When Michael Benarroch’s parents immigrated to Canada from Morocco in the early 1960s, no one in the family had ever earned a university degree. Now, Benarroch is preparing to take on his new role as president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba.
On July 1, he will become the third Jewish president in the university’s 143-year history. Currently the provost and vice-president, academic, at Ryerson University in Toronto, Benarroch says he is looking forward to returning to Winnipeg, his home town, to take on the assignment.
“This is a great opportunity for me, professionally,” he says.
Benarroch, who will be the first Sephardic Jew to hold the post, is the scion of one of Winnipeg’s first Sephardic families. His parents, Mary and Shlomo Benarroch, came to Winnipeg to join Mary’s brother, Mahlouf Muyal, and his family, who had arrived in this city a few years earlier.
“My parents hoped that their children would have more opportunity in Winnipeg,” he says. “It worked out very well for me and my brothers.”
Over the years, the late Shlomo Benarroch served the community as Torah reader, sofer, shochet and mohel. Michael Benarroch’s older brothers, Yossi and Yamin, are both Orthodox rabbis (in Winnipeg and Montreal, respectively) and his younger brother, Al, is the executive director of the Jewish Child & Family Service (JCFS) in Winnipeg and leads yom tov services at a local synagogue.
Benarroch served as chair of the Winnipeg Board of Jewish Education and coached basketball at Gray Academy. Benarroch’s wife, Kim, was on the boards of the Adas Yeshurun Herzlia Synagogue (where his brother in now spiritual leader) and JCFS prior to their move to Toronto in 2017.
Benarroch credits his supportive family and the Winnipeg Jewish community for his success in life. “My family was always willing to support anything we wanted to do,” he says.
Benarroch studied economics at the University of Winnipeg. It was during his fourth year – when he was asked to teach a class at a local college – that he discovered his love for teaching and decided to pursue an academic career.
After earning his master’s from Western University and a PhD from Carleton, he returned to teach at the University of Winnipeg. Following a 20-year career at the U of W – where he served as dean of the faculty of business and economics – he was invited to become the dean of the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba.
“It was an amazing experience,” he says of his five-year stint at the Asper school. “It was a very good fit for me. My values and those of the university were well aligned.”
He describes his time at Ryerson as a period of growth and renewal at the university. “Over the past two years, we have hired 150 new faculty members,” he says. “We have seen growth also in the number of students who have enrolled and we have developed a new five-year academic plan.”
While in Toronto, the Benarrochs have been members of the modern Orthodox Congregation Beth Lida and have been part of the Toronto Partnership Minyan, which he describes as Orthodox, but with a larger role for women.
In his new role, he explains, he will be the face of the university in the community. “I am looking forward to continued great support from the faculty, the board and the business and non-profit communities,” he says. “The University of Manitoba is the place where the majority of Manitoba students want to come to study.”