[00:00:01] Interviewer: What is your full name?
[00:00:01] Robert Khalifa: My name is Robert Khalifa, in western ways. And pronounced properly in Egyptian way it's Robert Khalifa. And the full name is really Robert Richard Khalifa because Richard is my father's name and uh, the same as in the biblical way where you have so-and-so-Ben-so-and-so. [00:00:31] In Egypt you say Robert Richard Khalifa to indicate who my father is.
[00:00:39] Interviewer: And when were you born?
[00:00:40] Robert Khalifa: I was born in, on January the 17th, 1946.
[00:00:48] Interviewer: So your birthday is coming up.
[00:00:49] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Yes.
[00:00:53] Interviewer: And uh, where were you born?
[00:00:54] Robert Khalifa: I was born uh, at home. We were living in Heliopolis which is a suburb of Cairo in Egypt.
[00:01:06] Interviewer: And we would like to thank you for participating in this project - Sephardi Voices. Can you tell us something about your family's background?
[00:01:19] Robert Khalifa: Well, yes actually until uh...1954 we had a pretty good life. I used to go, I went to uh...excuse me, École Abraham Betesh and uh we were, our house was exactly between the school and the synagogue and uh, [00:01:49] so...uh...when...my brothers were at school I could...from the balcony I could, [coughs] excuse me, I could hear him, the classes singing so I was uh, looking forward to going to school. Um...so, like I said, we had a pretty good life. We used to go every summer to Alexandria for a month, the month of August, and um...also uh...[00:02:32] Because I was born on the 17th and my father's birthday was on the 16th...yes uh, I was uh...more or less geared into following his steps, his life and uh, so uh, but a little bit open a bracket here to give you a little bit of an idea about our ancestry. [00:03:05] On my mother's side uh, it's British and Italian and on my father's side it's Moroccan and French. Uh, plus, of course, we had, I had an uncle who was from Turkey but we'll get to that later. So, as you can see, my background is really, sort of like United Nations. [00:03:31] Uh...this is uh, our ancestry my, my uncle I was saying uh, was from Turkey actually he was in the Turkish army during WWI and um he deserted the army, the Turkish army after he witnessed the, the, the horrible things that were done to the Armenians. [00:04:02] So [coughs] excuse me, he went from Turkey to Syria to Lebanon to Palestine, which was the name at the time, to Egypt where he met my aunt and uh, you know, became part of the family. Um...uh...[00:04:25] One thing, as I was saying to follow my father's footsteps was that uh, like we were pretty, pretty happy where we lived in our neighbourhood. My father was quite, quite popular and uh in the sense that if people had argument, neighbours had arguments they came to my father to solve it is a mediator or a judge or what have you. [00:04:52] And another thing, I also went with him for that is that in the Muslim religion a woman can divorce his wife by saying, "I divorce thee." three times in front of a witness and in our neighbourhood who was that constant witness? Was my father. [00:05:13] And, of course, I went with him and that's how I learned about...the, the Muslim religion and familiarize with and actually uh, one funny thing that comes back to me is that we had mezouzahs on our doors and uh, when the, the, the neighbours used to see us kissing it before leaving or were coming in the house or something...[00:05:43] they did not understand the meaning behind it. It was too complicated for them but they saw it as a talisman of good luck so uh...[00:05:57] When neighbours came to visit us or uh...borrow a cup of sugar or something they would come and they would kiss the mezouzah. So uh, even though they were not, you know, they were Muslims and they were Cops, Coptic uh...Christian Coptics and uh...so that was a funny thing that really I remember. [00:06:22] And, like I said, they used to say, as a matter of fact when we left years later they said, "Don't remove that, leave it here so for good luck for the building. You know, so, so that's how it was until 1954. And then as my mother put it uh...there was a gathering storm from '54 and on. [00:06:50] The storm was that uh, of course, there was uh...enmity with Israel at the time and even thought the entire neighbourhood knew that we were Jewish and, you know, they even told us, "Happy Holiday, Passover" what have you uh there was still that undercurrent of, of Jews against Arabs. [00:07:17] And uh, somehow or other uh, in 1954 the, one evening, the police came and arrested my father for being the, for being a Zionist uh admirer or Zionist...thinking or what have you. And uh...
[00:07:41] Interviewer: Was he?
[00:07:43] Robert Khalifa: Well, I mean, like, I mean, he was not like actively into Zionism but just like any Jew uh, he was happy that Israel was being built. And uh, and that's, that's as far as it goes but uh...at the time uh, they, I'm sure they asked for character references and what have you from the neighbourhood but then because my father was popular uh, he was released. [00:08:14] But it was one of those funny situations, a few days later, but it was one of those funny situations where you have good news, bad news uh thing because...[00:08:26] the good news, of course, was that he was released from jail but the bad news was that the officer who released him was attracted to my mother. And uh, he asked my mother point-blank to leave my father and marry him. And, of course, my mother who was very diplomatic could not give him a, tell, give him a blunt "No." [00:08:54] So she said, you know, "I'm flattered. Let me think about it. Its a surprise." What have you. And she stalled that officer until 1963 when we left. Every time he came uh, you know, he popped us, there were, phones were not exactly popular at the time so when you least expect it the door would, the doorbell would ring and he would be there coming to visit. [00:09:25] And she would, you know, serve him sweets an jams and what have you and stuff like that and, and uh he would be, you know, looking at her and wanting to know if she had made her decision. And of course she was saying, you know, the same thing flattered, waiting, thinking about it and stalled him and that, by itself, was a big feat. [00:09:50] And uh...as that storm was getting worse um…I had a cousin who was just like any young man, interested in various things and uh, he got involved in group which were uh, it was reported they were thinking about communism. And um, and my father knew that this was not, was abit no-no at the time and, but my cousin, of course, being young he, you know, he ignored him and he continued on.
[00:10:27] So what happened is that on the night of his wedding, after the ceremony, my cousin right after the ceremony was arrested, put in a prison in the desert for...sentenced for three years. And uh, very, very far in the desert a remote area and his newlywed wife could only go to see him once in a blue moon. [00:10:59] And a very short period of time and it was a long, long travel to get there. Uh...and then another thing happened in the summer of 1956. You see, my father was a uh, sales rep for a coal company in Egypt. And strangely enough in Egypt when they, for the railways. [00:11:26] When they placed orders it was not like you would imagine a large order for a certain period, they places a lot of small orders. So he had to go on a daily basis, travel, and because of that we never, I, we only saw him on weekends or late at night when he came home and he never took vacations. [00:11:48] So in the summer of 1956, August 1956, uh, when we were on vacation he would come see us on the weekends and on the...for the Shabbat.
[00:12:01] Interviewer: You mean Alexandria on the weekends?
[00:12:03] Robert Khalifa: On, on in August, in vacation.
[00:12:05] Interviewer: In Alexandria?
[00:12:07] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Every year in August we went to Alexandria for the beach and, you know. And uh, and he would come on the weekends, come on Friday night and leave on Monday morning. [00:12:19] And one weekend in August 1956 uh, he did not come. And uh, but later on uh, he called from somewhere and he said, he would explain later to my mother whet the reason for his not coming. [00:12:38] And then when we came during the week, the following week he explained to us that they had received a call from the police to go and get my uncle's body. [coughs] Excuse me. [00:12:56] Um...and uh, what happened is that my uncle actually uh, used to work in Ismalia on the Suez Canal which was a sort of...
[00:13:10] Interviewer: That's another uncle, not the one who....
[00:13:12] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no, that's another uncle, yes. Uh, he used to work on the, on the, the Ismalia on the Suez Canal which was sort of like a base for the British. And uh, every time we would ask our aunt, you know, "Where is he?" in the family reunions and gatherings and what have you, "Oh he's busy with officers." He was always busy with officers of the army. [00:13:40] And then...when...that summer of '56 when my father was called to get his body uh, he found out that my, that uncle had been a British agent working for the intelligence, British intelligence and that's why he was mingling with the Egyptian officers. [00:14:04] And what happened is that in one of those parties they simply poisoned him.
[00:14:09] Interviewer: Did they know? Did they realize he was...
[00:14:12] Robert Khalifa: I guess they realized, they realized that what he was really, why he was so...buddy-buddy with them an uh, they just poisoned him. Period. And the reason uh...how my father found is that he had, he knew many doctors and a doctor told him that when he went, when my father went to gather my uncle's body his body was three times its size. [00:14:42] And uh, the doctor told him that's a perfect uh...that's how a body become after it has been poisoned badly. So uh, and that was, like I said, in August 1956. We couldn't do much because, you know, you know, it's one of those things you just happen to know but you can't do anything about it. Of course, we consoled our aunt and what have you but uh, things were getting, you could tell in 1956 that there was some kind of undercurrent of uneasiness. [00:15:19] And then, of course uh, in uh, in uh October, October the 31st, 1956, actually it's the date of Halloween but in Egypt you don't know anything about Halloween and we were in the evening and uh, just like any evening and then all of a sudden uh we saw planes passing by. [00:15:51] It was the same way as when you see plane in the war movies of World War II, you see a whole bunch of planes passing by. And we were wondering what was going on. Maybe there's uh, activity with the army, what have you and next thing we knew they were a lot of flares were coming down from the planes and everybody was yelling, "Turn the lights off. Turn the lights off." and those flares were coming down like slowly balloons, like slow balloons. [00:16:20] And uh, that was the first wave of planes.
[00:16:24] And the second wave of planes was bombing the airport. We were like about a kilometre near the airport and uh...that's when you...you realize that, well, it's not that it's, when you, when you see, when you are...being bombed it's nothing that can be described. The closest you can describe it is, imagine taking your home theatre or your amplifier, putting it to the maximum and putting the base to the maximum. So...[00:17:01] And the bombs were coming down like "Dah-dah-dah-dah-dah." One after the other. And, you know, the house was shaking and everybody was screaming and afraid and, and we [laughs]...I remember we had [laughs] I'm sorry. Uh...we had a white cat...and the cat went on the draped like "this". you know, with the bombing, of course, I mean, that's how we also felt. [00:17:35] And then to , to make matters worse, like we were living uh, like I said, about a kilometre from the airport. The, the, uh, Cairo airport and uh...we were living on the fourth, the third floor and the third floor was the one before the, the roof. Now in Egypt the roofs are not like here, slanted, they're flat and you can go up there and sit there in the summer when it's for the nice breeze and what have you.
[00:18:09] So what happened during the bombing next thing we know, about half hour, an hour later we heard all sorts of banging on the stairs happening and we didn’t open the door. We didn't know. We just stayed quiet in the dark and...uh...then, of course, I don't know if it was my brother of my father, whoever cracked open to see and they were bringing canons upstairs. [00:18:36] So we thought, "Oh my god." You know, we closed the door and we, we left it at that and next thing we know what had happened is that they had brought anti-aircraft guns and put it on the roof, which was really above my parent's bedroom and the recoil from those guns is like, you know, every time they shot a thing at planes, you know, the, the "bang", you know, "Da-dang!" you know and so apart from the bombing you had this going. [00:19:05] So we were really in the middle of a battlefield. But one thing that scared us really is that we were afraid that because there was an antiaircraft gun on our roof the planes were gonna shoot back and, you know, when they shoot back they don't shoot the little calibre uh, bullets, they shoot with big ones. And we were afraid that it would come through into us, into our apartment. But, thank god, nothing happened and uh....[00:19:36] And uh...we stayed like that I'd say about a week and, believe me, it's one merry, very, very long time when you have about a week of, of, of bombing and uh, people screaming in the street and every few minutes you have to turn the lights off and stay in the dark. And uh, so that's, it was the situation and then...[00:20:02] A few days after that my school which was behind us was turned into a detention centre. They arrested all sorts of people uh, mainly those who were uh, British or French, because the British and the French were doing the, the, the bombing. And they put them in the school I used to go to, which was behind our house. [00:20:30] And what they did there were uh, they put guards, something like 20 guards, you know, the thing on the upstairs and on the roof of the school and what have you. And all through the night you could not really sleep because these guards, to show that they were present would yell their number," One! Two! Three!" You know, it goes all around until it comes to twenty and then they'd start again. "One! Two! Three!" You know. [00:21:00] So this way when they responded, in other words, nothing happened to the guard, they're still in their post. So uh, this was how it was so uh...we went, we pack a little bags of course and we went to uh, my uh aunt who was living downtown. That's the mother of my cousin who was arrested for being with the communists. [00:21:25] It's actually ironic because even though they arrested my cousin for...for being with, with a communist group Egypt itself was leaning towards the Soviet Union for help for weapons and what have you so it was like a little bit ironic, you know. we like you but we don't like you. You know.
