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.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

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.

Click for the Giving Special Section! Click for more Giving stories

“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.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.