A quick walk from my house in Flatbush, Brooklyn takes you to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s childhood home. After she passed away last Friday night, the house and her neighboring high school became a makeshift memorial for the icon, with mourners gathering to leave flowers, candles and posters in honor of the second woman, and first Jewish woman, to sit on the Supreme Court of the United States.
Ginsburg never forgot her roots. In fact, a mezuzah gifted from the neighborhood’s Shulamith School for Girls hung on her chamber doors. Although I’m not the biggest fan of living in Brooklyn — I fled to the Five Towns for high school — there is something special about knowing that the streets you walk on are the same that bred legends.
So much of RBG’s legacy was set before she ever donned the iconic black robe. The right for women to sign a mortgage without a man, have a credit card without a male co-signer, not be fired for being pregnant, and so much more were all due in part to her trailblazing legal work at the ACLU early in her career. We take all this for granted now. Looking back, the fact that these were uphill battles with so much opposition is stunning. To secure success in court, she often had to pick a case where a man had been the victim of sexism, as such instances would be easier to win. For example, she once represented a widower who could not benefit from his wife’s social security plan, even though a widow could benefit from his.
Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993, she continued to champion equality in all respects, such as equal pay for equal work. Picture your bubby. Now, picture your bubby being one of nine women among 500 men to graduate Harvard Law in 1959 and eventually ascending to one of the most powerful offices in the United States. That’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Look, there’s a reason the vast majority of Jews (yes, even Modern Orthodox) vote for Democrats, the party Ginsburg often aligned with on the court. We know what it's like to be oppressed and sympathize with those who need aid. We know that tzedakah isn’t just a suggestion, but the law. We realize that we are stronger and safer in a society that accepts everyone. We are an educated people determined to stand for justice. And as cliche as the phrase has become, we believe in tikkun olam, building a better world with Hashem’s values. These are ideals worth fighting for. Ruth Bader Ginsburg embodied all of that and led the charge on the frontlines.
Still, we can’t attain progress on our own. One thing I wanted to mention that has been overlooked in the wake of Ginsburg’s death is her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016. Although they were intellectual opposites — Scalia was vehemently right-wing and conservative — they were very close. It brings to mind one of my favorite quotes of hers: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
In the coming weeks, you will see many conservatives rush to endorse her coming replacement. Your Facebook feed will be filled with two sides bickering and debating whether the Senate should wait until after the election, just 40 days away, to vote on Ginsburg’s successor. Make no mistake, everything RBG stood for is now on the line. President Trump’s pick to fill the empty seat will likely be in favor of gutting crucial laws that protect things like healthcare access and voting rights. It’s a sad reality. If that angers you, even slightly, educate yourself on the issues. Break away from the internet’s Charlie Kirks, Ben Shapiros and others who spread division, and start picturing a world and a country that works for all its citizens. Most importantly, REGISTER TO VOTE.
Yeshiva University’s statement on Ginsburg’s passing says that “she led by example and inspired generations of women.” In truth, she inspired everyone, this male author included.
Photo caption: A memorial in front of Brooklyn’s James Madison High School for Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Photo Credit: Mary-Lyn Buckley (@ml_buckley)