I have never been as disgusted with our politics, and with my profession, as I was this weekend.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday just before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. She was not only one of the greatest jurists in our history, a pioneering defender of women and the oppressed, and one whose life story of love and perseverance inspired millions. She was also a Jew. You don’t have to be a Jew, or a believer, to see the symbolism — the loss of this great woman at the very moment that, in the Jewish tradition, God begins the renewal of the world — to know that there is powerful, spiritual meaning here that should call us all to reflection on the meaning of Ginsburg’s life.

Instead, some 80 minutes after her death was reported, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a man without a shred of decency and seemingly without a soul, announced his intent to replace her as fast as possible, before the next president is sworn in. (Even President Trump showed more humanity at first, citing the traditional Jewish expression for the dead, “May her memory be a blessing,” with a Trumpian flourish: “May her memory be a great and magnificent blessing to the world.”)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Sept. 18, prompting politicians from former president Bill Clinton to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) to reflect on her legacy. (The Washington Post)

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) soon joined the Senate majority leader, announcing a 180-degree reversal from his position toward Obama Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland in 2016, and somehow blaming the Democrats for his rank hypocrisy and dishonorable conduct.

Democrats and progressives, thus provoked, responded with threats of revenge: eliminating the filibuster, packing the court if Joe Biden wins, even adding states to the union.

And some of my colleagues in the media, regrettably, furthered the immediate politicization of Ginsburg’s death or demanded to know senators’ positions on the new nominee — before Ginsburg, whose dying wish was that the next president name her replacement, was even in her grave.

Aren’t we better than this?

I tried to ignore all the Rosh Hashanah jockeying, instead joining my synagogue’s online services Friday evening and Saturday morning. As always, we recited the ancient Unetanah Tokef, (“We shall ascribe holiness to this day”) about God’s annual judgment of humankind:

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The great shofar is sounded,

A still, small voice is heard …

On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed,

And on Yom Kippur it is sealed.

How many shall pass away and how many shall be born,

Who shall live and who shall die …

Who shall be at rest and who shall be tormented,

Who shall be exalted and who shall be brought low,

Who shall become rich and who shall be impoverished.

The passage continued with a call to repentance and reminder of our mortality: “We come from dust, and return to dust.… We are like broken shards, like dry grass, like a withered flower, like a passing shadow and a vanishing cloud, like a breeze that passes, like dust that scatters, like a fleeting dream.”

Soon after, we hear the eerie sounding of the shofar. One triumphant blast of the ram’s horn serves as a wake-up call to reaffirm God’s sovereignty, then a series of broken notes evoke weeping, staccato bursts convey distress, and finally tekiah gedolah, a long blast that signifies hope.

“Today, when we sound the shofar,” my rabbi prayed, “let us hear in it the cry of the oppressed and the hurting, let us sing the song of a world that sings in one voice. Help us hear within it the unfinished work of our world and grant us the strength and courage to step into it unafraid.”


It is difficult to find that courage amid hurricanes, fires, a melting planet, racial injustice and strife, a pandemic, financial suffering and bitterness among nations. Now we can’t even pause for a day to reflect on a life well-lived, to mourn the loss of a righteous voice, and to listen for the shofar and the “still, small voice” that might help us find the way out of all of our misery.

There will be a time, and soon, to fight McConnell’s disgraceful behavior; to pray that Americans, regardless of party or ideology, will object to this betrayal of honor and fair play; and to figure out remedies for a Supreme Court that will, if McConnell succeeds, lose whatever legitimacy it still has in the public eye.

If only we could, first, take a moment to reflect on how we can be better. In that, Ginsburg was one of our noblest teachers. The Bible says God fulfills all the days of the righteous, and she was, as some have observed, a true zaddik, a righteous leader through whom God’s grace flowed.

May her memory be a blessing.

From Bernice King to Sheryl Sandberg, these are the stories of women inspired to exercise their most fundamental democratic right by those who voted first. (The Washington Post)

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