This article was first published by the Forward and is reprinted with permission.
Devastating blows define us. Loss shapes who we are. While we cannot control what is happening, we can control our response to it.
For so many of us millennial Jewish women, Ruth Bader Ginsburg became more than a Supreme Court Justice. She represented the country we wanted to believe we were in. She represented a Judaism that could celebrate and not stifle our achievements as women. She overcame misogyny, patriarchy and antisemitism to be the first Jewish woman to sit on the Supreme Court. She fought for us and for so many people, for a more equitable and just America. She did it while having a marriage and children.
We wear her on our bodies, wanting to believe that it is her America now, and not one where petty tyrants can destroy us. We want to achieve on the level she did in our chosen fields. She became a holy talisman, like the mezuzah, only instead of placing her on our doorsteps, we put her in our ears, around our necks, on our coffee cups and office walls. A holy reminder of what this country could be and of what we can achieve as Jewish women.
With her death, the America she fought for is in grave danger.
Her loss is unthinkable. She seemed like Moses, like she would live 400 years. Grief filled our Rosh Hashanah tables. We Jewish mothers who had been working for days to try to somehow make a sweet holiday in these bitterest of times became overwhelmed with mourning. What use to us were apples and honey when Justice Ginsburg was gone?
But in a matter of mere hours, Jewish women across the country reached out to me and to each other, searching for solace, for strength, for hope, and for permission to grieve on a day that is meant to be sweet as honey.
They spoke of their hopelessness as school remained virtual and their careers crippled. They told me that Covid-19 was breaking them and everything they had fought to achieve. They told me they feared our country was lost, our democracy broken, that the last bulwark had fallen.
My sister, Sara Simnowitz, a lawyer who is known for her stoicism and work ethic, confessed that she had cried all night. The loss felt so deeply personal. She told me as a Jewish mom of three who is also a lawyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg felt like a personal mentor and hero. I feel the same.
There was no one like Justice Ginsburg: she had achieved the impossible and made Jewish women feel that we could too. Being a Jewish mom with a career can be so daunting. Religious, communal, family and professional obligations threaten to drown us.
The systems we live in oppress us. The misogynistic American workforce that despises mothers. The patriarchal Jewish tradition that demands obscene amounts of work from women that goes entirely unrecognized. The enormous cultural pressure to have more and more babies, to raise highly successful children and to involve ourselves in every facet of their day. The deck feels stacked against us, against our careers, our dreams, our marriages, our motherhood, our sanity.
Justice Ginsburg showed us that we could do it because she had. She never seemed to us a distant figure, but a local superhero, a mentor, a source of strength. A mother to the mothers whispering that she believed in us. To have her leave us on Rosh Hashanah — especially this Rosh Hashanah when our country is in so much danger and we are unable to gather together with our community in prayer — feels unbearable. Jewish women across America were left asking what we could do with all of this grief and fear and loss.
Maybe we can become our own Notorious RBGs. I think we must be. Justice Ginsburg is not here to save us; we must save ourselves.
We need to fight for each other and demand better for ourselves. Let us be our own talisman, wear each other’s names on our ears. You don’t need to be a Supreme Court Justice to fight for justice. Justice Ginsburg fought for us, made a new country for us, and we have an obligation to keep fighting to improve it. We can continue her tradition and work for a better, more equitable and more just America, in policy and in practice.
Let’s be generous with other Jewish women and give freely of our time, our contacts, our support, our wallets. Let us be understanding and warm and supportive. We love our children, our partners, and our work, just as she did, and we refuse to choose among them.
Reserve the judgment for the men, for the brothers and fathers and husbands, holding them to higher standards and instructing them in how to meet them. Demand they change the diapers and learn to cook a brisket, so that we may have our proper share in America’s future. Demand that in their grief, they set specific goals for how they will uplift the women in their lives, and break down the systems that hold us back. Demand they share the work, so our grandchildren understand RBG to be a trailblazer, but not an anomaly.
Let her inspire us to fearlessness and achievement in the fight for justice. Let her legacy drive us to the ballot box this November,, installing that new president she longed for. Let us fight for our Supreme Court, with our ballots, our bodies, our dollars, and our votes.
On Erev Rosh Hashanah, grief poured over the marble steps of the Supreme Court. In the crowd, someone blasted a shofar — the clarion call to wake up, to fight back, to understand the enormity of what is at stake.
During these High Holidays, the loss of our Ruth, of America’s Justice Ginsburg, felt like God shaking us awake. Hineni — here I am. Now that Justice Ginsburg has left this world, it is on us to fight for justice, to shape the country, to further the trail she blazed.
Now, we must all be notorious. Yehi zichra mahapecha — may her memory be a revolution.