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Danita and Michel Aziza

Michel Aziza in his elementary shcool classroom

Michel Aziza in the neighborhood where he grew up in Toulouse



Last month Michel, my husband, celebrated his 50th birthday. A 50th birthday is a true milestone for many and for Michel perhaps even more so given the fact that at the age of 45 he was the recipient of triple bypass emergency heart surgery. We knew we wanted to make his 50th something special, but were a bit at a loss of what to do.
 Michel was born in Tangiers, Morocco but left at the age of three months to spend his youth growing up in the city of Toulouse in the southern part of France. His family left France when Michel was 19 to move to Toronto and he had not returned since. As France had mandatory army service in 1980, Michel left the country without serving in the military and was not able to return without repercussions until he was 36 years of age. Having neither the time nor the financial resources to do so at that point, he had never gone back to the place he grew up until three weeks ago when we acted on  the idea of  our youngest daughter, Rachel, and surprised him with a family trip to Toulouse to celebrate his 50th.
The five of us landed in Toulouse and squeezed into a car and drove to the center of the city. We spent most of our first day wandering the cobblestone streets taking in the sights of this beautiful European city with it’s pink brick buildings dating back to the early 1700s, visiting the open air markets and meandering through a few unbelievably beautiful museums. We woke early Friday morning and with merely a map and Michel’s recollections, traveled first to the Jewish cemetery where a great aunt and an uncle were buried and then to the neighborhood where he grew up.
After much driving, stopping many locals for directions and maneuvering the narrow streets of Toulouse, we found ourselves inside the elementary school that Michel attended, sat in his grade 3 classroom and listened to his stories and memories of a part of his life that neither I nor his three children had any real knowledge of prior to that moment. We brought a loaf of bread in the very bakery where his mother shopped, walked along the canal where he took his dog for walks, stood outside the apartment building where he lived for so many years and watched the expressions on his face as memories of the past came clearly into focus.
I spent much time observing not just Michel’s reactions, but also those of Tali, Benji, and Rachel who, up until then, truly had no real evidence of their Dad’s European past and had little true understanding of just how much their realities of youth differed from his. Equally astonishing to me were the differences from my own upbringing in a small, rural town in Saskatchewan to the surroundings and lifestyle that Michel experienced in France. There have always been obvious differences in our backgrounds given the Sephardic culture he comes from and my Ashkenazi roots, but now the differences seemed even more acute being able to tangibly compare Toulouse to Moose Jaw where I spent much of my formative years.
We sat in a courtyard with a majestic fountain and looked at the building that Ephraim, Michel’s Dad worked in as a bookkeeper for many years. Michel said the door was exactly as he remembered it only a little duller with age but with the same handle. We went to the grocery store and bought the cookies and candies that he remembered eating and the five of us shared a most unbelievable chocolate éclair. The kids and I asked Michel questions about growing up in Toulouse that we had never thought of before and we all gained a better understanding and idea of not just where he came from but a deeper appreciation for just how much change he had to adapt to and how much he had accomplished since leaving France for such a dramatically different world in Canada.
When Michel and I met in 1985 in Toronto, I remember one of our first conversations revolving around Israel and whether or not I would consider living there one day. At the age of 23 and having been on my own since I was 18, when a cute, nice boy with a thick French accent asks you if you’d even consider living in Israel, you immediately banish any previous recollections of pruning banana trees in plus 100 degree heat on an impoverished kibbutz in Northern Israel and quickly respond in the affirmative. Who would have thunk, as my Dad used to say, that 25 years later I would be departing
from my home in central Israel to travel with our three children to see for the first time such a big chunk of Michel’s past. Unbelievable.
Whenever life has taken one of those twists that all of us experience at one time or another and nothing quite makes sense in any rational sort of way, I often draw on my belief that so much of our lives are simply meant to be. However, as I pointed out to the kids as we sat on the park bench along the canal in Toulouse, dreams do have the ability to determine destiny. The dream that a person has may be, in fact, part of their destiny but without the ambition and the determination to make sure it is realized, destiny may be taken in a much different direction.  
As a young boy living in France, Michel hoped to one day live in Israel. The path that led him to realizing his dream was not always easy to follow and required focus, determination, an abundance of hard work, perseverance, positive thinking, faith and some good fortune along the way. I’m grateful that the destiny of a shy, adventure adverse Moose-Jawvian got intertwined with that risk taking, forward thinking strong willed young Zionist that made sure his dream would be part of his destiny.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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