Rosalie Silberman Abella is a world-renowned jurist and the first Jewish woman to serve on the Canadian Supreme Court.
Born in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany after World War II, Rosalie’s parents were Holocaust survivors whose two-year-old child was murdered by the Nazis. Rosalie’s father Jacob was a lawyer who was appointed by the Americans to be head of legal services for people in the DP camp.
In 1950 the family emigrated to Canada, but Jacob was not allowed to practice law because he was not a citizen. Instead, he got a job as an underwear cutter in a factory. Rosalie later said, “The moment I heard the story about his being denied the ability to be a lawyer was the moment I decided to become one. I was four."
As a child, Rosalie was a nationally known piano prodigy who appeared on television. She was the youngest graduate of the Royal Conservatory of Music and graduated from high school with the highest test scores in the province of Ontario.
Rosalie attended law school at the University of Toronto. After graduating and being admitted to the bar, she practiced civil and family law. At only 29 years old, Rosalie was appointed to the Ontario Family Court, becoming the youngest judge in Canadian history.
Rosalie was a pioneer in reducing barriers to employment for marginalized groups, especially aboriginal people, religious minorities, children, and the disabled. She wrote a landmark report on Access to Legal Services for the Disabled. Rosalie’s recommendations have been implemented in many countries including New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and South Africa.
In 1983, Rosalie won the International Justice Prize. The committee of jurists who awarded her the prize described her as somebody whose “entire life has revolved around the cause of human rights. Her contributions to society as a lawyer, teacher, commissioner and judge have always been shaped by her profound humanity.”
Rosalie was appointed to Canada’s Supreme Court in 2004. She has written four books and is considered Canada’s foremost expert on human rights law. In 2017, Rosalie was named Global Jurist of the Year.
For rising from the ashes of the Holocaust to further the cause of justice, we honor Rosalie Silberman Abella as this week’s Thursday Hero.