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.
— JANE EISNER