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September 14, 1990 - Image 29

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-09-14

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Finally, I was crying so hard I had to
leave the room. I felt very blessed."
Mrs. Behar's "great sadness" is that
"we never had time to build our own syn-
agogue." The Sephardic Community
holds Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah and Yom
Kippur services at the Zionist Cultural
Center.
Shirley Chicorel met her future hus-
band, Marcel Behar, when she was 20.
She was attending a Chanukah party
when Mr. Behar's mother approached
her.
"She saw me, and she fell in love with
me. She was thinking about me for her
son, an engineer. It was almost an ar-
ranged marriage."
Marcel Behar was born in Egypt, the
son of an agronomist from Bulgaria who,
at 38, married for the first time. His bride
was 20. The two moved to Egypt, "which
was then considered the land of milk and
honey," and lived a life of luxury, Mrs.
Behar says. They had a chauffeur, an
elegant garden and a full-time
housekeeper.
When young Marcel and his sister sail-
ed for the United States, they wore tux-

edos and traveled first class. They were
visiting Spain when Egypt, in 1948, join-
ed other Arab nations in an attack on the
new state of Israel. The Behars never
went back to Egypt.
They had no complaints about life in the
United States. "They loved America,"
Mrs. Behar says. "They were so proud to
be Americans."
Marcel Behar and Shirley Chicorel
were married in 1955. Following Sephar-
dic custom, no chuppah was used; instead,
a tallit was placed over both their heads
during the ceremony.
Today, the Behars belong to Congrega-
tion B'nai David. But they retain such
Sephardic traditions as passing the seder
tray above each guest and pouring wine
into a bowl when "Dayenu" is said at
Pesach. The Passover meal always in-
cludes the customary mena, meat pie.
Richard Behar, Shirley's son, serves on
the Sephardic Community board.
Shirley Behar is the only one of the
Chicorels' children to marry a Sephardic
Jew. Her own children date and have
married Ashkenazim.
"I would have liked for them to marry

Shirley Behar:
"Once when I
heard my father
sing I was so
moved I started
crying. I felt very
blessed."

Photo by Glenn Triest

Jacob Chicorel, a chazzan with a lilting
and soulful voice who spoke nine lang-
uages, worked as a peanut salesman on
Belle Isle. Each night, his wife would
roast the nuts for Jacob.
Judith Chicorel hated Detroit. "It was
the worst time in her life," Mrs. Behar
says. "It was horrible. Cockroaches were
everywhere. They didn't have any beds.
My mother said she cried all her tears
that first year here."
Language also was difficult for the
Chicorels who spoke Ladino (Judeo-
Spanish). Some Ashkenazi Jews refused
to believe the Chicorels were Jewish be-
cause they did not know Yiddish.
Though always on good terms with
Ashkenazi Jews, their traditions —every-
thing from foods to the tunes they sang in
synagogue — were foreign. So the Behars
began to establish a community with
other Sephardic Jews, holding their first
High Holy Day services in their home in
1917.
They later created the Spanish Jewish
Community of Greater Detroit, with
Jacob as president.
"The richness of the Sephardic culture
stayed with them in so many ways, like
poetry and a certain attitude — being
polite, gracious, warm and loving," Mrs.
Behar says.
Judith Chicorel cooked only from scrat-
ch. Some of her specialties were roast
lamb in lemon juice and a vegetable frit-
tata of spinach and eggplant. And for
dessert, she prepared buisquochico, small,
sweet biscuits.
The parents of six children, the
Chicorels' initial frustration with their
new life in the United States faded as
Jacob prospered professionally. He left
his peanut-selling job for a position with
Ford, where he became a supervisor. "He
was very proud of that," Mrs. Behar says.
Jacob Chicorel later opened his own
business, a quick-order hamburger res-
taurant, and purchased the Victory
Bowling Alley on 12th Street.
He also became more involved with
Detroit Ashkenazi Jews. The Chicorels
joined Temple Beth El and sent their
children to the congregation's Sunday
school.
"It was another world," Mrs. Behar
says of the temple. Sephardic services
"were and still are so different."
Unlike large congregations, the
Sephardic Community is small enough to
allow members to frequently participate
in services, Mrs. Behar said. There is
separate seating for men and women, and
congregation members lead the service.
The synagogue is filled with a curious col-
lection of tunes and davening styles
reflecting the different birthplaces of the
members.
When a man walks to the bimah as he is
called to the Torah, his family stands. He
kisses his parents before he recites the
blessing.
"We sing the same tunes my parents
used," says Mrs. Behar, a piano teacher.
"I was always tremendously moved when
my father led services. He sang from his
soul.
"Once when I was 16 I heard my father
sing, and I was so moved I started crying.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

29

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