Roback, Lea

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ROBACK, LEA (1903–2000), Canadian feminist, union organizer, communist, peace activist. Roback was known in the Jewish community but earned her fame among labor activists and feminists in Quebec Francophone society. Born in Montreal to Yiddish-speaking Polish parents, she was raised in Beauport, one of nine children. At home in French society, she went to the University of Grenoble for two years and then to the University of Berlin. Her association with the radical left began in Germany, where she witnessed the rise of Nazism and was herself beaten for her political activism. Returning to Montreal in 1932, she worked at the ywha and then opened a Marxist bookstore. She became a labor organizer for the ilgwu and organized the Union of Electrical Workers. Given the anti-Marxist government of Duplessis, she continued her work underground when the bookstore was closed. Age did not diminish her enthusiasm or activism as she marched and spoke out for women's rights and against antisemitism, war, and the use of nuclear weapons. Even at age 92, she participated in the March of Bread and Roses. Friends and family set up an ongoing foundation in her honor that would raise money for education. Named to the Order of Quebec and honored by the ywca and Temple Emanuel-Beth Sholom, Roback was listed as one of the 100 outstanding Quebecers of the 20th century in L'Actualité. She was the subject of a 1991 documentary film, Des Lumières: Dans la grande noirceur, by Sophie Bissonnette. Roback's papers are at the Jewish Public Library of Montreal. She never married but left a strong legacy that combined a fierce pride in being Jewish with a steadfast commitment to social justice, human rights, and peace. Her life stands as an example of Canadian multiculturalism at its best.


A. Gottheil, Les Juifs progressistes au Québec (1988), 63–103; N. Joseph, "Jewish Women in Canada: An Evolving Role," in: R. Klein and F. Dimant (eds.), From Immigration to Integration (2001), 182–95; idem, "Jewish Women of Canada," in: H. Epstein (ed.), Jewish Women 2000 (1999), 123–28.

[Norma Baumel Joseph (2nd ed.)]