your son, this is what we found, the name of him.” And he said, “yes, that is my son.” So imagine, he was marrying one son, and in another hand it was… So it was really hard on the families. It was really, again, a strong, “don’t do that, don’t go out, don’t go with the Zionists. We’ll all go together, nobody will go alone, do this or that.”
Q: Remember the preparations?
A: Preparations for that? Yeah it was always like that, with the Jewish community, like I said. Underground. To take all the young generation to go to Israel, and especially the people who came from Aleppo. Damascus. I was considered a Lebanese, but I didn’t have the right paper, because I wasn’t, how to say, well, my father, when he passed away, nobody took care, Hallak family, to have a proper Lebanese paper. So it came to election, the brother of my mom says “listen, we’re going to take those kids, they’re going to vote, and we’re going to give them the right paper. They are [Arabic 54:39], they belong here, and they are going to have official papers.” Because my older brother, when he had his exam, they said his identity papers, they said it’s not right, we are not Lebanese.
Q: When did you leave?
A: I was married in ’68. But they advanced us in age, of course. And we had the right paper. Still I had problems when I got married to my husband. He was more Lebanese than I am, his papers were more rectified than mine. So I followed, I don’t know how to say, [Arabic 55:34], the following up of the family. And another passport when I married my husband. You weren’t allowed to put religion, but they put a dot under our name, and they knew we were Jew. Because I didn’t know, when I got married I said, I want to go to [Junier, Sfat 55:58], because on those days we used to go visit [Sijit 56:09] on Shavuot and they used to go, and have fun. I never was allowed to go.
Q: Can you describe what were the last memories of the place, actually?
A: My husband went too much to Sujun [56:35]. 3, 4, years, enjoyed it very much. But me I never went, I didn’t experience that. I didn’t have a chance to see that. But when I got married I told him I want to go on the border with Israel, and I begged him so much. So, he said, “ok one day we are going. But bring your passport.” I said “what?” “Bring the passport.” To make a long story short, we cross the border, I wanted to see the castle over there. “Your papers.” My husband gave the papers. He says “you’re not allowed to go further down.” I said “why?” I didn’t understand but Shlomo understood. He says, “Nina, that’s it. This is the” gvurl” [57:45], we can’t cross it. We go back. You see it from far? This is Israel.” And that’s it, we came back. I was of course very disappointed. And that’s all. I had a good time, yes, but like I said, I was a very shy person, I didn’t go so much to places like cabaret, or when I met my husband we went to shows at night, at 10, c’etait les troubadours francais. They were so funny. And cabaret, with my husband. That was really the only time that I went out. It was a good time. I used to meet friends, very good time. I gave trouble to my husband because I ate only kosher. So to go meet all the friends out, I used to eat just salad, it was a problem, my husband was very upset at me. Because I was the only one who wasn’t eating with the big party. Used to go to on “Arosha” [59:07], which is very nice places, hotels, it’s for the New Year, everybody, all the Jews used to go there. And I ate salads. And everybody was looking at me as a weirdo. But that’s the way it was with me.
Q: When you left, what was left behind?
A: I left very early. I was scared. On ’67, before ’67, early, because Mohammed Sheshet Hayamim, it was in June I think. And the beginning of the year we had neighbours who already immigrated to Canada, and I’m still friends with them here. They both were teachers at Alliance Israelite. And they said, “what are you doing here, you must think that you should leave.” And I said, “we are good.” And Shlomo my husband, my late husband, zechranon lebrachah, said “we are ok. We have everything, we have nothing wrong.” Two months after, two people came knocking at my door. My husband was at work. And asked me, “where is your husband.” and I said “he’s at work.” “We’ve been at work and he’s not there.” So my neighbour looked at me, and when they left she said to me, “do you know who knocked at your door?” So the doors in Lebanon in my building, you had glass windows, and you could open the top glass to talk to people, because I wasn’t opening the door completely. So I said “I don’t know, they were asking me about my husband.” so my neighbour said, “they are from the second bureau.” I asked my husband, he didn’t tell me so many details about it. Even though I pressed him, you know, mentality of the Middle Eastern husband – we won’t say it to the wife. That’s all. I got scared, and when we had the milhemet of sheshet hayamim [1:01:42] I said “I’m not staying.” He said “your mom is here, your brothers are here, you still want to leave?” I said “my brother is leaving to Paris, my other brother is engaged, is going to Israel following his fiancé. And my mother, of course she is going to follow my brother because he’s not married yet.” We were like that. So he says “are you sure?” I said “you know what, I’ll give birth to my son (I didn’t know whether it was a son or a girl) and then we leave. I’m not leaving before.” And it was like that, planned this way, because ahead of time we went to my husband. I didn’t know about it – he went to the Canadian embassy, registered his name, make all the medical exams. I was pregnant, I didn’t want to make the exams. They want pictures, lots of – anyway. So when we had the 6-day war they sent us – “now you leave.” And I refused because I was still carrying my son.
