The first Jewish woman on the US Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, died Friday night as millions of American Jews were getting ready to celebrate the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year.
People in Washington, DC, gathered outside the Supreme Court singing the Mourner’s Kaddish for her.
Blasts of a ram’s horn trumpet, or shofar, echoed over the plaza. The sound of the shofar is an ancient summons, interpreted as a wake-up call to the faithful to atone for their sins at the holiest times in the Jewish calendar.
For Sheila Katz, hearing that sound from the Court’s steps somehow felt right. “The shofar is blown as a literal wake-up call to the Jewish people – a signal that we need to act toward bettering ourselves and healing the world around us,” Katz told NPR.
President Bill Clinton nominated Ginsberg to the Supreme Court. During her confirmation hearing, she told the Senate her own story. She talked about her father, a Jewish immigrant from Odessa, Russia, and her mother, born in New York to parents from Krakow, Poland.
“My family left the old country, when Jewish ancestry and faith meant exposure to pogroms and denigration of one’s human worth.”
“What has become of me could happen only in America,” Ginsberg told senators.
Years later, on Rosh Hashanah, Ginsburg surprised worshipers with a speech when she drew another link between Judaism and her lifelong pursuit of justice.
“The Jewish religion is an ethical religion.” Ginsburg said. “That is, we are taught to do right, to love mercy, do justice, not because there’ll be any reward in heaven or punishment in hell. We live righteously because that’s how people should live.”
Ginsburg fought for what she believed was just. She spent much of her legal career as an advocate for gender equality and women’s rights. Many of the rights women enjoy now in the US are a direct result of her struggle.
In accordance with Supreme Court tradition, a black drape is now hanging over the courtroom door as a sign of respect and mourning following the death of a justice.