When I found out that our beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away, I ran out of the room where my husband and I were starting to get our 2-year-old ready for bed … and I cried. I cried on a personal level. I cried for our country. I cried for our children. I cried on the shoulders of my own mom and dad, with whom we were celebrating the first night of Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year. Of course, I quickly pulled myself together, like parents often do, because I am not ready to explain death to my very perceptive son. I can, though, explain what it means to be a mensch — which is simply, in Yiddish, a good person.
Because RBG was a mensch and so much more. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Ruth Bader Ginsburg — as a Supreme Court Justice, as a groundbreaking woman, as a trailblazer for equality, as a Jew, as a fellow Cornellian, as a native New Yorker (her being a Jewish grandma from Brooklyn — where both my parents were born— is not lost on me), and as a mom. In 2017, Ruth unequivocally said of her daughter, “Having Jane gave me a better sense of what life is. ” As a mom, I know that no truer words can be spoken. So, yes, I am heartbroken, but, as I wrote on my social media feeds after cuddling my son to sleep, I am trying to reconcile and find some meaning in her passing and (what selfishly feels like) its horrific 2020 timing.
Many of us were wishing each other a sweet new year when we heard the devastating news. Many of us were dipping apples in honey with our children to symbolize just that. Many of us, in some way, were thinking about the concept of tikkun olam — which means, “repairing the world” — something we need so much of right now. Across the internet, writers and scholars are trying to reconcile the same and are citing Jewish tradition, which apparently calls a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah or on Shabbat (in Ruth’s case yesterday was the start of both), a tzaddik, or righteous person.
Because it is up to us to carry on her legacy of making the world a more equal and just place. To vote. To advocate. To instill the values of this one woman — who seemingly carried the entire weight of our democracy on her shoulders for so long — in our children.
Maybe, just maybe, our Notorious RBG was trying to tell us something in her soft-spoken, but oh-so-powerful and brilliant way. (I’ve seen her speak, and she did indeed have both a soothing and commanding quality.) Maybe she was simply trying to tell us that the future, starting with this new year, starting now, is up to us more than ever before. That it is up to us, no matter what our religious or nonreligious beliefs are, to repair the world. Because it is up to us to carry on her legacy of making the world a more equal and just place. To vote. To advocate. To instill the values of this one woman — who seemingly carried the entire weight of our democracy on her shoulders for so long — in our children.
I actually have been thinking about this often lately as my son and I read, what perhaps may be a gazillion times a day, one of his favorite board books: I Look Up to … Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (Truth be told, he really loves the whole series … and this is just one of three different RBG books he received as gifts!) This book, though, describes “Ruthie” (which is what he sometimes calls her) as smart and strong, a leader and a feminist … and simply states that “I can be like Ruth and so can you!”
We can, indeed, all be a little more like “Ruthie.” May we find strength in her unparalleled strength. May we find lessons for our children through her words and achievements. May her memory be a blessing (or as some are stating, a revolution), this new year and always. And may we find a way to uphold RBG’s dying wish to “not be replaced until a new president is installed,” a wish that she told her granddaughter days before she passed from complications of pancreatic cancer. I wish that we could just properly celebrate her life and mourn this righteous person’s passing in itself, but unfortunately her passing has an urgent and, to many of us, detrimental significance. We need to uphold her wish and fight like hell against the hypocrisy of filling her seat just weeks before the election. Our children’s future depends on it. And this new year asks this of us.