Farewell to an idealist

Betty Dubiner - a woman of valor and an idealist till the end.

A slender, beautiful woman with flaming red hair when she was young, Betty Dubiner was a ball of energy, with a fiery zest that matched her hair. She aged gracefully, retaining an abiding interest in what was going on around her. Dubiner, who was born in 1913 in London, Ontario, came to Israel with her husband, Sam, from Canada in 1950. It was rare at the time for affluent people from the West to make aliya, and then as now, not all of them lasted the distance. The Dubiners did. Sam, (1914-1993), was an entrepreneurial industrialist, and Betty was an idealist who believed in doing good for the less fortunate, especially those with mobility problems. American-born writer and publisher Murray Greenfield, another veteran immigrant who was one of the founders of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, recalled this week that the Dubiners were enrolled in an ulpan during the large wave of immigration from Iraq. In those days immigrants didn't go to absorption centers as they did later or directly to their new homes as they do now. They were placed in transit camps that were mostly made up of tents. It was winter and a terrible storm blew down the tents. The Dubiners heard about this from some of their Iraqi classmates, so they took their Cadillac, said Greenfield, and went from transit camp to transit camp picking up people and transporting them to the more comfortable, warmer and dryer quarters of school classrooms. Around that time there was a polio outbreak in Israel, and no proper facility for the children who were victims of the epidemic. Betty Dubiner took instant action and founded Ilan, the Israel Society for Disabled Children. In Canada, the Dubiners had been active in Betar and later had supported Menachem Begin's IZL (the Irgun) through the Canadian League for a Free Palestine. They were avid collectors, and inter alia clipped everything pertaining to the Yishuv and to Zionism out of the newspapers. It was something they continued after they came to Israel, eventually building up one of the most comprehensive archives of the history of Israel in the making and in its subsequent development. Betty Dubiner eventually presented the archive to the Ariel College. Greenfield remembered that Sam Dubiner had supported struggling artists, many of whom later became famous. "They put up money, they gave money and they made others give money," said Greenfield, adding that as a result of Sam's filmmaking they also knew a lot of people in Hollywood and had persuaded celebrities such as Danny Kaye to help out in fund-raising drives for the volunteer projects. Betty Dubiner wrote letters to the editor of The Jerusalem Post and to various reporters expressing approval of pieces they had published. She remained committed to helping people who had been dealt a cruel blow by fate. Her love affair with Israel was enduring. She was a lifelong idealist who saw every project through to the end.