As a Jewish woman living in America there are few female icons that compare to the inspiration that was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Growing up in a conservative Jewish family where my synagogue became my second home of sorts, Judaism has always been an integral part of my identity. I have constantly been surrounded by strong Jewish women who have taught me to have empathy, a strong will, and maintain my authenticity above all else.
It was my great grandmother, an integral part of my local Jewish community, who would always tell me how important it was to do a good deed, not for the purpose of recognition or something in return, but solely to be a good person. Having so many female role models both in my own Jewish community, and in the larger Jewish world, is not necessarily a coincidence, but highlights a fundamental aspect of Judaism that is widely appreciated by the mass amounts of Jews that identify as culturally Jewish rather than religiously so. In my adult life I have realized that I fall in this category myself and that the reason I have been drawn to so many Jewish spaces is the underlying value of tikkun olam or “repairing the world”. Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself expressed a very similar sentiment in her 2017 Rosh Hashanah visit to a historic synagogue in Washington D.C., “The Jewish religion is an ethical religion. That is, we are taught to do right, to love mercy, do justice, not because there’s gonna be any reward in heaven or punishment in hell. We live righteously because that’s how people should live and not anticipating any award in the hereafter.” Upon the passing of Justice Ginsburg the entire country lost an incredible feminist and progressive icon, and the Jewish community lost a woman who embodied Jewish values and used them to change the world.
Having explained my personal connection to and appreciation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and all that she stood for, I want to shift my focus to my experience of seeing RBG herself on campus last year. This is a story I always share on my tours because it truly highlights the incredible opportunities that come from attending Berkeley and being a student at the number one public university in the country. When asked the question “If you could choose anyone to have dinner with alive or dead who would that be?” my answer was immediately RBG, so you can understand that when I heard she was on our very own campus, and she was mere minutes away from my very own dorm, my excitement was through the roof. I ended up running all the way down Bancroft alongside friends from Hillel, the Jewish student organization on campus, after hearing she was speaking in Zellerbach Playhouse to the Berkeley Law students. Although the security guards outside of the event seemed pretty hesitant to let us in, we each got brochures from the day and were able to watch her on the monitor through the window. Decked in RBG gear, with her biography in my hand, it was a day I will remember forever and an opportunity that was really only possible going to a university that attracts the best of the best. Watching her walk out of Zellerbach, a building I passed every day on my way to class, was incredible and really put into perspective how fortunate I am to be a part of a community of changemakers learning from some of the greatest changemakers in history.