Yahrzeit is probably the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) in this new Jewish year of 5782, during these Days of Awe. Yahrzeit is the word my Ashkenazi sisters and brothers use to mark the anniversary of someone who has passed. RBG passed away last year at the very beginning of the Jewish year 5781. I remember hearing of her passing during Rosh Hashanah while attending online/remote services at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST), a loving queer synagogue in NYC. As a law librarian, there was a concept that resonated with me during Rabbi Kleinbaum’s sermon: how to increase beauty in the world, how to increase light in the world. She specifically said “Our job in times of chaos is to create light and beauty.” How to increase beauty in the world as law librarians? Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof.
Personally, I believe that we as law librarians are in a unique position to create tangible and impactful change in the world around us. We inhabit and interact with two powerful forces: knowledge and the law. Powerful forces in the world that can create beauty or chaos, depending on how they are employed and maneuvered. RBG knew that all too well. Her own family had to flee Hitler’s well-regulated and law-abiding killing machine that ultimately created the Shoah. Nazi Germany was not a lawless place. The legal system, the law and knowledge and even libraries and archives were all part of a system dedicated to exclude, to alienate, to exterminate. At the same time, she was also well aware of the powerful impact these forces had once they were used to create light and hope. Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof.
How can we aim to emulate such an example of resilience? How can we read her life not as a cascade of incredibly difficult, unthinkable and unimaginable events but instead as a teaching and inspiring moment for all of us to aspire to, to be ready and resilient when our moment comes? How not to feel despair but instead look for the opportunities in the sounding of a shofar? Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof.
RBG was discriminated against as a Woman and as a Jew. And yet in spite of all her trauma and obstacles, she persevered. In the face of so much upheaval and challenges, she fought back, relentlessly, intentionally and more importantly… patiently. RBG’s life offers a pathway to create light and increase beauty in the middle of chaos and incredible upheaval. When asked about all her dissents, she famously said: “You go on to the next challenge and you give it your all.” Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof.
As in other professions, law librarians are forced to grasp and reckon with pressing challenges which feel overwhelming at times such as institutional racism and discrimination, lack of access to justice, lack of real diversity and inclusion in our profession and workplaces, fairness and representation, justice and rule of law, data/algorithms exacerbating our biases, spread of mis- and disinformation, digital divide, etc. These challenges seem insurmountable, never ending and out of our control. As Rabbi Kleinbaum reminded us last year when speaking about RBG, “No one can do everything. But everyone can do something.” How do we enact the changes we want to see onto the world in the immediate circles, settings and circumstances around us? As law librarians, how do we create that light around us and inspire others? Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof.
In our law libraries, we work closely with and influence individuals that have a significant impact in the rule of law in this country. We work with legal information and knowledge that forms the fabric of our democracy. As in much of RBG’s life, our goal as law librarians who want to be part of the change should be to recognize that power, that position, that ability to create light and hope around us and do it. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Tzedek, Tzedek, Tirdof.
G’mar chatimah tovah. גמר חתימה טובה.
Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. Their essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.