[00:21:48] Uh so that's, that's how it was and then uh, all these events, obviously, excuse me, caused my...father[coughs] excuse me, caused my father to have a stroke. And uh, he was paralyzed on the right side and his speech was slurred and what have you. [00:22:16] The thing is that in Egypt you had, nobody had every, ever heard of such a thing as a stroke. When people were old they either died of old age or heart attack or what have you. But a stroke: what's that? [00:22:29] So we had all sorts of doctors who came to the house and uh, with all sorts of - plus medication which was like, lights [?] for things for, for pneumonia or for colds or whatever which was, of course, ineffective plus you add to that all the, the home remedies from the entire neighbourhood because everybody knew about it and uh...[00:22:57] So it was for a good year, I'd say a good year we were...mish-mash is the only way I can describe it, you know? We didn't know what was happening from one day to the next. Obviously my father, because he got his stroke he could not work and in Egypt there's not such thing as employment insurance. All you get was a, uh...[00:23:26] Some kind of compensation at the end and you live off of that. And uh, plus your saving if you have any and that's it. So it was very difficult financially and my mother, who had been a teacher, French teacher for many, many years before we were born went back...
[00:23:46] Interviewer: Alliance Française?
[00:23:47] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no, she was teacher in very, in various schools. And uh, so she had to go back to work. And I could not go back to my school because it was still a detention centre. But to my mother it was very important that my education not be affected. [coughs] Excuse me. So...
[00:24:09] Interviewer: May I ask you, the school, was it a public school? Was it a Jewish school?
[00:24:14] Robert Khalifa: It was a Jewish school.
[00:24:16] Interviewer: And it was taken as a [overlap]
[00:24:17] Robert Khalifa: Yes, oh yeah, it was taken over, bang, no question. Actually, the, the principal of the school had a small apartment on top of the school and we never heard what happened to him. So he just disappeared. the entire school became a detention centre. And uh, so, she went, my mother went back to school to teach because she was, he had so much experience she was easily hired. [00:24:44] And uh, I could not go back to my school, it was a detention centre so the next best thing was that uh, my mother registered me with the Jesuit brothers and uh...but they, I did not stay long there. I was only there for about a semester because they had a favourite uh...physical punishment was allowed at the time. [00:25:12] And one of their, one of their favourite physical punishments, and I got it a couple of times, was to, if you did a mistake or whatever, or misbehaved, they would grab you by the ears, lift you off the ground and hold you there for a minute and then let you go. And as you came down they would slap your face and don't you dare cry or, or make a face or something because then you get it again. [00:25:44] So, so, so uh, uh...my mother, of course, when I told that my mother she said, you know, "Try." Whatever but uh... I admit it, sometimes I deserved it. I was like, you know, like any kid, you know, I would try to get away with things.
[00:26:01] Interviewer: How old were you then?
[00:26:02] Robert Khalifa: I was uh...I was eleven. And uh, and uh but she pulled me out of there and another thing is that in the Jewish schools when you had non-Jewish students the teacher would send them to the schoolyard to play. Whereas with the Jesuit brothers it doesn't matter what religion you are, you have to learn catechism. [00:26:31] So I had to learn catechism and the sign of the cross and, and uh, pray on your knees and what have you. So I, I had like a second religion. And it was intensive, intensive teaching of that apart from the usual things that you learn. [00:26:50] And after that uh, when my mother pulled me out there was a Jewish school called uh, Communauté Israélite du Caire, which uh, my mother sent me there. But there, even though it was a Jewish school, there were uh, of course Muslim teachers to teach the Arabic. And they, in turn, insisted that you learn the Quran. [00:27:18] And uh, so I ended up, more or less, with three religions and uh, you know, so, so it was uh, and my father did not know that because he was extremely, extremely uh, not extremely religious but observant. But there was a funny thing that comes back to me now because he travelled a lot and he met Egyptian customers who invited him for, for a meal, there it is insulting to say, "No, no, no thank you." You have to eat it. [00:27:52] And because also they were clients. So he would, he was, eating many times non-kosher foods. And the night he was arrested in 1954, it's funny now but then it wasn't funny. He came home with a package of mortadella and my mother said, "Why you bringing stuff like that in the house? What have you...?" Stuff like this. A little later, he was arrested, the same evening so when the police left with my father my mother took that package and threw it in the garbage. [00:28:27] [laughs] And uh, I was affected at the time because I was like, eight years old and I said, "Wow, you make uh, you eat non-kosher food, boy, see what happens?" You know, they arrest you. So I was affected by that. And, cause she took and she threw it in the garbage. She said, "You see what happens when you bring non-kosher food?"
[00:28:53] You know, so, you know, for an eight year old kid, you know, like whoa. It's like lightning striking, you know. But uh, anyway uh back to my uh, education there uh, at the École Communauté Israélite du Caire. I uh, I did my courses to the middle, middle school then because I was, my grades were all in the high 90's my mother insisted that I uh...I was accepted in the special course which is called Alliance Française de Paris. [00:29:36] That course apart from being into really the French language, by the sense that you learned Greek, then you learned Latin then you learned French before. That was one part of the course. The other part was preparing you to be, how to behave uh, when you grow up and you be in business. [00:30:00] Buy that you learn the customs of many, many, countries so, so you learn how to eat with chopsticks, how to, how to...in other words when you grow up when you will be in company of Chinese people or Japanese people you would know how to behave. And is what is sometimes referred to as étiquette, you know, all how to behave and what have you. [00:30:26] As a matter of fact, the exam at the Alliance Française, you were sitting in front of uh, the boys had to wear a white shirt with a red tie, the girls had to wear a white blouse, full makeup for the girls and you were sitting in front of a plate of chicken and you had to eat properly and the teacher went back between the tables and came and stopped and asked you a question like on history or geography or something. [00:31:01] And you had to answer and not go, not have, not stopping because your mouth is full. So you had to eat small bites and behave, you know, like super etiquette, you know? And thank god I, I passed, I had an honourable mention so it was like, one of the top grades in there and uh...[00:31:27] From there I went to, for my secondary to the Lycée Français de Caire. Lycée Français du Caire was a little bit, again, of a strange situation because in the morning while I was learning 16th century French literature, Montaigne and what have you, in the afternoon it was military service. [00:31:53] Military service in the sense that we had the full military uniform and...
[00:32:01] Interviewer: How old were you now?
[00:32:02] Robert Khalifa: I was...16, no, no, no by then I was 16. And uh, we had uh all sorts of military training uh...by, by you know, with, the thing is...when I was young for my neighbourhood, I was the guy, the boy who had all the guns, the rifles, the pistols because in the late 50's, early 60's kids played you know, cowboys and Indians uh, war, pirates, whatever. [00:32:40] I'm the guy who had all sorts of swords and knifes and rifles and what have you so when I got to the Lycée Français and they said, "It's military service now." I said, "Wow, I'm gonna have real guns, I'm gonna play with really guns, you know? And uh, I was really good at it if I may say so. And I was so good that, of course there was jealousy what have you and in one of the, one of the training uh, to, to shoot it was, we used, we had uh....[00:33:13] The rifle was the Lee Enfield 303 uh...they did, they would just shot at targets but they never showed you how to shoot and one of the kids just held the gun like this, whatever and shot, shot me in the leg. And uh, I took it like, hey, I'm a real soldier now, I got wounded but I did not see that until sometime later...
[00:33:42] Interviewer: They guy who did that, was he Jewish?
[00:33:45] Robert Khalifa: Well he was a student, just like me.
[00:33:47] Interviewer: You were all Jewish in that school?
[00:33:48] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no, no we had, we were like, I'd say uh...40% Jewish, the rest mix of Muslims and uh, Cops.
[00:34:02] Interviewer: And the guy who did it was what?
[00:34:05] Robert Khalifa: Uh...I don't remember honestly. Honestly. But it not like, he didn't do it to shoot me, he did it by accident. He didn't know how to whatever and he shot an I Was in the way so, but...I had a very, very icy cold shower a little bit later that year because...like I said, I was really putting myself in everything I did to be A-1. Not just A. Triple-A1, you know? [00:34:35] And in the military service I was very proud to have a uniform and what have you and...and, so I was really good and the officer promised me that I would be promoted to a sergeant and to me it was like, Whoa, you can't ask for more than that. [00:34:56] And uh, but then later on one day I was passing by his office and I heard him talking to another officer telling him, "You know we got a Jews here, we’re training them and they're gonna fight against Israel." And that was, like I said, and icy cold shower. I had never thought, I had never put two and two together. It was, to me, I was uh...
[00:35:24] Interviewer: Who told you that again?
[00:35:25] Robert Khalifa: The officer was telling another officer in his office. And I overheard that conversation and he said, you know, you know what kind of propaganda you and I are gonna have? We train not regular soldiers, we train Jews to fight Israel.
[00:35:40] And uh, and the guy said, "Wow, you're really good." You know? And uh, he was talking about me, that he was gonna promote me as sergeant and what have you and immaturity, my immaturity at the time went down the drain.
[00:35:57] Interviewer: Ok so you got a cold shower.
-[00:36:00] Robert Khalifa: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yes. So uh, so that’s when I realized that it was not a game, it was, there was a whole plan behind it. And that is when uh, that was in the summer of '63. Sorry, the spring of '63 and we were planning to leave and we had had a uh, reprieve if you want because of my father's condition. You know, he could barely - to walk he needed help, his right side was paralyzed, he could barely talk and uh, and I guess, again they must have, we must have had some good words or something from the neighbourhood to , to keep us there to let us stay a little bit longer. [00:36:52] Because in 1957, a few months after the bombing that took place, the Suez crisis, all our relatives left, had to leave. And...
[00:37:09] Interviewer: Sorry, what do you mean by "had to leave"?
[00:37:11] Robert Khalifa: Well they were expelled. They were expelled. My aunt who was the wife of the uncle who was an agent, she had a British passport and...she was given something like 48 hours to leave the country and uh, and my, her sisters and like, our aunts and cousins and uncle also felt their turn was coming so they didn't wait for that. They left. [00:37:37] The thing is that when you left and you had a company, you had a business, you had what have you, that belonged automatically became the property of Egypt. You could only leave with 300 Egyptian pounds which, at the time, was worth like, about 100 dollars Canadian or American. [00:37:56] And uh, you could not take a lot of valuables with you. Like, what is valuable was really dependent on the, on the officer at the customs on his mood. There were no written rules. So uh, because they left before us everything that uh, was not acceptable to be taken with them was sent back to us. We were the only relatives left. So after our aunts and uncles left we ha all sorts of dishes and crystal wear and Persian carpets and stuff like that that came to us. And uh...
[00:38:46] Interviewer: Jewellery?
[00:38:47] Robert Khalifa: Uh, no they didn't have much jewellery. It's strange now that you mention it. There wasn't much jewellery but it was mostly house wears. And uh, I mean, you know, like, ceramic plates, paintings, what have you, oh no, no, no, everything came back to us. [00:39:06] So apart from the fact that we had our own things, ourselves in our house, you know, we had all these things coming and uh, and uh, so back to what I was saying...I became very, very disenchanted with the military service because I had to put on a show. Pretend I'm still good. I didn't want to change, I didn't want to raise suspicion by being not as good as I used to be. [00:39:35] I continued to be good and uh, and the officer came to me the day before the diplomas were given out at the end of the...because at the end of the school year all the students would go in the school yard with a big tent and they would call each student and give him his diploma and what have you. [00:39:56] And he told me that at that event he was gonna promote me to be a sergeant. And uh, because I had worked very hard to be at that stage, you know, I was, I was doing everything that needed to be done uh, that the officer wanted us to do. I did it 100%. Not 99%, so I really deserved it even though I said, "Do I really want it?" [00:40:22] You know so uh, that summer of June '63, when the diplomas were given out and I got my uh, high school leaving I was waiting in turn for the officer. So he came uh, he said everybody was good and Robert Khalifa this and that and what have you and uh, that's it. And I was waiting like...hey, where's my promotion?[00:40:50] And uh, "Thank you, have a nice summer." And they closed down and that's it. So went to the principal and I asked, "I was promised this. Why didn't I get it?" And he said, "Did you look at your diploma?" and I said, "Yes." He said, "Because you see, in Egypt, on any official document, you have name, address, phone number and religion, and he said, look at the religion." I said, "I know. I'm Jewish." He goes, "And you want to an Officer in the Egyptian army?" I said, "But it was promised me, then I said, oh I know." You know, like this. [00:41:31] So, I...I guess he was overruled or something uh, because uh, I heard later on that that officer was transferred somewhere else. But uh, that was what happened and then in August '63 we uh, we left Egypt through Alexandria and uh, but it was really...[00:42:05] Hard to leave. Because, excuse me, uh...all the neighbours were saying like, "But you're not really Israeli, you're us. You're like us. You're Egyptians." You know? And uh, hug and kiss and what have you. But then the evening where we said we're going by cab to the train station with our bags uh...[00:42:35] My mother took our cat and gave it to the neighbour who like her. She was a big, big furry white cat, beautiful, beautiful an uh, so the neighbour asked her, why you bring her out? So my mother said, "Well, we're leaving tonight." And the minutes she practically finished her sentence it was like vultures coming. All the neighbours.
