July 28, 26 Tammuz (2003) was the first yahrzeit of Sarah (Steinhauer) Rumack, who in 1941 started the first Beth Hayeled (nursery) at the Brunswick Talmud Torah, a program that grew into Toronto’s first Jewish day school.
“I don’t know of any teacher who didn’t have the highest regard for Sarah — as a teacher, and as a colleague who was always ready to assist in any way, and as a friend,” said Eva Dessen, who was a close friend and colleague of Rumack and once taught at the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto, the successor to that first day school.
Dessen, who delivered a eulogy at Rumack’s unveiling, said Rumack started many programs that are still part of the Associated curriculum. “She was so creative and sincere. She wrote books and trained teachers, and her house was always open to teachers who came from Israel and would stay at her home until they could become established.
“Several generations of former students were privileged to receive not only academic excellence but the warmth and affection that became her hallmark.”
Rumack was a student at the Brunswick Talmud Torah during World War II, when the supply of teachers from Europe was cut off, creating a shortage of teachers.
When she was 15, she and several other top students were selected to teach. She went to New York to take a Hebrew teachers’ course at the Jewish Theological Seminary, since there was nothing similar in Canada.
Soon after graduation, she was asked by Levi Jacober, principal of the Brunswick Talmud Torah, to set up a day nursery program.
In an interview with The CJN in 1987, the year she retired, Rumack said she personally went calling on people who had young children to ask them to enrol the youngsters in the nursery program. She donated most of the materials for the first class and got her husband Oscar and friends to help with the work. She received $8 a week for teaching and training teachers.
Each year, an additional grade was added to the new day school. Rumack taught Grade 1 until her retirement from Associated more than four decades later.
In her own words, she summed up her philosophy of teaching. “The characteristics that make a good teacher are, someone who really cares – because a child senses it and responds – and you need a sense of humour, patience, an optimistic outlook and a good imagination.”
The Rumacks had two children, Michael, a chazzan and bar/bat mitzvah teacher and Gail, an English teacher in Israel who has published a number of books on teaching. The teaching tradition has also carried on to another generation. Michael’s daughter, Ruth, runs a tutoring service in Toronto. ♦
© 2003 by Cynthia Gasner. Originally appeared in Canadian Jewish News.