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  • Writer's pictureAvi Abraham Benlolo

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:"My heritage as a Jew and my occupation as a judge fit together symmetrically".

September 20, 2020 - Avi Benlolo

"I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tear in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has". - Ruth Bader Ginsburg

In an era of Jewish complacency - when many have lost their way and are clouded about the very essence of being Jewish - they can look to non other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg as an iconic modern day super hero role model. Her accomplishments (and there are many) which benefitted humanity were deeply grounded in her core Jewish values.

In Jewish tradition, it is said that those who pass away on erev Rosh Hashanah, the evening of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) - are sacred. Indeed, Bader Ginsburg's legacy as an accomplished women's rights advocate, even before she became a Supreme Court Justice in America is demonstrative of a higher calling and a purpose to advance humanity. The public display of sympathy on her passing and memorialization of her accomplishment by the American public and media is demonstrative of her unique place in history.

And that unique place in American history in which she is publicly venerated is a source of pride for the Jewish world. Bader Ginsburg is a role model for everyone and anyone who believes in advancing human dignity. For the young aspiring Jewish child however, she is doubly empowering, inspiring and motivating because her very drive for gender equality and social justice was grounded in Judaism itself.

Bader Ginsburg herself likely understood that her convictions and motivations toward social justice were grounded in Jewish faith. In a 2004 speech to the Washington Holocaust Museum, she admitted:

"My heritage as a Jew and my occupation as a judge fit together symmetrically. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I take pride in and draw strength from my heritage, as signs in my chambers attest: a large silver mezuzah on my door post, [a] gift from the Shulamith School for Girls in Brooklyn; on three walls, in artists’ renditions of Hebrew letters, the command from Deuteronomy: “Zedek, zedek, tirdof” — “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Those words are ever-present reminders of what judges must do that they “may thrive.”

Indeed, what Bader Ginsburg likely knew so well as many if not most Jews do - is that our obligation according to scripture and ethics of our ancestors is to pursue social justice. Our pursuit is not always perfect, but our intent and morality to find a way to 'make the world a better place' or to advocate for what we call, 'tikkun olam' - repair of the world - these values are carved into our DNA from childhood.

Bader Ginsburg fought to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust are preserved, noting that remembrance is critical because " learn of and from that era of inhumanity, to renew our efforts to repair the world's tears". Its because of our historic legacy of an oppressed people, a people who have suffered slavery and inquisitions culminating with the Shoah - that we have developed a necessary pursuit of justice.

Her beliefs were likely stamped by her understanding of our people's plight. In her concluding remarks and in thinking about the Holocaust, Bader Ginsburg said, "may that memory strengthen our resolve to aid those at home and abroad who suffer from injustice born of ignorance and intolerance, to combat crimes that stem from racism and prejudice". She understood that without memory and without action, our world can once more sink into that abyss.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in a league of her own and her values themselves were likely firmly grounded in Judaism. Judaism holds deeds higher than wisdom. In Bader Ginsburg's case, she had both.

This therefore can be an empowering reminder to those in our community who have lost their way or question their faith. The universality of her mission in life and pursuit of justice speaks to our people as we proudly strive to improve the world around us for everyone.

She will be missed, but the values she espoused to protect and advance equality and human rights will remain a source of strength and conviction in the Jewish world and beyond. May her memory be a blessing.

Source of 2004 Speech at Washington Holocaust Museum

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