The Arty Semite

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Watched Her Life Onstage

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

Photo: Ari Roth

Despite having had a long, busy day at the US Supreme Court this past Monday, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a point of attending a special performance of “Stars of David: Story to Song” in Washington that evening. The performance of the musical review celebrating the lives of Jewish public figures — including Ginsburg herself — was a benefit for Theater J, a program of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center.

To the delight of the cast, the 81-year-old Justice visited them backstage after the performance to express her appreciation. “She was very expressive,” actor and singer Aaron Serotsky, who was in the original “Stars of David” off-Broadway run in New York last fall, shared with the Forward the next day. Ginsburg reportedly told him and the others that she was moved to laughter and tears as she watched the show, which is based on the best-selling book by Abigail Pogrebin and features original music by Broadway’s finest composers and lyricists.

According to Serotsky, the cast was made aware just an hour before curtain time that the Justice, who had been invited to the benefit performance by Theater J artistic director Ari Roth, was actually going to show up. “We knew she was there when a female security guard showed up backstage,” Serotsky recalled.

During the performance, the actor was able to observe Ginsburg sitting close to the stage, one seat in from the aisle. “I could watch her and gauge her reaction, especially when her song was performed by Emily Levey, one of the female members of our four-person cast,” he said.

The song based on Pogrebin’s interview with Ginsburg, “As If I Weren’t There,” recounts her experience as a 17-year-old young woman of being excluded from the mourner’s minyan for her mother:

We gathered in the living room
Relatives and neighbors
I expected to stand up
To chant the prayer
But the women were forbidden
Which felt so unfair

Daryl Roth, the revue’s producer, finds Ginsburg’s story particularly moving. “[It] is meaningful on many levels,” she told the Forward. “Certainly, her impressive career is an inspiration to women, but her song is about her as a young woman feeling that she was not able to be part of the minyan, that she didn’t count, so to speak. I believe this might have been important in her choice to enter the field of law, to find and defend what is fair and what is right.”

In speaking with the Washington cast, Ginsburg was careful to make sure that her father, who had forbidden her from reciting Kaddish, was not misunderstood. “She said, ‘I don’t want my father to appear as a cruel man, because he wasn’t,’” Serotsky shared.

Pogrebin, who wrote the lyrics to the song, recalled Ginsburg taking the time to give her feedback on the piece long before she saw it performed on Monday evening. “She wrote little corrections in the script’s margins,” the writer said. “For example, she noted that she would never have called her father Papa. She called him Daddy.”

Backstage, Ginsburg reflected with the cast not only on her own story, but also on her fellow Justice Elena Kagan’s experiences as a young Jewish woman. “She told us about how Kagan convinced her rabbi to let her have a bat mitzvah and that she read from the book of Ruth,” Serotsky said.

Ginsburg spent about 10 minutes talking with the cast before heading home. “This was a perfect ending to this day,” she reportedly said as she took her leave.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Theater, Stars of David, Abigail Pogrebin, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Theater J

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.