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The deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, is probably the most talked-about figure in the Bush administration, and for good reason: He is the primary architect of the most important American foreign policy initiative in a generation: the plan to invade Iraq and establish a democracy in the heart of the Arab world. While he managed to transform his advocacy of removing Saddam Hussein into action, Wolfowitz, 58, also got a first-hand taste of the messy aftermath when rockets slammed into his hotel during a visit to Baghdad last month. The coming months will go a long way toward determining whether the Pentagon official goes down as the man responsible for America’s second Vietnam or the author of the 21st-century version of the Marshall Plan.

In the eyes of America’s detractors, Wolfowitz’s role is Exhibit A in the charge that Washington policy is run by a pro-Likud cabal dedicated to prolonging Israeli control over the settlements. As events unfold, it’s becoming increasingly clear that whatever the ultimate outcome in Iraq, Wolfowitz’s critics have pegged him wrong. The product of a left-wing Jewish home in Brooklyn, Wolfowitz does not appear to have strayed far from his ideological roots, whether serving as Donald Rumsfeld’s chief deputy at the Pentagon, or in the departments of Defense and State under Presidents Carter and Reagan. A former dean of Johns Hopkins University’s school of international affairs, Wolfowitz seems motivated primarily by a sincere dedication to the notion that the United States has a role to play in bringing freedom to peoples across the globe, just as it defeated the Nazis in World War II and ended the Holocaust. If his ambitious agenda fails, blame a hubris born of universalistic idealism, not a blind dedication to the teachings of Zionist hardliner Vladimir Jabotinsky.


As president of the recently renamed Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, 56, is the unchallenged leader of the country’s largest synagogue movement and the driving force behind its revolutionary embrace of ancient Jewish ritual. He also has a reputation as an outspoken leader, willing to take tough stands, particularly on the Middle East. That side of him has been less visible during the last two years; after publicly recanting his movement’s embrace of the Oslo process, in a speech in Cleveland in June 2001, he has been nearly invisible on the peace front — until last week. Speaking at the biennial convention of his organization, Yoffie declared the settlements a danger to Israel’s future as a Jewish democratic state. In the same speech last week he blasted a host of Bush administration policies and slammed Jewish groups for responding to antisemitism with an embrace of “narrow tribalism.” Yoffie did suffer a political setback this year with the failure of his behind the scenes effort to reshape the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and move it more toward the center. Still, he has reemerged as the community’s most influential liberal voice on multiple fronts and enjoys near universal support within his own organization, formerly known as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.


Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League since 1987, remains the indispensable voice of American Jewry on issues of antisemitism and communal self-defense. With anti-Jewish expression reaching worldwide levels not seen since World War II, the job is more in the spotlight than ever. It’s also much more complicated. As Foxman argues in his new book, “Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism” (Harper SanFrancisco), the threats come from every direction, “a little-noticed, under-the-radar pattern of repeated attacks, often violent, occurring in country after country,” spread by a seeming “coalition” of far left and far right forces. Foxman has tried to respond on every front at once: now confronting Mel Gibson over his upcoming movie about Jesus; now leading the outcry against the antisemitism of Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad; now encouraging European governments to move ahead with a planned conference on antisemitism; now lambasting as “obscene” billionaire George Soros’s declaration that Israel’s actions help fuel antisemitism. Even some admirers say Foxman’s combativeness is getting him into unnecessary fights; his campaign to de-link Israel and antisemitism seems a lost cause, and in October he drew fire after honoring the ethically challenged Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi for his staunch backing of Israel. Lately, too, more and more observers — friend as well as foe — see Foxman’s very indispensability as a problem. Publishers Weekly, reviewing his book, complained that it “feels self-aggrandizing, like the struggles of one man against an antisemitic world.” Critics inside the ADL say much the same thing; in-house murmuring is growing that it’s past time for Foxman, now 63, to start delegating more and grooming a successor. He won’t last forever, and what would we do without him?


Three years after Hannah Rosenthal took the helm of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the former Democratic Party activist has finally found her calling. It involves nothing short of taking on the leader of the free world, but she’s up for it. Rosenthal, 52, has declared war against President Bush’s tax policies — the same policies that are lining the pockets of some of the council’s largest donors. The move challenges the notion that Rosenthal’s coalition of public policy groups has relinquished power to United Jewish Communities, which pays the council’s bills. Despite pressure from UJC leaders, who declared that tax cuts were not a Jewish issue, Rosenthal pressed on. Her council opposed the first round of federal tax cuts in 2001 when almost no one in the Jewish community would. After the latest $350 billion tax break was ratified in June, her group lobbied tirelessly in Washington to shore up the remaining government dollars for social service programs and called for a repeal of the cuts “if necessary.” But that’s not all. In February Rosenthal took on the establishment responsible for allocating billions of dollars in Holocaust restitution payments. Her group adopted a resolution calling for “all funds” collected on behalf of Holocaust survivors to be disbursed for the sole purpose of helping needy survivors. While the main restitution body did not accept the resolution, the debate has shined a spotlight on the unmet needs of survivors.


