September, 2006, the president of Sudan (Omar Hassan al-Bashir)
appeared before the United Nations General Assembly and
claimed that “Zionist organizations” were responsible
for cooking up an international outcry against his government
for alleged massacres. He probably was referring to Ruth
Messinger, a Jewish woman who has been the central figure
in mobilizing public protest over the genocide in Darfur.
Wyler Messinger was born in 1940 in New York. She is a third
generation New Yorker, the daughter of Wilfred and Majorie
Goldwasser Wyler. She attended the Brearley School, graduated
from Radcliffe College, and received a master’s degree
in social work from the University of Oklahoma in 1962.
Subsequently, she worked as a teacher, school and college
administrator, and social worker. Currently, Ruth is a visiting
professor at Hunter College, teaching urban policy and politics.
A liberal Democrat, she had an extensive career in New York
City politics. She served on the New York City Council from
1978-1990 and as Manhattan borough president from 1990-1998.
During her years in elected office, the percent of women
in the U.S. holding such positions increased from 4% to
20%. However, the process could be a painful one. Ruth found
that experienced political donors contribute less to women
than men, that male colleagues were easily threatened by
women expecting to be treated equally, and that appearance
was more critical to a woman than a man for wooing prospective
1997, she ran for New York City mayor against incumbent
Rudolph Giuliani and was badly beaten. Everyone thought
Ruth would slip quietly into obscurity, but nine years later,
she is more visible than ever on the world stage.
became President and CEO of the American Jewish World Service,
and transformed the organization from a small Jewish charity
to one of America’s most respected overseas development
organizations. American Jewish World Service now runs a
worldwide network of over 250 economic and social programs
in over 40 countries.
has been a tireless advocate for action concerning the humanitarian
crisis in Darfur.
the remote region of Darfur, Sudan, almost two million
African tribal farmers have been violently driven from
their homes by the government of Sudan and the militias
they armed, called Janjaweed (men with guns on horseback).
Despite repeated calls from humanitarian organizations
and United Nations agencies warning of the worst humanitarian
crisis in the world today, there continues to be a systematic
program of expulsion, rape and murderous violence that
has taken at least 450,000 lives since the crisis began
in February 2003. Over 2.5 million people have been
displaced from their homes and live in refuge camps.
Numerous ceasefires have been broken, and countless
U.N. resolutions have gone unheeded as the violence
in Darfur continues.
Photo and text from www.ajws.org
launched the American Jewish World Service’s Sudan
Relief and Advocacy Fund in 2006 to provide humanitarian
aid to the refuge camps, and to advocate for political action.
The American Jewish World Service’s website at www.ajws.org
lists concrete actions we can take to increase awareness
of the crisis in Darfur and promote international intervention.
Messinger is an active member of her synagogue and serves
on the board of directors of several non-profit organizations.
Her dedication to philanthropic work has been recognized
with many honors and awards. In 2006, she received the prestigious
Albert D. Chernin Award from the Jewish Council for Public
Affairs for her tireless work to end the genocide in Darfur.
In tribute to her life’s work, she was awarded an
honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the Hebrew
Union College in May, 2005. For the past four years, she
has been named by the Forward newspaper as one of the 50
most influential Jews of the year, in the top spot in 2005.
is married to Andrew Lachman, her second husband, and has
three children, seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
In her spare time, she bikes, rollerblades, skis, reads,
and, by her own account, “bakes the best chocolate
desserts in New York.”
Messinger strongly believes in the statement by Rabbi Abraham
Joshua Heschel that “when terrible things happen in
a democracy, some are guilty and all are responsible.”
“The expression ‘Never again’,”
Messinger says, “cannot be reserved only for Jews.”