Steiner’s career in education got off to a rocky start. She only got as far as grade five before the Nazis invaded her native Hungary. Steiner is Jewish but she stayed out of the Nazis’ hands with the help of a Zionist underground group, which saw to it that she was labelled a Christian.
By 1946, the war was over and Steiner was part of a group determined to migrate to Palestine. “We took a train west and said we were from Czechoslovakia. We came to a camp run by the Russians in Austria,” which was then occupied by the victorious Allied forces, she says.
“We walked to the Alps and came to British territory in Austria. The British said that we could go to any country we wanted but not Palestine.”
The crossed they Alps on foot into Italy. From there, they boarded a ship on the way to the Promised Land.
Landing in Montreal
When Steiner arrived in what is now Israel, she joined a kibbutz and lived there for two years. “We worked in the morning and studied in the afternoon,” she says. She married a man whom she met on the boat ride, and they had two children together. In January 1952, the family immigrated to Montreal.
Steiner’s marriage lasted 20 years. Unhappy, she consulted with a psychiatrist, who asked her what she enjoyed doing. For Steiner, the choice was clear.
She enrolled in night classes at Sir George Williams High School, taking math, history and English. After a year, the principal took her aside and told her that with her grades, she should be going to university. “I was surprised,” Steiner says. “I didn’t realize I could do that.”
She applied to Sir George Williams University, one of Concordia’s founding institutions. Yet Steiner had concerns about attending university as a mature student. “I had a self-imposed condition: if I failed even one course, I was out,” she says.
She need not have worried. Steiner continued to do well and graduated in 1975 from the newly merged university. “I went to my guidance counsellor [at Concordia] unaware of what to do,” she recalls. “She said that I could teach.”
Steiner returned to Israel and taught there for 22 years, and capped off her retirement with a Teacher of the Year award.
A passion for education