[00:43:00] Uh, "Can you give me this? Can you give me that? I like that couch. I like that..." We had a living uh, dining room set, handmade living, uh, sorry, handmade dining room set with beautiful, beautiful, you know with credenza and what have you and hutches and all sorts of crystal-wear. [00:43:23] And they were grabbing at it, you know, and we, while we were leaving. They were grabbing at things and uh, "Oh can I have that bed? Can I have this table? Can I..." You know it's like, oh my god, you know, it's like, give us a chance to leave and then do what you want you know? [00:43:40] But the, the, the uh...the friendship was there and the hugging and kissing and goodbyes were there but also the greed of, "Hey, you got a nice thing. I'm gonna take it." You know? So that, that, that felt bad and uh...but this is uh, we had to leave, of course, you know, uh...[00:44:04] Even though it was hard financially we had, we had some, some uh...valuables, we had some savings. We had things and, and uh we did not even try to take any savings with us because there were some - because you weren't allowed first of all. You were only allowed 300 Egyptian pounds, that's it. [00:44:28] And you uh, and uh...
[00:44:32] Interviewer: Per person or family?
[00:44:34] Robert Khalifa: Per person, per person so 100 dollars, you know, you can’t do much with it and uh, and we did not try anything funny because some people tried to put...tried to put uh, uh transfer, buy gold coins and put them in the corners of case, of big, heavy case, wooden cases but then the thing would be too heavy and some of those cases broke for some people and they were not allowed to leave the country, they were put in jail. [00:45:05] So we did not want to take a chance and we said...we'll start a new life from scratch. And yes, we left a lot of valuables there and uh...but I took my guitar with me. It was actually, it was actually, I was, the officer did me, did me a favour. He said, "Show me that you can play. There's no money hidden in there." I said, "You can't play if, you can't play guitar if there's money hidden in it." [00:45:36] So I had to strum the guitar, he said okay, it's a real guitar, take it with you, you know. But, but car, carpet, we left carpet, Persian carpets. We have like, very, very expensive stuff and uh, and we came to Canada.
[00:45:54] Interviewer: Why didn't you sell the carpets before you left?
[00:45:57] Robert Khalifa: Because if you try to sell it, you're not Egyptian. So obviously it means you're gonna leave the country. So in other words you have no choice. You have to sell at any price. And my mother, at that time decided that instead of selling it for a couple of dollars, for next to nothing, leave it and let somebody enjoy it and that’s it, you know? [00:46:24] You couldn't take it because even if you sold it, you couldn't take the money with you. And we left, we left all the, the, the money in the bank and what have you. All the saving, whatever we had, everything was left and uh...we, we were uh, and, funny as it sounds now, it's coming back to me like a lot of people said, "Oh I was on the ship and as it was leaving I was looking and saying I'm not going to be coming back" what have you. [00:46:52] But I was on the ship too and as soon as it's leaving I was seasick, I was...I couldn't even see, I couldn’t even see the, the, the...Alexandria wharf going away or what have you. I couldn't see that. I was like, "Ugh." I was really seasick. So um, but that was, that was uh how we left Egypt. And uh, thank god we came here and uh, like we went to Piraeus in Greece. [00:47:28] We went to Milan in Italy and uh...in Italy we couldn't understand anything because we had to go to the post office and every time we asked somebody, "Post office? Posta?" You know, "[Italian gibberish]" they tell you and you're, "Huh?" And then you figure okay, thank you. You ask somebody else and they go "[Italian gibberish]" Oh my god. You couldn't understand. [00:47:54] I mean, I spoke a little bit of Italian at the time but I don't know what kind of accent they had in Milan. I couldn't understand a word. Then we went to.., Marseilles where we uh...where we, we, we took the train to go to Paris to stay with my cousin for a couple of days. And then we took the plane to, to Montreal, here. [00:48:19] But in Marseilles was something, you know, I mean when we landed off, uh, when we got there, there was, near the wharf there was a bakery and it was making baguettes and you could just die the smell of the fresh baguettes. Oh my god, you know. [00:48:36] So I said, I'm gonna go and get them and uh, I got a couple of baguettes for us, we were sitting outside and I got some, some cheese, I don't know what it was. It was smelling but it was tasting good. And then I asked the guy uh..."Est-ce que vous pouvez me reccomander une bouteille de vin qui va avec ça?" Et lui qui commence qui dit, "Si vous pensez que je vais vous donner cours dans le vin c'est pas. Vous prenez ce que vous voulez et vous sortez ok?" [00:49:05] So that's when I realized where the rudeness of the Marseillais comes, you know. So, so that's it we, in France, in Paris we could not, we went to see some sights but the, unfortunately the Eiffel Tower was green at the time, was not, you know, from corrosion I guess. [00:49:28] And uh, and sorry, and after that we landed in Shannon in Ireland.
[00:49:33] Interviewer: So this is all in the boat? They are stopping the boat?
[00:49:37] Robert Khalifa: Yes.
[00:49:38] Interviewer: Each of the, so it wasn't as though you were staying in hotels or...
[00:49:41] Robert Khalifa: Oh no, no, no, no, no. We slept in the boat.
[00:49:43] Interviewer: Yes.
[00:49:44] Robert Khalifa: And uh...
[00:49:44] Interviewer: Like a cruise coming over.
[00:49:46] Robert Khalifa: Well, sort of a cruise. If you put it this way but uh the funny thing is that uh, because I'm more forward than my brothers and the rest of my family I guess I would uh, they would serve us meals on the boat and uh, but sometimes I ate fast and I was ready to ....you know so, and of course in a boat, you know, it's like, heh, heh, heh, heh, you don't know which way is out. [00:50:16] And uh, never mind finding a bathroom, never mind things you know. So I figure I'll go and so uh, I went once to a guy to uh, some officer on the boat and he was nicely having his meal with a bottle of wine, whatever and I come up...[gestures wildly] [00:50:37] So he was...saying to me, you know like, so I was mostly seasick until it was between Milan and Marseilles that's when I got my, my...sea legs as they put them, I don't know, I guess the expression is. And uh, but uh we were all like just lying in bed all the time in the boat and that was, that was our trip. [00:51:03] But many, many times uh, but to show you the relationship I had uh, a few years ago a student who was with me in the Lycée Français found me through, I don't know how he found me. He wrote to me and he writes to me regularly and he sends me pictures of Egypt and he's constantly inviting me to go visit there and he said, "Our hose is open for you." What have you. [00:51:36] And uh, and he was also in touch with other students who were with us.
[00:51:41] Interviewer: Is that a Muslim?
[00:51:43] Robert Khalifa: Uh, no, he was Coptic. Yeah, Copt. And like I said, constantly inviting me and writing me and we wish each other, you know, happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, what have you. And we're, we're very close but just...on the internet. [00:52:04] And uh, I was asked many times if I would like to go back to Egypt and uh, I have very mixed feelings. Honestly. Yes, I would like to go there to see what happened to, to, I mean, it's been...it's been uh, close to 60 years now. And I'm sure changes have taken place. I would like to see what's what and go where we used to live. [00:52:32] But uh, but uh...from the, the, the, I meet a lot of Egyptians in Montreal here and a lot of them tell me, you know, how things are and it's not what it used to be. I also was looking forward uh, when, when, when Israel made peace with Egypt that it would be the same as between Germany and the rest of Europe [00:53:27] Robert Khalifa: e after World War II. [00:53:04] Everybody, you know, get together and la-la-la-la. And but it's unfortunately, this is not the case and uh, so I have very, very mixed feelings about going back and uh it was, be leaning more on the "No" than the "Yes". And uh...that's...that's my story.
[00:53:27] Interviewer: Okay, I've got some questions to ask you.
[00:53:30] Robert Khalifa: Sure. Sure, yes.
[00:53:35] Interviewer: Um...can you tell us something about your grandparents? Do you have any memories of them?
[00:53:41] Robert Khalifa: No, unfortunately I did not know my grandparents at all. Only what my mother told me. Uh, briefly...
[00:53:52] Interviewer: Where were they born?
[00:53:54] Robert Khalifa: Uh...I don't know to tell you the truth. I know, like I said, on, like, on my mother's side uh, her maiden name, her maiden name was, the family name was Tortel [sp?]. That's the Italian side and it's short for Tortellini or Tortelli. [00:54:15] So they called it Tortel uh...on my father's side uh...my brother, through ancestry or what have you, found out that, because he was originally from Morocco, their original name was Abhornick [sp?] in Morocco but to blend in with the other people they changed it to Khalifa. [00:54:43] And before they moved to Egypt and uh, the...British part I'm not too sure where it comes from uh...neither the French side because my uh, my, the mother of my cousin who was arrested for being a communist uh, he was taken from the prison to the boat and off he goes because he had a, his mother had a French passport. [00:55:16] And I don't know how they got that French passport.
[00:55:18] Interviewer: What about his wife?
[00:55:20] Robert Khalifa: Well, yeah, his wife was, of course, it's included but uh, you know, but like I said everybody was crying for him because it was the night of, after the reception, in the middle of the reception. They arrested him, you know, like, you know so it was a very, very sad thing and uh, anyway, that's what happened yeah.
[00:55:46] Interviewer: Okay your parents were born in Egypt?
[00:55:49] Robert Khalifa: My mother was born in Cairo, my father was born in uh...uh...Tanta, which is in the, in the, in the Delta in Egypt, you know, in the country. Uh, yeah that's...that's where they were born.
[00:56:09] Interviewer: Okay now uh, how did your parents met? How did they get married?
[00:56:13] Robert Khalifa: [overlap] My parents contrary to a lot of what happens here were first cousins. And in Egypt a lot of first cousins married. Actually, some of my cousins married...each other and my father and my mother were cousins, were first cousins. And uh...so uh...I, like I said earlier I tried to follow the footsteps of my father and uh, he was...called because his name was Richard. [00:56:55] They called him Richard the Lionhearted just like King Arthur. And uh, and he was like, uh...a person everybody and his brother and sister knew him in our neighbourhood. The same as now, well, I cannot compare, I'm quite known in my neighbourhood in NDG.
[00:57:18] Interviewer: And you married your first cousin too?
[00:57:21] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no, no. No, no, no. We didn't we only, we didn't have any cousins here they're all in Israel and France.
[00:57:31] Interviewer: And uh, okay and he, your mom's name was?
[00:57:37] Robert Khalifa: Tortel.
[00:57:38] Interviewer: Tortel. Her first name.
[00:57:39] Robert Khalifa: Iris.
[00:57:40] Interviewer: Iris.
[00:57:41] Robert Khalifa: Yeah.
[00:57:42] Interviewer: And she was born in Cairo.
[00:57:44] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Yes.
[00:57:46] Interviewer: Her maiden name was Tortel. And how old was she when she got married?
[00:57:53] Robert Khalifa: Ooh, no.
[00:57:54] Interviewer: You don't know.
[00:57:56] Robert Khalifa: Uh...well my oldest brother was born in '36 so I guess...34, 35? I'm just guessing it's not uh...
[00:58:08] Interviewer: Okay. Now uh, tell me about your brothers and sister. How many were you?
[00:58:15] Robert Khalifa: I have two brothers, I have, uh Eli or Eli uh who is in Montreal. Uh, when I was going to school and, and Lycée and what have you, he was in the school called Leonardo da Vinci. He was learning to be a draftsman. And my other brother uh, well Eli was married , he is divorced. [00:58:46] Uh, he has a son who got married and who is living in LA. Uh my other brother Fernand, we call him Nando for short. And uh, he is married. He is living in Montreal.
[00:59:03] Interviewer: And he's a younger brother?
[00:59:05] Robert Khalifa: No, no, I'm the baby.
[00:59:07] Interviewer: You're the baby.
[00:59:07] Robert Khalifa: Yeah. And so Fernand is the second brother and he's the middle and uh he's married, he's living in uh, St-Laurent in Montreal. And he has a daughter who got married and a son who is, who was married and got divorced.
[00:59:28] Interviewer: Now the language, what languages did you speak at home in Cairo?
[00:59:33] Robert Khalifa: In Cairo we spoke uh, French and Arabic with the, because uh, mostly French but also uh, Arabic in Egypt the peasants from the country would come knock on your door and tell you, take my son or take my daughter to learn to be a maid uh, don't pay her anything, just give her some food, whatever. [01:00:05] So obviously, to, to communicate with her or him we, we spoke Arabic obviously. And uh, and also the neighbourhood, you know, so, so uh...and in school, you know, when you were with, many times it was a combination of uh, some people were more French than Arabic so depending on who you're talking with but that's how we communicated. [01:00:33] English was like nothing, nothing, nothing uh, you know, like when I came to Canada I went to register in Northmount High School and uh...
[01:00:43] Interviewer: How old were you then?
[01:00:44] Robert Khalifa: I was uh...17? Yeah, 17. And I did not know how to say, "Where do I register?" I wrote, I, kids were outside I said, where do I write my name? And they said, "On the wall." You know? So, you know so...so I had a very, very hard uh, I went to grade ten because I had to...
[01:01:09] Interviewer: Go back.
