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Fashioning feminism: A photography exhibit explores the meaning of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s collars

(New York Jewish Week) – The first Jewish woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court, the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was known for her trailblazing advocacy of gender equality, her impassioned dissenting opinions and for being a liberal icon. 

But the Brooklyn native, who served on the court for 27 years until her death at age 87, was also known for her fashion — particularly, the collars she wore on top of her black robes. Many of her collars were trimmed with lace, others intricately woven with beads and jewels; some were fashioned out of neckties and seashells, while others were crochet. Each helped Ginsburg embrace a subtle, feminine statement about causes she cared about. 

Now, three years after Ginsburg’s death on Erev Rosh Hashanah in 2020, photographs of 24 of the collars Ginsburg wore throughout her career are on display in a new exhibit, RBG Collars: Photographs by Elinor Carucci, that opened Friday at the Jewish Museum on the Upper East Side. The collars, photographed by Elinor Carucci, an Israeli photographer who has been living and working in New York since 1995, are a way of celebrating the trailblazing life and career of the Jewish justice, Carucci told the New York Jewish Week. 

“I’ve never done something like this,“ said Carucci, who typically photographs people — and not objects — for publications like The New Yorker, the New York Times and New York Magazine. “The whole thing was intense, but really wonderful. It was such an honor, especially for someone that I admire so greatly. It feels like I got to document a little prism into her life.”

Ginsburg’s history with the decorative collars dates to 1993, when she  was first appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton. Alongside her colleague, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, they began wearing a version of a jabot — a lace ruffle fastened around the neck —  showcasing subtle femininity to set themselves apart. Judge’s robes, after all, were designed for men, and allowed for a shirt collar and tie to peek through at the neck. As the story goes, the collars also kept them from looking washed out by their robes

Over the years, however, Ginsburg explored options beyond the lace ruffle, and she utilized the subtlety of her collars to make statements about causes and people she cared about. One collar is made out of Hawaiian shells, gifted to Ginsburg by a third-year law student at the University of Hawai’i when Ginsburg was a justice-in-residence in 2017. Another is made out of four layers of jacquard fabric — one for each member of Ginsburg’s family, which included her late husband, Martin Ginsburg, who died in 2010, and their children Jane and James — with the words “It’s not sacrifice, it’s family,” stitched into the neckline. The phrase was one Marty Ginsburg told the New York Times when asked why he gave up his law career to move to Washington to support his wife. 

A collar made out of shells and another made out of jacquard. The first was gifted to Ginsburg by a law student at the University of Hawai’i in 2017 and the second by her clerks in 2018. (Elinor Carucci)

Ginsburg often wore a black and gold jeweled collar, shining and armorlike, when she announced dissenting opinions. Similarly, she wore a yellow beaded and rose scalloped collar when she announced majority opinions. 

As New York Times’ chief fashion critic Vanessa Friedman wrote in 2020 upon Ginsburg’s death, her collars “served as both semiology and semaphore: They signaled her positions before she even opened her mouth, and they represented her unique role as the second woman on the country’s highest court.” 

“The idea was to claim what was a traditionally male uniform and unapologetically feminize it,” Friedman wrote. “That may seem innocuous, but it was in fact radical.”

Photographs of two of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s most iconic collars, “Majority” and “Dissent,” which she wore when announcing each respective opinion. (Elinor Carucci)

The idea to photograph the collars began as an assignment for Time Magazine, Carucci said. 

In 2020, just one month after Ginsburg died, Carucci was sent to the Supreme Court, where the collars were being rolled out of Ginsburg’s chambers — which, as it happens, were no longer empty, as it was also Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s first day on the job. Today, some of the collars and other RGB memorabilia belong to a permanent exhibition in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Carrucci said she only had only six minutes to photograph each collar. “When I saw them, I started crying,” she told the New York Jewish Week. “I was already so emotional about her passing and what it meant. My husband was like, ‘Stop crying, we only have three minutes left.’” 

The original article was so well received, it inspired to Carucci to put together a book of her photographs, alongside a brief history or anecdote of each collar. She enlisted writer and researcher Sara Bader (no relation) to work with her;  the 222-page book, “The Collars of RBG: A Portrait of Justice” was released last month. 

Carucci said one of the most surprising aspects of the project was how relatable and universal the collars are, despite belonging to one of the most recognizable women in the country. “Firstly, I appreciate that it’s not about the body,” she said. “Many times, as women, we feel that we can send messages by how we present ourselves. A lot of the time, it’s related to our bodies and our body types and it gets complicated. With these, they’re not related to the body.”

“Also, what I like is that almost every woman could wear these,” she added. “They are very ‘of the people.’ They’re accessible. The lace looks like something my grandma used to wear. They are the collection of a woman — something we could all have.”

