Ruth Bader Ginsburg at UC Berkeley in 2019 with professor Amanda Tyler. (Photo/Courtesy Berkeley Law)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg at UC Berkeley in 2019 with professor Amanda Tyler. (Photo/Courtesy Berkeley Law)

How RBG touched and inspired these local Jewish attorneys

It was during a 2011 trip to Washington, D.C., that Hadara Stanton Hersh finally got to meet Ruth Bader Ginsburg — the subject of her 1999 college honors thesis in modern Jewish studies. In 2003, her sister was visiting the Supreme Court with her 8th-grade class and had managed to give a copy of the thesis to RBG.

“Justice Ginsburg (and her husband!) not only read my thesis, but she sent me a lengthy analysis of what I had written, and copies of related articles and speeches,” Stanton Hersh told J. “I can’t even tell you what it meant to receive that in the mail when I was waiting for bar results and trying to get a job.”

Now a San Francisco attorney, she and her husband were part of a Hadassah group that traveled to Washington to be sworn in to the Supreme Court, giving her the chance to personally express her gratitude to Ginsburg.

The following year, 2012,  San Francisco trial attorney Debra Bogaards, a graduate of UC Hastings Law School and president of its board of trustees, also went on a Hadassah group trip to the Supreme Court at which both she and her husband, attorney Pieter Bogaards would be sworn in.

“I only had two heroes in my life, other than my parents,” Bogaards said. “One is Professor Elie Wiesel, whom I had the pleasure of meeting. The other is RBG, whom I also met.”

Bogaards recalls the occasion with reverence and fondness.

“It was memorable to sit in the first row at the U.S. Supreme Court, and look up and see a Jewish female justice,” recalled Bogaards, who is an alumni adviser to the Hastings Jewish Law Students Association and active with the Israel Consulate’s San Francisco/Haifa sister city committee, among other Jewish associations.

Ginsburg was a guest at a private Hadassah luncheon in the Supreme Court building after the swearing-in.

“She sat an arm’s length from me,” Bogaards told J. “Throughout the luncheon, she was quiet, thoughtful, warm, generous, very feminine, and very gracious. Both of my heroes were incredibly soft-spoken.”

After politely answering questions from the group and posing for pictures, Bogaards recalled, “this tiny little figure got up and strode quickly over to the buffet table because she was hungry.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg attended a private luncheon in 2012 with a visiting Bay Area Hadassah group that included Debra Bogaards and her family. (Photo/Courtesy Debra Bogaards)
Ruth Bader Ginsburg attended a private luncheon in 2012 with a visiting Bay Area Hadassah group that included Debra Bogaards and her family. (Photo/Courtesy Debra Bogaards)

Aside from her appreciation for Ginsburg’s personal qualities, Bogaards said she had long been a role model for her.

“She showed that you could have a brilliant career and also be a mameleh, a bubbeleh, as I wanted to,” she said.

Beyond that, “RBG inspired me to fight for social justice and mentor young women. I believe she inspired my daughter Danielle to become a lawyer.” Danielle Bogaards graduated from UC Hastings in 2016 and is an attorney with the San Francisco law firm of Ropes & Gray.

Debra Bogaards added, “When I asked her this week whether it was Ruth Bader Ginsburg who had inspired her to become a lawyer, she told me, no, you inspired me to become a lawyer, Mom. But she made it possible.”

Simone Lieban Levine
Simone Lieban Levine

Simone Lieban Levine, a third-year law student at UC Berkeley, lined up for an hour and a half to hear Ginsburg speak at her school last October. Sitting in the first row, she described the experience as “absolutely being in the presence of greatness.”

“Looking at the first Jewish woman to ever sit as a Supreme Court justice was just so meaningful to me,” she said. “Growing up, I was never told by my parents or family or any teachers or anything that I couldn’t do anything. And we have women like Justice Ginsburg to thank for that. She was such a pioneer.”

Levine first became interested in the law when she was an intern at Ms. magazine. It was during the time that the Supreme Court voted on the Hobby Lobby case, siding with the Evangelical Christian-owned chain store and deciding it was not required to provide its employees with health insurance that paid for birth control, because of the owners’ religious beliefs. Ginsburg wrote the primary dissent to that 2014 decision, and it motivated Levine to consider a career in law. Now Levine is co-leader of Berkeley Law’s Reproductive Justice Project and the Berkeley Law chapter of If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice.

She showed that you could have a brilliant career and also be a mameleh, a bubbeleh, as I wanted to.

Levine said she was an admirer of Ginsburg’s much-celebrated work on gender issues before she ascended to the Supreme Court.

“She sparked so many movements and memes and people going into law school because of her. She did so much incredible work as a justice,” Levine said. “But she also did incredible work as an advocate, and that’s something I try to keep in mind.”

Levine said Ginsburg’s Jewishness was also an inspiration.

“Because I consider myself to be Jewish both culturally and religiously, it’s really meaningful to know there was a Supreme Court justice who felt similarly as I did about her community, her religion and the broader social justice values within Judaism, like tikkun olam,” she said. “That’s incredibly important to me.”

Stephanie Fine
Stephanie Fine

Stephanie Fine, a lawyer at Apple, reads each night to her young son.

“One of the books we’ve been reading in the last few days is ‘I Look Up to… Ruth Bader Ginsburg.’ My daughter’s only 4 months old, but I make sure both of them hear that book,” Fine said. “I want them to learn about Justice Ginsburg, because it’s important that she be an inspiration, that she be a role model — both for my son and for my daughter.”

Fine said that as a girl growing up in Baltimore, her Jewish education and values influenced her choice of a law career as a way to help society, values that she sees reflected in Ginsburg’s life and work.

“Justice Ginsburg was a force for good,” Fine said. “She sought to help repair the world at every turn, with every act, with every decision or dissent. She really embodied that concept with every fiber of her being. It’s what made her a good justice, it’s what made her a good Jew.”

As a Jewish attorney, Columbia law school graduate and mother of two, like Ginsburg, Fine says the late justice was a role model for her. “In many respects I feel like Justice Ginsburg quite literally made my life and my career possible, and I’m very grateful to her for that,” she said. “Justice Ginsburg paved the way for all of us. I don’t know that any of us could be where we were without her, without her having led by example.”

Christine Haskett, a partner in the multinational law firm Covington in San Francisco, knows how influential Ginsburg was, “this iconic figure, both as a lawyer and as a woman in the legal profession.” But she particularly admired Ginsburg for her character.

“She was somebody who was obviously very politically liberal and had very firm, strong opinions, firmly entrenched in one part of the political spectrum,” Haskett said. “At the same time you hear so many stories and there’s so much evidence of just how well she dealt with people who didn’t share her views. She’s known for having very close relationships with other justices on the court who were extremely conservative.”

Haskett said that approach should be celebrated.

“In this day and age, when everything is so divisive and people at different ends of the political spectrum just cannot seem to bridge their differences, to me the way that she conducted herself in that regard was maybe the one of the most impressive things about her,” Haskett said, “one of the things that I think should not be overlooked when we think about her legacy.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s Culture Editor, and was a longtime J. freelance writer before that.