Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors


Elena Kagan’s Bat Mitzvah Celebrated Empathy

posted by Brad Hirschfield

Although most stories of Elena Kagan’s bat mitzvah focus on her determination to wrest as much gender equity as possible from the Orthodox synagogue at which the event was celebrated, the better story is the one told by the rabbi and cantor who served that synagogue when the bat mitzvah occurred. While their recollections of the event are not identical, especially after 37 years, both Rabbi Shlomo Riskin and Cantor Sherwood Goffin agree that Kagan’s capacity for empathy was at least as impressive as her tenacity when it came to trail blazing.

Asked to recall an incident that provides some insight into Elena Kagan’s personality, Rabbi Riskin said it happened at a dinner at the synagogue immediately after Kagan’s bat mitzvah.
The dinner was hosted by the boy whose bar mitzvah was the following morning.
“The bar mitzvah boy’s parents were divorced, but both sides got together for the meal in the shul,” Rabbi Riskin said.
While they dined in a ground-floor room, the rabbi said he and Cantor Goffin were in the third-floor social hall having dinner with congregants. At one point, both men decided to drop in on the bar mitzvah boy and his parents to extend their greetings.
“We went downstairs and the bar mitzvah boy wasn’t there,” Rabbi Riskin said. “While I was looking for him someone told me that he had been sitting next to his maternal grandmother when his paternal grandmother came over and said he should be at his father’s table. There was then a big tug of war and the boy was caught in the middle.”
Rabbi Riskin said he then decided to return to his dinner and was “walking upstairs when I heard sobs coming from the darkened sanctuary. It was the bar mitzvah boy crying. I spoke with him and brought him downstairs. I remember Elena Kagan walking over to him. She was his friend and had been invited to the dinner. She took over comforting him, and when I left them, he was sitting next to her at her table.”

President Obama has spoken about the importance of Justices’ capacity for empathy. Looks like Ms. Kagan passed that test a long time ago.



  • Ann Vise

    If so, it appears she is a Bas Kohen. Kegan is an alternative spelling for “Cohen” and, unlike Cohen, looks neutral to gentiles.
    So the name Kegan or Kagan is unlikely to be assigned by immigration officers. The holder is “really” a Kohain.
    Does Kegan have a married name? Children? What are their names?
    Thank you for any reply.

  • Alina Press

    While this is a wonderful story of friendship and empathy about Kagan at the age of 13, it does not shed light on this mystery woman or her qualifications for the bench. From the information that is coming out (you should pardon the expression) about her that the White House has not managed to control with a disquieting grip, as they did with their heretofore unheard of in-house press conference, it seems Ms. Kagan is Obama in a dress. If so, that does not bode well for our Constitution, or for our God-given freedoms as Americans.

  • A.W. Bowman

    Elena Kagan may well be a loving, compassionate, caring,empathic woman, a great ideal for motherhood. However, she is being considered for a position on the highest court in the land, not a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
    What we need on the court are men and women who know and respect the Constitution of the United States, and given a measure of intelligence so that they are capable of interpenetrating the intent of what was passed by congress and as whether the law stands the constitutionality test of acceptance.
    It has never been about ‘how does the law effects individuals (like or dislike), it has always been about the rule of law, i.e., is the law (1) legal and (2) is it being applied without partiality?

  • pagansister

    From what I have read, Ms. Kagan will make a very good Justice. Here’s hoping she is confirmed. As to her being kind to a friend as a child….that shows that she started out early with one of many good qualifications for this job.

  • Shlomo Sax

    This is the second highly-qualified Obama nominee to the Supreme Court, and the questions being asked about her are hilarious and sad at the same time. Some of the sitting justices, who use ideology rather than legal reasoning to arrive at their opinions, lied their way through their confirmation hearings. Her lack of judicial experience is highlighted by the same band of hypocrites who denied her a seat on the Court of Appeals some years ago.

  • monte

    sorry but she is sorely underqualified to sit on the highest bench in this nation — she has no track record except those that show her to be extremely left wing and not a supporter of the constitution — i don’t need for one another activist jurist but one who upholds the constitution and follows its heart and spirit —when i hear about people who understand me or the people i run in the opposite direction –that usually bodes poorly for us all

  • Linda

    I think Elena Kagan will make a good Justice of the Supreme Court.
    As to her “lack of experience” as some have commented, well to that I say there is a man in the White House who holds the highest office in government and this land who has no experience for IT. Good or bad he is there.

  • http://ThusSayethMe.com Paul K. Fauteck

    It’s pathetic when anyone whose views or values are in any way challenging is immediately labeled an extreme leftist.
    I wonder if people who think that way don’t find the whole book of Leviticus pretty left wing.

  • Hector

    “President Obama has spoken about the importance of Justices’ capacity for empathy. Looks like Ms. Kagan passed that test a long time ago.”
    Interesting that the Talmud says that a member of the Sanhedrin (pretty much similar to the Supreme Court) must have children. I think one reason given has to do with empathy. I just hope she didn’t just pass that test once when she was thirteen, and that’s that.

  • LJ

    Clearly Ms. Kagan is very bright, has been an academic star and has served in 2 White House Administrations. She has never tried a case or been a sitting Judge and her written record is smallish and clearly liberal. Ms. Kagan’s ideal Judge in the recently retired Chief Justice of Israel – who is described by others and self described as the most activist Judge on earth.
    This “leave no trail” appears to have intentional, learning lessons from the Bork hearings, so she would have a minimal substantive record to defend – right or left.
    There is much this situation says about the Supreme Court nomination process and the one-sidedness of the political views of much of American Jewry that is troubling.

  • http://jewishideasdaily.com Jewish Ideas Daily

    How often do bat mitzvahs get discussed so extensively in the American media?

  • Hector

    To JewishIdeasDaily, see
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,411630,00.html
    and find out.

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