On Thursday, March 8th in Forum Hall of Palmer Commons (100 Washtenaw Ave), Ruth Messinger will give the 28th Annual David W. Belin Lecture in American Jewish Affairs. The lecture is titled, “From Amos to Heschel and Beyond: A Personal Reflection on Social Justice as an Inherent Part of Judaism Past, Present and Future” and will begin at 7:00 pm. The event begins with a reception at 6:30 pm and is free and open to the public.
Before Messinger became the CEO of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), a position she held for 18 years, she was a New York City elected official for two decades. She remarked on her early career as a politician, “Politics helps you prepare to do anything of use in the world because it schools you in the values of relationships, listening and persistence.” Considering the current political climate, she advises politicians working on social justice policies, “This is what they were elected to do, so they need to be true to the values of democracy, of Torah and of human rights and they need to be willing to run more risks than most of them are.”
She currently works as the AJWS Global Ambassador, as well as the Finkelstein Institute Social Justice Fellow at the Jewish Theological Seminar of America, and the Social Justice Activist-in-Residence at the Manhattan Jewish Community Center. In all of her positions, Messinger engages rabbis, faith leaders and community change agents to work collaboratively and speak out and take action for justice. She observed that the most difficult part of her current position is “keeping up with the new wave of interest in activism and helping people do it in ways that are maximally productive and minimally conducive to burnout.”
During this year’s Belin lecture, Messinger will reflect on her personal experience as a Jew in America over the last 75 years with an understanding of what she calls social justice Judaism. Where in our texts do we find stories about justice and exhortations to be just? What is meant by social justice in this context and how has it been differently interpreted throughout the Torah and throughout our history? This lecture will not claim to be the definitive treatment of this issue, but rather to constitute one woman’s journey, summarizing at least some of what she has learned and done and what she thinks needs to be done now. When asked what she wants people to walk away from this lecture with, Messinger explained, “An understanding of some of the reasons for working for social justice—both Jewish and secular. An understanding of the importance of story. An understanding of the importance of acting for justice and of the value of persistence.”