[01:01:09] Robert Khalifa: Go back a little bit and uh, it was a very hard year because one teacher was from Scotland with a very strong English accent. Another one was Irish with his own accent and the French teacher was very strong, was from Gaspé or something. He had a very, very strong accent in French. [01:01:36] So I could not understand any teachers plus there was a funny situation that comes back to me now is that in Egypt everybody is right handed. And uh, there is no such thing as left-handed. So in my first day in school I see the guy behind me and the guy next to me are writing with their left hand. [01:01:56] So I said, "Don't do it. Teacher is gonna see you." and they look at me like I'm crazy. And I said, "Don't write with your left hand." And they look at me and they say, "Is he crazy this guy?" And then uh, they ignored me and they continued writing with their left hand. So anyway, I finished my assignment and I went to give it to the teacher and the teacher himself was left-handed. [01:02:18] So...so you know, if was one of those funny situations.
[01:02:23] Interviewer: What happened if you wrote with the left hand in Egypt? They hit you?
[01:02:28] Robert Khalifa: Well they had a big wooden stick, wooden ruler with a metal edge. You know. Or put your hand out, ten times [hitting noise] and then don't you cry. Don't you anything. You go...you sit like this, you know, because your hand will be killing you and uh, and they did not go like this, they went like "Yow! Yow!" You know, almost like a whip except with a, with a wooden ruler with a metal edge. [01:03:00] So that's why, you know, I was afraid for my, my friends but, you know.
[01:03:08] Interviewer: Okay so just, the schooling, just to summarize. When you, your first school was a Jewish uh private school?
[01:03:17] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no. There was no such things as private school. They're uh, the Jewish school.
[01:03:24] Interviewer: Jewish school like [overlap]
[01:03:25] Robert Khalifa: Yeah, yeah, I mean...
[01:03:27] Interviewer: But it was done by the community, the Jewish community.
[01:03:31] Robert Khalifa: No. No, no, no. I never understood. All you had to do, you had to buy your books but I don't know who or how the teachers were paid uh...the school paid them but how the school had it's finances I never, I never understood and uh....[01:03:53] But it wasn't a private school. There was no tuition to pay or something. No. No.
[01:03:58] Interviewer: It must have been the Jewish community in Egypt.
[01:04:02] Robert Khalifa: I suppose so. I suppose so. But uh, because certain things like, in Egypt you don't talk about, you don't discuss like, for example, you never, never ask uh, someone, a lady how old you are or something. There's no...[01:04:20] When I came here in school they asked me, "How old is your mother?" I said, I don't know. And, and, they said, "How you don't know how old your mother is?" No, we don't talk about things like that, you know. So it's, customs was a big change in, in customs. [01:04:36] Another funny thing that comes back to me, if you don't mind my saying. [coughs] Excuse me. Is that in uh, in Egypt uh, you have of course a period of gym. You go, you do it, you play ball, whatever and then you go back to the next period. [01:04:56] In Northmount here the kids, the students go take a shower before going to the next period and uh [coughs] excuse me. So I had this uh, Egyptians friend who came about roughly the same time but was in my class in Northmount and uh, you know, we, after the gym we saw everybody undressing completely and going to take showers and we had never done that in public. [01:05:32] Take a shower in public? No, no, no. You know, so what we did is...we took, we took showers with our underwear on and like a, like a, like a bathing suit supposedly and then we had like, two minutes to get dressed and go back the next period. So obviously, our underwear was wet so we were walking to school in our, and our pants were dripping from water after a shower. [01:06:01] So this is some of the...things we had to get accustomed to.
[01:06:06] Interviewer: You must have done it only once.
[01:06:09] Robert Khalifa: Two, I guess, I'd say two times because I just couldn't, it was very difficult for me to undress completely in front of strangers and take showers and like, uh, again, You never do things like that in Egypt. You, you...you know. But one thing I really appreciated was that there was no physical punishment here. [01:06:33] And uh, I uh, had my good time. Yes, I had detention in high school but it was more like uh, "Oh he did it again." How many did you get? I got two detentions. Oh I got three, you know and then, so...but it was, like I said, it was one of the best times I had and then from there I went to uh...to Sir George Williams and uh, I learned uh, business administration and uh, [01:07:00] In my professional life I continued, I continued my, my wanting to be the best at all. So in my professional life uh, whatever positions I had I was, a very short while later I became director or manager or what have you. Because I really put myself body and soul into what I was doing and uh...[01:07:27] And I was like that, you know, executive director, manager uh, very respected and very, very loved and uh, when all the head departments, even when I had stores people from other places asked to be transferred to mine because I was not uh, I was like big brother for them. I was not uh, like, you know, as strict as other managers and uh, so that's my life. [01:07:58] And then I...uh, in 2006 I retired.
[01:08:06] Interviewer: Okay uh, just as I said I wanted to go back to the schools for a minute. You went to a Jewish school first then-
[01:08:13] Robert Khalifa: The Jewish school...
[01:08:14] Interviewer: [overlap] detention place.
[01:08:17] Robert Khalifa: Which became a detention place. Then I went to the Jesuit brothers...
[01:08:23] Interviewer: Yes.
[01:08:23] Robert Khalifa: And I was there for uh, I'd say a whole semester.
[01:08:29] Interviewer: Yes.
[01:08:29] Robert Khalifa: And then I went to the École de la Communauté Israélite du Caire where I got my middle diploma. And I started my Alliance Française de Paris and I went after that to the Lycée Français where I finished my Alliance Française and did my military service.
[01:08:51] Interviewer: Okay. The military service in Egypt you did.
[01:08:54] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yes. In the Egyptian army.
[01:08:57] Interviewer: Do you have any memories of the food that your parents, your mom made or had at home.
[01:09:03] Robert Khalifa: It's funny that you mention that because, because my mother, like we absolutely never, never went to restaurants in Egypt. Even though there were a lot of restaurant. My father did because, you know, of his bus- of work but my mother cooked everything and I don't know if it was her Italian background or what but in turn I uh, I love cooking right now.[01:09:31] And I take over the kitchen and I cook all sorts of meals and uh, I enjoy cooking but as far as foods are concerned uh...I uh...
[01:09:47] Interviewer: What was it? Italian food?
[01:09:49] Robert Khalifa: No, no, it's most - a lot of it is vegetarian uh because meat was not that low-priced and like, we had mostly uh, vegetarian or fish during the week.
[01:10:08] Interviewer: Vegetarian like what? Like stuffed koosa?
[01:10:12] Robert Khalifa: Well we had like uh, what do you call it? uh...zucchini, stuffed zucchini uh, beans, uh...
[01:10:22] Interviewer: Stuffed with no meat? Rice?
[01:10:26] Robert Khalifa: With rice and a little bit of meat. You know, a little bit of meat uh, we had the, the, the...what is called the ful medamus which is kidney beans uh, and all sorts of salads. On the, on the Shabbat we had uh, chicken and uh...
[01:10:50] Interviewer: Dafina style?
[01:10:52] Robert Khalifa: I'm sorry?
[01:10:52] Interviewer: Dafina style?
[01:10:54] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no, no, no. No. Uh, my mother made the chicken and like, roast chicken and we had that with uh...with side dishes. But uh, it was not, no , no. We never actually heard of dafina until we came here and met, met Moroccan people. Uh...and uh...
[01:11:17] Interviewer: You didn't have a special Shabbat meal that you would cook overnight?
[01:11:20] Robert Khalifa: No, no, my mother like...
[01:11:22] Interviewer: [overlap] In Egypt it didn't exist?
[01:11:24] Robert Khalifa: No, no it didn't be - like, like the stoves were with propane and they guy would come once every couple of weeks with - big, huge propane tank and uh, used to be called butagaz [sp?] and uh, we had stoves with petroleum so we left the one with petroleum on the whole Friday and Saturday at low and warmed things on them. [01:11:53] So what we did actually is that on Saturday I used to go to the...synagogue with my uh, father and then when we came home, had a little snack and then I would go downtown with my mother in Cairo, shopped around while the meal was on that low heat. So when we cam home around 2, 3 o'clock by then it was warm we ate our lunch.
[01:12:20] Interviewer: Which is usually chicken?
[01:12:21] Robert Khalifa: Well, chicken....yeah. Chicken and side dishes like uh, various string beans and what have you and stuff like that. And uh yeah. And of course, in the spring we had, there's a holiday that's called Sham El-Nessim, which literally means uh....smelling the breeze. And smelling the breeze on, on usually happens around Passover. [01:12:50] And on that day uh, everybody buys um smoked herring and smoked fish and gives you breath that can kill a horse but uh, you have that, you eat that with green onions and then uh, everybody goes, all the kids go with uh...they call them bombs but it's little uh...They're like crackers. You know, you throw them at people and they come, lands near them, Pff, you know, like little, little, little bombs. [01:13:25] That is a very, very popular holiday.
[01:13:28] Interviewer: In all of Egypt?
[01:13:29] Robert Khalifa: In all of - oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.
[01:13:32] Interviewer: And the Shem Al-Nessim uh, the, the fish was for everybody?
[01:13:38] Robert Khalifa: [overlap] Yes, yes. Oh yeah, it's an Egyptian thing. Oh yeah, you used to go and buy those big fish uh, and just opening the package, oooh, very, very strong smell. But it was delicious but, you know, like I said, it gives you a breath for a couple of days that you couldn't get rid of. And uh...no, go ahead.
[01:13:59] Interviewer: So you had a synagogue.
[01:14:01] Robert Khalifa: Yes.
[01:14:01] Interviewer: That you went to and uh...
[01:14:03] Robert Khalifa: Actually, sorry to interrupt you uh, in the, in the École de la Communauté Israélite I learned about my, about uh, prayers and what have you and I, in 1959 I did my bar mitzvah. But contrary to Montreal in Egypt the bar mitzvahs take place only on Purim. On Purim, everybody gets their uh, bar mitzvah and it is not, very, very few people, or maybe those really, really well off can do it on their own but apart from that...[01:14:40] So what you do is that, that day, on Purim uh, each bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah goes up in front of the whole uh...the whole community...
[01:14:58] Interviewer: [overlap] Synagogue...
[01:14:58] Robert Khalifa: Yeah, yes, and they would make a speech like, you know, recite the Ten Commandments or this or that, whatever and uh, that's where I learned to speak in public because a lot of kids were like...afraid and whatever and, and that's where I learned.
[01:15:19] Interviewer: Did you have to do an actual, the teffelin and [overlap]
[01:15:23] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yes, yes...
[01:15:24] Interviewer: Read from the...
[01:15:26] Robert Khalifa: No, no, not read from the Torah. That is something that is done here. There they, there they we didn't do that. As long as you did your daily prayer, you left the reading of the Torah and whatever for the Rabbis on the weekend. Nobody learned how to read uh, you know, like it's done here. It is not, it is not as long as you knew, did your prayer. [01:15:49] Because um...Jewish people in Egypt were not, were observant but not ultra-religious as you have here. Uh...
[01:16:02] Interviewer: But you were kosher.
ç[01:16:04] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yeah, we were kosher. You know, uh, it isn't like uh, I never saw anybody like here when we saw people with their black clothes and whatever, we never even knew they were Jewish. We thought they were strange you know? And somebody told us, "Oh not, that's how they are from Russia, from Eastern Europe." We didn't, there's nothing like that that you dress the same as anybody else, you, you, you know uh, there's no papayas or whatever it's called and uh...You know so like I said, it's uh...
[01:16:35] Interviewer: And, obviously the dress was European.
[01:16:38] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Yes. Yes, yes, everybody, at the time Egyptian people and, and, and hat is referred to us as foreign even though we were born there, everybody wore, wore European clothes, you know. Nobody wore, like you have now with the...uh, whatever the black veil or whatever, you know. [01:17:02] It was very, very rare. Only in the country and, you know, in backward peasants, whatever. People wore that but apart from that and uh, and we had, you know, like we had parties and gatherings uh, every, you know, on weekends and, and we danced the twist and stuff like that. And, you know...
[01:17:23] Interviewer: our parents had dancing parties?
[01:17:27] Robert Khalifa: My parents no because my mother tried to control me. But by keeping me, you know...
[01:17:34] Interviewer: But did they not have dancing parties themselves?
[01:17:37] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no. They, it was only in weddings and stuff like that. But the...
[01:17:42] Interviewer: So they did dance at weddings.
[01:17:44] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yes, yes. Oh I'm sorry, [overlap] I'm sorry, yes, yes. I'm sorry, I meant, I didn't understand, yes. In weddings and, and celebrations yes but uh, there was no such thing as "So and so is having a party just to have a party." No. IT was only the young ones like us and uh....
[01:18:05] Interviewer: Do you remember anything about Passover?
[01:18:08] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Passover we used to, we had a very strange thing in Passover. In the kitchen where the...the ceiling would be a little bit higher than here. There was a level in the kitchen like a second uh, ceiling uh, which gave you a sec [?] to...I don't know what you would call it. Uh...[01:18:38] Like you had a, a second ceiling in the - you have the kitchen and in, in there for storage you would put the hummus things and bring back, and bring down the ones for Passover.
[01:18:52] Interviewer: You used separate dishes?
[01:18:54] Robert Khalifa: Yes, oh yes. And uh, and uh there is...
[01:18:59] Interviewer: Everybody had this...ceiling?
[01:19:01] Robert Khalifa: [overlap] I don't know about the others. We had that.
[01:19:03] Interviewer: In your house.
