Ruth Messinger on Darfur

Ruth Messinger’s keynote speech at the rally for Darfur

National Mall in Washington, D.C., 2006

As the President of American Jewish World Service, I went to Sudan and Chad. I met a woman there who had fled her home with newborn twins after her uncle and brother were murdered in front of her. I met a teacher who led his students and their families through the desert and across the border, seeking refuge from destruction.

We are committed to helping the people who languish in camps—victims of a genocide the world continues to ignore and determined to engage with all of you to stop this genocide.

I salute you for your presence, for your activism, for your leadership, for your determination to make a difference. Today is just the beginning. Keep speaking out, keep organizing, continue your commitment to move toward the world that should be—a world without genocide, a world where rape is not a weapon of war, a world where people are not left to starve, a world that makes real the promise: “Never again.”

Word by word, step by step, risk by risk, we can become the leaders we have been waiting for.

Ruth Messinger’s remarks at “Reflections on Hope and Despair”

An AJWS benefit for Darfur, 2008

Failure is out of the question. Every day that the people of Darfur remain displaced from the lives they led before the “devils rode in on horseback,” every day that they continue to survive at great risk of new danger, is yet another day of indignity, of horror and of terror impossible for us to comprehend.

Now, I’d like to talk about why WE are here. We have reached a point where many of the people we know, in and out of the Jewish community, are asking, “What more can I do?” They continue to read about a situation that is too rarely covered, but that is getting worse, not better; they read about attacks on humanitarian aid workers and U.N. peace-keepers; and about new massacres in the camps and the few villages that remain. “I’ve given money,” they say.” I’ve signed petitions and attended rallies. I’m tired and discouraged. What more can I do?”

As Jews, our own deep pain—from 70 years ago—reminds us what is lost when people and nations remain bystanders to genocide. This is why AJWS has spent six years organizing a community of activists that now numbers 70,000 strong. This is why we have provided life-saving medical care, critical counseling and essential services to people displaced by the genocide. This is why we have spoken, with a clear and strong voice, to corporations, television networks, municipalities, state governments, Congress, the White House and other countries.

But that is not enough.

With rates of malnutrition and disease rising rapidly in the camps of Darfur and Chad—camps made inaccessible to aid workers by the Sudanese government—we are at a new moment of crisis. Life or death for millions hinges upon our nation’s willingness to lead; an entire people’s fate rests with us. We who are determined to be upstanders must sign the letters, send the emails, lay the framework for action, and go to Barack Obama in 2009 with a clear message: We Must End This Genocide. It is a job we cannot refuse. This is why WE are here today!

These works have been excerpted, condensed and edited slightly.