Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Grandfather Read The Forward In Yiddish. Pretty Cool.
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The interview was over and we walked into a secure hallway adjacent to the large sanctuary at Adas Israel, the applause and cheers still echoing through the Washington synagogue. Secret service agents hovered around Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, helping her put on her puffy, winter coat and arrange a perfectly-matched scarf, when she looked up at me and said:
“But you didn’t ask me about my grandfather reading the Forverts.”
I had no idea! To prepare for the February 1 interview, I had read two books and countless stories and interviews, watched others on video, sifted through scores of readers questions, asked everyone I knew for their own suggestions, and tried to get as smart as I could about an 84-year-old jurist who has been writing and speaking about important stuff her entire life.
But it didn’t occur to me that her grandfather would have been a devotee of the Forverts, the Yiddish Forward, begun in 1897 and still published in a monthly print edition and daily online.
I was thrilled to learn this bit of personal history. Her parents, Russian Jewish immigrants, settled in a working class area of Brooklyn, and Ginsburg recalled visiting her grandfather on Sunday afternoons.
“He would sit at the head of the table as his children and grandchildren gathered with Forverts spread out in front of him,” she told me.
But certainly not the only cool thing about this extraordinary experience.
I’m working on a longer essay about what I learned from the interview about Ginsburg and her unlikely celebrity, but I’m happy here to share a few preliminary thoughts and observations.
- She may appear wispy and frail, and she does move with a deliberate slowness, but there is nothing unsteady about her mobility or her speech. I first met her about a dozen years ago, and even then, she was soft-spoken and given to pauses. (In fact, I remember being cautioned not to interrupt her, and that turned out to be good advice for this interview.)
- She’s an impeccable dresser. Everything in her presentation was beautifully coordinated, down to the gray gloves that she removed just before going on stage. This tells me that she is a woman who cares about the details of her appearance, in much the same way as she is a stickler for details in her work.
- She loves to tell stories — whether about her own life, or the cases she is most proud of, or the legal history that she clearly wishes more people studied. I’m convinced this is one key to her celebrity: an intuitive understanding of the role of story-telling in the projection of leadership.
RBG around the world. Thanks to the power of technology, viewers from all over the country and the world were able to tune into the livestream of the interview. About 4,500 readers RSVPd to tell us they planned to tune in to the webcast. Our crack marketing team reached out to synagogues, Jewish community centers and museums, and more than 300 said they’d watch the webcast.
And never mind the Super Bowl – there were nearly 200 in synagogues, community centers and private homes around the nation. I personally heard from friends in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York and even in Europe. The security guard stationed in the secure corridor told me afterwards that he watched it all on Facebook.
If you made it to the end, you heard the delicious story about nine-year-old Carly Rae Brown — CRB, as she wishes to be known. Our Nathan Guttman tracked her down in Indiana and had this delightful interview.
Poland and the Holocaust. In last week’s Jane Looking Forward, I decried legislation now being considered to make it a crime punishable by fines and imprisonment for purposely trying to attribute the crimes of Nazi Germany carried out during the occupation to the Polish nation as a whole. The legislation has sparked outrage in Israel and among many American Jews — opinions we have reflected on our pages.
But it’s also our responsibility to publish opposing points of view. And we did that, with this detailed essay by Polish journalist Marcin Makowski. Read it yourself and decide.
Looking forward. I so appreciated all the questions sent to me for my Ruth Bader Ginsburg interview, and hope you’ll continue to be engaged in our work. Email me at Jan[email protected] and I’ll try to respond as soon as I can.
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