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Jewish community reflects on Ruth Bader Ginsburg's impact

Posted at 12:13 PM, Oct 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-02 15:13:47-04

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg held a special place in the hearts of many.

“The Jewish community mourning her loss, I think it’s universal,” Temple Emanuel's Senior Rabbi Joseph Black said.

Rabbi Joseph Black is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Denver, Colorado. He says the timing of her death was very significant for people of the Jewish faith.

“There’s a midrash. There’s a rabbinic saying that if you die just before Rosh Hashanah, which she did. She died the last day of the year. Literally, it means that you’re a very righteous person, that God waited until the very last moment to take you from the world,” Rabbi Black explained.

Rabbi Black says Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. It is recognized as the start of the 10 holiest days of the year when people reflect on their sins and how they can make the world a better place.

“Everybody went into this sacred, holy day with a sense of loss," he said.

Rabbi Black says RBG and her role in the country’s democracy have been significant to the Jewish community for years.

“She was the first Jewish woman Supreme Court Justice," Rabbi Black said. "She was proud of her faith. While she wasn’t a deeply religious person, her Judaism, I do believe, instructed all that she did.”

He says justice is an essential part of Judaism.

“In Deuteronomy chapter 16, the words in Hebrew 'Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof, or Justice Justice Shall You Pursue' were literally inscribed on Justice Ginsburg’s chambers. She had artwork that said that. And I believe that she embodied that phrase.”

Being raised in a Jewish neighborhood with immigrant parents, Rabbi Black says he believes that’s a big reason why she was such a big supporter of minority rights.

“She was the voice of the voiceless," Rabbi Black said, "She spoke out for, regardless of who you were -- gender, sexual orientation, religious belief, economic status--she believed strongly in equality and in justice. She argued before she was a Supreme Justice five times on women’s rights issues.”

Justice Ginsburg’s impact started way before she took one of the coveted nine spots on the Supreme Court.

“She was a member of our Kappa chapter at Cornell University where she actually served as President of the chapter,” said Bonnie Wunsch, executive director of Alpha Epsilon Phi Sorority, the sorority RBG was a part of.

Alpha Epsilon Phi was founded by seven Jewish women in 1909 who were unable to join other sororities on their campus. Justice Ginsburg was a part of the sisterhood from the early-to-mid 1950s.

"We stand for leadership and empowerment and development of women in all areas. And what RBG stood for is exactly the values that all sororities, not just AEPhi, are founded upon."

Wunsch says the sorority is proud to call her a sister.

“She really made a difference," Wunsch said. "She showed that we could do whatever we wanted to do as women, as mothers, and as Jews in the community.”

Both Rabbi Black and Wunsch say they agree Ginsburg taught us the importance of the pursuit of justice, and how to fight for the rights of the oppressed, lessons we can carry on through her legacy.

“She represented the best of the best," Rabbi Black said. "And we must try to emulate her fighting spirit, her values, and her faith”