Ruth Messinger will open speakers’ series with talk on Darfur

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

The Aish HaTorah 2007 St. Louis Jewish Speakers’ Series will begin this month with a talk on “Genocide in Darfur” by the head of the American Jewish World Service, Ruth Messinger.

Messinger will speak at the annual Rubin Feldman Memorial Lecture on Thursday, Feb. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza, 7750 Carondolet, Clayton. The lecture is free and open to the public.

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Rabbi Shmuel Greenwald, educational director of Aish HaTorah, said he got the idea for bringing Messinger to town after he read a commentary she wrote, “Darfur: Never Again?” which appeared on the Aish national Web site, www.aish.com, in 2004.

“I noticed the article and I Googled her name, and I found she was one of the more prominent people advocating for action in Darfur,” Greenwald said.

Messinger is president of the AJWS, an international development and emergency relief organization based in New York City. The AJWS provides humanitarian aid, technical assistance and skilled volunteers to grassroots organizations working on projects across the globe. Messinger received the Albert D. Chernin award from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs in 2006, and for five years, she has been named one of the 50 most influential Jews of the year by the Forward newspaper.

Messinger’s talk will discuss the Darfur region of Sudan, which has been embroiled in conflict since February 2003, when the Sudanese government and government-supported militias began a brutal retaliation against a revolt by Darfurian rebel groups.

The conflict in Darfur has displaced over two million people and has killed over 400,000 people, according to estimates from the Coalition for International Justice, an international nonprofit organization.

Messinger visited refugee camps in Darfur and Chad in August 2004 and October 2005, and she has been a strong advocate for bolstering humanitarian relief efforts and political action to pressure the Sudanese government to end the conflict.

Messinger will speak about her experiences there, the programs the AJWS is supporting in Darfur and the ways people here can get involved to help.

Greenwald said that while the annual Aish speaker series brings in lecturers on topics relevant to the Jewish community, this talk has a particular significance.

“The U.S. government has termed what’s happening in Darfur as a ‘genocide,’ which is something that all Jews take very seriously,” he said.

In her article on the Aish.com Web site, Messinger echoed that sentiment, writing, “The phrase ‘never again’ must not be reserved for Jews alone, but in fact Jews must be the guardians of this epithet, highly sensitive and responsive to all attempts by any people to annihilate another people because they are somehow perceived as different.”

The Aish HaTorah speaker series continues with talks in March, April and May. On Thursday, Mar. 22, Rabbi Steve Baars will speak at the Annual Stuart I. Raskas Dessert Reception, which begins at 7 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Clayton. After the dessert reception from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., Baars will deliver his talk, “Thrill Seminar — Getting the Most out of Life.” Baars, the executive director of Aish in the Washington D.C.-Maryland-Virginia region, is also known for his sense of humor, as the only rabbi who has performed stand-up comedy at The Improv in Santa Monica, Calif.

The event is free and open to the public. In April, Aish welcomes back author and columnist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, to speak about her latest book, Life is a Test. Jungreis has authored two bestsellers, Jewish Soul of Fire and The Committed Life, and she writes a weekly column for the Jewish Press. Jungreis will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 18 at the Crowne Plaza in Clayton.

The event is open to the public, with a $5 admission fee.

On Thursday, May 21, Alan Moranis will speak at the Annual Mark Raiffie Memorial Lecture at 7:30 p.m. at the Gloria and Rubin Feldman Aish HaTorah Center for Jewish Studies, “The Firehouse,” located at 457 North Woods Mill Road in Chesterfield. His talk is free and open to the public.

For more information on the Aish HaTorah 2007 St. Louis Jewish Speakers Series, call 314-862-2474.