Ruth Messinger's social action plan to bring in Jewish youth

By Jessica Elgot, July 5, 2012
American Jewish World Service’s Ruth Messinger, with a Darfuri baby

American Jewish World Service’s Ruth Messinger, with a Darfuri baby

Activism on international poverty and human rights is bringing British and American Jews back into the community, the head of the American Jewish World Service said in London this week.

Ruth Messinger, the Democratic New York mayoral nominee in 1997, joined AJWS a year later and has spent the past 14 years putting international development on the top of the charitable agenda for many young American Jews. Grants have gone to more than 400 grassroots organisations in 32 countries and 400 volunteers are sent out annually.

She sees the growth of AJWS as an example of engaging more young Jews in charity work on both sides of the Atlantic.

“It is a very popular way of bringing young people back into the community, although, of course, we are doing good work on the ground.”

Ms Messinger has worked closely with British charities such as Tzedek and World Jewish Relief. “We say to each other: ‘Tell us what you are funding. How are you responding to the famine in the Horn of Africa?’”

Although her most high profile campaigns have been on Darfur and aid after the Haiti earthquake, Ms Messinger said the core of AJWS’s work was not “genocides or disasters. We had been working in Haiti for a decade.
“We get attention when we respond to the genocide in Darfur, but the work we do is also long-term on behalf of women farmers fighting for land rights in Pakistan. Our presence is an opportunity to show some countries who Jews really are.”

During her visit, Ms Messinger launched New North London Synagogue’s tikkun olam centre, lectured at JHub and the London School of Jewish Studies.

Last updated: 12:57pm, July 5 2012