[01:19:05] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Uh and, and, like you know, before Passover starts there is a section where, a section, there is a point where the man of the house goes with a candle supposedly looking for all the chametz and what have you. And uh...
[01:19:21] Interviewer: He actually did that.
[01:19:22] Robert Khalifa: Yes. My father did that but the funny thing here is that sometimes my mother would be in the middle of an argument with him, for whatever reason, you know, husband and wife, and what she would do is go and throw pieces of bread other places, you know, so he would go against, "Did you check that?" He goes, "Oh I just checked it." you know.
[01:19:43] Interviewer: [inaudible]
[01:19:45] Robert Khalifa: It was, it was, it was funny and, you know, kids laughed their head off and, and uh, and we sat together and uh, I, unfortunately was not able to stay long because I would be eating before the long prayer of the Seder and I would be falling asleep. And uh, but now I do it and uh...one of, funny thing with my grandson is that when he was, his other grandfather was explaining to him the Israelites leaving, leaving Egypt and what have you and the Pharaohs and that and uh, he knows that I'm from Egypt. [01:20:29] So halfway through he looks at me and he goes, "Did your parents have a lot of problems with the pharaohs?" I said, "How old do you think I am?" So that was a, that's a funny thing at, that come from my grandkids.
[01:20:50] Interviewer: Uh…
[01:20:51] Robert Khalifa: And the, the, the uh...sorry the uh, matzo, we used to get it. It was like in a case the case as you put chickens in. You know, huge case with the, with the matzo the same as you have it here and some people, some people used to, who wanted to be more religious, more observant, would make a special trip to the desert with their dough and bake it on stone in the sun to make it really authentic matzo. So uh.
[01:21:35] Interviewer: So you actually imported the matzo like the...
[01:21:37] Robert Khalifa: No, no. No, no it was, it was done uh, you know uh, my mother went and placed an order and they delivered it and you could purchase it.
[01:21:46] Interviewer: Is it also like this with the balls and all that Like we get it here in the boxes?
[01:21:53] Robert Khalifa: It was, except it was in a big case. It wasn't in little boxes.
[01:21:57] Interviewer: It was one big piece.
[01:21:58] Robert Khalifa: Yeah, a big case like about two, like a two by four.
[01:22:02] Interviewer: [overlap] matzo sheet in a long sheet?
[01:22:04] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no, no. There were small ones in packages but the box was like a big two by four.
[01:22:10] Interviewer: Okay.
[01:22:11] Robert Khalifa: In a huge thing. And uh, we, we ate only so much and after that we gave it to the neighbours and they were waiting for it, you know, the loved it and, you know, that's how close we were with the, with the uh, with the neighbours.
[01:22:29] Interviewer: So they'd order it from...
[01:22:31] Robert Khalifa: I don't know to tell you the truth. I, I... my mother used to look after that. She said, "I placed the order for the matzo." And I don't know where she placed it or what like uh...
[01:22:43] Interviewer: From Egypt?
[01:22:43] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yes, yeah. I guess, the thing is, the thing is that there are, there were, depending on the, the popularity of the family in their neighbourhood because I've heard some people who were not allowed to have mezuzah were, were not, couldn't, you had to hide their stuff when going to the synagogue. We didn't have that. [01:23:11] We had the mezuzah on the door and, like I said, people used to, even non-Jews, to come and kiss it and uh...and uh, you know, it was very friendly neighbourhood. Heliopolis, where we were living...
[01:23:27] Interviewer: Heliopolis in Arabic is what?
[01:23:29] Robert Khalifa: Heliopolis, no, no, that's the name of it. Heliopolis means "city of the Sun". Helio - from Greek. "Helio" for sun and "polis" for city so Heliopolis would be City of the Sun and compared to here, I would say it's like the suburbs. It's like the suburbs. It’s more uh, classy if you want. [01:23:55] Downtown was a little bit of a mish-mash sometimes, you know, like some people were, were not uh...uh...I don't know, I don't want to say, I'm not going to say "low-class" or whatever but it just uh, like all the well-off people would go to live in Heliopolis. But we were not well-off so I don't know how, you know, so, you know. [01:24:22] Like we never had a phone, we never had a car there and uh, uh...our neighbour downstairs uh, who were also Jewish and went to live in Brazil had a phone but it was like "Wow!" You know? And uh, another funny thing is that when we came here uh, in the hotel we were in before we found an apartment there was hot water and cold water. [01:24:51] And uh, and uh my brother was cold that day and he washed his hands. So my mother told him don't use it you're gonna finish up. Leave it so we can make coffee. So you know, use the water for coffee and we didn't know. I mean, you know, hey, hot water from a tap, you never saw that before. So you know it's like, you know, getting accustomed to things. [01:25:12] And then when we got downstairs and we see the guy washing his dishes with hot water and then my mother told him, "You're wasting hot water. Why don't you use cold water?" He says, "I'm cold. What are you talking about? I want to..." so you know it's like uh...[01:25:27] When you have something that you never had before you want to...not over, not abuse, not use it up you know and, as a matter of fact, my mother never lost that habit. When she was living in, on, in her duplex on la Peltrie behind the Jewish general. [01:25:46] She had uh, I think the landlord put a special switch for her for the hot water so she's got to wash the dishes at 10 o'clock, at a quarter to ten she flips the switch, washes the dishes, and then turned it off so...[laughs] you know, it was like uh, she never got used to the idea of having hot water on all the time. It's like, you know, so uh...[01:26:14] There was a bit of a clash of customs uh...first time I took the bus uh, on Ste-Catherine downtown I was waiting to get, I knew what stop it was and but on the stairs there was a couple and they were kissing on the mouth, really kissing and I had never seen anybody kissing like that. It's usually [makes small kissing noises] and that's it, you know. [01:26:39] So when they were kissing I was so taken I missed my stop by, you know, I missed my stop you know, because, wow. Look at this they do it like in the movies, they kiss you know? So and uh, and uh you know, it was like a really uh...discovery. It was everything was so new. Uh, first thing I came when I went to school the day before I went to Eaton’s and I bought a fountain pen because that's what we used in Egypt. [01:27:11] And I would go to school the next day with my fountain pen and everybody is using ballpoints and they look at me like, what are you doing with this? You know, like, so, again you know, you know, and uh so uh...
[01:27:25] Interviewer: Did you have a fridge at home?
[01:27:28] Robert Khalifa: Now?
[01:27:28] Interviewer: No, then.
[01:27:29] Robert Khalifa: Oh no, no, no, no. We had, sorry, we had, we had yeah, a, what they call an icebox and it was, when it was really, really hot we would go to tell a guy to bring us an ice, so he would bring us an ice cube and put it on the serpentine to cool the water but...
[01:27:51] Interviewer: What's serpentine?
[01:27:53] Robert Khalifa: In the icebox. But usually it was like, you know, we did that when you were having company coming over. But usually to cold water, to have cold water we had these, that pottery, it was called gargoulettes and you put it in the sun and it will be ice cold when you drink it. [01:28:13] You know, like water evaporates and it cools down the water and whatever process it did. And it cooled the water off and it was really uh, and here my wife never understood how we, she said, "what did you do with your meat? Where did you put it?" We just left it there, you know, and we had the guy who came every evening to bring milk but the milk was whole. From the cow. [01:28:39] You know, and my mother would boil it and she would remove the cream. It was a thick, thick thing of cream, she kept it aside to when she would make cake and no fridge, no nothing and she kept it aside and uh...
[01:28:54] Interviewer: What, for a day? Or more?
[01:28:57] Robert Khalifa: I don't know, like I said, uh, I didn't - she kept it, she said, "That’s when I'm gonna make cookies or I'm gonna make a cake next uh... in a couple of days or something" And she kept it there you know. And uh...when it was really, really, really hot, because sometimes it got hot that when you stand waiting for the bus, hen you, by the time the bus came and you walked the...there would be a footprint in the asphalt from your shoes. [01:29:25] So that's how hot it got sometimes. But what my mother did, like when she had like uh...holiday for example, for holy days uh meat or chicken or something, she couldn't leave it in the kitchen like that so what she did is she, she would put it in the balcony at night and cover it with uh, with a strainer and put a weight over it. [01:29:48] Because the, the, birds and the thing would come near it, you know, and try to over, you know, to go and get at the meat and the chicken and that. So uh, that's uh...
[01:30:00] Interviewer: So you left the eggs outside too obviously.
[01:30:05] Robert Khalifa: Eggs, not really because we had like a grocery store downstairs and my mother whenever she needed eggs she would send m to get the eggs and yours truly did not exactly make it straight home. And uh, I would...drop eggs sometimes on the way and whatever. And uh, but you know, I always bought, she always bought more than needed because she knew I was gonna break some on the way. So, so...[01:30:34] Nut no, no, we kept them, we kept them at home, like you know, there was no fridge no.
[01:30:39] Interviewer: And you helped your mom shop, your father [overlap]
[01:30:42] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yes, yes.
[01:30:43] Interviewer: You went with him.
[01:30:44] Robert Khalifa: Like, well the Thursday night we would go to the market and to buy a chicken or two depending how many people we would be.
[01:30:52] Interviewer: You buy them live?
[01:30:54] Robert Khalifa: Well there was a rabbi there and he would slaughter the chicken for you. And then my mother would go home and then my mother would clean the chicken and uh...my wife here said, if that, if that needs to be done she would never eat chicken. She would never touch it inside but, anyway, that's how we were. [01:31:12] It's uh...like, you wanted sausages, the butcher made sausage for you while you waited. Uh, you know, there's no...
[01:31:23] Interviewer: Kosher butcher.
[01:31:24] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Yes.
[01:31:28] Interviewer: Do you remember, was there only one synagogue where you were? Do you remember the cemeteries?[overlap]
[01:31:37] Robert Khalifa: No, I've never, I've never, I've never, never, never, never gone to a cemetery. My mother and her sisters used to go before Yom Kippur uh, but they, from what they said it was very far and it took them, like, a couple of hours just to get there. And uh, they would come back and that. But I never went to a cemetery. We had the synagogue downstairs from us. [01:32:00] And uh, like, house, school, synagogue, schoolyard. So uh, you know, yes, every Friday, every Saturday, every holiday we would go to the synagogue and uh, uh, you know, and actually because they did not want to take down right on Shabbat what people make donations we used, I used to find a guy in the, in, you know, one of the guys, the shopkeepers or whatever, bring him to the synagogue and he would sit down and write you know, [01:32:39] Like, so-and-so donated so much money so he would write that and they would look after that during the week and uh, and it was, like I said, we were very, very close uh, with the people we never had you know, like anybody who throws things at us or insults us or whatever. No, no, no. [01:33:00] We went down everybody said "Hi, how are you? Happy New Year." Or, you know, holidays and whatever and you know, and uh, because we, we...my father, like I said, was very popular. My mother spoke current, very fluent Arabic and, in turn, we did too so it's not like you had some people who had a hard time and refused to speak Arabic. [01:33:28] Only speak Arabic when there's no, you know, little word here and there.
[01:33:33] Interviewer: To the Jews.
[01:33:34] Robert Khalifa: Yes.
[01:33:34] Interviewer: Some of the Jews [?]
[01:33:34] Robert Khalifa: Yes, and a lot of the Europeans so to speak, you know, refused to speak Arabic. And uh, when the population doesn't speak that language you know, there's little...uh friction that takes place. But with us, we spoke, you know, like whatever. As a matter of fact when I was, I don't know, six, seven years old, eight years old, something like that. [01:33:55] My father put me to learn about watermelon to work with the guy, the fruit shop, store downstairs and I was opening the watermelon and, you know, and knowing how to get the good ones, how to get the bad ones, how to, you know and, you know, to learn about business, about, you know how commerce and what have you. [01:34:16] And uh, and a lot of the times the, the, the uh, the people who came to buy watermelons thought I was the son of the guy worked, owned the shop you know, I spoke quite fluent Arabic. I lost a lot of it of course but uh, uh, that's uh...
[01:34:35] Interviewer: Did you have any pilgrimage sites there in uh Egypt?
[01:34:40] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Yes. We had the uh, Maimonides uh, the, the, the...
[01:34:48] Interviewer: He was buried there or he was buried in Israel?
[01:34:50] Robert Khalifa: No he was buried there. And his tomb is there and there was a, uh...a synagogue, actually I was reading about it the other day uh, it was a small synagogue and there was downstairs a basement and there was a fountain that came, that was there, it was not dug up, it was just happened by itself. [01:35:18] And people were saying uh, you know, this is holy water so you know, you would take some of that water and bring it home or, you know, give it to somebody when they're not feeling well or something and uh...[01:35:34] That's uh, that's one of them. There were others. There's uh, there's Miaimonides there's Bar Yochai, there's uh, there's three or four places but they're all in the...I would say the old part of Mon- of Montreal... - of Cairo. And uh, we only went there, you know, like once a year or something. It was just, just, like you said, pilgrimage, yes. [01:36:05] But uh, but when I went there, you know, I didn't uh, I went there because my parents told me we have to go there but...
[01:36:13] Interviewer: Was that Shavuoth time?
[01:36:16] Robert Khalifa: I don't know. I don't remember.
[01:36:17] Interviewer: Summer? Spring?
[01:36:20] Robert Khalifa: Well there, there like...there, there...winter is like our fall, a nice fall day. Uh so, so...you know, I don't remember what time of the year it was. All I know is that I didn't really care much about these because, you know, as a kid, you know, your parents take you, this is pilgrimage, this is good. Okay, okay, okay, but you don't pay attention to it, you know.
[01:36:46] Interviewer: And it's still a Jewish site? Or has it become...
[01:36:49] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no, no. Uh, as a matter of fact I was reading that the, the Egyptian government has taken over those sites to make them um...property of Egypt of uh, I don’t know what the expression would be um...like, valuable properties of the country? [01:37:12] And they're re-painting them, re-establishing them and leaving them as a museum if you want. Because currently...
[01:37:22] Interviewer: They haven't turned them into mosques.
[01:37:23] Robert Khalifa: No. No. No. Uh, it's funny though because, you say that, because in NDG on my street when I moved there on Terrebonne there used to be a synagogue which had the Ten Commandments outside and then uh, in, in a, like a block of wall, you know, it was engraved and then it became a church because I guess there wasn't much uh attendants. [01:37:52] And then from a church it became a mosque. But, you know, but, but the one in Egypt uh, like I said, I, I just saw the other day uh, I was looking on the site for Egypt and uh, the, the government is looking after them because you only have, I think, about a dozen Jewish people there or something that's left from, used to be uh, I understand 9...8 - 900 000. [01:38:18] In the, in the 50's but all these people left so uh...
[01:38:24] Interviewer: 900 000? Nearly a million?
[01:38:26] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Yes. Yes, yes. It was very, very, very popular. I mean, before, actually I first heard of Canada in, when we had the peacekeepers form Canada after the Suez crisis in 1956. And uh, and uh, I asked people later, they say, "Canada, what is that?" You know, you know and say, it's a country, you know, and then later on we come to it you know, so...[01:38:56] So uh, I'm sorry I lost my chain of thought. I was gonna uh...I'm sorry I lost my chain of thought.
[01:39:12] Interviewer: Yeah, I lost mine too. Uh...it's alright. So the most prominent Jewish organization there was...the synagogue near you. And...
[01:39:26] Robert Khalifa: Well, there were synagogues downtown, there were synagogues downtown and we only went there, I don't know, because they were for the people living there, downtown. And we or if somebody wanted to have a fancy wedding they would go there but uh...
[01:39:45] Interviewer: And you had the Alliance Israélite.
[01:39:48] Robert Khalifa: No, the Alliance was uh, the one that I took you're saying?
[01:39:51] Interviewer: Yeah but Alliance Israélite Universelle usually they were, was one in every country, Arab country. No?
[01:40:00] Robert Khalifa: I, I don't know. The only Alliance I know is the one I learned, I mentioned with the diploma there.
[01:40:05] Interviewer: That's the Alliance.
[01:40:07] Robert Khalifa: But this was a special thing from France, from Paris.
[01:40:10] Interviewer: That's it.
[01:40:10] Robert Khalifa: So I don't know. But like I said it [overlap]
[01:40:13] Interviewer: [overlap] from France...
[01:40:15] Robert Khalifa: Yeah, but it was only for the...elite if I can say so.
[01:40:19] Interviewer: Yeah.
[01:40:20] Robert Khalifa: Like, you know, it was very difficult to, to, to be in that. And uh, I only got there because of my grades really but uh...
[01:40:30] Interviewer: What was it your secondary class? I mean the [overlap]
[01:40:32] Robert Khalifa: Uh, well what you do in Egypt is that you could do two school years at the same time. It was very common to do. So I did my uh...not...the middle class, I don't know what it's called, el-daya [?] ok? While I was doing, learning for that I was doing the Alliance at the same time. So, like I said, I was doing like two schools years at the same time.
[01:40:59] Interviewer: Yeah okay. And uh, how about Zionist organisations? Were there any openly Zionists?
[01:41:07] Robert Khalifa: No. Uh...well my cousin left, for example in, I know he left in 1950 uh...to go to Israel and, of course, he went in the army there and alter on when his, his, his mother and brothers and parents left Egypt, were expelled from Egypt in 1957 they went to Israel where he was. [01:41:38] He was already there and uh, so, so, you know, like he prepared it from them if you want.
[01:41:46] Interviewer: Did he have to go to a ma'abarah in Egypt? In Israel?
[01:41:50] Robert Khalifa: I didn't go to Israel.
[01:41:53] Interviewer: No, your cousin. In the 50's a lot of Jews -
[01:41:57] Robert Khalifa: Yeah.
[01:41:57] Interviewer: From Arab countries had to go to a ma'abarah, it's the tents, tents, refugee tents. Did they live in a tent?
[01:42:05] Robert Khalifa: Um...I don't know where he went because like, you know, he used to write to somebody in England or France and they would send the letter to us. And sometimes, you know, you'd get, and also uh, when you get letters like that, many times you could see somebody with a black marker, you know, cover things so you could only read certain things. [01:42:29] And uh, only when he said, you know, "'I'm happy" or this or, "My wife give birth." or something. That's what they left it. But if he said that there's this if there's that, you know, it was crossed off. Everything was censored in the mail.
[01:42:42] Interviewer: How about say, if you get uh, magazine, Time Newsweek, whatever, French magazines [overlap] that talks about Israel. Were you allowed [overlap]
[01:42:52] Robert Khalifa: Well no because [overlap] what they did is like, for example, we used have Paris Match there, quite often, okay? But if there was an article about Israel or whatever, because also the magazines were looked into and like I say, so those pages would be, they would be taken out and you buy the magazine missing pages. [01:43:14] So, you know, and, and uh, sometimes people would smuggle the complete magazine and they would tell you, "You wanna see?" You know so like, you know and it was like, you know, that's why we, we didn’t have much uh, into, into newspapers and what have you. Even then the newspapers were like about six pages or something and that's it. It's not like here - 40 pages. [01:43:42] And uh, but uh, uh, you were asking me before about Zionist organizations, if they existed they were really, really secretive because I never, we were never involved with them and uh, but of course Egyptians thought if you are Jewish you must be involved with them. [01:44:08] Even though, like, we, you know, you’re asking me I'm...I'm thinking because we never, you know, never, if it was completely hush-hush. It was completely secretive uh, if, if you had...no money for example and you wanted to leave and go to Israel the community maybe would buy you your ticket but they couldn't give you money to help you because you couldn't take money out of the country. [01:44:38] So it was like very, very delicate. Very delicate.
[01:44:42] Interviewer: And your family's view about Israel.
[01:44:46] Robert Khalifa: Yeah.
[01:44:46] Interviewer: What was that?
[01:44:47] Robert Khalifa: Oh my god. Uh...110%.
[01:44:53] Interviewer: But you never told your neighbours.
[01:44:55] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no, oh my god no, no, no. You know like, because they kept telling us, "You're Egyptians. You were born here. You live with us, you know, you speak Arabic." So that's...that was that. Uh, but when they brought the mention of Israel I said, "Oh I don't know about these guys." You know, like, like you make it you push is aside like, like uh, something you neglect. Who cares about that? You know? Like, you know, because you don't want to say, "Yes, yes." [01:45:24] But when the doors were closed, behind doors, you know, my mother, you know, listened to the radio and I...for a while I used to speak a little bit of Hebrew but, again, I lost it completely and uh, because Hebrew is so close to Arabic, you know, almost every expression is the same thing. It's just like uh, just like uh...[01:45:49] They say English is mispronounced French, you know, so it's the same thing for Arabic and Hebrew.
[01:45:54] Interviewer: I would say plutot French and Spanish.
[01:46:01] Robert Khalifa: Like, like, like well you know, those thing I learned about I mean, in the Alliance, you know. Like uh, one thing that was interesting for example at the Alliance is that when we learn history it is not like you learn here history. What's the reason for the war of 1812? Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. No, no, no, no. In the Alliance it was, "How, what did they eat? What did they dress? Why did they do that?" [01:46:25] It's the actual life and you find out that French was the world language of the kings and queens all over the world. And uh...
[01:46:40] Interviewer: Is that true?
[01:46:42] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Yes, French was the language. As a matter of fact you have -
[01:46:44] Interviewer: In England?
[01:46:46] Robert Khalifa: England, Germany the whole world. Russia, the whole thing. French was the, the, the language of communication until uh, until Napoleon came. When Napoleon came everybody hated the French because of him so the English stayed with English with, you know, they stayed the, they went to...
[01:47:10] Interviewer: You mean Shakespeare....
[01:47:12] Robert Khalifa: Yeah, yeah, I mean Shakespeare wrote in English, yes. Yes, but I'm talking, the elite, the top people in England or in Germany or anywhere in Europe were speaking French. As a matter of fact when you look at the crest of the, the, the Queen of England it says "Dieu et mon droit". It's in French but it's for England. [01:47:38] If you look at the iron cross of the German army uh, there's a saying, I forget what it is, it's in French. Because French was the language of the world at the time. And when Napoleon came and he caused all these wars and what have you, uh, everybody said, "We don't want to [inaudible] with the French any more, you know" so the British became English and the German became, you know, German and what have you. [01:48:09] And uh, there was no need to know, to know to speak French just because you were up in the world. And uh, that's how French went a little bit like this. And, like I said, this is some of the things that we learned at the Alliance Française. It was very, very interesting and uh, an uh...[01:48:33] I really enjoyed that. Actually, the course finished and I got my diploma I said, "Can we continue?" He said, "What do you want to learn?" you know, you know.
[01:48:42] Interviewer: Did you also have to learn Mes Ancètres, les Gaulois?
[01:48:45] Robert Khalifa: Yeah.
[01:48:46] Interviewer: My husband too.
[01:48:48] Robert Khalifa: Yeah, yeah.
[01:48:50] Interviewer: Okay uh, so now we already mentioned that your family was starting, started to think about leaving because many of your family members have been told to leave.
[01:49:03] Robert Khalifa: Right.
[01:49:04] Interviewer: You were amongst the last to leave.
[01:49:07] Robert Khalifa: The last.
[01:49:08] Interviewer: The last.
[01:49:09] Robert Khalifa: They very last.
[01:49:08] Interviewer: The whole family.
[01:49:10] Robert Khalifa: The whole family, yes.
[01:49:11] Interviewer: But not the last from the Jews in...
[01:49:13] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no.
[01:49:15] Interviewer: What about the other Jews, do you know, did they stay behind? Did they have to leave?
[01:49:20] Robert Khalifa: Well uh...I would, I would guestimate that most of them or quite a lot of them left uh...roughly around the same time as us because uh, if you had kids in school you wanted them to finish the school year and traditionally, in Egypt, you don't travel during the winter. [01:49:49] Even though it's like, nice weather but you don't travel. Travelling is only left for the summer. So uh, the general idea was that uh, instead of going to vacation for the summer or something you'd travel, you'd take a longer thing and you move, you emigrate to uh, to another country. [01:50:13] That's uh, but like I would say, I would guestimate they would most, most, a lot, quite a lot of them left, left the same time as us. Uh, strangely enough, others left later, like '65, '66 and uh I was not there but from what I hear things were getting quite hairy. [01:50:37] As it was getting close, closer to the 1967.
[01:50:42] Interviewer: And uh how easy was it for you to get a passport?
[01:50:47] Robert Khalifa: Well, first of all, because my uh, you could not get a passport unless you knew where you were gonna go. You couldn't just like, in Canada get a passport in case you want to travel. You had to say where you wanted to go. Where you were going to go. [01:51:04] So because my mother had a British, had a British passport, obviously we tried to go to England first. But they said, no, they had too many, they had received too many people from Egypt. Actually my aunt who was the...whose husband is the one who was poisoned, she went directly to England. [01:51:28] But she didn't stay there long. She went to join her other sister in Israel. Uh, when we applied to go to England they said no. They said uh, you go either to Australia or to Canada. And I say they responded but they response was not like overnight, it was like, quite some time uh, it took quite some time before we got an answer from them.
[01:51:55] Interviewer: Six months? A year?
[01:51:57] Robert Khalifa: I would say it's a few months. A few months and uh, obviously in the meantime you hope somebody, [beep] somebody is going to...[beeping] Okay. [01:52:13] You hope somebody is going to accept you because my mother did not want to go to Israel. She was afraid that we would all be drafted into the army. We were at the right, perfect age and she did not want that. And uh, it was a little bit…not say insulting but not appreciated by us because somebody was making a decision for us. [01:52:43] And but, traditionally because the parents decide for you, we accepted that. So we first uh, applied to England and they uh, they said to Canada or Australia and then my mother had a cousin who was living here. She wrote to him and uh, he accepted to sponsor us. [01:53:11] But all that was not like, quite a lot of time until you write, until the letter goes, until it comes back, until it's censored, read by the censors and until you get it, there's always the top of the letter, the top of the envelope is cut and closed with scotch tape because uh, because uh, you know, they had read it. [01:53:37] And uh, when my cousin said he would accept us, he would sponsor us we went to the embassy of Canada of which, like I said before, I had never heard of such a thing as Canada, what is that you know. Uh, we went there and they gave us the, the visa to go to Canada, to emigrate to Canada an after that we went to the Egyptian authorities to get a passport and uh...[01:54:09] So because we...as, as Jewish people did not have a, a...we were not Egyptians they gave us sort of like a, something that looks like a passport but they made sure to write on it, "Departure. No return." So you get out, we don't want to see your face again. Sort of...you know.
