Ruth Bader Ginsberg Showed Unexpected Humor during Live from the 92nd Street Y

[by Phyllis Shaikun]

Thanks to Adath Jeshurun’s simulcasts of programs presented from New York’s Live from the 92nd Street Y series, many in the community have already had the opportunity to be up close and personal with well-known Jewish stars and strategists – and there’s even more to come. Skilled interviewers help the famous reveal insights about themselves through a series of questions designed to prompt memorable responses – some of which are insightful, while others are hilariously funny – that let viewers know even the legendary have their human side.

And so it was with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the star of the January 28 installment. In the past, Ginsberg always seemed to smile little and look like the archetypical Yiddishe mama who carries the weight of the world on her very slim shoulders. The more NPR’s Nina Totenberg questioned and probed her surface, the more Ginsberg showed herself to be sharp-witted, fashionable and determined to defend the civil rights of all citizens. She also smiled a bit and shared some very personal stories, which were certainly welcome – and unexpected.

Ginsberg, who was wearing black lace gloves and a red silk scarf draped over the neckline of her tailored navy suit, told Totenberg that a justice has to be open minded. Justices can also change their minds, she explained, and told about being asked to write a minority opinion on a case, which by the end of the process became the majority opinion.

Throughout the interview, Ginsberg kept a small booklet on the table next to her, which turned out to be a copy of the U.S. Constitution, to which she referred on occasion.

When the founding fathers wrote the constitution and included the phrase, “all men are created equal,” they understood “all men” to be white men who owned property, she observed. Over time the concept has evolved, and we now understand that the Constitution was written for all – men and women without respect to color or possessions.

When Totenberg asked Ginsberg if she had been tired when she and the other justices sat together at the state of the union address a few weeks ago, the justice admitted she had had a cocktail and a glass of wine at dinner with the other justices before the address, which caused her to doze off a bit.

Noting that she is a small woman, she said, that was a lot for her to drink. During previous State of the Union speeches, one of the justices used to poke at her to keep her awake. This year, as that individual is no longer on the bench, the task fell to another colleague, she said, but was not as effective at helping her remain attentive.

Although she spoke little about Judaism per se, she did say she was proud of her heritage. She noted that she has the biblical quote, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – justice, justice shall you pursue,” prominently displayed in her office.

She also quipped that she received the best advice on marriage from her mother-in-law, who, the night before Ginsberg’s wedding, suggested that sometimes it’s a good idea to be a little deaf!

The 92nd St. Y series continues on March 2 at 8:15 p.m. with Rabbi Capers Funnye, Michelle Obama’s first cousin, who holds a pulpit on the South Side of Chicago and is the first African American rabbi to serve on the Chicago Board of Rabbis.
Cultural icon Matisyahu, whose blend of Hasidic, reggae and hip hop music has sold millions of records and garnered fans around the world, will be featured on March 16 at 8 p.m.

Tickets for individual programs are $8 each. If you purchase tickets to the AJ Music Festival on March 14 (see story), tickets to the Matisyahu program are free. Admission is free for students with a valid ID.

The 92nd Y Live program is made possible by the Charles and Jean Erskine Speakers Fund. All profits from the series will be used to fund future Vision Committee educational programs.
To purchase tickets, contact the AJ office, 458-5359.

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