To start at first, this was not the primary letter Naomi ever wrote. As soon as she had mastered her ABC’s and begun to jot down phrases, it occurred to me that she may string these phrases collectively into sentences and even write letters to get solutions to her many questions. Her first letter was to the Coca-Cola Co., headquartered in Atlanta not removed from the place we reside. Naomi had already spent three adolescence in a Jewish preschool atmosphere and needed to know, “Why do you place Santa Claus on the Coca-Cola cans? Why don’t you place Jewish issues on the cans?” The immediate reply got here with a handful of stickers and a considerably unsatisfying clarification that the corporate’s vacation packaging was meant to remind customers of “social and household associations reasonably than non secular ones.” However, the truth that she heard again in any respect lit a hearth.
Greater than 50 letters adopted, letters written at a snail’s tempo at our kitchen desk in a toddler’s painstaking scrawl. I attempted to not put ideas in Naomi’s head, however I did assist her discover folks to correspond with, so letters had been dispatched posthaste to Princess Diana, John Glenn, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (“How did you discover out you had been Jewish?”), Jimmy Carter, Coretta Scott King, people artist Howard Finster (he drew her a tadpole) and numerous others. They had been revealed in 1998 when Naomi was 7, in a e-book known as “Naomi Desires to Know.”
However Naomi’s letter to Ginsburg started with a query lobbed from the again seat of the automobile when she was 5 years previous.
“What’s jail like?” she requested me.
I defined in easy phrases how folks wound up behind bars and the position of judges in serving to juries decide guilt or innocence. I instructed her that one of many nation’s most necessary judges was Jewish (do you sense a theme right here?) and that she bore the identical title as her beloved Grandmother Ruth. Naomi and Ruth are linked within the Previous Testomony, and the Bible was on Naomi’s thoughts as she sat down to jot down her letter.
In it, she included a drawing of a lady trying up at Justice Ginsburg and a drawing of two girls standing earlier than King Solomon, in search of his counsel.
Ginsburg’s tender reply, dated Might 8, 1997, is a lesson in kindheartedness and humility. It additionally makes word of my persistence in sending the letter twice.
Thanks in your great letter. Desirous about you, your phrases, and your drawing, I’ve been smiling all day.
I’ve two grandchildren. My grandson is called Paul, and my granddaughter is Clara. Paul is 10 and Clara is 6. They name me “Bubbie.”
In reply to your questions, I’m not in command of all of the folks in the US, however I work exhausting to do my judging job nicely. And sure, I’ve made many errors, however I attempt to study from them in order that I can’t make the identical mistake twice.
Please inform your father I’m glad he wrote to me, as a result of I didn’t obtain your letter the primary time it was mailed to me.
Sustain the nice work you might be doing at school.
Each good want to you, your mother and father, and your grandmother, Ruru,
Ginsburg thoughtfully included a cartoon depiction of the courtroom throughout which she had written: “And we order for Naomi Shavin a really brilliant day.”
Over the subsequent few years, Naomi received to fulfill Ginsburg when she paid a go to to the Georgia State College School of Legislation and once more when she spoke at a lecture sequence hosted by our native synagogue. It was at that second assembly that Ginsburg invited our household to go to her in her chambers if we had been ever in Washington. We made some extent of visiting Washington in June 2003.
By then, Naomi was occurring 12 and will admire the surreal majesty of the second. Her youthful brother, Adam, was virtually 9, and their youthful sister, Sarah, was about to show 6. We took within the displays on public show, after which an worker gave us a private, behind-the-scenes tour of the constructing. We discovered that the very best courtroom within the land has a basketball courtroom on the highest ground. We noticed an indication for an exercise class founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. We additionally discovered that every of the justices may adorn their workplaces with work that had been off show on the Nationwide Gallery of Artwork.
Once we had been ushered into Ginsburg’s chambers, it was like getting into a library, quiet and nonetheless. The justice was diminutive however towering in her popularity. I grasped for phrases to precise our gratitude. She remembered Naomi because the little woman who wrote letters. She instructed us how our fellow Georgian, Jimmy Carter, first elevated her to the federal bench earlier than President Invoice Clinton tapped her for the Supreme Courtroom. She spoke to Naomi and Adam and Sarah in a young, solicitous voice. She instructed them that schoolchildren from throughout visited her and infrequently introduced her pins. She had them displayed on a ribbon of fabric and generously invited every of the youngsters to take one. When Naomi tried to offer her a second copy of her e-book of letters (she’d despatched the justice a replica years earlier), Ginsburg signed it and handed it again to her.
I don’t recall rather more about that assembly, however Naomi, now 29 and a Washington-based journalist at Axios, not too long ago recalled Ginsburg’s “piercing blue eyes,” her kindness in making an attempt to narrate to slightly woman from Georgia, and the instance this champion of equal rights set for women in all places, however significantly “younger Jewish ladies.”
As Ginsburg’s many legislation clerks bore witness this week on the steps of the Supreme Courtroom, her flag-draped casket was carried into that hallowed constructing to lie on the identical catafalque that bore Lincoln’s physique. And when the feminine rabbi started to intone our Hebrew prayers, I wept. If you’re Jewish, there’s something about listening to your historical prayers, woven into the material of the American expertise, that’s virtually inexpressible. It could actually solely be felt. I wept on the lack of this exceptional lady, who fought so exhausting for others, who fought so exhausting for her personal life and who touched our household in such a profound and private approach. That she misplaced her battle simply as Rosh Hashanah was starting and we had been wishing each other “Shana Tova,” a great 12 months, solely amplified our sense of despair. Now begins the duty of changing her, however, in fact, she is irreplaceable.
In what looks as if a lifetime in the past, a letter from the Supreme Courtroom of the US arrived in our mailbox. It linked us to one of the highly effective girls on the planet. And it taught slightly woman from Georgia that her voice mattered, that she mattered and that she may someday be capable to obtain nice issues as a result of her pen pal blazed a path for her. That letter was then, and is now, a blessing.
Mark Shavin is a veteran journalist, a part-time lecturer at Georgia State College and is writing a e-book on reminiscence loss.