[01:54:37] Interviewer: So you were never given the Egyptian nationality?
[01:54:41] Robert Khalifa: Never. Never, never. Even though the requirements to have the Egyptian nationality is that you be born in Egypt and preferable your parents be born in Egypt. In my case, in our case our grandparents, our parents and us were all born in Egypt. [01:55:02] So, but because of the clause where it says what religion are you in the form then automatically you don't get the nationality. So we were given the, what is called in French apatride which is uh...just a human being but, nut don't belong anywhere.
[01:55:21] Interviewer: French apatride means you are...
[01:55:24] Robert Khalifa: Apatride.
[01:55:24] Interviewer: Apatride means...
[01:55:26] Robert Khalifa: Meaning no nationality. So it's like, and somebody will ask you, "What nationality are you?" well, I don't know, you know. I was born there but I don't have a nationality and, and uh, in Canada there was a little bit of hesitation, even though we were accepted quite readily, because in normal countries if they don't give you the nationality it's because you must have, have...a criminal file or something. [01:55:55] You know, so, and of course, you know, we didn't have anything like that so it was a little bit of a hesitation like, and try to explain that to the person at the Canadian embassy and, of course, they have not, they lived in Egypt in their own little circle so they don't know about these... undercurrents and underthings. [01:56:19] So you had to sit down and explain to them that and then, of course, when we were accepted they gave us this book about Canada and they said, where would you like to go? And uh, you know, so we took that book and dah-dah-dah-dah, well I don't know, everything, Saskatchewan and Ontario and Vancouver. We don’t know these names, never heard of these names so somehow or other because my uncle, my mother's cousin was living here we said we'll go to Montreal. [01:56:49] But, and then when uh, I wrote on the suitcases, we had big, huge black leather suitcases, I wrote our name in black paint, I'm the one who was nicely drawing, you know. I wrote our name and I wrote Montreal, Canada. So one funny thing is that when we came here and we had our bags came to the hotel after we landed in Montreal uh, [01:57:17] The lady who had the hotel uh, forget, Madame Rose or something, I forget what her name was, she said, "Pas Montréal, Canada, c'est Montréal, Québec." And I thought, what's wrong with this woman? I don't know, it was Canada no? No? You know? We didn't know the implications, you know? [01:57:34] So anyway so, you learn, you learn these things as you, you live and uh...so this is uh, yeah, how we got here. And uh, the funny thing is that even though my mother's cousin sponsored us to come here meaning by sponsoring, usually sponsoring means that he would support us financially but he never had to, he never did that. We never asked him. [01:58:00] And a funny thing there is that my mother and my cousin's wife were like cats and dogs. They could not stand each other. So it was like he sponsored us, he came to visit us a couple times when we were first here and then we never saw him again. And uh, you know, so it's like, there's always like, a little, by the way there's a little thing on the side. You know so that's, that's, that's how we came to be here.
[01:58:31] Interviewer: Now, out of curiosity, when you stayed in a hotel you paid for it or was there any Jewish [overlap] that took care of you?
[01:58:42] Robert Khalifa: I think, I don't quote me on it, I believe it could be the JIAS helped us? Helped, like you know, like helped us, paid for the hotel but the rest of the things we paid for it. But uh, there was a funny incident because when we got here, of course our idea of winter is not of Canadian winter. [01:59:04] And we went to the uh, JIAS, one of those trips and they said, you know, you can go take heavy coats for winter. We said, we don't need those, we got nice sweaters. No, no, no, you need a heavy coat because it's cold here. [01:59:17] And uh, you know, we got a coat each, whatever they gave us and then I found those boots, which I really loved and I got them for myself but...when uh, when [laughs] I'm sorry, it's funny, when I went to school everybody was looking at me and laughing and pointing at me because I had picked...[laughs] sorry. [01:59:46] I had picked ladies booties with fur. [laughs] With fur on them and they said uh...no they, they were like, light grey, I remember them till today. They were booties with a zipper and uh, no, no, sorry, with a thing on the side and they had little fur on the top. They were ladies’ booties, you know. [02:00:13] So and everybody was making fun of me and they, you know, because I was new in the class and to, also another thing is that somehow, rather the secretary when she put my name in the list of the students for that class, she made a mistake and she wrote my name as Roberta. [02:00:30] So, so...so the teacher when he was...saying the kids names, the first time in September he goes, "I don't think we have any ladies here, any girls here but who is Roberta?" And I raise my hand and, of course, they remember me because I'm Roberta and I've had my, my feminine boots so, you know, it's, they always, it always hang with me the whole year. [02:00:58] And even if I got rid of those boots and got normal boots for boys they all remembered me. They said, "What happened to your boots? You look so much better. You just need some lipstick on." you know so...one of those things. And uh...
[02:01:14] Interviewer: That's part of adjusting.
[02:01:18] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yes.
[02:01:19] Interviewer: To a new country.
[02:01:21] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yes, you know, trying to blend in as much as possible. And uh...
[02:01:30] Interviewer: Now what you left behind is everything.
[02:01:32] Robert Khalifa: Everything, yes, yes. Uh, from the...
[02:01:36] Interviewer: You did own the house, or the property.
[02:01:38] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no...[overlap] We were living...
[02:01:40] Interviewer: [overlap] You were allowed to have property?
[02:01:42] Robert Khalifa: You were allowed to have property but the thing is uh, in Egypt, in Cairo, in Heliopolis uh, you did not have houses like here, which are like, nice family homes. You either lived in an apartment or you lived in a mansion. So it's, of course we couldn't have a mansion because a mansion was like a palace with gardens and, and, and gardeners and what have you. We couldn't get anything like that of course. We lived in an apartment. [02:02:13] But in the apartment everything we had was really handmade furniture uh, the dining room was really solid cedar and uh, you had mirror the whole wall and it was really a beautiful thing and uh, I was not allowed to play in there because, you know, it was such a nice room. And uh everything, we had a huge armoire and uh it was handmade by, by one of our neighbours who was a carpenter. [02:02:51] Uh, we had uh, plus, I'm not talking about all the, the cookware, all the pots and pans, the plates, uh, cutlery uh, you name it. We had bookcases, we had books. I had a lot of uh, uh, I wanted to keep, for example, all my guns and rifle, you know, toy ones uh and I was able to smuggle a little gun, a little pistol I had, a cowboy pistol. [02:03:25] I had, I was able to, I call it smuggling but it wasn't in the, in the bags and they didn't see it. And I kept it, I figure at least, you know, I'll bring that, maybe my uh, if I have a son or a grandson, you know, hell have that as a memory. [02:03:45] But uh, and I still have it now and uh, like I said, it's all of a sudden, after living um...enjoying your life you start reminiscing about the past and uh, uh...you look like, like...[02:04:07] For example I, I brought my passport and uh, my wife, who likes to you know, discard thing we have not used, you know, because I'm a little bit of a messy guy, I have to admit it. Uh, she would not go near that, I mean, to throw it out because it's like, um, almost holy, you know. It's like uh, and it's like another life. [02:04:32] It's like your uh, it's like the person has, that person we were has died and a new one has come out, you know, reincarnation and because like, uh, everything is different uh, and, and, of course, before we came here we were told things are so expensive, clothes are expensive and stuff is expensive and whatever. [02:05:02] So you know, you bring like, 20 shirts, each one of us, my brothers and I bring like 20 shirts and pyjamas and clothes and whatever. And none of it could be used here and uh, you had suits and, and things and, like, we brought a world of clothes and we couldn't believe it, they were so, they were not as expensive as people had told us they were. [02:05:25] And uh, but like I said, it's like a new, a new life.
[02:05:32] Interviewer: Uh what did the community leave behind? The schools, synagogues, cemeteries, common properties, the one with the genizah and all the...
[02:05:43] Robert Khalifa: Uh...not much really. Uh because...when you had a problem you went there and you spoke to some people and they would maybe know somebody in, somebody in the government or a connection to, you know, but that's as far as it went. [02:06:08] There was just, I'll give you like a...you want, you have a problem with this or with that? Oh wait a minute, I know somebody, maybe he can help you, maybe. And that's as far as it went. Uh, there was no, uh...like, you know, like for example part of the reason why I went to the Communauté Israélite du Caire school is because my mother wanted me to have a bar mitzvah after being with the Jesuit brothers. [02:06:35] And they said the only way they could do it is slip me through the cracks to register me in that school because they would not accept me before that in the school. So it's like uh...help but extremely limited. [02:06:51] It wasn't like uh, this person is not well off, is really poor. So what they did, it's not like here you have different Jewish organizations that can help that person, no. There it was like uh, so and so will be cooking a little bit more and to get you some food or something. You know, like, one on one basis.
[02:07:15] Interviewer: What about buildings that were left behind? Like a synagogue or the school Israélite did it close?
[02:07:23] Robert Khalifa: [overlap] Yeah, no the, all the, there were, there are a lot of synagogues because I was talking about Cairo only but you have in Cairo, you have in Alexandria and I believe, there were some in the country itself like where my father was born in Tanta and I believe there were some in Port Said but uh, these were, depending how bad a shape they are uh, or they have become...[02:07:50] Some of them have been taken over, have become warehouses and uh, others have been taken over to be, I don't know what by the local people. But some big ones or, or in respected neighbourhoods, for example in Heliopolis, uh, were taken over by the government to be reinstated, repainted, re - brought back to how they were. [02:08:19] But as part of the Egyptian government property. And what they're doing is that uh, they're waiting for tourism in Egypt to increase a little bit, this way they will have income to fix those buildings. That's what they had in, in the...the official declaration by the Egyptian government.
[02:08:44] Interviewer: When? When Sisi came?
[02:08:46] Robert Khalifa: Uh...well it was lately, let's say about a month ago or so there was. Yes, under, under Sisi yes. Yes.
[02:08:56] Interviewer: Okay so now, once your parents arrived, your dad, was he able to work?
[02:09:00] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no. He was paralyzed, his right side was paralyzed.
[02:09:05] Interviewer: And your mom?
[02:09:06] Robert Khalifa: And my mom could not work because she could only, she was a French teacher and uh, she went to, at the time used to have the protestant school board or the catholic school board and protestant school board she could not go because uh, they were looking for younger people, bluntly, like that. [02:09:26] And so she went to the Catholic school commission and they said no because she was not Catholic, she was Jewish. They refused to, they did not hire her so basically when the Canadian government accepted us it's because my brothers and I, by finishing our studies, we would be able to work and support our parents. [02:09:47] It was uh, had it been like, just my mother and my father, not us around they would not have accepted us. Because it would have been an extra load on the government.
[02:10:00] Interviewer: So your brothers continued to work?
[02:10:02] Robert Khalifa: [overlap] My brothers, my uh, Fernand, my second brother uh, worked in different places then he ended up at Pascal Hardware in the customs department and he was there all the way until they closed down. My other brother Eli uh, he continued working as a draftsman for various architecture like uh, SNC and these guys.
[02:10:31] Interviewer: He did not have to retrain here?
[02:10:34] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no, no and uh, after I graduated uh, I uh...
[02:10:42] Interviewer: Sorry, where did you, you went to business here?
[02:10:45] Robert Khalifa: I went to Sir George and I did not graduate. I finished third year and because by then I was married and I had a job. I had a nice position. I was manager of customer service and I figured, like, the old thinking of Egypt, if you stay in your job, you’re good, you perform well you're gonna stay there until you retire. [02:11:09] But this doesn't work like that. So I, I uh, I went out of Sir George after my third year and uh, but later on I found out that the, according to the Gouvernement du Québec, if you have three years experience in what you're doing it counts as on year university. So it's like I graduated, it's like but experience I gained my fourth year. [02:11:36] And apart from that I went to, to various uh training courses and uh, I ended up being uh, I was executive director for Industry Parity Committee uh, was reporting to the minister of labour. It was a very high-power position and uh, from there I was uh, uh...I owned partially one of the old Vic Tanny's health clubs, the head office. [02:12:08] I was in charge of the, the chain in Quebec and uh, then from there I went to uh, uh, Children Apparel Manufacturer's Association where I built a credit bureau for children's wear for all of North America, Canada and the States. And there, that's where I had the opportunity to have seminars and uh, conferences in Montreal, Quebec, uh Montreal Toronto and uh Winnipeg. [02:12:42] And uh, when, through conflict uh, I left there and I went um, as a manager at Future Shop and uh, after that I became a teacher in uh, computer technology at the Lester Pearson School board. So I have a quite a varied background and uh, right now I'm retired of course.
[02:13:19] Interviewer: So your family settled where in Montreal?
[02:13:22] Robert Khalifa: In uh, Côte-des-Neiges principally. Because we came, we found people who had moved a little bit before us and uh, this is where they settled and obviously we wanted to be near somebody we knew so we would not be complete, with complete strangers.
