Grief, Gratitude, and Grit: RBG's Impact on My Life as a Young Jewish Woman Alexandra Cohen

October 12 2020 | Op-Ed

With the Amy Coney Barrett Supreme Court confirmation hearing underway, teens around the country are reacting to this unprecedented supreme court confirmation process. Alexandra Cohen is one of these teens, and she has a message for the politicians pushing this process forward.

There aren’t many strangers whose deaths conjure the same emotions as the death of a loved one, but then again there aren’t many Ruth Bader Ginsburgs. My father broke the news of her passing with the same care he had used when informing our family of the losses we had endured from Covid-19. Her presence in our lives was one of a Jewish Grandma: a spunky, strong-willed, Jewish grandma. She was America’s Jewish grandma. As a young Jewish woman, her story and career have inspired me to be a dissenter, a voice for justice, and a girl who can do it all. I’m not alone in this feeling - millions of American women have been struck with admiration for the notorious RBG. Millions have felt this sadness, anxiety, and fear over the death of one woman. We’ve allowed our system to put the well-being of millions at stake due to the death of an 87 year old woman suffering from cancer. What kind of system is that?

I, as well as many other Jewish American women, woke up on Rosh Hashanah to the sweetness and purity of a New Year and went to sleep with the knowledge that our reproductive rights could soon be up for debate - that our chance at true equality may be postponed, with a permanent stain on the blank page of a new beginning.

We began the grieving process with fear, but for me this fear was soon overshadowed by hope. I learned that a person who dies on Rosh Hashanah is a tzaddik: a person of great righteousness. And that she was: she was truly a force to be reckoned with. Then, I looked through the social media that’s consumed our lives throughout the pandemic, and see that a sea of American women have banded together in grief. Grief fueled by gratitude for her impact on our rights. Fueled by the true representation of unstoppable feminism. Fueled by a year that seemed to have been disaster after disaster looping on the news.

To cope with my own grief, I watched “On the Basis of Sex”. If I hadn’t already been inspired by her, the film would have changed that. The movie speaks constantly of precedent. Appellate law itself is an interpretation and establishment of precedent. The movie also talks about when precedents must change. The quote, “A court ought not be affected by the weather of the day, but will be by the climate of the era” so greatly follows the story of the film, and (on a macro level) the story of Ginsburg herself.

The climate of our era today is so vastly different from its climate in 2016 - during the election of Trump and the passing of Justice Scalia. In 2016, Senator Mitch McConnell asked not to appoint a new justice in an election year. In 2020, he asked to go through with a new nomination a mere two hours after the announcement of RBG’s death. In the movie “Coastal Elites”, which depicts five people living during the Covid19 pandemic, actress Bette Midler as her eccentric anti-trump character Miriam Nessler talks about how the 2016 election has caused her to lose a bit of her decency. Have we all lost some decency after putting this man in office? Has the rhetoric of our President seeped into the hearts and minds of each American? Have we lost the ability to grieve with respect, to honor a life? Our country has faced over 200,000 deaths from covid this year alone. Are we so desensitized to loss that we mustn’t grieve in order to fulfill a political agenda?

So McConnell, America sees through your transparency today. We see your dismissal of our grief of an American hero, and our security in gender and reproductive rights. And we ask that you continue to cling onto your traditional American values and that you uphold a precedent of process. That’s what conservatives want, isn’t it? That’s what Ginsburg would have wanted; she would’ve wanted you to interpret law according to precedent and in the pursuit of justice.

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Created with an image by Gayatri Malhotra - "Rest in peace RBG"