Q: What was the situation –
A: Very tense –
Q: In June, while the war was there. Actually how was –
A: We were afraid. I don’t know, I was afraid, I am the type to be afraid. But we were guarded by the “Falangist” [1:03:28]. Protected by them. And the fact that the whole months after the 6-day war, we had to show my paper that I was coming to my house to the Wadi Abu Jamil who I am, to let me go in. so we were vey well protected.
Q: Jewish persecution there –
A: Well it started. It started. What’s his name, Sasson, I don’t remember his first name. His son’s name is Albert, he’s a doctor in Israel too. His sister, oh she lives in Boston. They went to his store, he was working for Goldwyn-Mayer movies, he was the representative. He was shot in his office. That’s Sasson. Another Sasson, Isaac Sasson, was helping really the Jews, to let them go. You know, helping Shulah, and the Jewish community of course. “Hakamshrai” [Arabic 1:04:58] and dignitary form the community, the Jewish community. So they kidnapped him, we never knew what they did to him. They never gave us back the body. So nobody could mourn him. Another one, Albert Aliah, also the same story. I remember my uncle from Damascus, the brother of my mom, he was in textile business, in ’66 or something, or ’65. He went to buy more material, because they were in the schmatta business. They’d been known about it. And he wanted to go to Italy, and then he passed by Switzerland, and he got arrested. He called his brothers, but don’t forget, my uncles on my mother’s side they don’t have papers. Lebanese papers. They were residents, that’s all. So he was scared. He went to Italy but he was arrested, taken to prison. They didn’t let him go, continue. And he called the community in Lebanon, and tell his brother, because he was even afraid to say who arrested him, and what’s going on. And give him “remiz” [1:06:52], I’m coming back to the airport, but bring maître Albert Aliah with you. And my other uncles were saying “what’s going on, is something wrong with our brother?” And indeed it was something wrong. And they really spoke for him and they liberated him. But they told him another time, they bought Iranian passports and they weren’t legal. So all my Terab family, they have Iranian – they bought Iranian passports. You know? So they weren’t legal. Weren’t allowed to vote, weren’t allowed to travel. If you go out, that’s it, you go out. And they were afraid to show the Syrian passports.
Q: So you moved straightaway from Lebanon to Montreal?
A: Yes. Straight.
Q: And it was you and your husband, or other members of the family with you?
A: No. My in-laws, the brother of my husband, they immigrated right away to Israel. My father-in-law and mother-in-law of course followed. Esra, the oldest son, he left the last from the family, I think was the case. So we left in ’68. I think they left in ’72, or ’69. I forgot exactly. And they went right away to Israel. That’s my husband’s side. My side, they went to Caracas, Paris, Brazil, New York, all over.
Q: Any particular reason why you and your husband chose Canada?
A: That’s my husband. He brought me some pictures, to convince me to leave, because the 6-day war, we didn’t know about it. And I said “I’m not going.” And he said “look, what a nice picture, and I went to the embassy, they gave us a very beautiful picture of Canada.” But he didn’t show me the snow. My husband used to love the cold weather. And I said “listen, you never took me to Arzeh Lebanon [1:09:56].” And we talked so much about it. In the prayers, about Arzeh Lebanon [1:100:03], and oh my cousin used to go and have the snow, and bring back. My mother would never let me go. And now I have my husband, “I want to go with you!”
Q: What about your relatives, having been in Israel. Can you tell us what they were making their living from? How was their experience in Israel?
