It has been more than 65 years since Berte (Sarner) Rubin lived in Winnipeg, yet she still recalls her hometown, her early school experiences, and her childhood friends and relatives with great affection.
Berte was born in Winnipeg on March 21, 1924 and grew up with her older siblings, Wilfred, Sam, Dorothy, Evelyn and twin sister Rona (Rose) at 367 Salter Avenue in the city's north end. Berte's father, Benjamin, had immigrated to Canada from Russia before World War I. Her mother, Sara, followed him to Winnipeg after the war, circa 1920.
Sara was a loving mother and wife, an excellent cook, and a good friend and neighbour. While she cared for her home and family, Benjamin was employed as the superintendent of the Jewish Old Folks Home of Western Canada. During the summers, he traveled from small town to small town in Manitoba and Saskatchewan visiting Jewish owners of general stores and encouraging them to lend their financial support to the Home. Upon his return to Winnipeg, he would regale his family with stories of his adventures on the road.
Berte loved listening to her father's stories and, from the age of four, also loved reading other stories. As she eloquently recalls in A Lifelong Love Affair with Books, published in Living Legacies Volume II, A Collection of Writings by Contemporary Canadian Jewish Women, she used to read by flashlight at night and hiding out in the bathroom during the day — the only bathroom for 11 people — so that she could have the peace and quiet she needed to focus on her beloved books.
This love of reading naturally extended into a love of school. Berte was an excellent student at Machray School from grades one to nine, at St. John's Tech for high school and in her evening classes at the Peretz School. She also excelled in and enjoyed a variety of sports, among them baseball, volleyball, basketball and tennis.
Berte dreamed about attending university, but knew that she first had to work and earn money in order to do so. With this in mind, she enrolled in a business course directly after high school, found a clerical job and began saving her money. After three years, however, she was encouraged to lend her savings to her brother Sam so that he could start a business.
In 1945 Berte attended her brother Wilfred's wedding in Toronto, and decided to remain in the big city where wages were higher. She found work with the Wartime Prices and Trade Board, and later the Railway and Power Engineering Company, and soon began night courses at Jarvis Collegiate in order to prepare for university.
During that year in Toronto she met Alex Rubin, from Edmonton, through mutual friends. She and Alex were married at the Royal Alex Hotel in Winnipeg on December 11, 1946 in a double ceremony with Rona and her husband. Berte and Alex returned to Toronto to live and build a life together, visiting Winnipeg regularly. Berte's father passed away in 1957 at the age of 71. Her mother passed away in 1986 at the age of 98.
While Alex worked as a developer, Berte mainly stayed at home raising their five children, Ilan, Wendy, Lezli, Benjamin and Ellie. But with Alex's support she also pursued her life long dream to attend university. For 13 years she took evening and summer courses towards her BA in sociology at the University of Toronto, and then over the next 12 years worked towards her Masters and PhD in adult education and counseling. Her doctoral thesis, based on her own experiences, was entitled Coping Resources of Married, Middle-Aged Professional Women with Children: A Study of Stress Related to Role Conflict.
With PhD in hand Berte began building a fascinating and fulfilling career, working in private practice and for both the non-profit and private sectors, consulting, publishing academic articles and books, and lecturing extensively. She is proud that she never gave up on her goal of attending university, and is grateful that, regardless of how long it took, she had the opportunity to realize her dream. Remembering her yearning to attend university, and her subsequent disappointment when years later she still could not afford to do so, Berte has established an academic scholarship at the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba to help young women in the community pursue their post secondary education.
Berte is also grateful for many other aspects of her life, including her satisfying career, her good health, her good friends and especially her long and happy marriage to Alex, which ended with his death in 2002. She is grateful too for her remarkable children who, with her 15 grandchildren, are scattered in Toronto, Vancouver, Palo Alto, and Israel.
Nowadays, Berte still lectures and conducts the occasional workshop. She also spends time supporting eclectic Jewish and non-Jewish causes, attending theatre and concerts, and pursuing her lifelong hobbies of tennis, bridge and reading. As she wrote in Living Legacies, "—reading has provided me with a much needed oasis in the midst of a very active and involved life with a large circle of family and friends." Eighty-three years after she first learned to read, learning and books remain Berte Rubin's abiding passion.