Dear Justice Ginsburg

Dear Justice Ginsburg by Gabriella Naveh - Photo Sonja Lippman

Dear Justice Ginsburg,

Given the fact that I was already enamored with government and politics by the age of five, it might seem unlikely that our paths did not cross sooner; but of course, my knowledge was much more limited then. My study of government mainly consisted of presidents and first ladies. The intricacies, including those of the judicial system, came along later. I remember engaging in discussions of history and government with my family from a young age. As I grew, the depth and maturity of the conversation grew as well. Those dialogues were vital in shaping my understanding that I am one, small part of a much larger world and therefore, I have a responsibility to better the lives of others.

My love of government at such a young age may seem unusual, but if you knew anything about my family, it would not surprise you in the least. I come from a long line of politically active people. Like you, Justice Ginsburg, my savta (grandmother) is a Jewish woman—small in stature, but gigantic in presence. She was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1945. She describes her childhood as rich in experiences, education, and community. However, the South during the 1940s was not a welcoming place to minorities, to say the least. By the time she was in high school, integration in the New Orleans public school system had begun. That first week, the majority of students and teachers boycotted the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling by not showing up to school. But a handful of students, including my savta, went anyway. In many ways, I liken my savta to my personal “RBG.”. While your journeys were quite different, I find commonality in your lifelong dedication to social justice.

At the age of 11, I volunteered for my first political campaign with my savta. I love the bond we shared, one grounded in the work of social justice. Together, every Sunday, like clockwork, we would phonebank or register voters for the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign. The unification of different people, for a single cause, one that could make America more equal and just, gave me hope. That was the first time I felt like I had a seat at the table. It only solidified what I already thought to be true—I wanted to be a force for good, and government was the way to do it.

It seems only fitting that my savta introduced me to you. About two years ago, one hot summer night, my savta, my mom, and I went to the movie theater to see RBG, the CNN documentary about your life. I could not help but be overwhelmed by the fact that we, three different women from three different generations, were watching the life story of someone who shattered glass ceilings for ordinary women like us. As I stared at the screen, I imagined what my future could hold. My journey will not be the same as yours, as everyone’s is unique. However, I hope for your passion, work ethic, and sense of justice for whatever comes next in my life. Because of women like you, and like my savta, I am who I am today and can pursue my dreams tomorrow.

Justice Ginsburg, I learned so many things from studying your life and your work, too many to name right now. But one thing that stuck with me was what you said in February of 2017 at Stanford’s Memorial Church: “I tell the law students…if you’re going to be a lawyer and just practice your profession, well, you have a skill, so you’re very much like a plumber. If you want to be a true professional, you will do something outside yourself…something to make life a little better for people less fortunate than you.” Justice Ginsburg, it is because of you that I want to, and believe I can, become a constitutional lawyer. You showed me that the law can be good. You taught me that the interpretation of the Constitution should be ever evolving, as our country is an ever-evolving place. You taught me how to fight for justice relentlessly. Someday, I hope to be able to implement the kind of change you did with such passion, grit, and spirit. Thank you for fighting for the rights of so many, for speaking for the voiceless, and for standing up even when you had to stand alone. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, my hope is that I too will have made life better for people less fortunate than I.

On the night of Rosh Hashanah, I heard about your death from my savta. It was particularly saddening, as we could not hug and cry together due to COVID-19. Looking back on that night, I believe my tears were the culmination of both a particularly devastating year and the fear of what comes next. However, I know the heart of it was pure grief. I am pained by your loss, and I am pained by the current state of our country. But I have faith in the one we can build for tomorrow. As we forge onward, I pray we all will be a little more like you: a little fiercer, a little stronger, and a little more notorious. Justice Ginsburg, I hope your death makes us pick up the fight for justice like never before. And when we do, I promise to tell them, “Ruth sent us.”

With the utmost of gratitude,
Gabriella Naveh

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Gabriella Naveh is a member of the class of 2023 at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Foreword, the Allderdice student newspaper, the teaching assistant for the AP United States Government and Politics class, and serves on the Pittsburgh Public Schools Student and Government Council. In her free time, she can be found volunteering on a political campaign.
Accompanying photo: “On a Mission” by Sonja Lippman