By Natalie Koltun, for the Mitzpeh, @Nat_Koltun
The third annual Global Justice Shabbat, held on March 27 at Maryland Hillel, featured Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service, a Jewish organization that works to combat poverty and establish universal human rights in the developing world.
“It’s cool to come here tonight and hear that people like Ruth really make their lives around social justice,” said Avital Gewirtz, a junior marketing and dietetics major.
Much of the evening’s festivities focused on how students can get involved in changing their local and global communities.
Social justice is one of Hillel’s pillars, and it is manifested through the six to 10 Alternative Breaks offered each year, said Amy Weiss, Hillel’s Repair the World director of service learning initiatives.
Several students at the event spoke about their experiences with alternative break trips, where they learned and provided aid in developing areas.
“Specifically why I went to Mississippi over spring break is because they are the poorest state and also the most obese state, and that dichotomy was really interesting to me,” Gewirtz said about her first Alternative Break experience. “It’s a huge issue in our country, and I definitely want to keep something like that in my focus in the future.”
The evening began with a roundtable discussion between students and Messinger, who discussed the issues surrounding marginalized groups around the globe.
New to this year’s event, an art initiative displayed eight students’ artwork, which allowed the artists to express their personal thoughts and interpretations of justice and activism, Weiss said. The works of art, in addition to discussion topics designated to each table, served as icebreakers for conversation among attendees during the Shabbat dinner.
Weiss worked closely with a student committee to coordinate this event for the more than 160 guests.
Messinger currently sits on the State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group and helps to mobilize faith-based organizations across the country to speak out and participate in community outreach.
“I don’t do many campuses, but I do Maryland because I think what has happened here is just extraordinary,” Messinger said. “It’s amazing that a campus, especially a large one like this with such a large Jewish population, can create opportunities for community action and then totally embrace that Judaism is and has always been about social justice.”