Victoria’s Secrets: Growing up in Brooklyn

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

There must have been something in the water in Brooklyn that from one high school so many stars emerged.

That high school is James Madison, in the Midwood section of Brooklyn, where the remarkable Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Senator Chuck Schumer, former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman, the one and only Judge Judy Sheindlin, Senator Bernie Sanders, songwriter Carole King, actors and comedians Andrew Dice Clay and Chris Rock, and (modestly) I all graduated.

The brilliant spotlight is now on Ginsburg, the incomparable Pisces born on March 15, 1933, whose life story is told in the compellingly entertaining movie, “On the Basis of Sex,” and on a CNN documentary.

James Madison’s neighborhood, where I grew up, was an almost cloistered environment; my community ended at Kings Highway. Living on East 21st Street, I didn’t traverse much past Coney Island Avenue.

My parents made me feel protected and nurtured, and I think that was true for the other graduates.

One ingredient that streamed through Madison graduates’ lives were parents like mine. My father, Martin Adler, was born in America of Jewish immigrant parents who escaped from Austria, and my mother Bea, whose family were furriers to the Czar, was carried to America from Kiev by her brother when she was only 2 years old.

Ruth Ginsburg’s parents came from similar backgrounds, as did Chuck Schumer’s and Judy Sheindlin’s. Our parents had achieved success in America, and all cherished their children and made sure our education was a cornerstone of our lives.

Schumer’s parents were my parents’ friends, living blocks away from each other and involved in the local synagogue, as were Ginsberg’s parents. Schumer’s parents now live in the North Shore Towers, and I know they are so proud of their son.

Life as a wife, mom and professional is never easy, and in a recent interview, I loved how Justice Ginsburg shared how her father-in-law heard her complaining about her turmoil about deciding to go to law school while her husband did too. He said, “Stop whining, Ruth. You will find a way. If you want to do it, do it!”

And did she ever! Helping her navigate the complicated roles was her super successful tax attorney husband, Martin Ginsburg, a true partner (he admits she was an awful cook, so he did most of the cooking) who both admired and cheered his wife on until his death in 2010.

When President Clinton had not called Ginsburg from the U.S. Court of Appeals to interview for a Supreme Court opening, her husband knew she was too shy to promote herself, so he opened his Rolodex and made calls to assure an interview. President Clinton later admitted, “Meeting with Judge Ginsburg was all I needed to convince me she was my best choice!”

The cover of the book about Justice Ginsburg’s life

Justice Ginsburg has become a rock star, nicknamed by blogger Shana Knizhnik as the “Notorious RBG” for her intrepid trailblazing decisions and fearlessness. Women are wearing T-shirts bearing her face with a crown on her head.

Finally, people are celebrating the power of older politically smart women. I think her longevity and hard work, inspired by the love and adoration she received from her parents and her devoted husband, carried her career forward, never losing her femininity, either. Her closet of judicial robes is filled with unique jabots, even one for when she is preparing dissents.

We are all so grateful that President Clinton appointed her, and now I am praying she recovers from her surgery and carries on — because we need her wisdom more than ever!

The remarkable public recognition of Ginsberg in books, interviews and the latest biographical movie “On the Basis of Sex,” all points to how we relish reading and hearing about this extraordinary person who impacts all of our lives — and it all started in Brooklyn!

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