Around 4 p.m., my editor messaged me on Slack: “Are you interested in going to an event at the Yale Club where RBG is speaking tonight?”
My response? “omg rbg”
Then, I hesitated. Reader: I hesitated over covering an event where RBG was speaking. You see, last night was my only night without plans for the week and I was looking forward to watching a couple episodes of Law & Order: SVU and going to bed by 10 p.m. But then I thought to myself: How dumb are you to pass up the opportunity to breathe the same air as Ruth Bader Ginsburg for a night?!
So, obviously, I said yes.
Before we get into my bonkers recap of the night, you can read my actual coverage here, over at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
But now let’s get to the fun stuff.
I arrived at the Yale Club in the black dress I wear to literally every fancy event I ever have to go to (including Rosh Hashanah services). I checked in at the desk as press, and was directed to the 20th floor.
Two women were standing to my left, buzzing with excitement about seeing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and as we all got into the elevator, one asked if I knew where we were going. I said, “I’m press and they told me to go to the 20th floor — I assume that’s where it is!” (I didn’t know if check-in was somewhere else for non-press people. Literally what do I know about these events? #ImposterSyndrome.) One of the women replied to me with something along the lines of, well, our current administration would send press elsewhere. She then told me I seemed trustworthy and/or carried myself with authority, which is the nicest compliment I could ever receive. She was smiley, kind, and warm. Her face looked familiar.
We get up to the 20th floor, part ways, and I go to the back corner of the ballroom where a row of chairs is lined up for press to sit in. I wait for the event to start and befriend the Forward reporters sitting next to me, one of whom points out that the musician Regina Spektor is here.
Holy shit, I suddenly realize. That really nice woman who complimented my trustworthiness and critiqued the Trump administration’s relationship to the press? Her face looked familiar because that was Regina Spektor. Regina Spektor rode up in the elevator with me. Singer-songwriter Regina Spektor. Defender of HIAS. Fan of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Regina, if you’re reading this: You’re amazing.
Anyway, we all sit and wait for Ruth Bader Ginsburg to come in, and when she does, the room rises to a standing ovation. Opera singer Dencye Graves performs (RBG loves opera), and posed for a photo with RBG:
RBG is then interviewed by NPR’s Nina Totenberg. She talks about loving Shabbat growing up, why she hasn’t retired, and how public events make her feel more like herself after battling cancer. (Again, read my actual report here.) It’s nearly impossible to hear her — her voice is quiet, especially in this large ballroom, and I get stressed that my recording won’t capture a single thing.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (L) and Nina Totenberg (R)
The AP reporter sitting next to me asks if I can e-mail her one of the quotes I’ve taken down, because she also couldn’t hear at all, even though she has two recorders going. She writes down her name, Edith Lederer, and e-mail in my notebook, and when I Google her on my way home after the event, I learn she was the first female resident correspondent in Vietnam, and the first woman to head a foreign bureau for the AP. I am in awe.
Then, we pause for dinner. I frantically call my boyfriend to ask if the audio is decipherable, and text it to him.
(Also, yeah, I was really, really hungry. Dinner was served, but not to the press. There was someone who didn’t show up to one of the tables right near us, and I can’t tell you how long I debated grabbing the extra salad just sitting there. Fear of judgement stopped me.)
Jenny Singer, a Forward reporter (hi, Jenny!), notices that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now talking to Dr. Ruth Westheimer. (What a meeting of the Ruths!) I snap a photo after their conversation ends and text it to my editor with my truly terrible handwriting scrawled on:
Then I realize I forgot to point out Regina, so I quickly add her:
(The yellow circle is obviously Regina!)
We wait for everyone to finish dinner, and then for awards to be handed out. Ruth accepts her award, and speaks again. She talks about her Jewish role models, about how her career as a justice is informed by her heritage as a Jew, and about how not being allowed to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish for her mother was her first feminist awakening.
I’m standing in the back, frantically transcribing on my phone as she speaks in case the recording fails (it’s happened before, y’all, and it sucks), and then I pause. I look around the room. I watch everybody in this ballroom stare at RBG in awe. I look at her, this 86-year-old Jewish Supreme Court justice, who has battled cancer four times, who has fought for women’s equality, who has become a symbol of Jewish feminism, and I am in awe. I don’t know if I’ll ever see her in person again. I don’t know what is next for her, what the 2020 elections will mean. I don’t know how she feels about doing these events, about the pressures she already deals with, and the questions of her retirement.
All I know about covering a Ruth Bader Ginsburg event? This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I know how truly lucky I am that it’s part of my job to get to see her speak. And next time, if there is a next time, I’ll go on a full stomach.