By REBECA KUROPATWA The Zita and Mark Bernstein Family Foundation became the first in Winnipeg to donate a complete ambulance and scooter to Magen David Adom on Mark’s 90th birthday, December 1st.
The gift was made in honour of Mark’s late mother, Sara Bernstein, who was the first National Chair of Magen David Adom in Canada - under the Hadassah-WIZO umbrella.
“I came from a very strong Zionist family,” said Mark Bernstein. “My grandmother started Na’amat here. Her life was Zionism. I don’t remember her ever cooking. She cooked scrambled eggs for me one time...not your typical baba. Her name was Tema Churchill. They got the name Churchill, because the immigration officer couldn’t spell Chechelnyetski.”
According to Bernstein, his Baba Tema’s feelings for Israel were so strong that, in 1930, she took Bernstein’s aunt for company, left her husband in Winnipeg, and spent two years in Israel.
“I’ve heard that my grandmother and my aunt carried handguns in their handbags to some of the kibbutzim,” said Bernstein. “At that time, of course, Tel-Aviv didn’t exist. It was just sort of a hill. So, Tema decided to buy a piece of land in Haifa on the Carmel for the whole family to move there.”
After Bernstein’s baba passed away, his grandfather gave this land to Na’amat. Then, Na’amat sold it, bought lower cost land in Haifa, and built a children’s centre.
Bernstein’s mother, Sara, was 13-years-old when the family moved to Winnipeg. She was active in Hadassah-WIZO and his father Maurice was active in a men’s Zionist club – The Sharon Club. It’s no wonder that Bernstein went on to become a member of Young Judea as a kid.
For as long as Bernstein could recall, his mom was always active with Hadassah- WIZO. What he was not aware of until she passed away in 1986 was that his mother was also involved with Magen David Adom (MDA).
“MDA Canada was a committee under Hadassah-Wizo at that time,” said Bernstein. “It was not a separate organization. My mother was made the national chairman in 1958, according to documents I found with her belongings.
“All I had known was that she was part of the ‘Hadassah Mafia’ here.”
Bernstein lost most of his own ties to the Jewish community when he moved to Queen’s University in Kingston, ON to attend school. He later worked in Minneapolis and Toronto as a professional chemical engineer before heading to Europe for a year in 1950-1951 traveling and working, when he ran out of money.
Later in his career, Bernstein acquired the family paint business from his father and uncle. “We developed, manufactured, and sold coatings for people in industry,” he explained. “They had a product. They had to paint it. In November 1997, I sold the company and retired.”
Bernstein’s wife, Zita, passed away over six years ago. Zita was born in Saskatchewan and came to Winnipeg when she was about eight-years-old. She went on to become a musician – in particular, a very good pianist. “Her passion became German Lieder and the family established an annual competition 19 years ago in the singing of Lieder at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Music.
“She loved everything art-related, although we never accumulated art,” said Bernstein. “We traveled a lot to Europe, as much as we could. She made me what I am today. She took me to all the things that engineers don’t study.”
Zita had family in Israel. Relatives on her mother’s side went to Israel after WWII, mainly settling in Haifa. Bernstein is still in regular contact with them and has a very warm relationship with them. “I think they are all wonderful, wonderful people,” he said. “I speak to them quite regularly. We’re very close.”
Zita worked as a librarian and ultimately worked in most areas of the library system before taking on the role of librarian assistant to the head librarian at the U of M until she retired.
On being asked why Bernstein decided to donate the ambulance and scooter in his mother’s memory, Bernstein explained that he decided to make the donation because he can. And, he felt the need to do it.
“Israel has approximately 1,000 ambulances,” he added, “but the average life span of an ambulance there is only five years.”
“The survival of Israel is deeply engrained in me,” said Bernstein. “I look at everything in terms of how it affects Israel. I could give my money to almost any institution, and I will. But, MDA is an organization that saves lives.
“Learning of my mother’s involvement gave me another push to make the donation in her memory. It’s not a present to a university or some other institution. It’s a gift to the people of Israel and the State of Israel. And, G-d knows, that it won’t go to waste.
“For the foreseeable future, this is a necessity. The demand is not going to go down anytime soon. The survival of Israel and its people is a very important part of my life. I hope it will save many lives.”