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Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Iconic Collar To Go On Display In Israel

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg donated one of her lace collars and a copy of the book <em>My Own Words</em> to the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.
Shula Bahat
Courtesy Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg donated one of her lace collars and a copy of the book My Own Words to the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.

Months before she died, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg received a letter from the chair of the board of a Jewish museum in Tel Aviv: Would she donate an artifact for the museum exemplifying her contribution to the field of justice and world civilization?

Two weeks later, on Jan. 27, Ginsburg replied on Supreme Court stationery: "I would be glad to contribute to the in Tel Aviv one of the collars I wear with my robe at oral arguments. Would that be satisfactory?"

It was. An intricate white lace collar with a thick gold edge and a pearl clasp — one of the American Jewish justice's signature fashion accessories — will go on permanent display when the Tel Aviv museum reopens its main exhibit in December, pandemic willing.

"It's a highlight of my profession to be able to get such an item," says Orit Shaham Gover, the museum's chief curator.

Another Ginsburg collar, and one of her robes, is on display at the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie, Ill., part of an exhibit traveling throughout the U.S.

The Museum of the Jewish People, founded in 1978 and known as Beit Hatfutsot in Hebrew, tells the story of Jewish life around the world throughout history.

It honors Jewish personalities who made an impact on the world, displaying vintage 1960s cosmetics cases by Estée Lauder, a guitar played by Leonard Cohen during his last concert in Israel in 2009, and other items on loan or in the museum's collection belonging to Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein and Leonard Bernstein.

Ginsburg is receiving special honors at the museum, featured in three different exhibits, as well as in an elementary school textbook on Jewish historical figures the museum published for Jewish schools in the U.S.

A Museum of the Jewish People representative, Shula Bahat, went to Ginsburg's chambers at the Supreme Court to pick up the collar on March 4, at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

"She's the first person I saw in Washington, D.C., at the time wearing a mask," Bahat says.

The justice rushed off to hear an important case while Bahat collected the collar, as well as an autographed copy of Ginsburg's 2016 book, My Own Words, which is also going on display.

Ginsburg's chambers were decorated with a Hebrew quote from Deuteronomy: Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue.

"She was a righteous person," Bahat says. "She was totally, totally dedicated to the values of Judaism."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.