Most of the time, we each behave as though we are at the center of the drama of our own universe. Then moments happen like tonight, when we heard that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. Suddenly my own reality became small and her death and life loomed larger than my own, even to myself.
Today I grieve because this tiny giant of a woman is gone and I worry for our nation, for our future, for myself and my daughters and for every one of us. I worry that the death of a great woman will be turned into an ugly political battle that does no justice to her life or her legacy.
Justice Ginsburg stood up for those whose rights had been denied. She made us better, because she believed that women and men should have the same rights under the law. She used her life experience, her religion, and her education for the betterment of society. Now that she is gone, we are all the poorer.
In Judaism, we show signs of mourning over the passing of immediate relatives, and also over the passing of our community’s giants. Whenever a great leader died, people would tear their clothing just as they would for a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse.
Tomorrow I will wear a kriah ribbon, the Jewish symbol of mourning, as I did almost exactly nine years when my father died, and nearly four years ago when my mother died. I will rise for the Mourner’s Kaddish, and hope that my prayers, joined with those of so many others, will carry her soul higher and higher, whisking her away from this world and into the arms of the Divine.
John Lewis, another Giant of our age who died just two short months ago, once said “We may not have chosen this time, but the time has chosen us.”
If he was correct, then it is up to us to rise to the challenges of this time. Without John Lewis and Ruth Bader Ginsburg to guide us, it is up to us to shine the way, to be beacons of hope and light, to work tirelessly to make our society and our country a place where every person can strive to be their highest self. A place where poverty and lack of education, racism and antisemitism, bigotry and hatred are not plagues but repented sins, left in the dust heap of history.
It is Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe in Judaism. In our services we say ha’yom harat ha’olam, “today the world is born anew.” Today we have suffered a great loss, and if the world is indeed to be born anew, then we must make it happen. It is upon us.
Postscript: After I posted this I read a quote from Justice Ginsburg that resonated deeply: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”