The New Faces of Jewish Power

Two thousand twelve was a year of huge predictable events — a presidential election, an Olympic Games — and events like Hurricane Sandy that stunned us with their force and consequence. It was also a year when some quiet trends of great significance became more apparent: the organizational clout of devoutly Orthodox Jews, for instance, and the ability of young women to break through the cluttered cultural scene. We’ve had 20-something television stars before, but one with a multimillion-dollar book contract? Not so often.

This year, the Forward worked especially hard to look beyond the usual subjects to include new names and faces on this list. We did so not to ignore those we have honored in the past, but to signal as boldly as we can that the pulse of Jewish life is quickening in unusual places. That’s in part because we live in a time when the tools of power and influence are not necessarily concentrated in legacy organizations but grasped by such visionary individuals as a charismatic rabbi in Los Angeles, a creative Hillel director in Philadelphia, a passionate educator in Detroit, an innovative foundation leader in Baltimore and a mother in New York who galvanized a cybercommunity by sharing the story of her dying daughter.

This was also the year to honor American Jews of immense talent who for decades have shared their gifts with the public. The composer Philip Glass. The philanthropist Harold Grinspoon. The incomparable Barbra Streisand.

And we honor courage — whether it is displayed in a lonely fight against government censorship, a long struggle to come to public terms with gender identity or the courage of a young Orthodox girl to be physically stronger than anyone else her size in the world.

We are especially proud this year to have increased the number of girls and women in the Forward 50. We’re not at parity, but we’re close.

And now a word of thanks: This year’s Forward 50 was published under trying circumstances. With our office building flooded by the hurricane, staff members are contributing from around the region. Their dedication and professionalism shine through these pages.


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  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
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