Sayde Ladov’s Letter to The Justinian Society
Thank you, Gina, for your lovely introduction. Let me also thank each and every one of you in the audience for being here today.
I am so proud to be a member of The Justinian Society … and I am also extremely proud to be honored by the Justinian Society.
Why am I here today? That question was answered by Henry unardi – friend and colleague of 25 years.
Hank reminds us that back in the early 70’s when he was a fledgling member of the Justinian Society Board and the Board would meet monthly in one of the rooms just off the Crystal Tea Room in Wanamakers, it was to do the Society’s business – and in his words “it was a memorable exercise in participatory democracy, complete with all of the sturm und drang, the tsouris, the agita one might expect from a group of 30 - 40 Italian-American egos, er, lawyers.”
Hank goes on to say that; Somewhere in there (and he invites correction from Don Marino or Al DiBona), the late and legendary Larry Richette had the idea to invite the new Bar Chancellor to the Justinians' first luncheon of each calendar year. Thus the famous remark one cold January day by then Bar Chancellor Carpy Dewey that (and he quotes now verbatim) "... some of my best friends are EYEtalians".
The tradition which was then born has been in Hank’s opinion one of the very best of Bar traditions, and for many reasons, both obvious and subtle.
That said, when I sat down to write this speech, I thought about all the people at the Justinian Society that I have come to know and admire so much …
From Vito Canuso, whose wonderful wife, Sara provided David and me with a St. Joseph’s statue that allowed us to sell our suburban home of 20 years and move to Philadelphia, to a new home in Northern Liberties;
To past chancellors of the Justinians and the Bar Association, Don Marino and Gabe Bevilacqua, who have always been mentors and resources, and who have always been there for me;
To my amazingly talented colleague Gaetan Alfano, who is serving at my right side as chair of the Board of Governors of the Bar Association;
To Ed DiDonato, a friend and neighbor from Blue Bell, with whom I share the experience of children who have been pals since high school;
To Bill Fedullo, Chair of the Judicial Commission, without whose support and counsel, I don’t know if I would be Chancellor;
And, of course, to my vice Chancellor, Rudi Garcia – my steady rock and counsel;
To your chancellor and my friend Gina Rubel, who invited me here today and who continues to bring her amazing public relations talents to the entire Bar by chairing the Bar-News Media Committee;
To all of my friends and colleagues, who are far too many to name here right now…
Please know that I consider you my extended family.
My speech today is not about my agenda as chancellor. You have heard it six ways from Sunday – leadership development, building a new family court, help desks at family and municipal court, military affairs and civil Gideon.
Rather, my remarks today are a labor of love, for today I am home with my extended family.
Today I want to talk from the heart. Today I want to give you, my friends, my colleagues, a love letter.
Please consider this speech, five days after Valentine’s day, my belated love letter to you, the Justinian Society.
I ask you … Why, in this supposedly post-racial era, when America is celebrating its first president of color, at a time when lines are supposedly blurring ... why do we bother to identify as a particular racial or ethnic minority?
What is the value of membership in our ethnic or affinity bars like the Justinian Society?
What are we holding on to? What purpose do we serve?
And why, as a Jewish woman, do I feel so powerfully connected to this organization?
Well, for me, there are easy answers to all those questions.
At the end of the day, you and I, share basic values.
We share the value of loyalty, and of speaking the plain truth -- even if it is to our own detriment. Throughout the years, you and I have stood together and articulated truths that may have been painful, but we spoke these words, because they were truths, nonetheless.
I believe that this is a quality that we have always admired between us.
Together, we have always chosen to tell the truth because it’s the right thing to do.
It’s what was demanded of us. It’s a reflection on how we were raised.
It is not only about our cultures. It is because we all put great emphasis on truth and ethics and righteousness.
The Talmudic scholars tell us:“Justice, Justice shall ye pursue.” These are your values and mine.
And in order to do justice, you must tell the truth.
Several years ago, when Gabe Bevilacqua, was chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, he called me one day to ask for my opinion. He was interested in inviting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to speak before the membership of the Philadelphia Bar Association, and he wanted to know what I thought.
