Human Rights Advocate Robert Bank to Assume Presidency of American Jewish World Service on July 1

Bank to succeed Ruth Messinger; after a remarkable 18-year presidency, Messinger to take on new role for AJWS as its first-ever Global Ambassador

NEW YORK—Effective July 1, Robert Bank, the current Executive Vice President of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), will officially assume the role of President at AJWS, the leading Jewish international human rights and development organization. Bank will succeed Ruth Messinger, who, after 18 years as President, will take on a new role for AJWS as its first-ever Global Ambassador, continuing her crucial work of engaging rabbis and interfaith leaders in efforts to end poverty and promote human rights in the developing world.

“I am deeply honored to be taking on the role of President of American Jewish World Service and for the opportunity to lead this organization, which is inspired by the Jewish commitment to pursue justice in the world,” said Bank. “I am humbled to follow in Ruth Messinger’s footsteps and am committed to building on her extraordinary legacy. I am motivated by a powerful commitment as a Jew to fight for the basic human dignity of every person, which I trace back to my coming of age in South Africa in the 1970s, where I witnessed both the daily cruelties of state-sanctioned racism and the indefatigable efforts of advocates, many of them Jewish, who joined others to fight for justice for all South Africans,” added Bank.

Bank, who has been AJWS’s Executive Vice President for seven-and-a-half years, is a skilled leader with a proven record of managing successful local, national and international organizations, bringing passion and dedication to public service and the pursuit of justice. For more than 25 years, Bank has advocated for human rights for people and communities in the United States and around the world. He has worked in close partnership with Messinger to lead and manage AJWS, and has shaped its current strategy and advanced the organization’s growth and impact.

“Robert Bank is the absolutely right person to lead to ensure that AJWS will always be the vehicle through which American Jews can stand up proudly to support the rights and uphold the dignity of the poorest and most oppressed people in the world,” said Messinger. “I have worked closely with Robert Bank for seven-and-a-half years, and his intelligence, his moral commitment to pursue justice and his strategic approach to organizational life are exactly what AJWS needs at this crucial juncture in its history,” added Messinger.

“The board of trustees of American Jewish World Service decided with tremendous confidence and enthusiasm to make Robert Bank our new president,” said Kathleen Levin, Chair of the Board of Trustees. “We have worked closely with Robert for the past seven-and-a-half years to shape a strategy for AJWS that we are confident will guarantee that we will continue to be the Jewish address for all who wish to advance human rights and end poverty in the developing world. At 30, we are in a new phase of our organizational life, and Robert has made it possible for us to move forward with smarts and aplomb.”

Prior to joining AJWS in 2009, Bank served as Chief Operating Officer of GMHC, one of the leading organizations in the world engaged in combatting HIV and AIDS. At GMHC, Bank, an attorney, led a successful effort to overturn the federal ban that blocked HIV-positive individuals from entering or immigrating to the United States in 2009 and played a leadership role in establishing the nation’s first comprehensive HIV and AIDS strategy in 2010. Before his tenure at GMHC, Bank served as Deputy Assistant Chief at the New York City Department of Law, where he brought strategic litigation cases to enable New York City’s poorest residents to live healthier lives in safer communities. Bank also served as a law clerk at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Born in South Africa in a liberal Jewish family opposed to apartheid, Bank attended Jewish day schools in Cape Town and then studied at the University of Cape Town before immigrating to the United States in 1977. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Juilliard School in New York and a J.D. from the City University of New York Law School. Bank has received the Wasserstein Public Interest Fellowship from Harvard Law School, the Lifetime Achievement Award from GMHC and the Partners in Justice Award from AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps.

In October 2015, AJWS’s Board of Trustees announced AJWS’s leadership transition, which ensures continuity of mission while entrusting the stewardship of AJWS to a new generation. Following a proactive, 18-month planning process, the Board of AJWS appointed Robert Bank to succeed Ruth Messinger on July 1, 2016. Over the past seven-and-a-half years, Bank and Messinger have forged a close partnership in leading and managing AJWS, and the members of AJWS’s Board voted unanimously to name Bank the organization’s next President, with Messinger’s enthusiastic support. Bank’s leadership allows AJWS to pursue its current strategy, which he helped shape, to work on behalf of some of the poorest and most oppressed people in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

With Bank at the helm, AJWS is well positioned to continue to advance its core mission and strengthen its impact, helping more American Jews and others to connect to its work on behalf of some of the poorest and most oppressed people in the developing world.


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