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Justice Ginsburg's Hometown Residents Mourn Her Passing


The loss of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being acutely felt in the neighborhood where she grew up in Brooklyn. Gwynne Hogan from member station WNYC has this story.

GWYNNE HOGAN, BYLINE: Ginsburg grew up on a quiet, tree-lined street in Midwood, a residential neighborhood in South Brooklyn. Ginsburg hadn't lived in the borough for years. But still, on Saturday morning, some people were dropping off flowers at her former residence and paying their respects. Diana and William Brenneisen have lived in that home since 1969.

DIANA BRENNEISEN: Finding out that she formerly lived here was a beautiful experience, knowing that we've been raising our family here.

HOGAN: William says Ginsburg was always a role model for their two daughters.

WILLIAM BRENNEISEN: She showed you didn't have to be 6-foot-5. Short, little woman like her - she made it seem equal.

HOGAN: A few blocks away, Ginsburg attended James Madison High School. And on the steps of the school, a small memorial had been set up. Ella Fredrick (ph) was sitting beside it. Fredrick says she met Ginsburg last year.

ELLA FREDRICK: She smelled like roses and cedar.

HOGAN: Fredrick's friend is a photographer who went to Ginsburg's Supreme Court chambers to take her portrait, so Fredrick tagged along.

FREDRICK: When I told her what I did - I said, I teach civics here in Brooklyn - she said, I went to school there at James Madison High School. And I said, we know. Everyone knows.

HOGAN: Fredrick says she's teaching her students and her own two children about Ginsburg's legacy.

FREDRICK: As Brooklyners, she is a part of us. And the diversity in Brooklyn is what brought her the perspective that she brought to the court. Those roots are around us.

HOGAN: Thirty-five-year-old Danielle Goonan was a student at James Madison. She says Ginsburg impacted generations of students who attended. The school had a law institute and a mock courtroom dedicated to her. As a sophomore, Goonan says she got to travel to D.C. to meet Ginsburg.

DANIELLE GOONAN: I remember hugging her and being, like, this tiny, frail woman is one of the most - one of the strongest women in the country, maybe the world.

HOGAN: A few blocks north is the East Midwood Jewish Center, a stately old synagogue built in the 1920s, where Ginsburg worshipped as a girl. Rabbi Sam Levine says in his sermon a day after Ginsburg's death, he read some of her writing the archivist had dug up.

SAM LEVINE: Dare we be at ease, she wrote. We are part of a world whose unity has been almost completely shattered. No one can feel free from danger and destruction until the many torn threads of civilization are bound together again.

HOGAN: It's a 1946 passage Ginsburg wrote for the synagogue's bulletin at the age of 13, a year after World War II ended.

LEVINE: There can be a happy world, and there will be once again, when men create a strong bond towards one another - a bond unbreakable by a studied prejudice or a passing circumstance. Then and only then shall we have a world built on the foundations of the fatherhood of God and whose structure is the brotherhood of man.

HOGAN: And a letter she sent to the congregation in 2010 is laminated, hanging in a classroom in the basement. What is the difference between a New York City garment district bookkeeper and a Supreme Court justice? It reads, one generation. My life bears witness - the difference between opportunities open to my mother, a bookkeeper, and those open to me.

For NPR News, I'm Gwynne Hogan in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Gwynne Hogan