A: I wasn’t really involved in that, because I was very concentrating on my family, my kids. My kids, and that’s it. Yes, I used to send to my in-law registered the voice of my kids, you know. In those days you didn’t have FaceTime. I used to register the voice of my children. They used to ask me, “what do you want,” I’d say what I want. “I want a tallis for my David, I want another tallis for Aldo.” Things like that. But it’s the Sephardic way, it’s not the Ashkenazi way. And then one day I ask, “I want a mezuzot… a challah cover.” “You don’t want something else?” “No. That’s what I want. You want to give me a gift? That’s what I want.” So they used to send me that stuff, my in-laws. We used to tell my kids, “we registered your voice, and you say “thank you grandpa, thank you grandma, [Arabic 1:11:45]. Thank you.”
Q: How did it feel, this shift or transfer from one –
A: Completely. Don’t forget, my kids grew up here. My oldest son came at 3 years old, my baby came at 6 months. So it’s completely different. My way of raising them, completely their way. When I went to visit them, I looked at them and I said, “I don’t belong here.” And I had a good time with my husband. We went to visit lots of places. And then I said to Schlomo, “here I’d like to live among the American and the Canadian. I won’t live with your parents in this Tel Aviv,” or you know. He said “too bad. If you’re coming here you’re going to live near my parents.” But I said, “I don’t belong here.” But thankfully, thanks to G-- really, they adapted well, my kids with their cousins, we keep in touch. Some of them, not all of them. The older brother of my husband, now he is 95 years old. His kids get in touch very nicely with us. They call me until now and say Chag Sameach. The sister of my husband, when I was, last May, I tried to see them all, I invited them, I said, “ok you don’t have time, but I’ll make it easy. Come to the hotel and I invite you for a coffee.” Not all of them, they came and said “no no no no, we are going to come and pick you up, you are going to see my mom,” who had Alzheimer’s already. And I didn’t see all of them. The other brother wasn’t able to go meet with them. They have one son in Brazil. He calls me until now, “Doda how are you?” He keeps in touch. The others, no. And I said, that’s funny, since Shlomo passed away they didn’t keep the relation so close like it used to be.
Q: To what extent do you preserve your Sephardi heritage?
A: It comes naturally to me. And I`m trying – let`s say my daughter is getting married to Ashkenazi, I`m trying to adapt myself to it. But I don’t think I find it difficult. Because when my husband passed away, he passed 4 years with his sickness. And blind for 15 years, it wasn’t an easy period at all. To make a long story short, before he passed away, he was in the hospital, and it was somebody who… but his name is Salem. Nobody came to me. One day I said, “Rabbi, my husband is here. It’s Rosh Hashanah. Come tell him. Come close the shofar for him.” “But he’s Salem.” I said “yeah but his name is Shlomo. This is my husband and I call him since Lebanon Shlomo. I don’t call him Salem.” Because he wanted me to call him, he said to introduce himself, “I’m Shlomo. I’m not Salem.” All his family they call him Salem, except me. So he came up, and I said “I want you to take care of my husband.” He says “I’m sorry. I learned that you are Sephardic.” I said “so?” He says “yeah, I’ll direct you to the Sephardic Rabbi.” I said “I don’t want a Sephardic Rabbi.” He had his coffee, he has a rugelach in his hands. I touch his hand and I say, “I want you.” He says “but I can’t. I want you to go to the Sephardic –“ I said “my husband never liked the Sephardic Rabbi. And I want you to take care. And tell me besides that, what’s the difference to the Taharah, if Sephardic or Ashkenazi.” He looked at me, he said, “there is no difference. But are you sure you want me?” I said “I’ll give you carte blanche. I want you to follow.” He said “where are your kids?” I said “my kids are not living here. I have a son-in-law.” He says “I don’t want your son-in-law.” So to make a long story short about Sephardic and Ashkenazi way. And eventually he did help me.
Q: How would you describe yourself in terms of your identity?
A: In what way?
Q: Would you say, to what extent you are Canadian or Jewish, or whatever?
A: I still consider myself now more Canadian than Lebanese. But I can’t forget completely about Lebanon. No. We had a very good time in Lebanon, when I was married. Before that, studying and working, socializing not so much.
Q: Do you consider yourself a refugee or an immigrant?
A: I don’t consider myself a refugee, no. But I’m happy that I still follow the Jewish background that I have. And it gives me pride, and it elevates my spirits.
Q: What do you consider home for you?
A: I could say here, now.
Q: And which identity would you like to pass to the next generation?
A: Whatever they want to be. Ashkenazi, Sephardic, I have no problem.
Q: What language actually do you speak to your children?