At the Jewish Museum, the photographs of the collars are displayed alongside Judaica, amulets, necklaces and pendants in the museum’s collection. Although the collars themselves aren’t particularly Jewish, by interspersing the photographs with jewelry over the centuries, curator Shira Backer aims to showcase how Ginsburg’s accessories are part of a long tradition of Jewish tradition and adornment. 

Ginsburg, according to a press release about the exhibit, “understood how adornment — particularly jewelry, given its close association with the body and its ability to express individuality in settings where possibilities for self-expression are limited — can communicate beauty and power, joy and defiance, optimism and resolve.”

RBG Collars: Photographs by Elinor Carucci” will be on view at the Jewish Museum through May 2024. The photographs are also on display at the Edwynn Houk Gallery, which has represented Carucci’s work for the last two decades, through Feb. 10. 

The post Fashioning feminism: A photography exhibit explores the meaning of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s collars appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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South Dakota Passes Bill Adopting IHRA Definition of Antisemitism

Gov. Kristi Noem (R) speaking to legislators during the State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2024 at South Dakota State Captiol in Pierre. Photo: Samantha Laurey and Argus Leader via REUTERS CONNECT

South Dakota’s state Senate passed on Thursday a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to refer to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism when investigating anti-Jewish hate crimes.

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) already adopted the definition, which has been embraced by lawmakers across the political spectrum, via executive order in 2021. This latest measure, HB 1076, aims to further integrate the IHRA’s guidance into law and includes the organization’s examples of antisemitism. It now awaits a vote by the state House of Representatives.

“As antisemitism continues to rise across America, having a clear and standardized definition enables a more unified stance against this hatred,” the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), said in a statement. “We appreciate Governor Kristi Noem for making this legislation a policy goal of hers, strengthening the use of the IHRA Working Definition in South Dakota through legislation, following the December 2021 adoption via executive proclamation.”

CAM called on lawmakers in the lower house to follow the Senate’s lead and implored “other states to join the fight against antisemitism by adopting the IHRA definition, ensuring the safety and well-being of their Jewish residents.”

First adopted in 2005 by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism states that “antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews,” and includes a list of illustrative examples ranging from Holocaust denial to the rejection of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The definition is used by hundreds of governing institutions, including the US State Department, European Union, and the United Nations.

Widely regard as the world’s leading definition of antisemitism, it was adopted by 97 governmental and nonprofit organizations in 2023, according to a report Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) Antisemitism Research Center issued in January.

Earlier this month, Georgia became the latest US state to pass legislation applying IHRA’s guidance to state law. 33 US States have as well, including Virginia, Texas, New York, and Florida.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Columbia University Sued for Allowing Antisemitic Violence and Discrimination

Anti-Israel students protest at Columbia University in New York City. Photo: Reuters/Jeenah Moon

Columbia University allowed for antisemitism to explode on campus endangering the welfare of Jewish students and faculty, StandWithUs Center for Legal Justice and Students Against Antisemitism (SAA) alleges in a lawsuit announced on Wednesday.

Filed in the US District Court of Southern New York, the complaint recounts dozens of reported antisemitic incidents that occurred after Oct. 7 which the university allegedly failed to respond to adequately because of anti-Jewish, as well as anti-Zionist, bias.

“Columbia refuses to enforce its policies or protect Jewish and Israeli members of the campus community,” Yael Lerman, director of SWU Center for Legal Justice said on Wednesday in a press release. “Columbia has created a pervasively hostile campus environment in which antisemitic activists act with impunity, knowing that there will be no real repercussions for their violations of campus policies.”

“We decline to comment on pending litigation,” Columbia University spokesperson and vice president for communications told The Algemeiner on Friday.

The plaintiffs in the case accuse Columbia University of violating their contract, to which it is bound upon receiving payment for their tuition, and contravening Title VI of the Civil Rights Act. They are seeking damages as well as injunctive relief.

“F— the Jews,” “Death to Jews, “Jews will not defeat us,” and “From water to water, Palestine will be Arab,” students chanted on campus grounds after the tragedy, violating the school’s code of conduct and never facing consequences, the complaint says. Faculty engaged in similar behavior. On Oct. 8, professor Joseph Massad published in Electronic Intifada an essay cheering Hamas’ atrocities, which included slaughtering children and raping women, as “awesome” and describing men who paraglided into a music festival to kill young people as “the air force of the Palestinian resistance.”

300 faculty signed a letter proclaiming “unwavering solidarity” with Massad, and in the following days, Students for Justice in Palestine defended Hamas’ actions as “rooted in international law.” In response, Columbia University president Minouche Shafik, opting not to address their rhetoric directly, issued a statement mentioning “violence that is affecting so many people” but not, the complaint noted, explicitly condemning Hamas, terrorism, and antisemitism. Nine days later, Shafik rejected an invitation to participate in a viewing of footage of the Oct. 7 attacks captured by CCTV cameras.

