I will never forget where I was when I heard of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing.
My husband Larry and I were in front of our computer, chatting with our fellow Congregation Shalom Aleichem members before our Rosh Hashanah Zoom service was to begin. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away,” interjected a member who had just gotten the breaking news on his phone.
All chatter stopped. Then there were murmurs of “Oh No!” “Oh my God!”
I was devastated. My heart turned cold as I thought about what will happen to our Supreme Court if the current administration pushed through another Conservative, anti-abortion, anti-gay rights individual. Larry saw my face and knew what I was thinking.
“It is Rosh Hashanah. For the next 24 hours, we take time to celebrate her life,” he told me. “We will worry about its impact later.”
Within hours of the announcement of her death Friday night, an outpouring of affection for the first Jewish woman appointed to the country’s highest court had already begun. People spontaneously gathered on the front steps of the Supreme Court building, where she had served as a judge for 27 years, bearing candles and singing Amazing Grace. In other places in the country, crowds gathered to say Kaddish, and to remember her. At Central Synagogue in New York City on Rosh Hashanah morning, Rabbi Angela W. Buchdahl spoke at the virtual service from New York City’s Central Synagogue. She honored Justice Ginsburg in an eloquent spoken and musical tribute to “a real tzaddik, a woman of justice.” As pictures of the late justice’s life were displayed on the screen, the rabbi sang a beautiful rendition of Psalm 150 (Halleluhu / Praise God in His sanctuary) to the melody of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. I cry every time I watch it.
In the days that followed, I read many Jewish interpretations of the timing of Justice Ginsburg’s death. One midrash stated that Jews who dies between Rosh Hashanah is fast-tracked to heaven as they are true “tzaddikim,” people of great righteousness. With the fact that Rosh Hashanah fell on Sabbath this year, the significance is deemed to be even greater.
As many Jews and non-Jews celebrated her life, however, Republicans were already planning her replacement. This incredible woman was not even cold when Trump announced that he would name his pick. His sycophants quickly fell into line. Forget that in 2016, President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland was blocked by many of the same Republicans. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” stated Mitch McConnell in March 2016. “Therefore, [Justice Anthony Scalia’s] vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” This did obviously did not hold true for the current administration.
What was even more disturbing to me was the president’s attempt to besmirch her legacy. Clara Spera, Justice Ginsburg’s granddaughter, had asked her ‘Bubbe’ in her last days if there was anything wanted to say to the public that hadn’t been said. Ginsburg stated, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” President Trump publicly suggested that the Democrats had fabricated Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish. “It sounds so beautiful,” said the president in an interview on Fox and Friends,” but that sounds like a Schumer deal, or maybe Pelosi or Shifty Schiff” (There is no limit to the depths of indecency this man can go.).
This afternoon, while I was writing this article, Senator Mitt Romney signaled that he is on board with the Senate’s taking up a new Supreme Court nominee during the current election year, an announcement that almost ensures the president’s pick will be confirmed. The news has hit me as hard as when Nov. 9, 2015, I learned that Donald J. Trump was to be our new president.
What Shall We Do?
“I am so, so sad,” I shared on my Facebook page. “Women’s rights will be gone. The Affordable Care Act will be on the chopping block. The election may come down to the Conservative, Trump-leaning Supreme Court. Goodness knows what is next.”
My daughter Julie Shapiro wrote a letter to her to her Colorado Senator Cory Gardner. By supporting another Trump-appointed justice, she told him that he and his cohorts are stealing the rights and protections of Americans, particularly those of women, immigrants, minorities, elderly and other vulnerable populations. Accusing him of being on “the wrong side of history,” Julie voiced her concern for her five-year-old daughter.“ It may take a generation or more but I hope someday my daughter’s daughter will live in a country that defends rather than undermines its democratic principles. A country that looks back ruefully but with relief for having overcome this chapter in which people like yourself snatched power from the deserving and flattered yourselves in your delusion that you were helping those that you continuously hurt.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a legal pioneer for gender equality and the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, has died. The possibility of a Supreme Court with a Conservative majority is becoming more of a certainty. Where do we go from here?
November 3 is coming quickly. Honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Keep hounding your representatives, even if many don’t appear to care for anything beyond their own self-interests. Work to get out the vote. Write postcards and letters. Participate in phone banks and texting sessions. And on November 3, vote as if your life and the lives of our children and grandchildren depend on it. And then on January 20, you can share my joy as we welcome a new, better day in America.
The Jewish World, September 22, 2020