Ruth Messinger and Marilyn Sneiderman Are Odd Couple of Jewish Social Justice

Roommates as Well as Non-Profit Powerhouse Leaders

In the Field: American Jewish World Service chief Ruth Messinger traveled to Ethiopia in 2011;
Courtesy of AJWS
In the Field: American Jewish World Service chief Ruth Messinger traveled to Ethiopia in 2011;

By Sarah Seltzer

Published November 05, 2013.
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One or more nights a week, a lofty-ceilinged prewar apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan becomes an unexpected nexus of feminist Jewish social justice power.

That’s what happens when the heads of two of the country’s major Jewish philanthropic organizations — Ruth Messinger, president and CEO of American Jewish World Service and Marilyn Sneiderman, executive director of Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps — find themselves together in the home that they share part time, chatting about the other big thing they have in common: their mission.

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“We’re pitching the same story: How do you grow Jewish social justice?” says Messinger one warm Wednesday night in late October as she relaxes in the living room, thumbs through her mail, and snacks on potato chips and Diet Coke with lime — she says the food at her evening event earlier was “too healthy.”

Sneiderman perches on a chair nearby. Messinger, 73, owns the apartment with her husband, Andrew Lachman, but since he works in Connecticut as the executive director of Connecticut Center for School Change, and she frequently travels for AJWS’s international humanitarian work, the place has become something of a way station for both family members and members of her extended family of progressive Jewish leaders.

Avodah head Marilyn Sneiderman chatted with a corps member in 2012.
Courtesy of Avodah
Avodah head Marilyn Sneiderman chatted with a corps member in 2012.

Messinger’s granddaughter, another roommate, wanders in and they joke about needing a calendar for the apartment to determine who’s there when. Perhaps the calendar would hang near the stunning wildlife and landscape photos from around the world that line the entryway. (“Ruth took those herself!” Sneiderman tells me.)

“There’s logic to having someone here,” Messinger says, explaining why she offered Sneiderman, 57, a place to stay in New York City while she maintains a home in Washington, D.C. “Marilyn was a hugely accommodating person given that she’s not 19. She doesn’t mind backpacking up here.”

Both women leaders crossed over to the Jewish philanthropic sector from the mainstream progressive world, where Messinger was a politician, most notably a Manhattan borough president who challenged Rudy Giuliani for mayor in 1997 and lost, and Sneiderman, a labor movement leader in D.C.

“It was a huge transition for me, a totally different set of players, circumstances and opportunities,” says Sneiderman of the move in 2010 to Avodah, and to Messinger’s apartment three nights a week. “Ruth played this incredible mentorship role with me.”


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