The 2009 Forward 50: The New Faces of Leadership

from The Forward:

forward502009-topThe Forward 50 began 15 years ago, the brain-child of Seth Lipsky, founding editor of the English Forward, who went in search “of the men and women who are leading the American Jewish community into the 21st century.” Many of the names and faces on that original list were well-known stalwarts of the Jewish establishment, players in New York and Washington, powerful benefactors. They were representative of the kind of authority and leadership prevalent in 1994. The men wore suits and ties. The rabbis wore beards.

But examine that list carefully, and you will find intimations of change. A rabbi of the largest gay and lesbian synagogue is there. So is a right-leaning activist with grass-roots appeal.

In the decade and a half since, the dramatic shift in Jewish leadership mirrors larger trends in our society. Just as we no longer go one place for our news, we no longer look to only one powerful person in a position of authority for leadership. This year, in particular, we’ve seen some of the most established organizations questioned from the outside and challenged from within, while those who are creating and innovating seem to have history’s wind at their backs.

… Also telling about this year’s Forward 50 are the five people selected as the most influential and interesting: a businessman-turned-communal leader, a diplomat and best-selling author, a breakthrough female Orthodox leader and two iconoclastic filmmakers. None has ever been part of the Forward 50.

… One aspect of this process hasn’t changed: Each year, the Forward staff debates how to include those Jews whose impact in the past year has been dramatic – and damaging. We take no pleasure in highlighting misdeeds and embarrassments caused by fellow Jews, but they, too, are part of our story.

Consider this: Last year at this time, only those in the know had heard of Bernard Madoff; now his name is synonymous with the worst kind of greed and betrayal. Last year at this time, J. Ezra Merkin’s name was associated with his revered, philanthropic family; now he is being sued in connection with his alleged role in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Last year at this time, few might have guessed that Solomon Dwek, son of a prominent rabbi, was a cooperating witness in an FBI sting that nabbed New Jersey politicians and prominent members of his Syrian Jewish community.

We don’t have to look back 15 years for dramatic change. One year will do.

Forward 50, 2009