As the architect chosen to redesign the World Trade Center, Daniel Libeskind was an obvious choice for many. While many architects focus mainly on technology, Libeskind is more concerned with the story a building tells. The ideas of memory and history have informed his works, including his design for the Jewish Museum of Berlin. The son of Holocaust survivors, Libeskind, born in Poland in 1946, immigrated to New York at the age of 11. Growing up in the Bronx’s Amalgamated Houses, Libeskind was immersed in Yiddish language and culture as well as progressive politics — an environment, he has said, that completely shaped him. Of all the architects who were considered for the World Trade Center redesign, Libeskind was the only one to reference his personal experiences in his design; Libeskind has said that he felt “personally attacked” on September 11 in his adopted city of New York, and met tirelessly with survivors to further inspire his plans. This summer, Libeskind engaged in a failed power struggle with Larry Silverstein, the developer who holds the lease for the World Trade Center site. Silverstein had been pressing for changes in Libeskind’s design and now Libeskind will, in effect, report to Silverstein’s hand-picked architect, which some media have labeled a triumph of commercial interests over artistic vision. However, the tremendous popularity of Libeskind’s emotionally resonant design — which will include a tower with the symbolic height of 1,776 feet — is likely to give him added leverage in implementing his vision. Libeskind’s pride in his adopted country has motivated him to rewrite tragedy as optimism.


Whoever ends up taking over for Richard Joel, 53, as the permanent president of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life will face the challenge of replacing an institutional legend. But Joel, as the fourth president of Yeshiva University, has inherited the even tougher job of filling the giant shoes of Rabbi Norman Lamm. Despite lacking his predecessor’s rabbinic or scholarly credentials, Joel is inheriting the bully pulpit of Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship institution. The movement’s liberal activists are looking to him to reverse what they see as a decades-long drift to the religious right at Y.U. The leading rabbis at the institution’s affiliated seminary, on the other hand, will be waiting to pounce if Joel steps too far to the left. Joel will have to juggle these battling constituencies while managing a university network of undergraduate and graduate schools with an annual budget of $470 million and an endowment of $900 million. His performance will play a significant role in shaping the future of Modern Orthodoxy.


Two years ago, Judy Yudof made our list for breaking the glass ceiling of American synagogue life, becoming the president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, the first woman to head the congregational arm of either the Reform or Conservative movements. This year she makes the grade for on-the-job performance. Yudof, 58, has emerged as an important voice within Conservative Judaism, not a common role for a congregational leader in a rabbi-driven movement. She has been particularly influential in advancing the Conservative debate over homosexuality; while she has refused to stake out a public position, she dealt a severe blow to the movement’s old guard by calling for a review of the current ban on gay rabbis and same-sex marriages, and arguing that change would not spark a rebellion in the pews.


The Forward 50 is generally reserved for luminaries residing in the United States, but an exception must be made for Rabbi Reuven Hammer, president of the Rabbinical Assembly. A Syracuse, N.Y., native who immigrated to Israel, Hammer, 70, is making the most of his stint as head of the Conservative movement’s 1,500-member rabbinical union, wielding great influence on many fronts in American synagogue life and becoming arguably the most important religious leader in his movement. By spearheading the creation of the assembly’s new book imprint and authoring the movement’s official commentary on the prayer book, Hammer is poised to influence a generation of worshippers. Though not identified with activists on either side of his movement’s mushrooming debate on homosexuality, Hammer has played a key role, asking the top Conservative lawmaking body to review its ban on ordaining gay rabbis and performing same-sex marriages.


Many rabbis teach classes and even publish books, but few produce pop favorites, and only one, Rabbi Yehuda Berg, can claim to be Madonna’s spiritual guru. A scion of the rabbinic dynasty behind the Kabbalah Centre, Berg this year released his own spiritual tome, “The 72 Names of God: Technology for the Soul” (Kabbalah Publishing). Devotees say the center has transformed them into kinder, more spiritual people through a steady diet of Jewish mystical teachings; critics claim the center, which now has 50 branches worldwide, is a cult. What’s indisputable is that with a loyal cadre of Hollywood celebrities, including the queen diva of pop, Berg and the Kabbalah Centre are well positioned to become a part of Judaism’s public face in the decades to come.



Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, 61, already had a place in the history books as a result of his 2000 Democratic vice-presidential candidacy, when he became the first Jew to run for national office on a major-party ticket. Now he’s topped himself by mounting the most credible bid ever by a Jew for a big-party presidential nomination — and he’s done both as an observant Jew, curbing a demanding campaign schedule to accommodate Sabbath and holy day strictures. In this way, he has done more to familiarize the American public with traditional Judaism than any number of books or symposia. Running as a moderate with a foreign policy of “muscular multilateralism” and a fiscal policy predicated on middle-class tax relief, the normally mild-mannered Lieberman has showed himself to be a surprisingly feisty defender of the centrist Democratic politics charted by President Bill Clinton. In particular, he has emerged as the leading Democratic defender of free trade and war against Saddam Hussein. Three months before the first Democratic primary, Lieberman, who led in early polls because of name recognition, does not appear to have captured the support of the liberal primary electorate. Whether his bid succeeds or fails, however, Lieberman has blazed a political trail that will have opened doors not only for Jews, but for other minorities.


The 40-year-old Virginia congressman, the only Jewish Republican currently serving in the House of Representatives, has risen about as far and as fast as any legislator in his position could hope. Last year, in the second year of his first term, he was tapped for the No. 3 post in the House Republican leadership, chief deputy majority whip, in what some said was a bid to draw younger Jews into the GOP. This year he was also appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. With a coveted seat on the Ways and Means Committee, Cantor has proved to be a loyal Republican foot soldier on tax bills, appropriations and post-September 11 legislation. As chairman of the Congressional Task force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, Cantor has pushed the positions of the security-minded right and has made boosting Israel one of his primary concerns. He signed a letter urging President Bush to support the Israeli Cabinet’s decision to remove Yasser Arafat. In August, he led a delegation of House GOP freshmen and sophomores on their first trip to the Jewish state. A onetime Richmond real estate lawyer and former state legislator, the dark-haired, bespectacled Cantor now has Commonwealth pols buzzing about him as a potential successor to the state’s venerable Republican Senator John Warner.


There’s a general feeling among liberals that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, and that there are precious few Democrats in Congress or elsewhere standing up to the onslaught of the Republicans, who now control all the major branches of government. Those despairing liberals, however, should pay more attention to the career of Rep. Barney Frank, 63, unadulterated Massachusetts liberal who has served his district since 1981, who never fails to insert himself at the center of the issues of the day. This year, Frank has distinguished himself as one of the foremost congressional critics of the war in Iraq — most recently, in mustering opposition to President Bush’s $87 billion supplemental Iraq aid request — and of Bush’s deficit-inducing tax cuts. Frank has also fought to protect immigrants’ rights from the excesses of the war on terrorism, and in the wake of the Supreme Court’s historic decision in the Texas sodomy case, he’s sought to expand the protections afforded gays and lesbians, an issue close to his experience as the most visible and longest-standing openly gay legislator on the national scene. He may not always succeed in pushing his agenda, but for Jewish liberals the heimische, rumpled Frank has become the very symbol of a lawmaker who always fights the good fight.


Senator Dianne Feinstein — the most popular Democratic officeholder in the nation’s most populous state — had California politicos waiting anxiously this past summer to see if she would jump into the gubernatorial recall race. Some elected Democrats reportedly tried to draft Feinstein, considering her their best shot at holding onto the governor’s mansion. After Feinstein, 70, declined to enter the fray, she was chosen to appear in television advertisements as the public face of the anti-recall effort — instead of the man whose job was actually on the line, incumbent Governor Gray Davis. While even she could not rescue the widely loathed Davis, Feinstein, a centrist and leader of gun-control efforts in the Senate, remains a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, following the election, governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger quickly moved to demonstrate that he bore no grudge against Feinstein for backing Davis. He promised to support her fight for an extension of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, legislation she authored that is set to expire next year.


