RBG : A Role Model to the Nation

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In recent years, this brilliant woman, small in stature, even a bit shy, became more than a role model to feminists and people fighting for justice. She became a role model to our nation at a time when we desperately needed such positive examples. The more tumultuous the time, the more we needed her steady presence.

She was a role model to the Jewish nation, to the American nation—and to our world. To older people. To middle-aged people. To young people.

Her amazing work redressing the inequalities deeply embedded in American law is only one reason.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the last week about what it was about her that made her so inspirational. I found myself thinking of her the same way I think about Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., two prophets of our nation who developed visions for a better America and led struggles for justice.

From what I have read about them, they, like Justice Ginsburg, had something special about them.

They were catalysts who created change and made the rest of us better people.

They helped crystallize—without anger—how we think and feel.

Justice Ginsburg did this for millions. She did this for me.

I was strengthened by her gentle steeliness, and her endless—and I mean endless—devotion to making a just place for women in the world and to shaping justice for our time. Ruth Bader Ginsburg never stopped.

I was strengthened by the way she didn’t let the gender discrimination—both conscious and unconscious—that she faced again and again throughout her life get in her way.

I was strengthened by the way she learned not to give up when men ignored her or belittled her words. She once told me that in law school she felt afraid to speak in class, but she studied harder and pushed herself to be assertive.

I was strengthened by her firm belief that the world needed women as judges and leaders in politics and in all professions. And not just 50 percent. “It would be fine to have nine female Supreme Court justices, because after all,” she told me, “we’ve had nine men for centuries, and no one seemed perturbed about that.”

I was strengthened by her knowledge and experience that a woman’s voice and a woman’s experience can change work environments and outcomes for the better.  “As women achieve power, the barriers will fall,” she wrote late last month in an essay for the current issue of Moment, quoting her “dear colleague” Sandra Day O’Connor. “As society sees what women can do, as women see what women can do, there will be more women out there doing things, and we’ll all be better off for it.”

I was strengthened by her love of her work. She worked hard and always did her homework. I know she was looking forward to the new term.

I was strengthened by her love of learning. She never stopped reading. This summer she was working her way through a biography of Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold.

I was strengthened by how she lived her life. She had had a great marriage and partnership with her late husband, Marty. She was a caring mother, grandmother, aunt and friend.

I admired her absolute pleasure in music, particularly opera, which brought her so much joy.

I enjoyed how she loved art. A visit to her chambers was like visiting a museum of art and history with a Supreme Court Justice as curator and guide.

I admired how she always took the time to write warm, personal thank you notes on stationery, and to so many people.

I was strengthened by the way she refused to let illness stop her. A few weeks before her death she was writing an essay for Moment and sending me ideas for our book.

She was simply who she was. A feminist who loved collecting lacy collars and had a great fashion sense, and who spoke softly. A person who had a power about her.

As a young girl she searched for women and Jewish women role models and found them hard to find, she told me. The Bible was filled largely with stories of men. Even Miriam wasn’t in the Haggadah she read along with her parents and grandparents at family seders. She eventually found a few women to inspire her, including Henrietta Szold, Deborah the biblical judge and poet Emma Lazarus.

Because our book is about role models, she and I talked and corresponded about the topic quite a bit over the last year. She knew how important role models were, especially for children and young adults.

As she said just a few weeks ago, “While I am mindful of current realities, the opening of doors long closed makes me optimistic about a future in which daughters and sons alike will be free from artificial barriers, free to aspire and achieve in full accord with their God-given talents and their willingness to do the hard work needed to make dreams come true.”

Justice Ginsburg, our RBG, is gone, but her words and acts will stay with us. It is now up to all of us to ensure that her work continues. That’s what she wanted.

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