Women's History Month: Exploring Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Brooklyn roots

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NEW YORK -  Late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a daughter of Brooklyn, and she paved her own way to the highest court in the land.

"How is it that this unassuming woman from Brooklyn, you know, really a quiet demeanor herself, became such an icon?" says Anna Danziger Halperin, Associate Director at the Center for Women's History at the New York Historical Society. "People really took inspiration from the way that she, quietly and with a huge amount of dedication and perseverance, changed American society and changed American law."

Ginsburg's upbringing, values, and even her widespread moniker as the "Notorious RBG," can all be linked back to the borough.

"She was not extremely religious as a practitioner, but she certainly was introduced to Jewish values, Jewish history, Jewish customs, her heritage. That was important to her," says Audrey Korelstein, Director of Education at the East Midwood Jewish Center.

Decades ago, a young Ginsburg attended the East Midwood Jewish Center with her family in her youth. Korelstein shared a photo of the justice with EMJC's former rabbi, Harry Halpern, pulled from the center's archives.

"She was such a trailblazing jurist and this exceptional fighter for women's equality. And I do believe that the framework for that came out of Judaism," Korelstein, who educates children at EMJC, says.

CBS New York's Hannah Kliger visited Ginsburg's childhood home, which is still standing on East Ninth Street near Avenue P. The jurist attended James Madison High School and graduated in 1950. The school now has a law program for those interested in a legal career and a student courtroom named in her honor.

Since her death at the age of 87 in 2020, the city that shaped her is now a city that memorializes her. Photographer Elinor Carucci was commissioned to take photos of her famous collars, images now on display at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan.

"It grew into sending messages without words. So I think it started as a way to separate themselves from the male justices, but then grew into more of a way to communicate with people," Carucci tells Kliger.

In 2021, the Brooklyn Municipal Building was renamed after Ginsburg, and in May 2023, Kliger reported on the opening of the new hospital named after her in Coney Island.

"She was also a proud and thankful beneficiary of the public institutions that shaped her," Ginsburg's granddaughter, Clara Spera, said at the ribbon cutting. "It feels only fitting that an important public institution such as this one bear her name."

A 7-foot tall bronze statue of her, created by Gillie and Marc Shattner and originally unveiled at City Point in Downtown Brooklyn, now graces the hospital lobby. It's a reminder of the iconic woman, small in stature but with a legacy larger than life.

Have a story idea or tip in Brooklyn? Email Hannah by CLICKING HERE.

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