Ruth Bader Ginsburg was more than a feminist icon. She directed her life’s work at battling inequity and prejudice in all its forms.


Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away last Friday at the age of 87, leaving a legacy of conscientious dissent and righteous activism.

By Jess Daninhirsch, North Allegheny Senior High School

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was known to many as a trailblazer, a powerhouse, and a feminist icon. To me, as well as countless others, she was also an incredible Jewish role model.

Last Friday, Sept. 18, following a battle with metastatic pancreatic cancer since 2009, Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg passed away at the age of 87 at her home in Washington, DC.

The news of her passing rattled the country to its core, but her death has hit the Jewish community especially hard, in part because of its timing: Ginsburg passed away on September 18th, the beginning of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

This year, Erev (the evening of) Rosh Hashanah began on a Friday night, the same as Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath and the holiest day of each week.  Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar. It’s a time to simultaneously reflect on the past year and look forward to the year to come. According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a “Tzaddik,” or a person of great righteousness. She was exactly that. It is also believed that a person who dies before Rosh Hashanah begins is someone whom G-d saved until the last minute because they still had work left to do for the world.

Ginsburg lived by the Torah phrase “Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof” (Deuteronomy 16:20), which translates to “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” She had the phrase framed in her Supreme Court chamber. It perfectly summed up her life as a jurist and a Jew.

RBG had a lot of firsts. She was the first female tenured professor at Columbia University. She was the first Jewish woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court. By 2010, one-third of the Supreme Court seats were held by Jews, two of whom were women. She represented two groups of people that had scarcely, if ever, been represented on the highest court before.

She represented two groups of people that had scarcely, if ever, been represented on the highest court before.”

Ginsburg had many affectionate nicknames, for she was an idol to many. One such nickname was “The Notorious RBG” (in homage to the rapper “The Notorious B.I.G.”). On the Charlie Rose show in September of 2017, Ginsburg said, “We have one very important thing in common, Notorious B.I.G. and me, we were both born and bred in Brooklyn, New York.”

Another of her nicknames was the “Great Dissenter.” In the 2000 Bush v. Gore case, she famously ended her opinion with the words, “I dissent.” From then on, her fiery passions became clear as she gave many famous dissents to cases then on. She said, “Dissents speak to a future age,” and “So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”

That generation of “tomorrow” is devastated by this loss and have displayed their love for her in many ways. Vigils are being held in Washington, DC and across the country.  Central Synagogue in New York City paid tribute to her and sang the Hebrew prayer “Halelu’Ya” to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”

Speaking to her granddaughter Clara Spera (who affectionately calls her grandmother “Bubbe,” a common Yiddish term for “grandmother”) days before her death, Ginsburg said, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed. Back in 2016, Senator Lindsey Graham stated, “I want you to use my words against me. If there is a Republican president in 2016 and a vacancy occurs in the last year of the first term, you can say Lindsey Graham said let’s let the next president, whoever it might be, make that nomination.”

However, hours after the initial news of Ginsburg’s passing, President Trump decided to push to fill the empty seat in the Supreme Court before the election in November. He is backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, despite the pressure he is facing to stand by his original 2016 statement that a Supreme Court nominee should not be considered during an election year.

Waste no time on anger, regret, or resentment — just get the job done.”

To not honor the dying wish of someone who has contributed so much to American society is saddening. RBG fought tirelessly for equal rights for all, though especially for women and Jews. She knew firsthand what it was like to be discriminated against on the basis of sex and religion. In a 2016 CBS Sunday Morning interview, Justice Ginsburg discussed the fact that she did not receive a single job offer from any law firm post-graduation. She said, “I had three strikes against me. One: I was Jewish. Two: I was a woman. But the killer was I was the mother of a four-year-old child.”

The host replied, “You graduated first in your class. Didn’t that say something about your ability to be both a mother and the best?”

“It should have,” Ginsburg responded.

In fact, if Ginsburg’s passing teaches us anything, it’s that the noblest work is that which does battle with “should have.”

Antisemitism is the oldest form of hatred in the world, and prejudice in all its ugly forms continues to infect the world’s cultures. RBG fought for her entire life against it, but her work is far from over. Rosh Hashanah signifies the end of a year. A time of reflection and atonement. But it is also a time to look forward to the work we must do in the future and the year ahead. As Ginsburg once said, “Waste no time on anger, regret, or resentment — just get the job done.”

This story was originally published on The Uproar on September 24, 2020.