by Jane Eisner
Assembling the Forward 50 is like taking a stroll through recent history. Certain landmarks become immediately visible, while others take longer to discern. The Jewish story in the last year was characterized by the traditional worries – about the Jewish future in America, about Israel’s future in the Middle East – punctuated by a new set of crises and concerns. The toxic national political environment gave rise to more polarizing Jewish voices on the left and the right, who argued over candidates, causes and Islamic centers; over who is responsible for Israel’s faltering world image and for the growing alienation among young American Jews.
But there were also reasons to celebrate. Imagine: It no longer is unusual for a Jewish woman, such as Elana Kagan, to serve on the nation’s highest court, or for a Jewish man, Eric Cantor, to be a Republican leader in Congress. The explosion in internet use and social media that connect us in both salutory and frightening ways have allowed entrepreneurs like the Russian-born Sergey Brin to bring staggering technological advances to market.
This year we saw the firm ascension of Russian Jewish leadership in both Israel and America, illustrated here by Misha Galperin, charged with nothing less than helping to transform the Jewish Agency from a sprawling organization in search of mission to an engine for promoting Jewish identity.
And with all the changes, the verities remain. Nicole Krauss represents just one of a number of Jewish writers, artists and performers whose creations pull deep from a specific, rich tradition while appealing to a broad, modern and sophisticated audience.
The Forward 50 is an impressionistic list, not a scientific survey. It is compiled by staff members (with input from readers) who search for men and women who have made a significant impact on the Jewish story in a Jewish way. These are people whose religious and cultural values propelled them to engage, serve, lead, entertain, educate, create, advocate and exasperate in a decidedly Jewish voice. Let them inspire us, too.