Tell me a story about a young girl, born in 1933 during the height of the depression, growing up facing antisemitism, blatant sexism, and inequality, and I’ll know you are talking about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, my hero. Oh, Ruth, you are one powerful Yiddisheh momma that dares to live every day #livingfearlesslyauthentic. Let me tell you about her.
Nothing ever did or will stop her. If she disagreed, you knew about it. If she ever wanted something to change, she stood up and fought for it — and that is still true today. She lives and breathes strength, integrity, and elegance. She stands up for equality when others don’t even recognize the discrimination. She is a graceful heavyweight, a leader among all leaders, and at five feet tall, 84 years old, she heads up the liberal wing of the Supremes. She makes me proud to be a woman, a Jew, a feminist, an activist, a mom, and a human being.
Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.
— Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice
Joan Ruth Bader was born to Jewish immigrants and grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Her sister died when she was just a toddler. Her mother, Celia, always stressed the importance of education (Celia was a very good student, graduating High School at 15, yet her family chose to send her brother to college. It was a time when sons were valued and daughters were meant to find husbands.). As a mom, she wanted more for her daughter. What momma doesn’t? Celia noticed that many girls in her class were named Joan, so to quickly avoid any tsuris (trouble), she asked her teachers to call her Ruth. She brought her to the public library often, where Ruth consumed Nancy Drew books, realizing that Nancy was a young girl in charge, who thought for herself (perhaps we add this series of books to our collective daughters’ gift lists? Nu?) both in her mystery solving and in her relationships. Ruth’s dream of becoming a lawyer was underway and early signs of Notorious R.B.G had begun.
- Ruth was an excellent student (she listened to her momma, like a glikt shana maideleh (good girl)). Sadly, her mom died the day before her high school graduation
- She went on to attend Cornell University, where she studied in the bathroom stalls, hiding from parties and social activities — she graduated as the top-ranking female student in her class
- At Cornell, she met Marty Ginsburg, whom she would later marry. Ruth was demoted from her job for being pregnant. Marty and Ruth gave birth to a bouncing baby girl. Everyone said she belonged in the kitchen, and at home with her daughter. Marty and Ruth knew better.
- Marty ( a successful tax attorney in his own right) was supportive, unlike many men of their generation. He understood Ruth was no balaboosta (organized and efficient home-maker). He handled all of the traditional ‘mommy’ roles. Middle-of-the-night feedings, cooking, cleaning, baking, and tending to the kids… he was proud to do these things so that Ruth can later become the Notorious R.B.G. that we know and love.
- She attended Harvard Law school and was often ridiculed by the dean for being a woman, taking up a man’s spot.
- Marty took a job in NYC and Ruth transferred to Columbia University, where she graduated tied for top honors in her class.
She had a law degree and top honors, but being a woman, wife, mom, and a Jew made her dreams of becoming a lawyer very difficult. To say she became passionate about women’s rights and gender equality would be an understatement. After co-founding the Women’s Rights Project for the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Ruth went on to fight six landmark cases on gender equality before the US Supreme court.
President Jimmy Carter appointed RBG to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. She served there for thirteen years. President Bill Clinton, looking to increase the diversity on the highest bench in the land, appointed her to the US Supreme Court. She joined the Supremes as only the second female Supreme Court Justice (Sandra Day O’Connor was the first). She refers to the former justice as her “big sister.”
RBG battled colon cancer in 1999. She fought off pancreatic cancer in 2009. In 2014, she had a stent placed in her right coronary artery after feeling uncomfortable while working out with her personal trainer. Yes, she can probably kick a*s and take names in any gym she enters.
As for the name, Notorious R.B.G., that comes for her feisty and fiery dissents. A meme virally toured the social media realm, comparing her rap star Notorious B.I.G.
On retirement, at 84, she is a self-proclaimed flaming feminist litigator and is showing no signs of losing her efficacy or her memory. Take a look at this recent tweet from our own twit-in-chief, and you know she still is a powerful force.
Ruth, I admire you and hold you in the very highest regard. You influence my life and my decisions, and I know this world is a better place because of you. Thank you for all you do.
What a gutte neshumah, she is. What a good person with a big heart, she is.