Thirty years of tikkun olam

Ruth Messinger reflects on American Jewish World Service’s social justice impact 

30 years of image
AJWS President Ruth W. Messinger visits activists in Haiti. AJWS works in 19 countries around the world to respond to disasters, reduce poverty, and build stronger, more equitable societies.

Tikkun olam-repairing the world.

For American Jewish World Service President and CEO Ruth Messinger, this core Jewish value resides deep within her DNA-and tikkun olam is the force that created and has driven AJWS for the past 30 years. 

AJWS, a grantee of JUF, focuses on aiding vulnerable populations suffering from pressing human rights violations, ranging from the genocide in Darfur to the fight against anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda. 

Messinger's efforts have helped grow AJWS into a global leader and expand the definition of what it means to act on Jewish values. She came to AJWS in 1998 after a 20-year career as an elected official in New York City. She currently serves on the State Department's Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group and co-chairs the Sub-Working Group on Social Justice; she previously served on the Obama administration's Task Force on Global Poverty and Development. 

"At AJWS, I spend my days with like-minded Jews and people of almost every background to fight for human rights for people in some of the poorest countries in the world. I do this work proudly as a Jew, for Jewish reasons, with a Jewish vision for repairin  g the world. I am lucky to have been born a Jewish woman at this time in history and to live in this country. I am aware that this good fortune comes with the obligation to help those less fortunate." Messinger said. 

"I'm trained as a social worker. I worked briefly in casework and social work research [on] communities organizing for social change," she said. "I went into politics because after 15 years of doing community work, education, and organizing, I decided it would be interesting. I loved it."

Then she lost the New York City mayoral election. "The question was what would I do?" Working at AJWS was a "new opportunity to come at the world in a different way." 

She will transition from her current position as CEO to a new role as AJWS's Global Ambassador on July 1, 2016. "I will expand work we've been doing with rabbis, reaching a lot of Jews, and developing further the work we've been doing in the last few years about being visible and effective in the global interfaith community." 

Regarding the immediate change she would like to see happen in the world, she said, "So many of the problems of the world are because one group puts another group down. If we could get beyond that and see each other for who we are as human beings, there would be a lot less conflict in the world."

Robert Bank, AJWS executive vice president, will succeed Messinger as president.  

AJWS is hosting a number of 30 th anniversary events in Chicago during the coming months. For information, call (847) 644-0954 or visit .

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