Dr, Victor Goldbloom, a pediatrician, prominent leader in the community, the first Jew to be named a Quebec Cabinet Minister and a former federal Commissioner of Official Languages, died in Montreal last week at the age of 92. He was also invested by Pope Benedict XIV as a knight in the Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Sylvester Pope and Martyr, one of the few Jews worldwide to be so honoured by the Vatican for his efforts to promote Catholic-Jewish dialogue for a period of almost six decades.His interest in resolving the misunderstanding between Christians and Jews began in the 1950’s when he was invited by Jesuits to be part of a dialogue at Loyola College.
“It was an intellectualy stimulating exercise, calling upon all that I learned about Judaism and obliging me to learn a great deal more,” he wrote in his memoirs, Building Bridges. Over the years he became a friend and confidant of at least four cardinals – Leger, Gregoire, Carter and Turcotte – with whom he worked to establish an in-depth dialogue and create structured conversations between the two religions.
“With a serene awareness of own Jewish faith, but with his heart and mind open to all he dedicated his life to improving the encounter between Christians and Jews,” said Montreal’s archbishop Christian Lepine who was at the funeral. Montreal’s mayor Denis Coderre described Dr. Goldbloom as a “unifying force,” who devoted the greater part of his life to reconciling the Jewish and Christian communities, as well as Francophones and Anglophones, and to advocating tolerance and respect.”
Flags at city hall were lowered in mourning as representatives of more than a dozen religious communities, MNAs and MPs of all political stripes, - including NDP leader Thomas Mulcair - joined mourners and filled the 1,200 seat Temple Emmanu-el Beth Sholom, a reform Synagogue in Westmount. In her euglogy Rabbi Lisa Grusheow remembered Dr. Goldbloom as a great man, a man who set the bar exceedingly high. He was she said, someone who would stand his ground but who had great respect for others and a measured judgment which allowed him to get things done.
Victor Goldbloom, a doctor’s son, was born in Montreal on July 21, 1923. He had a patrician private school education and obtained his medical degree from McGill University in 1945. His political career began in 1965 when he sought the Liberal nomination for the federal constituency of Mount Royal but lost to Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He then turned his attention to his commitment to medicare in Quebec and was elected a member of the National Assembly the following year. When the Liberals took office in 1970 Premier Robert Bourassa appointed him to the Quebec cabinet, the first Jew to hold a cabinet portfolio in the province Although he later distinguished himself as Minister of Municipal Affairs it was as Quebec’s first environment minister that Dr. Goldbloom insisted he had made the greatest contribution to public service as “a pioneer of environmental protection.” He quit politics in 1979 to become head of the Canadian and then the International Council of Christians and Jews. In 1991 he was named Commissioner of Official languages.
Affectionately known within his family as “Papa Doc,” his children and grandchildren spoke of someone who was always engaged and engaging. He had a photographic memory, was able to do French crossword puzzles in English, played the piano, had a fine tenor voice and could sing Italian arias and loved the theatre. (Dr, Goldbloom once acted on stage in a production of Romeo and Juliet with Christopher Plummer,) He also did an hour long television program with Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte about the leadership of Pope Pius XII during World War II.
He could be critical of others when need be, and in 2012 denounced the United Church of Canada’s boycott of Israel. “I am one of Israel’s defenders, notably when churches become its detractors,” he said. “I denounce the appellation of Israel as an ‘aparthied’ state, as thoroughly inaccurate and I bring forward the many positive things that Israeli’s do in relation to their Palestinian neighbours.”
In his memoirs, published last year by McGill Queen’s University Press, Dr. Goldbloom wrote that in spite of their historic differences Catholics and Jews “have come a very long way since World War Two. The greatest progress has been in the reciprocal and mutual respect between Christians and Jews. We are looking at our shared history and understanding it differently and more positively from the way we did for two millennia. I believe – and I hope that I am right – that this change is irreversible.”