Ruth Carol Feldman

My Story...

At the 75th anniversary of St. John's High School in 1985, a former classmate who I hadn't seen in years approached me and said that she had always admired me because I was "so open and interesting; so fascinating and independent." It was among the greatest compliments I had ever received.

My character has been shaped in large measure by the fact that I came from two dynamic, but very different families. The Nusgarts, on my father's side, were business people; the Blumbergs, on my mother's side, were prominent, left-of-centre activists.

I was born in 1941 to Max and Ida Nusgart (nee Blumberg). My mother was born in Winnipeg in 1916. As a young child she battled rheumatic fever, and at the early age of 40 she had the first open-heart surgery ever performed in Winnipeg. She was indeed a woman of valour—despite her health challenges, she never complained and she lived a long and full life. My father was born in 1910 and was involved with the Montefiore Club, the YMHA, the Jewish National Fund, the Wildewood Club and Glendale. He was a busy and successful grain trader.

My father's parents were Isaac and Rebecca Nusgart. They came to Winnipeg from Romania in 1905. My mother's parents were John and Millie Blumberg, who came here from Liverpool, England, also in 1905. I remember roaring Friday night dinners at the Blumberg home. There were always many people around, talking passionately about politics. My grandfather John was an active member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and was a city councillor for 36 years. He was a passionate Labour Zionist, he ran for mayor, he was the head of Winnipeg Transit and was a presence in the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919.

I grew up with my brother Paul mostly on McAdam Avenue, east of Main Street—a colourful neighbourhood to say the least. A vast majority of the people were Jewish, and most knew each other. I remember an "open door" policy on the street where people would enter each other's homes freely. The neighbourhood was open and unusual and it was the launching pad for many prominent and successful men and women.

My youth was somewhat unconventional and I believe that I saw the world through different lenses than most of my peer group. With the combination of my grandfather and his politics, and my father, whose business took him around the world from the early years of my life, I was exposed to an international scene. At the age of nine, and for three years after, my brother Paul and I, along with six other young friends, travelled to Chicago where we attended summer camp for eight weeks, something totally unheard of in the early 1950s.

I truly enjoyed my childhood. I attended Luxton, St. John's High School and graduated from University of Winnipeg Collegiate (United College). I was rather impatient as a student and was more interested in the arts and in the travel we were doing than I was in school. I enjoyed my YMHA club (the YYGs) and I was also in the first group of kids to travel by taxi from the North End to Shaarey Zedek for Hebrew school.

I married Allan Feldman in 1961. We raised three wonderful children who are all now successful, outstanding adults. Robyn lives in New York; Steven, his wife Leanne and daughter Avigail live in White Rock, B.C.; and Jon, his wife Kristine and son Koen live in Vancouver. Allan owned and operated "Contessa," a very successful chain of ladies' wear stores that he ultimately sold in the mid-1980s. I often joined him on buying trips to Montreal and Toronto.

It was a good, middle-class life, but I started to do some soul-searching in the mid-1980s and began to wonder if this is the life I truly wanted. It was a time of deep reflection about career, about politics, about identity and about sexuality. Allan and I divorced as I sought new directions in my life. I am proud and grateful that Allan and my children lovingly accepted my decisions.

In 1990, I started to become very active politically, specifically with the federal Liberal Party. My interest in politics led to board membership with the National Capital Commission for seven years and some committee work with an Environment Canada program. I remain very interested in politics today.

I also carved out a new career as a realtor. My father had encouraged my interest in real estate and I worked with him in a family real estate business that dissolved after his death in 1986. "You have a mouth," he said in encouraging me to consider becoming a realtor. "You'll use it!" I still work as a realtor and in my free time, I like to travel for visits and vacations with my children, my grandchildren, and other family and friends. I love the times we spend together for special occasions or just to enjoy each other's company.

My dear father was right in that I've never been one to refrain from expressing myself. And I hope that my participation in the Jewish Foundation Endowment Book of Life program makes a statement, too. To me, it's a statement of pride in my community and statement that we need more resources to become an even more vibrant community.

By helping to strengthen my community, it's my hope that my gift to the Foundation helps to attract newcomers to Winnipeg's Jewish community. It is also my hope that more and more Jews participate in broader life of our city.

It is my dream that our community will become increasingly sensitive to the needs of newcomers of all backgrounds. After all, we were immigrants, too. We can't forget that.

I am hopeful that Winnipeg's new Canadian Museum for Human Rights will help us remember. And I hope it will promote not only tolerance among people, but acceptance. At the time of writing, I had a recent opportunity to tour the facility under construction. The building is larger than life—awesome and awe-inspiring. I hope that it will be a place where all people can learn, grow and contribute to a good future for everyone.

I dream of a community where we openly embrace and develop friendships with people of all faith and ethnic backgrounds; of all sexual identities and lifestyles. Anti-Semitism has hurt our people throughout history, sometimes in very extreme ways. It is my hope that we continue to learn the lessons of history, that we won't fear or marginalize others the ways Jews have been feared and marginalized. As Jews, we need to make it our business to learn about others. That's how we will build a better Winnipeg and a better world.