Messinger to Graduating Class: “We are children of the Exodus. This must be the framework for how we understand ourselves and how we act in the world.”
American Jewish World Service (AJWS) President Ruth W. Messinger delivered a riveting commencement address at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) calling on the graduates – Rabbis, communal workers and Jewish educators – to embrace a 21st Century Judaism that emphasizes global citizenship and the pursuit of social justice for all people.
In her keynote, Messinger implored the graduates not to allow the current recession to serve as an excuse for inaction. She also told them not to retreat from global challenges despite their magnitude and complexity.
“We are children of the exodus,” Messinger said. “This must be the framework for how we understand ourselves and how we act in the world…
“Yes, there are people in our own communities who have suffered severe losses and have few financial resources left, and we must help them put their lives back together. There are many more people in our communities who have seen their investment portfolios shrink, but that has not translated into significant changes in their day-to-day lives.
“For many of the world’s poorest, however, shrinkage in their portfolio means going from one meal a day to none. It is important that we urge our community, that we urge ourselves, not to abandon our responsibility to these people.
“There is no easy way to say this and no easy way to hear it. But what is required of all of us, as Jews, as current and future Jewish leaders, is that we do hear it. That we hear it, and that we not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by it.
“That is perhaps the most important message: We cannot retreat to the convenience of being overwhelmed. We are of a faith that reminds us daily of our responsibility, of our need to act, of our need to help save some or any one of these children. We are taught that to save one life is to save the world.”
Messinger also told JTS’s graduates that joining the fight against global poverty, hunger and disease is essential to the survival of the Jewish people.
“Previously, as a people, we were held together by our common enemies – by anti-Semitism, by others’ hostility to Israel and by our remembrance of the Holocaust. In the future we must also be held together by our commitment to our common values – by our recognition of our obligation not just to teach Torah but to live it, by our commitment to pursue justice.
“What is required, first, is that we embrace those with whom we do not share a faith or a neighborhood, a country, a language, or a political structure. We must bend our minds and our voices, our energies and our material resources to help those most in need, both at home and abroad. They are surely b’tzelem elohim – people made in the image of God…
“Our future as Jews depends on our capacity to do this work, to build a community of people who think and act globally, who stand against injustice and for greater equality, who share a vision that a just society is the birthright of all our children.
“So move outside your comfort zones – literally and figuratively. Think innovatively. Inspire those you’ll lead to take the freedom we won as a people and use it to enhance the freedom of others. Make us a Jewish community built on moral principle, dedicated to the pursuit of justice.”