Rosselle Pekelis, Former Washington Supreme Court Judge

R_Pekelis-4A few days after my birth in Florence, Italy, in 1938, my mother read the headline in the Italian newspaper: “The Jews are not of the Italian Race.” An Italian Jew with roots in Ancient Rome, she was devastated.  Italian Jews lost many rights, and my Russian-born Jewish father, was fired as a law professor and stripped of his Italian citizenship. Our family quickly uprooted and immigrated to France. However, in 1940, Paris fell to the Germans and we were on the run again as Jews were swept up and sent to concentration camps.  After a grueling escape, we finally arrived in the United States on January 8, 1941.

Exactly 40 years later, on January 8, 1981, I was sworn in as a Judge of the Superior Court of King County, Washington. What a journey! So much had happened in those forty years. We had found a welcoming home in America. My father was admitted to Columbia Law School and became editor of The Columbia Law Review.  Before his untimely death at age 44, he was able to work on matters he believed in, most notably, an amicus brief on behalf of Mexican children excluded from public schools in California. After he died, my mother, a widow with five children, did not have a job. But without a formal degree, but thoroughly versed in Italian literature and language, she was able to persuade the President of Sarah Lawrence College to hire her to create and Chair the Italian Department!

For my family, this has been indeed a land of   renewal and second chances.  I realize that this is not yet true for everyone. I fervently hope that someday all Americans will be afforded the same opportunity to succeed.