Monday, August 9, 2010

Shining Stars of Davida: Elena Kagan

When I was writing a paper to enter in National History Day (and won first place in the regional competition), I chose to write about Belva Lockwood, the first successful woman lawyer, the first woman to officially run for president, and the first woman to speak in front of the Supreme Court. Since the competition encourages its participants to tie their projects to current events, my teacher told me to focus on women who have been impacted by Lockwood’s action. I immediately came up with Hillary Clinton, but was debating about the other woman. My teacher suggested Elena Kagan.

“Elena Kagan? Who’s she?” I asked. He explained that she was in the works to become Solicitor General, so I did my research and mentioned her in my paper. After I wrote that, her name kept popping up everywhere. When David Souter retired, who was one of the possible nominees? Kagan. I was disappointed when Sonia Sotomayor was nominated instead, but when John Stevens retired and Kagan was being considered again, my heart flew. Now that Kagan is the new Supreme Court justice, I’m thrilled.

Kagan has always been a strong Jewish woman: when it was time for her bat mitzvah and her rabbi (Shlomo Riskin, a major Orthodox rabbi) didn’t want her to read from the Torah on Saturday morning (as bar mitzvah boys would) because of her gender, Kagan protested until he allowed her to read from the Book of Ruth on Friday night. She was the first girl to do so at that synagogue, Lincoln Square, a major Orthodox synagogue.

She attended Hunter College High School, and was dressed as a judge with a gavel in her graduation picture. She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton University undergraduate, and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. Kagan started out her career as law clerk for Abner Mikva, and then Thurgood Marshall. After practicing privately for a while, she worked for the Clinton administration. In 2001, she became a professor at Harvard Law School, and became dean in 2003. She then made the infamous decision to stop military recruiters at the Office of Career Services because she felt that the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy discriminated against homosexuals. She became Solicitor General in 2009, and the rest is history.

People have speculated about her sexuality, due to the fact that she is active about LGBTQ rights and has chosen not to get married or have children. (What stereotyping! I really hate society sometimes.) She has never stated whether or not she is homosexual. My attitude is, honestly, who cares? What does Kagan’s sexuality have anything to do with me? If she’s gay, that’s great. If she’s not, that’s great too. All I care is that she’ll be a good Supreme Court justice. I wasn’t aware that her sexuality would affect her ability to think clearly.

I also love that Kagan isn’t afraid to say that she’s a Jew in an anti-Semitic world full of quotas against Jews. (Yes - there are still quotas on Jews, and other ethnic groups. Read What Colleges Don’t Tell You (And Other Parents Don't Want You To Know) by Elizabeth Wissner-Gross if you don’t believe me.) I almost died of laughter when she made her Christmas day crack at the Senate confirmation hearings.

So, kol hakavod (great job!) to Elena Kagan, the fourth woman to be on the Supreme Court, and the eighth Jew.

The name Elena comes from the name Helen. Heleni was a non-Jewish queen during the days of the second Beit HaMikdash (Temple) who converted. She donated a golden menorah to the Beit HaMikdash that reflected the first rays of sun in the mornings, reminding people to say the prayer of Shema, which women are not actually commanded to do. She also donated a tablet with the laws of Sotah, the ritual of proving whether a woman accused of adultery is innocent or guilty, written on it. Both gifts showed the kohanim (priests) of the Beit HaMikdash that women can control things, too. The name Kagan is a form of the more common Cohen, which means a priest of the Beit HaMikdash. If Elena Kagan inherited the strength of Heleni and the kohanim, she was definitely a good pick for the Supreme Court.

I dub Elena Kagan an inductee into Shining Stars of Davida - strong women and men who make feminists proud.

No comments:

Post a Comment