Rabbi Sarah Marion
“Remembering Ruth Bader Ginsburg”
Rosh Hashanah, 5781/2020
I was eight when I had the awesome privilege of meeting Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It was 1994, and my dad, an tenant rights attorney, was being admitted to the Supreme Court Bar Association, and my grandfather and I came along to for the ride. During one of the receptions, Ruth made an appearance. At eight years old, I only vaguely understood the significance of the experience, but my father and grandfather were to sure to get a photo of me with Ruth, knowing that, someday, I would come to appreciate just how special that moment was.
Five years later, I was preparing for my Bat Mitzvah and practicing my Torah portion – Parshat Shoftim – containing the pivotal words “Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue.” Of all the Bat Mitzvah cards and greetings I would receive over the coming weeks, Ruth’s was indeed the most unexpected. Somehow, my grandfather had made some connections and pulled some strings so that I would receive a signed letter from the Justice herself, quoting my very relevant Torah portion and wishing me good wishes on the occasion of my Bat Mitzvah.
The photo of me with Ruth and the letter she sent me now hang in a frame in my office, inspiring me to strive for goodness and justice and equality in all of my rabbinic endeavors. Since that day I met her in 1994, there have been so many things that I have come to admire and appreciate about her, and so much about her life and her career that resonates. Raising young children and caring for her family as a busy, working mother with professional goals of her own is certainly high on the list. Her soft but determined demeanor is another. Ruth teaches and reminds all of us, that you don’t need to have the loudest voice to embody a leadership position of high honor and value, nor do you need to be in the loudest person in the room in order to make a difference. The way she moved people, the way she shifted the status quo, with such gentle but steady relentlessness, I think, was one of her greatest and most enduring legacies. Ruth showcased that there are many ways to use one’s voice to create change and bring people together. As a person that does not instinctively lift my voice in front of a crowd, I saw myself in her, I gained confidence and trust in my own abilities and my own voice, through her.
And so on this Rosh Hashanah, we mourn the loss of Ruth and her voice – arguably one of the greatest “shofars” of all time. As every good shofar blower knows, in order to sustain that final, prolonged note of that last “T’kiah G’dolah,” it is essential to begin softly and then steadily and gradually grow louder and louder. This is what Ruth did. This is how she led us, throughout all of her years. Beginning with soft determination, she steadily and gradually grew louder and louder – but not because her voice grew louder in pitch, but, rather, because she softly and steadily brought others along with her. With quiet persuasiveness, she propelled forward a T’kiah Gedolah that embodied not only her own voice, but so many others.
I heard on NPR this morning that the day after her beloved Marty died, she was back on the bench, writing one of her famous dissenting opinions. We are all so rightfully heartbroken – and rightfully fearful – in the wake of her passing. But we must keep going and we must keep raising our voices – softly and loudly – in her honor. She wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.