I’m not someone who, at age 64, is nearly interchangeable with the 20-something version of himself. The same holds true for the 80-something version of Notorious RBG who bears little likeness to her 30-something appearance as a Professor of Law at Rutgers University.
Be that as it may … 83 year-old RBG remains vibrant to this day, still going to the gym at least twice a week, put through her paces by a personal trainer. I learned this, and a number of other interesting facts, from an attractive new autobiography just out by one of our trailblazing Supreme Court Justices.
Some have claimed that there’s a certain resemblance between the dour, diminutive Ruth Buzzi and Ruth Ginsburg, but personally I don’t see it. Perhaps if you put glasses and a bun on Buzzi, and a hair net on Ginsburg …
Believe it or not, what the two brunettes do have in common is that they were cheerleaders in high school. More precisely, Ginsburg was known for twirling a mean baton at athletic events. But that’s really where the similarities end, for we quickly discover that Ruth’s first name isn’t even Ruth. She was born Joan Ruth Bader in Brooklyn in 1933, and Mrs. Celia Bader suggested to school officials that they call her daughter Ruth to differentiate her from the several other Joans in her class. Baby Ruth was actually known as Kiki at home, a nickname given to her by older sister Marilyn (not to be confused with Kiki Vanderweghe – whose nickname means curly hair in German). Ruth had no trouble keeping up with the other Joans, distinguishing herself through exemplary grades and keen writing skills.
Tragedy struck early in Ruth’s life when Marilyn succumbed to meningitis. It would revisit when she was 17, losing her mother to cancer on June 25, 1950. I did a double take when reading that her mother’s name before marrying Ruth’s father was Celia Amster. (The Celia Amster with whom I’m familiar was a popular second grade teacher in Fair Lawn, NJ, and a beloved figure in our synagogue who, by odd coincidence, also had a daughter named Ruth!)
Much is made in the book of how RBGs Jewish culture influenced her love of learning and pursuit of justice. High on the list of brave Jewish women who inspired her is the poet Emma Lazarus, a cousin of jurist Benjamin Cardozo. Lazarus penned “The New Colossus“, a poem found at the base of the Statue of Liberty which contains these now famous words:
As part of her opening statement during the hearings before the Committee on the Judiciary of the United States Senate that would ultimately confirm her appointment to the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg paid homage to Lazarus in proclaiming the following:
“I am, as you know by my responses to your questionnaire, a Brooklynite, born and bread – a first generation American on my father’s side, barely second-generation on my mother’s. Neither of my parents had the means to attend college, but both taught me to love learning, to care about people, and to work hard for whatever I wanted or believed in. Their parents had the foresight to leave the old country, when Jewish ancestry and faith meant exposure to pogroms and denigration of one’s human worth. What has become of me could only happen in America. Like so many others, I owe so much to the entry this nation afforded to people yearning to breathe free.”
Post-Script: A friend emailed the following to me after reading this:
“As a side note, a former Shulamith student, Ruchie Shoretz, whose sisters were all my students, clerked for her a number of years ago and maintained close contact with RBG. Ruchie, a Teaneck resident, later went on to become the founder of Sharsheret, an incredibly successful support group for young Jewish women who suffer from breast and ovarian cancer. Sadly, she passed away a short time ago.”
I was touched reading about this incredible woman. It explains the beautiful passage on page 85 of RBGs My Own Words: