Ruth Messinger on Social Justice & Living With Commitment
April 18, 2011
When I was a young girl -- long before the advent of take your daughter to work day -- my mother, who was the head of public relations for the Jewish Theological Seminary, would bring me with her on occasion. She wanted me to see firsthand what women could accomplish in the workplace.  There, I had an opportunity to interact with various rabbis and professors including Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, one of the foremost Jewish thinkers of the 21st century. Rabbi Heschel believed that Jews have a moral imperative to help all people along the path to freedom. And it was when he marched alongside Rev. Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama that he said his "legs were praying."

Heschel's calling was social justice, and he inspired me to the same calling. My work in government and international development/human rights has always been informed by Heschel's teaching that "in a free society, where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, but all are responsible." We do not have the luxury of being overwhelmed by the monumental challenges of hunger, poverty and disease, all of which result from the denial of peoples' basic human rights. Instead, we must rise to the occasion, organize and struggle with those who are most severely affected by these global inequities.

Recently, I completed a weeklong fast to protest proposed cuts in the federal budget that would result in less food aid to the developing world. I'm proud to say that instead of the 41% cut that was on the table, international food aid was only cut 11%. Just as important, Congress spared funding for programs that support grassroots efforts to boost local food production in the Global South. This is vital to ensuring that the cycle of dependence on aid is eventually broken; people in the Global South must be able to feed themselves -- to become food secure and food sovereign -- and and we can help. I like to think that the action taken by myself and the tens of thousands of other people who fasted, including members of Congress, clergy and other activists, made a difference.

In my line of work, I do often feel challenged.  It is tough, for example, when I see that, after years of outstanding activism by those concerned with genocide in Sudan, people are still being murdered and raped in Darfur. It is hard to realize that when our planet produces enough food to feed the world twice over, hundreds of millions of people go to bed hungry every night. But this does not mean that I have not been successful or that I should not devote my life to trying. Heschel once also said: "A life without commitment is not worth living."

At my Passover Seder, this year, I set an empty place to symbolize the absence of all those who cannot yet sit at the table of freedom. I hope we all see the day when hunger is eradicated and there is no more genocide and girls and women are empowered to lead. But if not, I feel blessed in the knowledge that it will happen and that I will have played a part.






What does it mean to you to live a life with commitment?

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