News of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death at the age of 87 reached Jews right as many were preparing for the start of our holiest season: It was the first night of Rosh Hashanah, and the beginning of the Jewish New Year.
And so, a time of joy and sweetness became something else. It being a holiday, and Shabbat, the remembrances have only just begun.
Some of the ordinary commentators were missing. On CNN, Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash were off air when the news first broke. Anderson Cooper hosted Betsy West, director of the documentary “RBG,” but her Jewish co-director, Julie Cohen, was not on camera — although the two released a joint response to their subject’s death.
“Like so many Americans, we are crushed by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” West and Cohen said in a statement obtained by Deadline. “Even had she not become a Supreme Court Justice, Ginsburg earned a place in history for what she did to win equality for American women. When we asked her several years ago how she wanted to be remembered, she said with characteristic modesty, ‘Just as someone who did whatever she could, with whatever limited talent she had, to move society along in the direction I would like it to be for my children and grandchildren.’ ”
On Twitter, a chorus of mourners sounded off on RBG’s legacy: One of persistence, legendary dissents and championing of women’s rights.
Critic Ruth Franklin opined that Ginsburg’s death on Rosh Hashanah was fitting for her stature and her commitment to justice, a sentiment actor Mandy Patinkin echoed.
According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah, which began tonight, is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.— Ruth Franklin (@ruth_franklin) September 19, 2020
Our friend Pamela just told us that “According to Jewish tradition, a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah, which began tonight, is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness.” We found that very comforting. So strange to be eating these apples and honey with this sadness. pic.twitter.com/bBaWAxwjh0— Mandy Patinkin (@PatinkinMandy) September 19, 2020
Congressman Adam Schiff honored Ginsburg’s perseverance in the face of the sexist institutions of law, over which she eventually triumphed — in doing so, paving the way for many others.
America lost a giant. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was shunned from courtrooms when she began her career because she was a woman.
But she persisted, blazing a trail for millions of women and others who had been excluded or oppressed.
RBG is a lioness of the law. She is irreplaceable.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) September 19, 2020
In a statement, Ann Toback, CEO of the Workers Circle, mourned “the loss of a great jurist, a fighter for equal rights for all, and a progressive icon.”
“We will forever remember her for her brilliant rulings, legal arguments, and compassionate heart,” Toback said. “Her zest for life, truth, and even her passion for culture and humor have earned her a place in history as one of our most remarkable Supreme Court Justices and leaders in our nation’s history.”
Like many, Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii stressed how important it was to prevent the president from filling Ginsburg’s seat before the election. This insistence honors Ginsburg’s last wish, working off of the precedent set by Mitch McConnell’s refusal to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, after Justice Antonin Scalia died toward the end of Obama’s second term. Schatz made his point by using McConnell’s own words against him.
“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.”
— Mitch McConnell, March 2016.— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) September 19, 2020
But while the words of grief and calls to action arrived steadily online and on the news, perhaps the most moving tribute took place near Ginsburg’s most famous haunt, where she worked for over a quarter of a century, through personal illnesses and national challenges alike.
Outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., hundreds of mourners assembled, some bearing rainbow flags, many wearing masks, nearly all chanting Ginsburg’s indomitable, indelible initials into the night.
Mourners outside the US Supreme Court chant “RBG” on the night of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. pic.twitter.com/3n57xGQ93Y— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 19, 2020
PJ Grisar is the Forward’s culture reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com