The past week has been a hard time for Americans, largely because of the Orlando shooting–which is the deadliest mass shooting to have occurred in U.S. history. All of the negativity is weighing on people’s minds and hearts, which is precisely why we need to also remind ourselves of the positives–and to remember that we can rise above tragedy in order to better ourselves.
Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella recently addressed the Yale Law School graduates at their graduation ceremony, giving them the reminder we all need to hear. Abella is the first Jewish woman to serve on Canada’s high court, who knows only too well how tragedy can provide major setbacks both personally and globally.
She told the graduates her incredible story of how she became a lawyer herself, starting with her father, Jacob Silberman, whose own dreams of a legal career came to a halt because of Polish anti-Semitism–and then by the Nazis, as he found himself in concentration camps following the outbreak of World War II. She remarked how Silberman’s 2-year-old son, his parents, and his brothers were all murdered in Treblinka–only he and his wife survived.
Eventually, after the war, Silberman moved to Canada and became an insurance agent after teaching himself English. Sadly, however, he never was able to see Abella succeed, as he died a month before she graduated from law school. Abella stated:
“He never saw me get called to the bar. He never met his two grandsons, both of whom became lawyers and are here today. And he never lived to see me revel in the life of the law. But I feel his spirit and his legacy all around me in this room.
A few years ago, my mother gave me some of his papers from Germany. In those papers, I found the answer to why he always spoke so respectfully and appreciatively of Americans. I saw letters from American lawyers, prosecutors, and judges he worked with in the U.S. zone in Stuttgart. They were warm, compassionate, and encouraging letters, either recommending, appointing or qualifying him for various roles in the court system the Americans had set up in Germany after the war. These Americans believed in him, and as a result, they not only restored him, they gave him back his belief that justice was possible.
I am here to tell you that the gift of American justice at its best is the gift that keeps right on giving. A gift that propelled me from the DP camp in Germany to becoming the first Jewish woman on the Supreme Court of Canada, and now to this stage.
I stand proudly before you, fellow graduates, believing as did my father that democracies and their laws represent the best possibility of justice, and that lawyers are the people who have the duty to make that justice happen, the duty to do everything humanly possible to make the world safer for our children than it was for their grandparents, so that all children–regardless of race, religion, or gender–can wear their identities with pride, in dignity, and in peace.”
Watch her full speech below: