BLOG FOR CHANGE
Welcome to our living classroom
Maryland Hillel believes that social service is a fundamental part of one’s Jewish identity.
This blog will offer you the opportunity to hear personal stories from leaders in various Jewish communities who are inspired by this principle and commit their lives to a world of service.
We hope that these personal narratives will inspire you to think about your role in repairing the world, your ability to create change and your inherent obligation as a Jew to leave this world a better place than you found it.
What would you like your personal narrative to say??
Read. React. Respond.
View older blog posts here.
Ruth W. Messinger is president of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), an international development organization providing support to nearly 400 grassroots social change organizations throughout the world and mobilizing the American Jewish community to pursue global justice. Messinger has been honored by major Jewish organizations for her tireless work to end the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. For eight years, she has been among the Forward’s “50 most influential Jews of the year.”
On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, many of us are haunted by the ubiquitous liturgical refrain asking “Who shall live and who shall die?” When I sit in synagogue and hear these words chanted over and over again, I can’t help but question whether the righteous are really being rewarded in a world where brutal leaders enjoy great material wealth while more than 1 billion people worldwide are hungry and too many cope with extreme poverty and overwhelming disasters.
Think for a minute of your grandparents or great-grandparents. I am certain the vast majority of them could not have imagined the level of affluence and influence the American Jewish community has today. If they were here, wouldn’t they ask us what we were doing with this significant wealth and power? Similarly, we must ask ourselves, “What do we want to tell our children and grandchildren when they ask how we used our resources to make a difference in hard times?”
The worst consequences of the economic crisis are not felt in the boardrooms or seen in our bank accounts. They are seen in the eyes of the children dying of hunger in Democratic Republic of Congo, and the children neglected in our own communities, the children here or there unable to get health care because a parent has lost a job or no transport is available or a hospital is without staff or medicine. In our own country — still, by far, the richest country in the world, where nevertheless more than 12 million children lived in poverty last year — the assumption is that 17 million will have fallen below that line by the end of this year. And the pervasive problems of rising food costs, loss of jobs, disappearance of affordable housing, poor schooling and lack of access to health care must be addressed if we are not to lose more of this generation to inequity and injustice.
Globally, children of every race and nationality have the same problems, but they are of an almost unimaginably larger magnitude. There are 27,000 children a day — yes 27,000 children a day — who lose their lives to poverty and illness. One sixth of the world is still caught in the trap of an abject poverty which is both a cause and an effect of hunger and disease. People live on less than $1 a day, have no economic opportunity, go to bed hungry every night, become severely ill, suffer physical isolation, environmental degradation and gender-based violence, and die young.
There is no easy way to share or learn these statistics. (In my work at AJWS, I think about them regularly). But what is required of all of us, as Jews, is to not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by them. This is perhaps the most important message for you to remember as college students: you cannot retreat to the convenience of being overwhelmed.
As Jews, we are reminded daily of our responsibility, of our need to act, of our need to help save some or any one of the world’s children. We are taught that to save one life is to save the world. We must do this because we are Jews and because we are creatures of God, a part of global humanity. We must address the needs of all people because we are the boundary crossers, told to help the other and the stranger, directed not to stand idly by. We must do this because we have a voice while others may not. We must do this, as one wise 10-year-old in a day school classroom said to me a few years ago, “We must do it because we can!”
So, here are a few words of advice as you begin 5771 and the new school year:
1) Taking action on behalf of social justice and exerting such leadership will not always be easy. There will be those in your communities who will not care for your message. You will sometimes be unpopular. You will have to struggle to stay true to your own compass while navigating choppy political waters. You will need friends and allies, but they exist. Some of them will be the friends you take with you from your time at the University of Maryland, those on either side of you who are committed to this work. Others will be in your new homes and places of work, people who have been organizing themselves, people who know what they want to do, people who have been waiting for leaders to help them make a difference. Together, you will be able to do more than any one of you can alone.
2) You must encourage people to acknowledge that our world is broken and that being Jewish in the world today means working to fix it. Help them embrace what Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of Great Britain calls “the ethic of responsibility”: own the problems, stay mindful to the realities that some would prefer to ignore and begin to act for change. Commit to an active Judaism that in helping to heal the world will fulfill its own best purposes and so strengthen itself.
3) Our future as Jews depends on our capacity to do this work, to build a community of people who think and act globally, who stand against injustice and for greater equality, who share a vision that a just society is everyone’s birthright.
4) Move outside your comfort zones -– literally and figuratively. Think innovatively. Inspire those around you to take the freedom we won as a people and use it to enhance the freedom of others. And keep in mind the words recently shared with me by Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, the founder of one of AJWS’s grassroots partner organizations, “We must be not just petitioners but stakeholders. We must assume the leadership positions from which we can motivate others to make a difference for all.”
Shanah Tovah u’Metukah. Wishing you a year of joy, justice, wholeness, health and peace.