Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a trailblazer and a crusader and a feminist icon, but as I always tell my girls, she was once a small Jewish girl from New York, just like them. Small but fierce. We read the book “I Dissent” together quite often. They learned she was influenced by a strong mother, who believed girls could do big things and filled her daughter’s book shelves with strong female protagonists, both fictional and non-fictional. They learned about the prejudice that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s family faced for being Jewish. They learned that Ruth was left handed and protested at school when her teacher tried to make her write with her right hand instead.
They learned that Ruth chose a husband who believed men and women were equal, which not the standard thinking at the time. They would marry, both pursue their career and share equally in childcare. She became a wife and mother before starting law school at Harvard, where she was one of the only women. She transferred to Columbia Law School, where she graduated tied for first in her class, but still had trouble getting hired.
Ultimately, my girls learned that RBG, as a lawyer, a professor, a judge and finally, a supreme court justice did more for the fight for women’s rights and equality than almost anyone. She did it by disagreeing with the current thinking at the time, even when her opinions didn’t win. One of my favorite quotes from RBG is, “Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view. So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, which is the celebration of the Jewish New Year. The tradition is to eat something sweet at the start of the meal, usually apples with honey, to signify a sweet new year. So, there was an extra layer of awfulness to learn about the death of RBG by the time we got to dessert. It was especially strange because I would usually get alerts like that on my phone and process them myself, but instead the news was delivered across the table by my mother, who had walked into the kitchen and gotten a text from a friend. It took me a second to even understand what she was talking about, since I am used to hearing things first.
The news was gutting and it was hard to think of anything else after that. We eventually left the meal on a very somber note and drove home. That’s when I really had the time to start reading, obsessing and texting with friends. Someone sent me a message that they had seen on Facebook that brought me a bit of comfort. It said, “There is a Jewish rabbinic teaching that those who die before Rosh Hashanah are the souls destined to die in the year but they are the ones God knew we needed the most because they are the most righteous and so God waits until the last possible minute to call them home.”
But, of course, her death is more than the sadness of her passing. It is the political implications as well.
Many of the messages I got were people asking me how Harlow is taking the news of RBG’s death. She had dressed up as RBG a few years ago and considers her a role model like I do.
But, she is seven. She is sad that one of her heroes has passed but she does not understand the how this could potentially affect the laws we live by. The weight that was resting on RBG’s shoulders. How she was trying to hang on as long as you could so that when she was replaced, it would be with someone who would make similar decisions that invoked equality, justice and empathy. She didn’t wake up with a pit in her throat the next morning and that brief moment where she had to remember why there was so much heaviness hanging over her. She didn’t start obsessively reading all the analysis about what would happen if McConnell successfully shoved Trump’s nominee through the senate and then shut her phone because she just couldn’t take it anymore. She doesn’t understand that the death of RBG is the beginning of a much larger fight.
She is not experiencing the FEAR we all feel.
She thinks her hero will live on in her books. She doesn’t realize RBG’s story is far from over.
We must vote in November and fight for what we know is right just like she did, so that future generations can benefit from the impact of her decisions. We must remind our children how much she helped us gain and how easily it can be taken away. If someone is appointed to the Supreme Court who does not support all human rights and the equality of women, we must DISSENT, DISSENT, DISSENT. We must not disappoint her legacy.
As the Hebrew saying goes, May her memory be a REVOLUTION.