Global Tzedakah: Save for a Rainy Day? This Is a Downpour!

The Jewish community must take a lead in looking at all the systemic inequities that are being laid bare by the pandemic

Ruth Messinger is the global ambassador of American Jewish World Service (AJWS), where she served as president and CEO for 18 years

I am fiercely convinced a horrendous consequence of the pandemic would be for Americans to go back to “normal” life, with too many misguided priorities. Instead, we need to organize ourselves in new ways:

First: We need to pay more attention to global problems, global needs. The United States cannot continue as a global leader if we tolerate growing inequities, if we ignore poverty, hunger, oppression, land theft, and denial of human rights around the world.

Second: The Jewish community must take a lead in looking at all the systemic inequities that are being laid bare by the pandemic. We must be a voice for creating a health care system that works for all Americans; a voice for exposing the limitations of our education systems, and the ways in which poorer people and people of color are the losers; a voice for adopting immigration policies that make it possible for others to make our country stronger. If we take seriously the Jewish mandate to pursue justice, we should support the range of initiatives in the Jewish community directed against racism, for gender equity, for refugees and asylum seekers. The same goes for efforts to act globally.

Third: The funders, foundations and federations in the Jewish community must dip into endowments to take on these challenges. Many of us were raised to “save for a rainy day.” Now we desperately need leadership in our community to say this is a downpour: Those with resources should be expanding their giving now, stepping up and investing to save an environmental group or an interfaith effort to address racial hatred.

Fourth: We need to advocate for policies that advance these goals: Helping the most marginalized people locally and globally, re-involving the U.S. in shaping environmental practices to protect the planet; and championing a worldwide effort to end hunger and hatred and advance human rights.

The pandemic offers us a chance to lead the way in global tzedakah. Let’s seize it.