David Rome (1910-1996)


Photo by Edward Hillel, 1988

Born in Lithuania in 1910, David Rome was an observer of the Canadian Jewish experience since his arrival in Vancouver (via Halifax) in 1921. As a young man he studied English literature at the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington in Seattle. He later obtained degrees in Library Science and English Literature from McGill University and Université de Montréal.

Before coming to Canadian Jewish Congress as the organization's first press officer in 1942, David Rome was the English editor of the Toronto Hebrew Journal as well as the first national director of the Labour Zionist Organization. During his early years at CJC he worked with many of the shapers of the Canadian Jewish community: Samuel Bronfman and Saul Hayes, H. M. Caiserman and Louis Rosenberg. Later he became known to most of Montreal's Jews as the director of the Jewish Public Library, before returning to CJC as archivist in 1972.

From his earliest days in Montreal, David Rome showed a deep concern with creating a dialogue and spirit of communality between Jews and the French Canadian population of Quebec. In 1942 he served as secretary to the Congress committee for Jewish French Canadian relations, and in the early 1950s he founded the Cercle Juif de la Langue Française, the first Francophone Jewish cultural group in Canada. He also served on the Council of Arts for the Government of Quebec and the Comité Judeo Catholique established by Archbishop Paul Grégoire in 197l.

He was the co-author, with Father Jacques Langlais, of two books about Jewish-French Quebec relations: Juifs et québécois français: 200 ans d'histoire commune, (1986, English version 1991) and Les Pierres qui parlent/ The Stones that Speak (1992). In 1987 he co-founded the Institut Québécois d'études sur la culture juive to further research and publications in this field. In recognition of his ceaseless efforts along these lines, David Rome was named Knight of the Order of Quebec in 1987, and in further recognition of his work, in April 1991 he received the Prix d'Excellence from the Quebec Government Ministry of Cultural Communities and Immigration, the province's highest award for fostering intercultural relations.

A prolific historian and a devoted bibliographer of Jewish Canadiana, Rome's first historical book was published in 1942 by H.M. Caiserman. He went on to publish over 60 volumes on Canadian Jewish history and literature, the majority under the auspices of the Canadian Jewish Archives new series, produced by the CJC National Archives, and sold to libraries and private individuals across the world. In recognition of his work, Rome was honoured by the CJC Officers in September 1989, and in June 1991 Montreal's Concordia University awarded him an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

drome2From his desk at the National Archives of Canadian Jewish Congress David Rome continued until his 1994 retirement, and indeed, despite failing health, until the end of his days, to instruct and to absorb the experience of Canadian Jewish history in a changing society.

Visitors to the archives and to his home came for edification, always leaving behind them an account of their own unique experiences, as distilled from his incisive questions and analyses. Through his constant and loving commitment he made the CJC National Archives (now known as the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives) into a crossroads and a centre of learning for all Canadians.