MONTREAL – Premier Philippe Couillard invited the Jewish community’s participation in building an open and inclusive Quebec at an evening in tribute to the Goldbloom family held at their longtime spiritual home, Temple Emanu-El-Beth Sholom, on May 26.
Victor Goldbloom, who died in February, is a model for the type of openness and inclusion Couillard wants for the province, which he stressed needs more immigrants.
“We need the help of the Jewish community to make all feel like full-fledged partners in building Quebec,” the premier said before an audience of about 500.
Goldbloom, who was Quebec’s first Jewish minister and served 14 years in the National Assembly, was devoted not simply to talking about interfaith and intercultural understanding, but living its principles, Couillard said.
“He went beyond that to building bridges; it’s harder when you extend your hand and say, ‘I want you to be part of me, I want to be part of you.’”
The evening was a salute to Victor’s wife Sheila and their children Susan, Michael and Jonathan and their families, who were recognized for carrying on that legacy.
Michael Goldbloom said that his father was “particularly impressed by the strong and principled leadership of [Couillard] over the PQ’s so-called charter of values,” as well as his showing that a Quebecer can be a proud Canadian and be deeply attached to the French language and culture.
The most eloquent words about the Goldbloom family – and in particular Sheila, a retired McGill University social work professor – were those of Amal Elsana Alhjooj, a Bedouin woman from Israel, who is now director of McGill’s International Community Action Network, formerly the Middle East Peace Program.
She was in the program’s first class in 1997, which brought together Arab and Jewish Israelis and Jordanians (Palestinians later joined) for a year of study toward a special master’s social work degree.
Sheila Goldbloom was assigned her host and mentor.
Elsana Alhjooj, from a small Negev village, had never had a “meaningful” encounter with a Jew. She called her father and asked what to do before she came to a Jewish home.
As it was near Rosh Hashanah, he told her to take gifts of honey and apples.
Her trepidation as she stood outside the door of that Westmount house vanished immediately with the warm welcome she received and that has endured as friendship to this day.
“I felt there was no way I can ever see a Jew as the ‘other’ person again,” she recalled.
That is not to suggest she did not have frank discussions with the Goldblooms about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“I criticized Israel for the minimal rights I had. I could see Victor was torn between his values of justice, fairness and human rights and his love of Israel as a democratic state. But he never gave up exploring the issue,” she said.
“When I went back to Israel, I said there can’t be no Jewish people there just like these people. So I founded the Arab-Jewish Centre for Equality, Empowerment and Co-operation in Be’er Sheva,” which still exists.
Sheila said Elsana Alhjooj’s journey “personifies Victor’s credo of ‘be present, be engaged, be constructive’, and despite tremendous obstacles you have brought hope. We are so fortunate to have you at McGill.”
The benefit evening was planned months before Victor’s death, and the family decided to go ahead because the theme was so dear to him, she said. The proceeds will go toward an annual interfaith symposium at the Temple, named in honour of Sheila and Victor, who would have been married 68 years this month.
While aging is no picnic, Sheila said belonging to a community can ease growing old; it not only assuages loneliness, but allows one to remain active.