"I dedicate my days to the struggles for human rights of some of the people who have the least access to powerwomen and girls, the LGBT community and indigenous peoples in the developing world whose communities are threatened," said Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service ( AJWS ).
That was just one of the messages that Messinger conveyed during her National Human Rights Month LectureIf not now, when? If not me and you, who? Pursuing global justice to mend our broken worldat the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center Dec. 14.
The AJWS is, according to its website, "the leading Jewish human rights and development organization working to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world."
Following words of welcome and an introduction by Kelley Szany, director of educational outreach and genocide initiatives at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, Messinger told the approximately 120 people in attendance that she was moved by what she saw while touring the museum prior to her lecture.
An activist focusing on social justice issues, Messinger also sits 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. Messinger is currently one of the leading voices for equal rights for women and LGBT people in the developing world.
Prior to coming to AJWS in 1998, Messinger spent 20 years working in public service in New York City. Messinger has been honored by many national Jewish organizations and received honorary degrees from five major American rabbinical seminaries. An active member of her congregation, the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, Messinger also serves on the boards of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, Hazon, United to End Genocide, Interaction and Surprise Lake Camp.
Messinger noted that not only are human rights under assault across the ocean but also here in the United States. Coming of age in the post-war United States, Messinger explained that people of color, women and the LGBT community began to change society through advocacy and education but the work is not finished, so people must continue these efforts.
The AJWS, Messinger said, works toward a world in which people have control over their own bodies, food, land and water; freedom of speech and belief; freely participate in political decision-making processes; access basic health care and education and where women, children, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable populations can live with economic security and physical safety.
"I'm a proud Jewish advocate for human rights for all people," said Messinger. "The people whose rights I am fighting for come from other cultural and religious backgroundspeople of many faiths and no faith, people of vastly different philosophies, world views and backgrounds including the gay man in Uganda threatened with imprisonment for loving someone of the same sex, the indigenous woman in Guatemala whose entire family was murdered by the military and the young Indian woman who is suffering sexual abuse at the hands of her much older husband."
The AJWS and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center co-presented the lecture in partnership with Equality Illinois, The Voices and Faces Project and the Joint Action Committee.