By Yossi Suissa
I’ve dedicated most of my professional life to teaching, whether in the classroom or working with school administrators to find ways to integrate technology into the learning environment. And while I have great respect for the education system where I live and work, I came to a point in my career where I needed new challenges. These days, I am still helping children learn and meet their academic goals, but I’m doing it as a Tutor Doctor franchisee in Calgary. I guess you’re never too old to learn something new.
Live and learn
Although I was born in Tangier, Morocco, our family relocated to Jerusalem in 1963 when I was two years old. My parents didn’t see much opportunity for finding jobs, so we moved to northern Israel two years later. My father soon found a teaching position, while my mother worked as a dormitory matron at Yemin Orde Youth Village. This organization offers a home and education to children from all over Israel and abroad who come from disadvantaged families or are new immigrants in need of assistance.
Getting a good education was pretty important to my parents, which is why they sent me to an all-boys boarding school for four years when I was about 14. With no parents around, those were fun times for my friends and me. That’s not to say I wasn’t serious about my studies. In fact, I found I had a knack for computers, although they were quite primitive at the time. I remember feeding punch cards into an enormous computer to create a very basic program while on a trip to the University of Haifa. I was fascinated with technology, particularly with building motherboards and writing programs, which I got to do in school.
Toward the end of my high school years, my thoughts were on mandatory military service, rather than going to university, although that would come later. My friends and I spent a great deal of time in Grade 12 getting in the best physical shape possible. For three years after graduating, I served in a unit that combined military service with learning trades related to farming and establishing new communities.
Completing my military service in 1985, I enrolled in Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan with an eye on Middle Eastern studies, specializing in Greek and Roman history. I had always been interested in philosophy, but didn’t think about studying it formally until I entered university. I had to help pay for my own education, so when I wasn’t in school, I was cutting diamonds at a nearby manufacturing facility. For three nights out of the week, I would cut diamonds using a laser over the course of a six-hour shift. During that time, I also supervised a ‘block watch’ station and worked with kids who had dropped out of school and were in trouble with the law.
Next stop, Newfoundland
By 1989, I had completed a bachelor of arts (BA) and was faced with the question all university graduates must answer: now what? Of course, I knew I had to find a job, preferably in an area that interested me and I could apply my skills and education.
A small ad in a newspaper in Tel Aviv for a teaching position caught my eye. It mentioned a very small Jewish community in St. John’s, N.L., was looking for someone to teach children Hebrew and other subjects normally taught at a Jewish day school. I felt this was a pretty interesting opportunity and I very quickly sent off my resumé and cover letter. I interviewed for the job and by 1990, I was in Canada teaching Jewish studies in a community that dated back to 1909 with the founding of the first synagogue in Newfoundland. In all my studies of Jewish history, I had never seen it mentioned that hundreds of families had settled in Newfoundland after the Second World War. Being part of this community was quite special to me.
I spent my afternoons teaching and devoted the rest of my time to studying Eastern religions at Memorial University and seeing the local sights. I had always wanted to travel and experience different ways of life and was glad to be able to do that to some extent in Newfoundland. I explored the province, talking to people I met along the way and learning more about this rock off Canada’s coast I now called home.
It was at a Hanukkah party that love entered my life. Although I knew I would have to return to Israel at the end of my contract, I couldn’t help but notice Cindy. She was doing a psychiatry residency at a local hospital. We began dating soon after, but then I left for home and she moved to Montreal. We stayed in touch and met up several times over the next while. It wasn’t long before we decided to get married and did so in Tel Aviv.
Cindy was still finishing her studies at McGill University in Montreal, so in 1993, I packed my bags for good. Arriving in Canada, I had to seriously consider my options and decided to enrol in McGill and work toward a diploma in education and teaching. In the meantime, I tutored a few students.