Why I Volunteer: Maurice & Elise Benzacar
Driven To Preserve Our Treasured Sephardi Heritage2008-11-27 16:20:02
Maurice and Elise Benzacar's story is part of the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto’s Book of Life. The Book of Life includes compelling, heartwarming and inspirational stories from donors who have opened endowment funds, left a bequest or made a gift of life insurance to the Jewish Foundation in order to secure the future of the Jewish community.
The history for many Jewish families in Canada does not date back many generations, if at all. My wife and I are among that group. We left Morocco, together with our infant son, to settle in Toronto in November 1957.
The move was difficult on many levels. We arrived alone, with little means and little support. We were regarded as outsiders even among our own Jewish community. As Sephardim, we didn’t speak Yiddish, didn’t cook with chicken schmaltz and prayed with very different melodies. There were many challenges but we persevered and today Toronto is home to us, our children, Jimmy, Raquel, Rita, and Jack and their beautiful families.
Thankfully, we moved past the hardship but we never forgot it. And so when I became involved with JIAS (Jewish Immigrant Aid Service) -- first as a layperson and soon after as the Director of Settlement -- I was determined to make each newcomer’s arrival a positive experience. For almost 30 years, I managed the cases of more than 30,000 immigrants from North Africa, Eastern Europe, Russia and other countries. I assisted in providing financial support, finding homes and jobs for our new immigrants. I felt personally responsible for each and every one of them and strived to provide each new family with a seamless integration into our community.
At the same time, Elise and I were also driven to preserve our treasured Sephardi heritage. We were actively involved on countless committees and boards serving and representing the Sephardi community. From our first Minyan at the YMHA at Spadina and Bloor in 1957 to the founding of the Magen David Sephardic Congregation and Or Haemet Sephardic School to the establishment of the Sephardic Kehila Centre, we always were and continue to be committed to ensuring the preservation of our thriving Sephardi culture within our Jewish community at large.
Our greatest joy was learning that our children, choosing to surprise us for both our 75th birthdays, set up an endowment fund with Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto in our honour. We are blessed with the knowledge that our values, commitment and hard work have impacted them. They chose to give us a gift that will keep on giving and will continue to support the causes near to our hearts.
Or Haemet Sephardic School, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre and JIAS (Jewish Immigrant Aid Services) Toronto receive financial support from UJA Federation of Greater Toronto.