A year of passionately conservative politics in Washington — with Republicans adding the Senate to their hold of the White House and the House of Representatives — has thrust Rabbi David Saperstein into the forefront of Jewish liberal lobbying. With 30 years of experience directing the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the public policy arm of America’s largest Jewish movement, Saperstein, 56, is regarded by his fellow Washington Jewish organizational representatives as their top leader on domestic affairs. “In a way he’s taking the place of Hyman Bookbinder,” the legendary former Washington rep of the American Jewish Committee, said Reva Price of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “He’s both an authority on the issues and a moral authority,” she said. The Washington Post once described Saperstein as the “quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill.” During the last year, the RAC played a key role in efforts to preserve the wall separating church and state, with Saperstein, an attorney, publishing an important article in the Harvard Law Review on the cracks created in that wall by government funding of faith-based organizations. The RAC also broke a decade-long tradition of avoiding judicial nomination debates, opposing several of President Bush’s conservative nominees for the bench. Saperstein said he thrives on representing “such a large movement that is so dedicated to social justice at the center of its Jewish identity.”


An old and close friend of President Bush, Texas businessman Fred Zeidman, 56, plays a dual role in Washington. As chairman the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, he raises millions for the Holocaust museum, the most important Jewish landmark in the nation’s capital. As one of Bush’s top campaign fundraisers, he raises hundreds of thousands for the Bush-Cheney reelection effort. It’s quite a balancing act. On the museum front, Zeidman is trying to keep the institution loyal to its primary goal of documenting and memorializing the Holocaust and away from contemporary political minefields such as allegations of genocide in current international disputes. He’s also charged with steering the museum clear of the kind of enervating Jewish communal politics that have plagued it in the past. On the political front, Zeidman is trying to expand Bush’s base of support among top-rank contributors in the Jewish community without treading on turf staked out by others, particularly pro-Israel activists. But if anyone can juggle these tasks, it’s Zeidman, a courtly Southern gentleman with a shock of silver-peppered hair and a soft Texas twang. If charm fails, he can count on connections. Besides having the ear of the White House and the GOP leadership, he holds senior positions in the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Republican Jewish Coalition and Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.


During a year in which the headlines were dominated by war, Rabbi Carlos Huerta took Judaism to the front lines. This past spring Huerta, 52, was one of 28 active-duty Jewish chaplains in the military, and the first one into Iraq, traveling with the elite 101st Airborne Division. As the head rabbinical chaplain at West Point Military Academy before the war, Huerta could have stayed home in cushy New York, but he volunteered himself for the front to make sure his GIs had spiritual guidance nearby. After a 22-year stint as a field artillery officer, he had a better idea than most what the soldiers were going through, and he let nothing stop him in ministering to them. For Passover he arranged a Seder in a sand-swept tent on the desert outskirts of Baghdad; it required some improvisa-

tion, with army-issued Louisiana hot sauce standing in for the bitter herbs. On top of his work ministering to the men and women, when his troops were later stationed in Mosul — the ancient city of Nineveh — he also took on the title of Minister of Education for one sector of the city. At the opening of one school for Iraqi children he read the dedication in Arabic, as part of his larger effort, his wife said, “to make it clear that he is not an occupier, but there to serve them, and help the community.” In addition to the Bronze Star he earned for service in combat, he was recently honored with the chaplain of the year award by the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America.


As one of Washington’s most high-powered lobbyists, Jack Abramoff personifies the strengthening bond between politically conservative Jews and Evangelical Christians in the United States. After graduating from Brandeis University, he became the chairman of the College Republican National Committee in the early 1980s, where he gave Ralph Reed his first job and later helped him establish the Christian Coalition. But it was his friendships with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and other key congressional Republicans that helped make him one of Washington’s best compensated lobbyists. Very few on K Street charge $750 for an hour of their personal time. Three years ago, before he joined Greenberg Traurig, LLP, the firm was ranked 56th on National Journal’s list of lobbying firms. Now it is ranked fourth, and is expected to move even higher when the 2004 list is published. An observant Orthodox Jew, Abramoff, 44, conducts most of his business from his new twin-restaurants in downtown Washington D.C., a combination of an authentic New-York style kosher deli — the first ever in the nation’s capital — and an upscale fine dining kosher restaurant. The two eateries have quickly become a favorite gathering spot for the Washington kosher crowd. Last week, interviewed by phone from the golf course, where he was schmoozing with a group of members of Congress, Abramoff said that what his greatest recent achievement was the establishment of the Eshkol Academy, the new yeshiva high school in the Maryland suburbs two years ago. A large part of the seed money, he said, came from his own pocket.

Felice Gaer is the American Jewish community’s in-house international human rights expert. The director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights at the American Jewish Committee, she spends much of her time and connections defending Israel in international forums. But she has also delved into other human rights issues long before they bubble to the surface. This year, after being re-appointed in May to the governmental U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, she started alarm bells ringing about the drafting of the constitution in Afghanistan. The issue has since made its way to Capitol Hill and is now part of the debate about the future of the Iraqi constitution and the more general question of how to combine Islam and democracy. Gaer has also been a key player in promoting the international debate on torture, and was the first American ever named to the 10-member United Nations Committee on Torture. She’s been a member of nine American delegations to U.N. human rights negotiations between 1993 and 1999, including the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, the World Conference on Women and the World Conference on Human Rights — in addition to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, where she has been a staunch advocate for Israel and Jewish rights.