[02:13:40] Interviewer: Not near your uncle?
[02:13:43] Robert Khalifa: Uh, near the cousin? No, no, no, no, he was living downtown and uh, my mother, as a matter of fact did not want to be near him because she did not want to see his wife, you know. It's one of those family feud things, you know. And uh, no, we settled in Côte-des-Neiges and uh, uh, That's where I started, I worked there way at the beginning and that's where I met my wife who happened to also be a student in Northmount but we never knew each other. [02:14:12] Of each other actually. She said she knew me but she saw me quite a number of times but I never noticed her.
[02:14:19] Interviewer: Where is your, your wife is from Egypt?
[02:14:21] Robert Khalifa: No, no, no, no, no. She's from Montreal.
[02:14:24] Interviewer: She's Ashkenazi.
[02:14:25] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Yes. And then when we, after we got married we, I was fortunate enough to buy a house in Notre-Dame de Graces and that's where I've been for the past 40-some years.
[02:14:39] Interviewer: And do you preserve any of your Sephardi heritage?
[02:14:44] Robert Khalifa: Yes, definitely. Very strongly. Because uh, uh...my daughter married a nice boy from Moroccan descent and uh, for Passover and for Rosh Hashanah we either go to his parents or they come to us and uh they always say, "We're gonna have an Egyptian Seder versus a Moroccan Seder." [02:15:16] The same thing for Rosh Hashanah. We're going to have an Egyptian celebration or a Moroccan celebration depending whose house we go to. And uh...
[02:15:27] Interviewer: So your wife adapted to the Egyptian [overlap]
[02:15:29] Robert Khalifa: Oh yes, oh yes. Oh yes, ph yes, she even learned...
[02:15:32] Interviewer: What's the difference between Egyptian and Moroccan?
[02:15:37] Robert Khalifa: Uh...uh...
[02:15:40] Interviewer: Other than rice.
[02:15:44] Robert Khalifa: [laughs] Uh actually uh, okay for example for Passover there's the jam, the haroset. We make it as jam and you put it into, give to everyone a little bit of that during the Seder. They don't do that. They make little balls of something and they distribute that.
[02:16:10] Interviewer: You mean the Ashkenazi?
[02:16:11] Robert Khalifa: Yes, well, no, no, no the Moroccan. Uh, the, the during the, when you recite the ten plagues during the Seder the Egyptian way is to, the man pours a little bit of wine for each plague and the wife [clear throat] excuse me, pours the same time a little bit of water in a big bowl. [02:16:38] So you know, the first one, the second one, the third one and she does the same thing with water. She does it, she does it with water so that...you wash off the plague so that it does not take place no more. Not again. Whereas um, my, my brother Eli, for example he goes, he believes uh, [02:17:08] Well he was, in the synagogue [inaudible] Ashkenazi synagogue and uh when the ten plagues they take a, dip a thing and like this, a little thing. We don't do that. We, we, you know. And that's, that's one of those examples. Uh, for example, we have something called the two packages during the Seder, the Egyptian way. [02:17:32] So in a, in a, in a leaf of lettuce you put, you know, whatever you put and then everyone gets a thing because after the long Seder, you know, you're hungry. So you start eating that and then there's two of them and uh, whoever makes the night, the more delicious one than the other, like you put a piece of matzo, you put some, some haroset jam, you put the celery, you put the this, you know, it's like a salad.
[02:18:00] Interviewer: What do you make the haroset with?
[02:18:02] Robert Khalifa: We make it with uh, dates and uh, raisins. That's it.
[02:18:08] Interviewer: The Egyptian way.
[02:18:09] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yeah. And you boil it, you boil it and you sweeten it and whatever, okay? But those, those, I don't know what you call them. Packages? You know, there's two of them that you give during the Seder, the Egyptian way. And oh, he makes good ones, not you, you make cheap ones, you know small ones, you know make big ones, you know. [02:18:28] And, and the, the, whereas the...and that I do myself every year. Sometimes it kills my back because I have to lean to do it, you know. But anyway, and you know, if you have 12 people or something you know, it's a lot of them to be made. Whereas the Moroccan way or the Ashkenazi way it, you know, they take a piece of celery, you take a piece of matzo and that's it, you know. [02:18:51] We don't do that. We make it like a big thing that, you know, you enjoy. And uh, that's one of the Egyptian customs. Uh...we don't look at the fact that you're eating something sweet before you're gonna have soup and roast and whatever, you know. We look at the fact that it's, it's a good thing, you know. [02:19:11] What else? Uh...Like for Rosh Hashanah, for example we buy as many fruits as possible because in Egypt that's the - in the Middle East I should say, when Rosh Hashanah ha - takes place it's the end of the summer, beginning of the fall. That's when the fruits are at their best. So you...you get as many fruits as possible to make your year sweet. [02:19:43] Another thing is that when you make the, the, the uh, sorry, the prayer for the bread uh, when you make the prayer for the bread...
[02:19:56] Interviewer: Ha-motzi.
[02:19:57] Robert Khalifa: The motzi, uh, everywhere after they make the prayer they cut it with a knife. They Egyptians don't cut it, they tear it because cutting means you're gonna cut, you're cutting something, you know, and you don't want to cut anything. So you tear it and also we dip it in sugar. We don't dip it in salt.
[02:20:17] Interviewer: For Rosh Hashanah.
[02:20:18] Robert Khalifa: Yes. You dip it in sugar so you can have a sweet year and uh, another thing is that the next day, in the afternoon, even though most people would take a nap in the afternoon, you don't take a nap because you don't want to, you don't want to be sleepy. You want to have a, alive during that year. So...That's uh...
[02:20:44] Interviewer: Very similar to the Lebanese.
[02:20:46] Robert Khalifa: Yeah.
[02:20:48] Interviewer: So what would you describe - what is your most important part of your Sephardi background, for you?
[02:20:56] Robert Khalifa: Uh, my customs. My, my, my uh, my Egyptian ways and uh, which I do as much as possible. I try to teach to my grandchildren uh, because, you know, you don't know, you know, here if they go to school they learn it the Ashkenazi way which is completely different and I don't want that to be lost. And uh, so even though when I tell my grandkid this is how we do it, "No, no, no, teacher said..." and I was like, okay but apart from that, you know, [02:21:39] I don't want to say teacher is wrong so I say that apart from that there's another way you can do it, you know, so, so not to create, you know, enmity or something but I don't want that to be forgotten. And uh, I'll keep repeating to them until they can remember it.
[02:22:00] Interviewer: Now, how would you describe yourself in terms of identity wise?
[02:22:08] Robert Khalifa: Uh...I'm very proud to be here, to be in Canada, very, very proud. Uh...as a matter of fact I, I have worked for the past 15 years as supervisor in the elections because I, I like that democracy, all that, you know. I was asked actually to, to run for various things in, various positions in the government, municipal, federal, provincial but I'm not into that. [02:22:44] Uh, like I said, I uh, my identity is really a Canadian, strong Canadian and uh, but at the same time, even though I’m past the age I would be ready to fight for Israel.
[02:23:04] Interviewer: So you have a Jewish identity.
[02:23:04] Robert Khalifa: Yes. Yes.
[02:23:07] Interviewer: A Jewish-Canadian you would say?
[02:23:11] Robert Khalifa: Two of them? I don't know. I don't know how you call it.
[02:23:14] Interviewer: Do you consider yourself a refugee or a migrant?
[02:23:25] Robert Khalifa: I could be, I may be wrong but I see uh, a refugee base don what I have seen, whereas coming with the clothes on your back, with the attitude of uh, please help me, whereas an immigrant would be ah...[02:23:47] I have almost nothing but I want to, I want to live. I want to contribute. I want to make you uh, enrich this place. So I guess more like an immigrant, not a refugee.
[02:24:08] Interviewer: So where do you consider home?
[02:24:11] Robert Khalifa: Montreal. Definitely.
[02:24:14] Interviewer: And identity you want to pass to your grandchildren? Your children, grandchildren?
[02:24:21] Robert Khalifa: Uh, I don't know if I can call it multi-identity but uh...the way I am, I would like my, my grandkids and my, my, I know my daughter is like me. She is uh, uh...[02:24:40] She, she went on a, on a group trip a few years ago to Israel and Egypt and uh I don't know where else she went but she went specifically to Egypt because of my, of me. So uh, I'm...I would say I'm proud of how I brought her.
[02:25:18] Interviewer: So you passed on the identity of [overlap]
[02:25:20] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yes, definitely.
[02:25:21] Interviewer: But you never went back.
[02:25:23] Robert Khalifa: No. No.
[02:25:25] Interviewer: And the language you speak to her?
[02:25:27] Robert Khalifa: To...
[02:25:28] Interviewer: To your daughter, to your grandchildren?
[02:25:30] Robert Khalifa: To my daughter uh, I speak to her mostly in English because uh when I was working and she was growing my wife who is Anglophone I would say, raised her. So she's mostly English but, you know, sometimes, you know I speak to her in French. [02:25:54] And uh, just like my wife. She has learned some Arabic expressions. Not...sometimes [coughs] excuse me, sometimes, [coughs], excuse me. Sometimes a nice expression but sometimes also not so nice expressions. You know like, when, when she sees me swearing or something she says, "What does it mean?" I say, "Never mind what it means."[02:26:26] You know, but uh, but uh, you know, she, she, but like I said I'm very proud how my, my descendents, if you want, is, the way, which way they're going.
[02:26:39] Interviewer: What impact did that experience of migrating to Canada or being a refugee in Canada have on your life?
[02:26:51] Robert Khalifa: And extremely, extremely good impact. Very pleasant, very proud uh, because I was able to learn things. I was able to do things. I uh, and because of my education uh, that I received and that my mother insisted on and for which I figured it was, what's the point? You know. [02:27:20] Now I see the value of it. It had a lot of impact. My uh, like I said, uh, to walk into a job and to know certain things better than the people who have been working there uh, makes you feel like, "Wow, I really know what I'm talking about. I really know my stuff." And uh, but all of that, none of that would have happened had I stayed in Egypt. [02:27:52] I'm very, very proud, extremely proud that I came to live here and of my life.
[02:28:00] Interviewer: How do you think your life would have been had you stayed in Egypt?
[02:28:06] Robert Khalifa: It would have been uh...probably a very conventional thing where I get a job regardless of how boring it would be, how...how much of a pain it would be in the long run but needing to stay in it because there's nothing else. [02:28:35] Like, when we came here we saw, in the paper advertising for jobs. You never heard of that in Egypt. You wanted the job you have to go and knock on, out and knock on doors. And uh, and so like the opportunities uh, would have never been there and I am one guy who, when I worked, I loved to go to work because it was like a good, boy you're gonna have an exciting day today. [02:29:05] You know, it wasn't like, oh god, I have to go to work today, you know, it was never like this. And uh, I would have had a very boring life and uh…probably would have withered away or whatever in, in, in a conventional, traditional thing and uh, which would not have been as rich and as enjoyable as I have now.
[02:29:29] Interviewer: Above and beyond the persecution that might have...
[02:29:32] Robert Khalifa: Yes, yes. Like I said, the, we were fortunate enough not to have that much persecution. There were, of course, the odd remarks. There was the dirty looks uh, there were times where you felt not in the right place. Uh, there were times where uh, uh...like, like, sometimes in Egypt we used to see people from Nubia. [02:30:04] Black people. And they would make fun of them, you know, like uh...look at this guy, he's black, what's wrong with him? You know he's black, hey, and make fun of him and throw things on him and whatever, you know. And I felt just a little bit behind this guy. Like, you know, am I next?[02:30:24] And uh it never, thank god, it never materialized but uh, it wasn't far behind the uh, you know, on a day to day basis things were okay but once in a while, it crept up all of a sudden. "Ah, this guy is a Jew. Why do you bother with him?" You know, like, you know, but so uh...[02:30:48] I'm just glad I left there.
[02:30:52] Interviewer: Now my last question: What message would you like to give to anyone who might listen to this interview?
[02:31:07] Robert Khalifa: Even though your life may be beautiful where you are, even though you may be enjoying it, even though you may be...feeling like you're set to live there the rest of your life don’t stay there. Leave because uh...there's a whole wide world out there that welcomes you. And uh...and uh...leave the sooner the better.
[02:31:43] Interviewer: Leave who?
[02:31:43] Robert Khalifa: Leave where you are if you are...in an Arab country. The sooner the better. I, because even though there are peace treaties it is only on official terms, on gov - on paper, it's only between the governments but the average person in the streets does not recognize that. [02:32:12] Maybe, maybe next generation, hopefully, if, you know, if things will calm down to being buddy-buddy, one country visiting the other like uh, neighbours. But I don't think it will be in our time. So uh, don't wait for bad surprises. Leave and enjoy whatever life you have. [02:32:39] And take as many of your family with you. Forget the, forget the belongings. Forget the uh, properties. Forget whatever you have. You can always get it again.
[02:32:52] Interviewer: Super.
[02:32:54] Robert Khalifa: Thank you.