Ruth Messinger, Public Servant & Shalom Corps Judge

Ruth pushed forward while NYC pushed back.

Let’s take a deeper look into the background of Ruth Messinger. This week, Messinger acts as a judge, but Messinger has worn many hats during her lifetime. The real question is What hasn’t Ruth Messinger done or at least attempted to do?

Ruth Messinger

Currently Messinger is judging the top 10 proposals selected out from the 83 that Shalom Corps received during its call for new social change project ideas. The competition closed on July 5th, 2020. The project is called the Local Community Impact Initiative and the goal is to give individuals and organizations a way to scale their great ideas for social change programs.

A look into Messinger’s earlier years

Source: Jewish Women’s Archive

Messinger was born on November 6, 1940, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan as a third-generation New Yorker. Her great-grandparents came over to New York from Poland and Germany in the 1800’s. Her parent’s names are Wilfred and Marjorie (Goldwasser) Wyler.

Ruth was educated at the Brearley School, graduated from Radcliffe College, and received a master’s degree in social work from the University of Oklahoma.

Messinger was a teacher, school and college administrator, and social worker. She married Eli C. Messinger and raised three children before throwing her hat in the ring for New York State Assembly in 1976. Though she lost the election, she did win a seat in City Council the next year in the Upper West Side. By 1988 her name was coming up as a potential mayoral candidate. Though she never made it as the city executive, she became Manhattan borough president in 1990 — this is no easy feat.

Messinger, who campaigned on her New York celerity, said she would “stand up fast” for the best interests of her city. She advocated for liberal causes and tried to protect diverse groups in her community. Messinger even put up the last vote for the 1986 City Council gay rights bill, which was intended to offer gay people equal rights in NYC. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times archive:

The bill, which amends the administrative code of New York City, is intended to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment and public accommodations. Supporters say it is basic civil-rights legislation; opponents contend that it puts an imprimatur of acceptance on homosexual life styles.

NY Times archive, March 21, 1986. Journalist:By Joyce Purnick
Except from the article referencing Messinger

She also worked to oppose Columbia University’s plan to create a commercial biomedical center in Washington Heights, where Malcolm X was assassinated in 1965.

Messinger went up against Rudolph (Rudy) Giuliani for NYC mayor in 1997, but lost by a landslide. Messinger has spoken out and written about the criticism she faced during her candidacy. She openly highlighted that one columnist for the Washington Post said she was too unattractive for the seat and noted another sexist comment from former Mayor (incumbent) Giuliani. He told the New York Times that Messinger likely could not understand law because she was not a lawyer, and seemed to be “hysterical” about the matter. This was in reference to a battle she took up with him over what responsibilities city commissioners should have. “Hysterical” is a term and common trope used against women to delegitimize their claims, even today — more than 20 years later.

A note from Messinger:

During the years that I held elected office, the percentage of women holding such positions across the U.S. went from about 4% to 20%.
An impressive increase to be sure – very important for the advance of women and, in my judgment, for the improvement of politics – but also in some ways
a painful one, given the hurdles that women in politics encounter. The public often has different expectations of women than of men.
They are not sure that women should be working, particularly in a business they think of as dirty.
Experienced political donors contribute less to women than to men and, if asked why, cannot justify this decision.
Male colleagues are often people who really have never dealt with women as equals and are easily threatened by women expecting to be treated that way.

Now to the Judaism part

Messinger has always been dedicated to her Jewish roots in addition to her fight for women to take stronger roles in American society. Messinger was exposed to Judaism through her mother, who worked in public relations work with the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 1998, though she did not become mayor, she would take another executive position of equal importance — president and executive director of the American Jewish World Service. The goal of the organization is to “fulfill Judaism’s imperative to pursue justice” through alleviating poverty, hunger and disease throughout the world.

Messinger is a visiting professor at Hunter College, a president of the board of Surprise Lake Camp, a 118-year-old Jewish Camp in the Hudson Valley of New York State, and a member of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism among other organizations..

Messinger is married (for the second time) to Andrew J. Lachman, a public school administrator. Her three children from her first marriage have produced four grandchildren. Messinger is strong in her leisure activities. She rollerblades, reads, skis and, bakes. However, she says leisure is limited as she strives to be “a responsible member of the community in which she lives.”