Challah in Heaven

Even in death, RBG continues to be a guiding light to fellow Jews who are inspired by her example and her legacy

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Courtesy of Alysa Spiro

FEELING NOTORIOUS: Dressed in a full-length robe, collar, glasses and of course, crown, Alysa has her picture taken at Austin Film Society’s screening of The Notorious RBG. Little did she know, this film would mark the beginning of a life-long love for Ruth, both as a justice and as a person. Picture provided by Alysa Spiro. (Photo courtesy of Spiro)

By Alysa Spiro, McCallum High School

It feels damn good sharing a religion with the notorious RBG.

Maybe that’s a weird concept for some people to grasp, how I can feel such an intense connection and pride towards someone I don’t even know in real life. But it’s there. That little smirk that comes up when RBG is mentioned, right before I say “she was Jewish, you know.”

And I’m not alone. Jonathen Freedland, a reporter for The Jewish Chronicle, wrote about it eloquently in his article We should be very proud of the Jewish RBG.

“The more I read about RBG, the more I felt it: pride that a woman of such legal brilliance, of such devotion to the principle of equality before the law, of such defiant courage in confronting sexism, and of such indefatigable professionalism, was a fellow Jew,” Freedland wrote. “It was as if the glow around Ginsburg was one that all Jews could bask in.”

But throughout it all, there was Ruth. The fighter, the dissenter, the Jew.”

Because here’s the truth: growing up Jewish is hard. It’s hard when you’ve spent your whole life in Texas where people don’t know what Yom Kippur is. It’s hard when the politicians you looked up to don’t apologize for their insensitivity towards Jews or for perpetrating anti-Semitic tropes. My experience with Judaism can be defined with one word: isolating.

But throughout it all, there was Ruth. The fighter, the dissenter, the Jew. It’s like there was this common thread connecting us, so that whenever I looked into her eyes, I saw a tiny glimmer of myself. Of the person I could one day grow up to be. Isolation was replaced with empowerment.

Losing her on Rosh Hashanah was hard. The woman who helped me navigate my Judaism throughout the years gone, just like that.

The Mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer read to honor the dead, is something I’ve always felt uneasy around. The subject of death has always bothered me. As services approached their end, and everyone turned their prayer books to the Kaddish, the formerly joyous room would become somber. And quiet mourning was always too much for me. I didn’t want to reflect, to cry, to think. I wanted to be happy and ignore the gentle sadness that permeates life.

But the night of Ruth’s death felt different. So for the first time, I looked at the Kaddish, read it, and allowed the sadness to seep into my life. I allowed myself to mourn.

Because here’s what I found out: mourning is the act of celebrating one’s life. And with Ruth, there is so much good to celebrate. The timing of her death was so painfully spiritual.

“Those who die just before the Jewish new year are the ones God has held back until the last moment because they were needed most and were the most righteous,” said Nina Totenberg, an old friend of Ruth, on the night of her death. “And so it was that RBG died as the sun was setting last night marking the beginning of Rosh Hashanah.”

Even in her death, Ruth continues to be a guiding light to me.

So allow me to offer one final thank you. Thank you for your guidance, for your distant and gentle love, for your embodiment of goodness and holiness.

May your life be a blessing. I hope the challah is good in heaven.

This story was originally published on The Shield Online on September 25, 2020.