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Forward 50 2012

Ruth Lichtenstein

There was some shock, but little surprise, when in 1998 the best-known brand in Israeli Haredi journalism — the venerable daily newspaper Hamodia — appeared in an English-language American version with a woman at the helm. Women generally don’t mount the ultra-Orthodox public stage, particularly in the stringent Ger community, Israel’s largest Hasidic sect, which dominated Hamodia from its founding in 1950. But the publisher of the American edition isn’t just any woman. Jerusalem-born educator and Holocaust historian Ruth Lichtenstein, 59, born into Ger’s leading family, quickly established herself as a power in her own right, then emerged this year as a rebel.

Daughter of Hamodia’s founding editor Rabbi Yehuda Leib Levin, granddaughter of longtime Agudath Israel world president (and signer of Israel’s declaration of independence) Rabbi Yitzhak-Meir Levin, and great-granddaughter of the third Ger rebbe, Avraham Mordechai Alter, she quickly made Hamodia a key voice of American Orthodoxy, then took it daily in 2003, making it the only daily Jewish print newspaper outside Israel. She’s kept up her scholarship, founding an award-winning Holocaust education center, Project Witness, which creates curricula for Orthodox schools and regularly partners with non-Orthodox institutions on public programming.

Her 600-page Holocaust chronicle, “Witness to History” (2009), has been cited by Yad Vashem scholars and others for its academic standards, historical context and multiple viewpoints, all departures from Haredi custom. Her most controversial departure, though, was her signed, front-page Hamodia editorial of January 4, 2012, “It’s Time to Act,” attacking the “silence” of mainstream Haredi leaders in the face of extremist “meshuga’im” (madmen) who spread “warped messages” — most recently by dressing up as Auschwitz inmates to protest a government crackdown on gender-segregated buses — that tarnish the silent majority of more tolerant Haredim.

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