I said simply, “Gabe, if we don’t invite Justice Scalia to speak because he espouses a different point of view, then we are plainly hypocrites.”
Now please recognize that I did, and continue, to disagree with many of the positions that Justice Scalia espouses. However, as a Philadelphia lawyer, I fervently defend his right to speak. And I’m very proud of Gabe Bevilacqua and the Philadelphia Bar Association, who both share my highest concern for the value of free speech.
Now some of you may remember that when Justice Scalia spoke, there were protests at the Bellevue, complete with media coverage. But we stood up, because we knew we were doing the right thing in allowing Justice Scalia to speak.
One of the reasons that I am so proud that I was invited to be a member of the Justinian Society is that I believe we stand for so many of the same things.
That’s because we come from a similar place and history. As Jews, women and Italians, we were not always welcome in large firms. With no place to go, many of us created our own firms – like Mattioni, Blank Rome, Wolf Block and Fox, Rothschild.
Until recently, we faced similar discrimination in seeking to become judges of the Common Pleas Court and the federal bench.
We have a commonality of experience – both good and bad – that ties us together and makes our bond irrevocable.
So this helps answers the question as to why I feel connected to you. What about the question of relevancy? Why should any of us bother to be part of an affinity bar in an era that is supposedly post-racial?
First, because it feels good. It’s like a family, where you can let your hair down and share in a way that you might not feel comfortable elsewhere.
Second, because it provides a base of support. You can talk to people who have common experiences and background and find an appropriate level of mentoring.
And I believe that organizations like the Justinians, the Barristers, the Hispanic Bar Association, APPABA, Brandeis, SABA, and Brehons, are still sorely needed.
They serve as a place to help you get started. They help you get on your feet and get ready for the world. And ultimately, they become a place to come home to.
Where else would we get the closeness, the collegiality and the collaboration that comes from these groups?
I believe that our legal community would be a poorer place if we did not have ethnic or affinity bars. In addition to the support it provides for members, organizations like the Justinians provide a cultural richness that offers a learning opportunity for those outside of our communities.
Our organizations also serve as a marker to help provide institutional memory. They help us remember how far we have come, and push us to continue our work even further.
For those who question the need for affinity bars, I say: Don’t forget the struggles of Jewish lawyers who had to deal with appellate arguments or trial schedules on high holy days.
Don’t forget the struggles of Italian lawyers who had to deal with portrayals in the media as less than savory characters.
Don’t forget the struggles of Asian lawyers as they seek to rid the world of stereotypes, right down to a cheese steak stand currently in operation in Philadelphia that is called CHINKS.
It’s wonderful to consider how much our society has grown. It might make you wonder if the role of your organization has changed. But clearly, its importance has not diminished.
Consider the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society. It was one of the prime movers to help get refugees out of Eastern Europe before during and after WWII. Now obviously, that particular focus is no longer necessary. But the organization remains true to its mission: today it is serving individuals from South Asia and Pacific Asian cultures.
The organization serves the same important purpose, but for different reasons. Reasons change, faces change, but the mission remains the same.
Thus, organizations such as the Justinian Society serve an important if not critical role in preserving heritage and insuring the future.
Three years ago, when Jane Dalton was Chancellor of the Bar Association and I was sitting here in the audience as vice chancellor, I heard Jane throw down the gauntlet to forge a relationship with a sister bar in Italy.
I took up that challenge because I felt it was that important!
Our trip had been planned for March so that we could meet with the Italian National Bar and the Bar of Rome, but unfortunately, the economy has gotten in the way. So the trip to Rome is no longer an option for next month. That said, however, I am optimistic that this trip can take place in the fall or early winter.
As I conclude my remarks, I can’t help but confess that I stand here today full of love, warmth and eternal gratitude.
This organization has stood behind me, next to me and at all times stood tall with me. I truly wonder if I would be addressing you today as Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association if I had not had your love and support and the boots on the ground of all those who were energized to vote in the Bar election of 2006.
Please know that you will always have my gratitude, admiration and affection.
Thank you, thank you for this wonderful moment. I will treasure it always. May the good Lord bless you and keep you!
I raise my glass to you and wish you a hundred years.