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  • Writer's pictureMarilyn Saltzman

A thank you note to the Notorious RBG

Dear Justice Ginsburg,

As a student of Mussar, Jewish ethics, I looked to you as a shining example of how to practice the middot, soul traits. Just a few you taught through your deeds and words:

Humility: You did not seek the spotlight and were humble when talking about your accomplishments, crediting your husband, your mother and your professors. And even more importantly you fulfilled the humility definition of “taking up the right amount of space,” as described by Alan Morinis, founder of The Mussar Institute. You never failed to take up the right amount of space, to show strength of conviction when it was time to seek equality for women and for minorities; when it was time to speak out for justice and against injustice; when it was time to dissent. Whether it was your dissent when the Court gutted the Voting Rights Act or equal pay for women in the Ledbetter case, you took up the right amount of space. Early in the 1970s, you were arguing for gender equity before the Supreme Court.

Your words of humility: “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”

Courage: Your picture should be in the dictionary under the definition of courage. In a time when women were discouraged from pursuing a career and motherhood, you persevered. When you faced battle after battle against cancer, you persevered, returning to the bench faster than could be expected from any mere mortal. The day after your beloved Martin died, you took the advice of your children and returned to the bench to issue a decision.

Your words of courage: So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune."

Honor: You were part of the majority in upholding same sex marriage, and just two months later you were the first justice to officiate at such a wedding ceremony. And I heard your good friend Nina Totenberg on NPR this morning talking about how you treated everyone, including the six-year-old son of a newly appointed judge, with dignity and honor.

Your words of honor: "I'm a very strong believer in listening and learning from others."

Humor: There are two types of humor, says Avi Fertig, director of The Mussar Institute, the sarcasm that may cause harm and the humor that brings joy and allows us to gain perspective. You were a model of the latter in both your writings and your speeches.

Your words of humor: “People ask me sometimes… ‘When will there be enough women on the court?’ And my answer is: ‘When there are nine.’ People are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that."

Love: After seeing the documentary, “RGB,” I reflected that it was not only a story about your career, but also a love story. Your relationship with Martin is a wonderful example to women and men of all ages about how life partners can make each other better people.

Your words of love: "If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me."

Your Honor, I am honored to share some of your characteristics: We’re both five-feet, left-handed, Brooklyn Jewish girls, educated in public schools and a Conservative synagogue. You have lit the way in showing me what girls like us can become as women, the difference we can make in the world.

As you know, when someone dies in the Jewish faith, we say, “may her memory be for a blessing.” We can do this by keeping alive your legacy of humility, courage, honor, humor, love, and of course, justice. I pledge to do my part.

With deepest respect and enduring gratitude,

Marilyn Saltzman

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Sep 21, 2020

Thank you for your perspective from a Brooklyn Jewish girl educated in public schools and a Conservative synagogue.

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