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The World’s ‘Most Influential’ Jewish Women

In honor of Shavuot, the Jerusalem Post printed a special supplement on “The Fifty Most Influential Jews in the World” — and there are only seven women in the list.

A woman doesn’t even make an appearance until number 10 — US Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. Bizarrely, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg comes in at a mere 22, which makes me wonder why a nominee (no offense Ms. Kagan, I’m a big fan) is presumed to have more influence than an actual, sitting Supreme Court justice.

The other five Jewish women who made the list are: Israel Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch (#20), biochemist and professor Ruth Arnon (#29), businesswoman and philanthropist Shari Arinson (#41), French politician Simone Veil (#42), and South African Bank Governor Gill Marcus (#44).  

Notably absent from this list are women such as Nobel Prize winner Ada Yonath, Israel opposition leader MK Tzipi Livni, Federation leader Carole Solomon, philanthropist and recent LEAD awardee Barbara Dobkin, feminist activist Blu Greenberg, Senator Barbara Boxer, author Barbara Ehrenreich – and those are just some of the women off the top of my head. Hey, I would even include Forward editor in chief Jane Eisner – doing a terrific job influencing the global Jewish conversation.

Instead of these amazing women, we are left with some strange (male) pickings: comedian Sacha Baron Cohen (#48), basketball player Omri Casspi (#50), and a few guys I’ve never heard of. Plus we get both IDF defense minister Ehud Barak (#12) and IDF Chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi (#16), that’s two spots for basically the same institution – even though they are in the midst of a public catfight that is threatening to cripple the entire army.

Of course, after I finished getting upset about this list, I opened up the next Post supplement, “Financial Horizons,” and my depression sank even further. A glance at the table of contents revealed not a single article written by a woman – not ONE! And then, flipping through the magazine, there is not a single photo of a woman.

I recently received a note from a reader asking me what we are supposed to do about all this. I’ve been thinking about how to answer that question. Solutions go in several different directions — education initiatives, affirmative action, legislation, and consciousness-raising for both men and women, to name a few. All of these solutions are important and should be pursued. But I think there is also a solution that exists on the most mundane, everyday level of existence: We can all make an effort to see those who are not readily seen.

I think that ultimately a “woman’s culture” that is less about getting ahead and more about building relationships is both an asset to society at large and a liability to individual women. In a world such as ours in which reputations are so often built around image over substance, people who are less pushy, less self-promoting, and less “out-there” are at a severe disadvantage. Women for the most part tend to fit that pattern. We push less, we negotiate less and we self-promote less. And in the end, we are less likely than men to be seen, recognized and acknowledged.

This Shavuot, let us all make an effort to look past image and celebrity status in order to see those who are least seen in our society — people like Ruth, who are busy doing their work on the threshing floor while asking minimal in return, all in order to provide for the people whom they love.


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