My Own Words, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s new collection of her legal writings, which appears to double as a professional semi-autobiography, feels like a long time coming. The Supreme Court Justice and liberal lioness has today become an outspoken cult hero, although she was widely rebuked recently for coming out against Donald Trump, a growing chorus of which she cannot be a proud member because of that whole SCOTUS job thing. Anyway, she’s no-no-no-notorious and enjoys wine and is cool in my book.
And there’s an essay in her new book that makes RBG, who grew up in Brooklyn, stand out even more in my eyes because it’s something that reveals her humanity and her ability to express her emotions and grapple with the realities and aftermath of the Holocaust. Written in 1946, when she was just 13 years old, “Ginsburg (then known by her maiden name Bader) went to both Reform and Orthodox synagogues as a child, the book reveals, before her family found a good fit at the Conservative East Midwood Jewish Center,” reported JTA. “She wondered as a young girl why boys got to do a bar mitzvah at age 13, while “there was no comparable ceremony for me,” a struggle that may have shaped her into the gender equality advocate she is today.”
Here is the essay, written by Ginsburg a little over a year after Bergen-Belsen was liberated, and published in her shul’s bulletin:
The war has left a bloody trail and many deep wounds not too easily healed. Many people have been left with scars that take a long time to pass away. We must never forget the horrors which our brethren were subjected to in Bergen-Belsen and other Nazi concentration camps. Then, too, we must try hard to understand that for righteous people hate and prejudice are neither good occupations nor fit companions. Rabbi Alfred Bettleheim once said: “Prejudice saves us a painful trouble, the trouble of thinking.” In our beloved land families were not scattered, communities not erased nor our nation destroyed by the ravages of the World War.
Yet, dare we be at ease? We are part of a world whose unity has been almost completely shattered. No one can feel free from danger and destruction until the many torn threads of civilization are bound together again. We cannot feel safer until every nation, regardless of weapons or power, will meet together in good faith, the people worthy of mutual association.
There can be a happy world and there will be once again, when men create a strong bond towards one another, a bond unbreakable by a studied prejudice or a passing circumstance. Then and only then shall we have a world built on the foundation of the Fatherhood of God and whose structure is the Brotherhood of Man.
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Jonathan Zalman is a writer and teacher based in Brooklyn.