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Justice Ginsburg honored with lifetime achievement award in Tel Aviv

The lifetime achievements of Justice Anthony Kennedy generated an outpouring of commentary over the past week since his retirement, some laudatory and some more critical.

But yesterday in Tel Aviv, Israel, the focus of the Genesis Foundation was on Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, presented with a lifetime achievement prize. The Genesis Prize “honors individuals who have attained excellence and international renown in their chosen professional fields, and who inspire others through their engagement and dedication to the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel.”

In her acceptance speech, Ginsburg spoke of two Jewish women raised in the United States “whose humanity and bravery inspired me in my growing up years” – Emma Lazarus and Henrietta Szold.

Speaking on the 242nd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Ginsburg praised Lazarus’ writings, including “The New Colossus,”  for evincing the poet’s “love for humankind, and especially for her People.” Ginsburg said this poem, which is etched on the base of the Statue of Liberty, “has welcomed legions of immigrants, including my father and grandparents, people seeking in the USA shelter from fear and longed-for freedom from intolerance.” (Ginsburg also noted that Lazarus was Justice Benjamin Cardozo’s elder cousin.)

Ginsburg told a story in which Szold, after the death of her mother, politely declined an offer from a man to say the Kaddish, a mourner’s prayer traditionally recited only by men. Szold had seven sisters but no brother to make the prayer.

In a letter, Szold replied that “[i]t is impossible for me to find words in which to tell you how deeply I was touched by your offer to act as ‘Kaddish’ for my dear mother.” And yet:

The Kaddish means to me that the survivor publicly … manifests his … intention to assume the relation to the Jewish community which his parent had, [so that] the chain of tradition remains unbroken from generation to generation, each adding its own link. You can do that for the generations of your family, I must do that for the generations of my family.

Ginsburg called “captivating” “Szold’s plea for celebration of our common heritage while tolerating – indeed, appreciating – the differences among us concerning religious practice.” “I recall her words even to this day when a colleague’s words betray a certain lack of understanding,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg closed with a brief statement on the relationship between her heritage as a Jew and her occupation as a judge:

I am a judge, born, raised, and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice, for peace, and for enlightenment runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition. I hope, in all the years I have the good fortune to continue serving on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States, I will have the strength and courage to remain steadfast in the service of that demand.

Recommended Citation: Andrew Hamm, Justice Ginsburg honored with lifetime achievement award in Tel Aviv, SCOTUSblog (Jul. 5, 2018, 2:23 PM),