EXTERMINATION AND DETERMINATION
If you are like Yours Truly, then chances are your heart breaks whenever a coreligionist makes news headlines in a less than positive way. Alternatively, chances are your heart soars whenever a coreligionist makes news headlines in a way that brings naches to our people.
Such was the case this past week, when (Canadian) Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella became the fourth Canadian in its country’s history, as well as the first Canadian woman and the first Canadian Jew to receive an honorary degree from Yale School.
Had this been the sum total of Supreme Court Justice Abella’s accomplishments, we would have every right to proclaim Dayyeinu. Yet when all is said and done, the honorary degree conferred upon Supreme Court Justice Abella this past Sunday was but the tip of the iceberg.
Rosalie Silberman Abella is a naturalized Canadian citizen. She was born in a Displaced Persons Camp in Stuttgart Germany in 1946. Prior to Poland being overrun by Nazi Germany, Rosalie’s father Jacob attended law school. At the time, there was a quota for the number of Jewish students admitted into law School in that country. Those precious few who did make the quota were assigned special seats away from the other students. Rosalie’s father opted to stand for most of his first year as a student rather than sit in a “Jew only” section. Rosalie’s father was on his way to becoming a judge. Because the exam to be able to serve as judge was set for late 1939, the outbreak of World War II at the beginning of September of that year not only changed all that, but also affected the remainder of Jacob’s life as well as the life of his wife Hannah. The two managed to survive the horrors of Hitler; the two found the necessary strength to start over again even though their one and only child at the time perished in the Holocaust. Despite receiving government commendations for serving as defense counsel for displaced persons in the Allied Zone of Southwest Germany, Rosalie’s father was denied membership to the Canadian bar after immigrating to that country in 1950, because he was not a Canadian citizen. Instead, the Polish trained lawyer became an insurance salesman. With his new career and without a scintilla of bitterness, Jacob Silberman set out to make a life for his wife and the two daughters born to him and his wife after the war, Rosalie and Toni.
Young Rosalie was determined to pick up pieces of the shattered dream of her father. Earning a law degree from the University of Toronto in 1970 was only the beginning. Six years later, she became the youngest as well as the first pregnant judge in the history of Canada. Today, Rosalie Abella is considered one of Canada’s foremost experts on human rights law and has taught at McGill Law School in Montreal. In addition to last week’s degree from Yale, Rosalie Abella has received 26 other honorary degrees. What makes one of Canada’s leading lawyers truly unique however, is her refusal to forget her family’s past as well as her relentless quest to inform a seemingly ignorant as well as oblivious public that whatever others can do to your past, pales in comparison to what you can do with your future. The Nazis focused on extermination; Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella focuses on determination.