The Moral Test of a New Year and a Towering Loss

Though I am not a strict Sabbath observer, I avoid the news and don’t respond to emails from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday.  It’s a gift I give myself, one to which I try to be faithful.

This year, Rosh Hashanah began at sundown on Friday evening, so it was a perfect opportunity to be extra-attuned to both the gift of Shabbat and the unique reflective and prayerful opportunity that is presented by the Jewish New Year.  I was really eager to be focused, to dive into the experience of virtual prayer and community.  Then came a piercing sound that made the sound of the Shofar seem timid and inadequate.  “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!”  Out of her room came my daughter, hysterical.  “Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.”

My first thought honestly was “This is why I don’t follow the news on Shabbat.  I don’t want the world to intrude.”  My second thought was, “How sad for her family, but it was surely her time.  She was well into her eighties, and must have been exhausted.  She had more than earned her eternal rest.”  My next thought was:  “I have no intention of following the grotesque, vulture-like political machinations that will surround replacing her.  And I hope all those loudmouths who never bother to vote, or who thought, “What the heck?  How bad can Trump be?” are feeling pretty damn wretched.  And if they don’t get off their asses and vote this time, I hope they’ll have the good grace to just sit down and shut up.  Forever.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, z’l, is not, and never was meant to be, a one-woman army.  But the staggering laziness of Americans, and the staggering lack of discipline and catastrophic strategic stupidity of the organized Democratic world, meant that she shouldered too much alone, or literally with a handful of allies.  Americans vote in obscenely low numbers (even without voter suppression), and Democrats haven’t known how to fight Republicans in decades, if ever.  While Republicans were organizing themselves into a rigid army, focused on legislating not only in the here and know, but from the grave, Democrats were chasing whichever shiny object the loudest person in the room thought was worth chasing.

Barack Obama, for all his fine qualities, never had the willingness really to throw a punch, to fight ugly and mean against the ugliest and meanest people of all:  Congressional Republicans.  Going high is great, but when your knees get cut out from under you, how well does that work for you?  The Koch brothers were busy buying up whole legislatures in places like Kansas and Oklahoma, and Democrats were arguing about how long into a pregnancy they would countenance abortion which, by the way, had basically been made illegal throughout America at the state level, rendering all the hysteria about the overturning of Roe v. Wade essentially moot.

But I digress.  Democrats have done a tragically poor job of inculcating in their fellow citizens an actual commitment to citizenship.  Which is how you wind up with some pathetic number of New Yorkers, for example, showing up to vote two mayoral elections ago, so the “winner” was a deeply mediocre man who won the majority of the infinitesimal number of total votes actually cast.  Which means a total loser was actually declared the winner.  Because too few people even bothered to cast a ballot. And that bit of disinterest is repeated across the land, all while Republicans run the table on issues to which they are fiercely dedicated:  tax breaks for the least deserving among us; deregulation to ensure maximum profits for profligate polluters and other retrograde entities; every form of leniency to ensure that banks can engage in whatever shenanigans maximize profits and political donations; corporate welfare; public subsidies for religious education; further embedding racial injustice in our “justice” system; tormenting women’s bodies, workplace aspirations, personal safety, and anything else that can be done to make sure that striving, dream-motivated women have as many stumbling blocks placed before them as possible.  And the greatest jewel in the crown of cruelty and white Christian supremacy that is the Republican agenda in America and has been since at least Nixon? THE COURTS.  Republicans have shown Nazi-level discipline in pursuing their agenda of packing the courts while Democrats have done stupid shit like drum Al Franken out of the Senate, and make the rounds on TV talk shows to express their outrage, disappointment, frustration, concern, more concern, more frustration, more disappointment, and of course their determination.  To do what, no one actually knows.  But boy, are they ever determined.  They’re gonna hold the line this time for sure.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, z’l, was a one-woman Hoover Dam, holding back the floodwaters as long as she possibly could.  She should have retired in 2016 and been allowed to exhale, to OD on opera, to hang out with her grandkids, to do whatever she wanted to do that wasn’t about saving the country–yet again–from its own worst impulses.  But we failed her.  With our laziness, our complacency, our stupidity.  With thinking that wearing pussy hats and carrying clever signs counts for changing the world.

I’m all for protesting.  Hell, I’ve attended my share, shouted along with everyone else, carried signs, etc.  But I have never, ever mistaken any of that for the dull, essential work of citizenship, viz., showing up and voting.  Over and over and over again.  So let’s stop crying our crocodile tears about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, z’l.  She was an extraordinary woman who did extraordinary things.  Too many of us couldn’t even be bothered to do the bare minimum to back her up.  The tshuva required to atone for that will take more time than our feeble brains can calculate.  But it’s our only way of showing her, posthumously, that her efforts weren’t wasted on an undeserving nation.

About the Author
Nina has a long history of working in the non-profit, philanthropic, and government sectors. She has also been an opinion writer for The Jewish Week, and a contributor to The New Normal, a disabilities-focused blog. However, Nina is most proud of her role as a parent to three unique young adults, and two rescue dogs, whom she co-parents with her wiser, better half.
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