The complaint goes on to allege that after bullying Jewish students and rubbing their noses in the carnage Hamas wrought on their people, pro-Hamas students were still unsatisfied and resulted to violence. They beat up five Jewish students in Columbia’s Butler Library. Another attacked a Jewish students with a stick, lacerating his head and breaking his finger, after being asked to return missing persons posters she had stolen.

More request to the university went unanswered and administrators told Jewish students they could not guarantee their safety while Students for Justice in Palestine held demonstrations. The school’s powerlessness to prevent anti-Jewish violence was cited as the reason why Students Supporting Israel (SSI), a recognized school club, was denied permission to hold an event on self-defense. Events with “buzzwords” such as “Israel” and “Palestine” were forbidden, administrators allegedly said, but SJP continued to host events whole no one explained the inconsistency.

Virulent antisemitism at Columbia University on the heels of Oct. 7 was not a one-off occurance, the complaint alleges, retracing in over 100 pages 20 years of alleged anti-Jewish hatred at the school.

“Students at Columbia are enduring unprecedented levels of antisemitic and anti-Israel hate while coping with the trauma of Hamas’ October 7th massacre,” SWU CEO Roz Rothstein said in Wednesday’s press release. “We will ensure that Columbia University is held accountable for their gross failure to protect their Jewish and Israeli students.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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University of California-Los Angeles Student Government Passes BDS Resolution

Graphic posted by University of California, Los Angeles Students for Justice in Palestine on February 21, 2024 to celebrate the student government’s passing an resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. Photo: Screenshot/Instagram

The University of California-Los Angeles student government on Tuesday passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as false accusation that Israel is committing a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Israeli government has carried out a genocidal bombing campaign and ground invasion against Palestinians in Gaza — intentionally targeting hospitals universities, schools, shelters, churches, mosques, homes, neighborhoods, refugee camps, ambulances, medical personnel, [United Nations] workers, journalists and more,” the resolution, passed 10-3 by the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC), says, not mentioning that UN personnel in Gaza assisted Hamas’ massacre across southern Israel on Oct. 7.

It continued, “Let it be resolved that the Undergraduate Student Association of UCLA formally call upon the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments mutual funds, and other monetary instruments….providing material assistance to the commission or maintenance of flagrant violations of international law.

The days leading up to the vote were fraught, The Daily Bruin, the university’s official student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

“Non-UCLA students” sent USAC council members emails imploring them to vote for or against the resolution and USAC Cultural Affairs Commissioner and sponsor of the resolution, Alicia Verdugo, was accused of antisemitism and deserving of impeachment. The UCLA Graduate Student Association and University of California-Davis’ student government had just endorsed BDS the previous week, prompting fervent anticipation for the outcome of Tuesday’s USAC session.

Before voting took place, members of the council ordered a secret ballot, withholding from their constituents a record of where they stood on an issue of monumental importance to the campus culture. According to The Daily Bruin, they expressed “concerns” about “privacy” and “security.” Some members intimated how they would vote, however. During a question and answer period, one student who co-sponsored the resolution, accused a Jewish student of being “classist” and using “coded” language because she argued that the council had advanced the resolution without fully appreciating the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the history of antisemitism.

“As a Guatemalan, …my country went through genocide,” he snapped at the young woman, The Daily Bruin’s reporting documented. “My family died in the Guatemalan Mayan genocide. I understand. I very well know what genocide looks like.”

Other council members  voiced their support by co-sponsoring the resolution, which was co-authored by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a group that has held unauthorized demonstrations and terrorized Jewish students across the country.

Responding to USAC’s decision, Jewish students told the paper that they find the campaign for BDS and the attempts of pro-Palestinian students to defend Hamas’ atrocities myopic and offensive.

“How can anyone dare to contextualize since Oct. 7 without acknowledging that the Jewish people are victims of such a cataclysmic attack?” Mikayla Weinhouse said. “BDS intentionally aims to divide a community. Its supporters paint a complex and century-old conflict in the Middle East as a simplistic narrative that inspires hate rather than advocates for a solution.”

University of California-Los Angeles denounced the resolution for transgressing school policy and the spirit of academic freedom.

“The University of California and UCLA, which, like all nine other UC campuses, has consistently opposed calls for a boycott against and divestment from Israel,” the school said in a statement. “We stand firm in our conviction that a boycott of this sort poses a direct and serious threat to the academic freedom of our students and faculty and to the unfettered exchange of ideas and perspectives on this campus.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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