Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died a year ago on September 18, 2021. Her death shook the nation, and it shook me. We were in the middle of collaborating on a book together. I knew her cancer had returned, but still I was shocked: Looking back at her emails to me, she clearly planned to be around for what would have been her 28th year on the U.S. Supreme Court.
I spent much of this past year thinking about Justice Ginsburg and finishing our book. It was born out of a conversation in her Supreme Court chambers in late 2019, shortly after she received the Moment Magazine Human Rights Award. I was sitting on the couch, surrounded by her favorite photographs and art, while she spoke about why women role models were so important to her. She was especially inspired by Jewish women, because she considered herself deeply Jewish and recognized the age-old connection between social justice and Jewish tradition. The humanity and bravery of Jewish women, she said, had sustained and encouraged her when her spirits needed lifting.
There was the poet Emma Lazarus, scholar-activist Henrietta Szold and the writer Anne Frank. From the bible there was Miriam, Yocheved, the midwives Shifra and Puah, and Pharaoh’s daughter, Bayta. In fact, she had a long list of Jewish women she wanted everyone—especially young people—to know more about. Right then and there, we decided to write an intergenerational book about them. We drew up a list of more than 150 women with indomitable energy who had moved the world forward, then with great difficulty narrowed down the list. She wrote her introduction and kept sending me more names to add as I got to work on the women’s stories, and she somehow managed to find the time to read every word of an early draft. Our book, which will be released in a few days, is RBG’s Brave and Brilliant Women: 33 Jewish Women to Inspire Everyone. The women in it range from Miriam to those who Justice Ginsburg was honored to meet during her lifetime. Together, their stories chart the evolution of the struggle for women’s rights around the world.
The true star of the book is Justice Ginsburg herself: It tells the story of how she overcame gender discrimination to change the laws of the United States to make them fairer for all genders, and it includes a powerful call to action. Of course, we lost her along the way, and I want to thank the many people who pitched in after her death, including her family, friends and colleagues, and mine as well—including the editors at Random House and Moment. This book was truly a labor of love in memory of a brave and brilliant woman.
Please mark your calendars for Tuesday, October 5 when I will be in conversation about Justice Ginsburg and her role models with Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt. This is a virtual MomentLive! event and you can sign up here.