RBG: One Justice for All

October 9, 2020

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The death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg prompted an emotionally charged deep-dive into her body of work and personal life, including her 20-year long relationship with personal trainer Bryant Johnson. At 67, Ginsburg, aka ‘Notorious RBG,’ who was appointed by President Clinton in 1993, hired Johnson to keep her fit and extend her time on the bench.

I first heard that RBG died at 7:40 pm on September 18 via text from Betty Berklee. “RBG died. Crying emoji.” Berklee, an attorney and Jewish Family Service board member, is one of those people who reserves her outward emotions for moments like these. We texted back and forth for hours that evening, while watching the documentary, RBG, on Netflix.

The gravitas of RBG’s presence on the bench was not lost on me, but it took her death for me to realize how deeply she touched so many people.

As a Cornell freshman in the 1950s, Ruth Bader must have sensed her calling to be a champion of equality, and a loving wife and mother. It would explain one of her first and best moves. She met Marty Ginsburg and chose a life partner who didn’t simply make time and space for his wife’s career. Ginsburg, a supremely accomplished tax attorney in his own right, who passed away in 2010, completely immersed himself in his wife’s mission, and by doing so made every facet of their lives together richer and more rewarding.

Justice Ginsburg’s stance on equal rights for men and women covered reproductive rights, claims to benefits—and pushups! She took every aspect of her workouts very seriously. When it came to doing the right thing for the right reasons, and getting results, RBG never let anyone off the hook, in the courtroom or the gym—especially RBG.

The very first Jew and first woman to lie in state at The Capitol, RBG, was admired by people on both sides of the aisle. She did more than gain the respect of prominent lawyers and rainmakers in our community. She was the original influencer, thought leader and change agent whose soft voice carried a grand message.

Several Jewish Tidewater community members share their thoughts and recollections on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Betty Berklee, Associate General Counsel, Welbilt
RBG was truly a role model to me. I could go on for pages about the ground-breaking legal battles she won, the brilliantly written dissenting opinions she wrote, the societal changes she was able to effectuate through her legal work, and the manner in which she lived her life with integrity and commitment to fighting for equality and social change. But to me personally, her story is so much more. She was a Jewish girl from “the Boroughs,” the daughter of immigrants (her father, like mine, worked in the garment center in NY), at a time when women didn’t have the same path to success that I enjoyed four decades later as a young woman with the very same background.

Through hard work, commitment to education and sheer determination, she attained an education that was once only available to wealthy, white males of a certain social status. She was a fierce, brilliant legal warrior with a powerful mind, in the body of a soft-spoken, demure woman.

With quiet grace and unrelenting determination, she never backed down from the challenges she faced and the battles she fought.

She paved the way for women to attend top colleges and law schools, achieve job equality and professional success while juggling the requirements of family and motherhood.

And despite all the challenges she faced, she did it with humor, humility, decency, competence and honor. I don’t believe that my life (and the lives of generations of women) would be as it is today without the work of RBG.

Mona Shapiro Flax, Attorney
When I think of all the accomplishments of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, I remember back to the late sixties and early seventies when I was in my teens. My mother was finishing her doctorate and was met with difficulty at every turn by the university because no woman had come before her. Women could not get a credit card without a husband or father’s signature. I remember that my high school had boys’ championship football and basketball team, but there was no Title IX. The boys had the state-of-the-art gym, and the girls were relegated to a drafty old gym.

When I was a freshman in college in the fall of 1973, the resident assistant for my dormitory was one of six women in the University of Florida law school class. By the time I began law school, the ratio was one woman to three men in my law school class. The ratios now are equal or more women than men in the new classes.

What Justice Ginsburg did for me was to look past those things and make me feel as if there was nothing I could not accomplish. She gave me the freedom to believe that I was equal to or better than my male counterparts. She let me progress in my career without my having to think or worry about my gender.

I have two sons. One of them just told me he is proud to have come from such powerful female role models. Because of Justice Ginsburg, my sons can vocalize their opinions and can dare to be different. Her impact is not limited to women, but to all people.
Additionally, she has been a beacon of light for me both as a woman and as an attorney. In this trying profession, I try to live by her example of preparation, empathy, and patience. I try to follow her words, “Fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Janet V. Green, former Special Assistant to President Bill Clinton and director of White House Operations. CEO, Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg
After President Bill Clinton was elected, I was proud to be named Special Assistant to the President and Director of White House Operations, tasked with having the White House open at 12 noon on Inauguration Day. Now, this wasn’t just the offices, this is the White House residence, Secret Service, and Executive Office Buildings—the entire White House compound, which comprises 18 acres. So, while President Clinton may have been the first Democrat to occupy the White House in 16 years, he wasn’t the first Democrat to have an office in the White House…it was a Jewish girl born in NY…or better said, a proud Jewish woman…me! I had a small office in the White House to arrange the entire transition before Inauguration Day.

I was honored to still be working in the White House when President Clinton nominated Ruth Bader Ginsberg to be on the Supreme Court. The entire White House complex was abuzz with excitement over this milestone appointment. Staff could not attend the Rose Garden ceremony, yet we all watched from our offices in real time this groundbreaking announcement. What I remember most was the phone call I received soon after from my parents, who were thrilled that a Jewish woman from their mutual hometown of Brooklyn had been nominated to be the court’s second female justice, as well as the first Jewish female justice.

Baruh Dayan HaEmet (Blessed is the True Judge).

Jill Kantor Wainger, Attorney
While heartbroken by the loss of a true hero, I am inspired by RBG’s legacy and, more than ever, determined to honor her memory.

As a woman, I am grateful for her relentless pursuit of equality, which gave me so many of the rights and freedoms I enjoy today.
As a mother of girls, I will try to honor her life and legacy by teaching my daughters to always stand up and fight for what they know is just and fair.

As a lawyer, I admire the way she so effectively, thoughtfully, and confidently used the power of the law as an instrument for change.

As a human, I am committed to doing what I can to try to make the world a better place. We should all, in the words of RBG, “fight for the things (we) care about,” because there is still so much work to be done.

Letter to the Editor