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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“Change processes are hard,” agrees Sneiderman. “There are always folks who say ‘Please don’t change things’ and others who say ‘We need to change with the times.’”

The pair also loves to discuss big picture issues, such as the structural injustices they are dedicated to combatting, from poverty at home — Avodah’s primary focus — to social injustice and violence both at home and abroad, that of AJWS.

Specifically, they share an interest in fighting inequality in the name of Jewish values. If the targeted population in need of help is not Jewish, why would those who want to help do so in the name of Jewish values? That is their shared question, maybe.

“From our collective point of view, there’s nothing surprising in the Pew study,” said Messinger, referring to the recent survey that found an uptick in the number of Jews identifying as culturally, not religiously Jewish. “There are a lot of different ways to be Jewish in the world!”

Besides using each other as sounding boards, Sneiderman and Messinger also rely on a mutual network both formal and informal. Formally, they are both part of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, a coalition of different social justice organizations and publications.

“At the Jewish Social Justice roundtable the norm is: if we’re helping each other we all get stronger,” said Sneiderman.

“As opposed to the infighting that there is in other cultures, these are the folks who want to help Avodah, and me as the head of it, succeed.” There’s also, says Sneiderman, a more informal “group of women leaders that are extraordinary.”

This is a casual network of female CEOs and executive directors in the Jewish community, who are concerned about the structural gender imbalances that still stand in the philanthropic landscape. When Sneiderman was named CEO of Avodah in 2010, the Forward had recently determined that women made up only 14 percent of the Jewish communal leadership although they constituted more than 70 percent of the Jewish workforce on the whole.


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