On Rosh Hashanah, the loss of RBG leaves a hole in my heart


Isabel Engel

Steps of the Supreme Court of the United States filled with flowers, candles, and signs as hundreds gather to mourn the loss of RBG.

Isabel Engel, Executive Editor

I opened my phone and screamed. Screamed in pain, in anger, in mourning, and in utter disbelief. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was gone. 

Despite being in an abnormal year, the first night of Rosh Hashanah for my family hadn’t looked all that different. We sat outside at our friends’ house, eating a socially distanced dinner. We had lit the candles and said the prayers. The night had proven to be a welcome break from an otherwise hectic start to senior year—a chance to reconnect with my Jewish faith, friends, and family. 

As with all religious meals in my household, we have a ‘no phone’ rule at the dinner table. Consequently, my phone had been tucked away, ringer off, for the entirety of the celebratory meal.  It was all going quite smoothly. Well, up until I opened up my phone.

“RBG PASSED AWAY!” I cried out to family and friends, an immediate pit beginning to form in my stomach. “She’s gone.”

I cried on the way home, unable to believe that during Rosh Hashanah, a celebration of life and new beginnings, a Jewish American woman, legal icon, and voice of justice had died.  In the Jewish faith, a person who passes on Rosh Hashanah is a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness. And, in my eyes, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was just that. 

RBG epitomized so many Jewish values: Tikkun Olam (world repair), K’vod Habriyot (respect for all people), B’tzelem Elohim (the idea that all are created equal), and Lev Tov (generosity of heart and spirit) just to name a few. 

Her work fighting for the rights of women, workers, and members of the LGBTQ+ community created an unmatched judicial legacy of equal justice under the law. She devoted her life to performing mitzvot, acts of service to others, using her voice to advocate for those who had been silenced for far too long. 

Growing up, RBG was a true inspiration to me. She was the first Jewish female I had seen in mainstream news and on social media. Her accolades and widespread public appreciation caused the “notorious RBG” to be quite the hero in my household. I know I wasn’t alone in idolizing RBG growing up. Her work and legacy were felt nation-wide. So too is her loss. 

Her loss was too heavy to bear as we came back home from Rosh Hashanah, so my parents and I got back into the car and drove downtown to the Supreme Court. When we arrived, we saw hundreds of people gathering in mourning. 

The solemn silence spoke volumes —there are no words to describe her legacy. It was the strangest feeling to spend the first night of Rosh Hashannah, a characteristically happy time, grieving the loss of an American and Jewish icon. 

Now, on the second day of Rosh Hashannah, I reflect on her life, her unrivaled legacy of empathy, and the hole she has left in our nation. I think about the power of her faith this Jewish New Year, and how it informed the values for which she fought so fiercely. 

I remember her words when speaking at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.  “My heritage as a Jew and my occupation as a judge fit together symmetrically. The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I take pride in and draw strength from my heritage, as signs in my chambers attest: … the command from Deuteronomy: ‘Zedek, zedek, tirdof’ — ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue.’ Those words are ever-present reminders of what judges must do that they ‘may thrive,’” she said in 2004. 

Throughout her career, RBG drew strength from her Jewish faith. In this moment of immense loss, so too will I.