Ruth Bader Ginsberg: Her Tragic Death Makes The Sweet Honey of the Jewish Happy New Year Have A Bitter After-Taste

It’s the Friday night before Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and so my family is gathered around the table, our stomachs filled with chicken soup and our minds filled with thought of what the next year will bring. When suddenly we hear my mum gasp, and then her scream and then her violent words “RBG is dead.” 

Just as we thought this year couldn’t get any worse, it ended with our living symbol of hope fleeting into a distant memory of the groundbreaking legislation that she inspired. However, we mustn’t let our hope fade because RBG would never have accepted defeat but instead we must help her death make our passion for change stronger. Today, Rosh Hashana marks the beginning of our yearly ten day period of introspection and it also commemorates the creation of the world. But this year Is different because this year I started this period of introspection instead with retrospection of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s actions that helped to create a better world and society for everyone. 

RBG was a working class Jewish girl born in the 1930s to a staunchly, patriarchal, anti-semtic and xenophobic society. She was supposed to be a house wife but instead she ensured that the House and Senate started to protect minorities and her greatest achievement was supposed to be motherhood but instead it was securing her role as the mother of a generation of feminists and minorities scoring herself several GIFS on instagram and countless tictocs in respect of her death. She made people everywhere  understand that ‘no, this society is not built for us’ but it does not have to be that way and ‘yes, we must fight to build a new one that can include all of us.’

One of the biggest sins that society should be repenting for this Rosh Hashanah is the sin of settling for the status quo. Especially if the status quo exploits more than it gives and sniggers more then it laughs. Even though it’s easier to accept defeat from that white man running the oval office or that other white man taking our country out of the European Union, we must fight and do the unexpected. Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not live in society that encouraged women to finish top of their class in both Cornell university and Columbia law school, it was never a society that wanted a women to fight one of the most influential law cases ( Reed vs Reed in1971 ruled that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibited differential treatment based on sex) in front of the Supreme court and it was certainly not a society that would ever expect a woman to be the symbol of hope as she sat as a Supreme Court Justice beside several men when the world watched Brett Kavanaugh stutter in front of the camera just a few years ago. Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not accept, she challenged and she did not just stand near to oppression and listen but its her screams of justice which were heard across the world. 

Rosh Hashana is supposed to be about new beginnings and new births and although it started with a tragic death we must use her memory to rebirth and reinvigorate our want for change. Us, the young people of today must be rewriting the status quo; it might start in the form of a carefully constructed instagram petition in a cool font begging people to start caring about the climate or it could be as small as challenging that racist or sexist lecturer we all seem to have or it could be as  big as organising a nationwide (perhaps on Zoom) protest against fracking. We need to do as RBG did and stop letting the same old white men take the color out of future, stop them from writing our beginnings, middles and endings because this world is our story and it needs to be told how we want to be heard. 

When I was looking around today in synagogue I saw this baby hearing the same songs as me and I couldn’t help but fear for the world she’ll come of age in. Will it be in a world where the risen oceans are filled with plastic and hate instead of wildlife and beauty? Will it be a world where yet another capitalist, rich, straight, white man is sitting behind a desk deciding the destinies and legislations of thousands of people? Will it be a world which is even more narcissistic and atomised then the one we have now? But this thinking needs to change because Ruth Bader Ginsberg did not just sit back in despair and ask questions about the future, instead she wrote the answers and helped build and fight for a more inclusive and easier world for us all. She did not just fight for herself, she did not just fight for her gender and she did not just fight for her generation but instead she challenged the law and famously said “So that’s the dissenter’s hope: that they are writing not for today, but for tomorrow.”  Me and you, we are the tomorrow that she is talking about, she is the reason I can see myself in the supreme court and the reason you can feel protected under American law no matter your gender. This little girl at my synagogue is my “tomorrow” and we must fight to ensure that she has an even better, fairer world to live in just as RBG fought that fight when we weren’t even alive to ask her to. 

So, as our Friday night dinner table fell silent following the news of RBG’s death my whole family pondered the fact that one of our longlasting unstoppable symbols of hope and compassion has suddenly became stoppable and her existence and place in both The Supreme Court and in this world has disintegrated into a near memory. However, we need to respect her life and start this year by walking in the trail of equality that she blazed for us. We must aim to emulate RBG because even at 87 she continues to be deemed as a progressive icon and symbol for justice when justice is due and love when there is too much hate. In Jewish tradition a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a Tzadik, a person of great righteousness. Although Ruth Bader Ginsberg had a complicated relationship with Judaism she was undeniably righteous and that is how her life will forever be remembered;her liberal symbolism has now become progressive martyrdom.

So Shana Tova, Happy Jewish New Year, now let’s all honour RBG this year by never stopping to fight the good fight.

-Lily Sheldon

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