A: With my children, they went to Talmud Torah school. My mom lived with me finally, and she helped me grow up my kids, because I went to work, to join the workforce with my husband. And so I used to speak French with them. My mom didn’t speak English. I remember my little girl Joyce, one day she used to have any misunderstanding with my mom, because before I got back from work, and she had a misunderstanding, or she used to put her finger in her mouth, and my mom used to fight. “Oh you are 4 years old!” Because at 4 I started to join the work, to work outside. And my daughter started sucking her finger. And my mom always fought with her. “Look, you’re a big girl, stop.” My daughter used to fight with my mom with this situation. And one day she came up, I came back from work around, finished my work at 6, because I was the head office for a manufacturing for tape, and I was the head secretary to finish. I used to be at home around 7, and the kids came around 3:30 or 4 from school, my mom was there. Opened the door, my daughter said, “mom, I have to tell you stories. What my grandma did to me.” “What did she do to you?” Well she started in English, so my mom followed, understood her that she was talking about, that she gave her a hard time for sucking her finger. And she came up and said, “oy vey, my grandma, she understands English! I can’t talk any secrets with my mom!” And it was such terrible stuff for her. I said “don’t worry, don’t worry.” And my mom said “how did you like that? You were telling your mom about me?” It was so cute. And then I said on Friday, we kept the custom of how I grew up. Let’s say, we used to, every Shabbat, kiss each other. And the grandpa, or the older people, kissed the hands. So I told my kids to kiss the hand of grandma with me. One day Joyce said, “you know what mommy, I’m not going to kiss her hand.” I said “why? Go say sorry, Safta.” And she says “mommy, it’s not Friday. I’m not kissing her hand. I’m just going to say sorry.” So you see the mentality. I tried to keep the same –
Q: Looking back at your fascinating story, what would you say was the impact of the migration experience on your life, generally speaking?
A: I could say it was hard in the beginning. No family. No connections, there was nobody. Everybody was calling us, from Paris, and Brazil, Caracas. And especially in the holidays. My kids didn’t have friends so much that I knew the parent to put them together. That was hard on me. Baruch Hashem, they overcome the situation, the kids.
Q: Any thoughts about what would have happened otherwise, if you weren’t to leave Lebanon, and you still actually stayed there? Do such thoughts actually come across your mind?
A: No, I wanted to follow my mom and my brother in Israel. My husband didn’t want. He used to say “first we come to Canada. And if you don’t like, we still have time to go to Israel where everybody is there.” And we never left.
Q: Did you happen to go back to Lebanon?
A: No. We didn’t dare. Period. We didn’t dare. If you ask me, there are other Jews, Lebanese, in New York, they went back. Other Jews, they live here in Canada, they were teachers, they went back. I said “how does it look like? How is that school, how is that area? How is this Synagogue of my grandpa?” The midrash, not the Synagogue. The midrash of my grandpa. I knew that the Alliance Israelite Synagogue didn’t function every week. Only on holidays. So I was curious about all this. And when they showed me a picture of Magen Abraham Synagogue, it saddened me of course to see this. And I said “where is the joy of Simcha Havtorah.” Even dancing on the street, with the molah, with the president of Lebanon. And all the big personality of them coming to visit us. And they used to offer them scotch and wine. Where is that day we used to sing and dance, you know?
Q: What would be the message you would like to send to all those who look and listen to this interview. What do you hope the message to be sent to them, the story, this interview?
A: It was easy for me, it wasn’t bad. It was a very nice life, it’s true. We can’t forget my background. But after ‘75, which I wasn’t there already, but I heard so many stuff, because so many cousins they came and they flee Beirut. And say the atrocities the Jews – the Hamas used to come and go to a building as say “that building full of Jews. We’re going to put it down completely.” Some refused to go down, and they shot them and put them on the street. Nobody picked them up. And I remember my old neighbour also, his father, Samra family, he said his father was shot, he left to Mexico, even ahead of time when I left. And he heard about his father was shot, and thrown on the street, when he came to visit me in Canada. So there is lots of stories like that and how they escaped. My message, I had a good life. But like I said, I was scared. Don’t forget, I grew up with a mom who always protected us. We were missing lots of stuff, because we saw my mom, how much it was difficult, but she never opened her mouth. So we learned how to accept things. And maybe that’s why I adapted myself in Canada very easily. Baruch hashem. I went to work with my old experience. And I was successful.
Q: Thank you.
A: You’re welcome. Shana tova.