His associates say New York attorney Judah Gribetz is the man who put the “special” in “court-appointed special master.” When Brooklyn federal Judge Edward Korman tapped him in 1999 to oversee the allocation plan for the $1.25 billion Swiss banks settlement, everyone knew it would be complicated. But no one could have predicted the acrimony that would pit communal leaders against survivors, and even survivor against survivor. Through it all Gribetz, 74, fought the political pressures in order to keep the ball rolling. Amid the swirl of competing claims from death camp survivors, former slave laborers and others, he has kept the process focused on the two issues that the judge considered central to the allocation plan: the legally enforceable claims of Swiss bank account holders and the needs of the most destitute survivors. His Solomonic rulings have incurred criticism from some American survivors who say they’ve been shortchanged, but Gribetz appears to have won the trust of most of the survivor community as well as the gaggle of communal organizations trying to weigh in, from the World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to the Conference on Jewish Claims Against Germany. A former deputy mayor of the Big Apple and past president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Gribetz has kept a surprisingly low profile. He is part of a smallish group of New York community leaders working mostly out of the limelight and taking the middle road to get the job done.


Rachel Zelon has never been one to let a Jew in need go waiting, but this summer she took it to an extreme. In June and July the 44-year-old vice president of operations at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society journeyed to Iraq twice, just weeks after the war ended, to ensure that the surviving members of the world’s oldest Jewish Diaspora community were taken care of. Armed with only a hazy list drawn up through the conversations with Iraqi émigrés, Zelon tracked down each of the remaining 34 Jews in Iraq and offered them a plane ride to Israel. She helped ferry six out of the country, and for those who chose to stay, she set up a program through the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to make sure each had food, clothes and medical care. Zelon is no stranger to remote, deprived corners of the globe, where she has searched for Jews in need. Nothing, though, compared to slowly recovering Iraq, where many of the Jews she discovered were afraid to open their doors for fear of the virulent antisemitism overtaking the country. Zelon never let the fear stop her, and bullets became background noise as she fulfilled the HIAS mission of “rescue, reunion and resettlement.”


Celebrated playwright Eve Ensler has become the center of a worldwide movement. Using the script of her Obie Award-winning play “The Vagina Monologues” as a consciousness-raising tool, Ensler, 50, has been working around the globe to end violence against women and girls — including rape, battery, incest, female genital mutilation and sexual slavery. Under the sponsorship of V-Day, the charity she created in 1998, the play is now performed around the world in more than 25 languages. This year alone there were 1,000-plus V-Day benefits around the world, including Jerusalem and Ramallah, raising more than $4 million for causes ranging from battered women’s shelters to the family violence center of the New York Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services. Ensler’s contribution to “Women’s Seder Source Book: Rituals and Readings for Use at the Passover Seder” (Jewish Lights, 2003) gave voice to rape survivors in Bosnia. Two new plays by Ensler, “The Good Body” and “I Am an Emotional Being,” are set to debut in the coming months. Next month PBS will debut a film about the writing group she leads at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility for Women called “What I Want My Words To Do to You,” which won the 2003 Sundance Film Festival’s “Freedom of Expression” award. “My thinking, my social activism, my humor, are all rooted in my Judaism and my Jewishness,” Ensler told the Forward earlier this year.


It’s not every graduate student who chooses to spend her spare time battling foreign potentates. But that’s precisely how Rachel Fish spent her final semester at the Harvard Divinity School. What’s more, she won. Fish led a campaign calling on the divinity school to return a $2.5 million donation from the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, because an Arab League think tank that bore his name provided a platform for Holocaust deniers and purveyors of anti-American and antisemitic conspiracy theories. Jewish groups had complained about the center, but it was Fish’s campaign on the campus of America’s most prestigious university that focused international media attention on the center’s record. While the Arab American Institute’s president, James Zogby, labeled Fish’s campaign an anti-Arab “witch hunt,” insisting that the sheik had nothing to do with the center, in August the sheik shut down the center, with his office explaining in a statement that it “had engaged in a discourse that starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance.” Harvard meanwhile has said it will put the sheik’s donation on hold for a year while it examines the issue. The 24-year-old Fish is now continuing her activism, heading up the New York office of the David Project, a year-old pro-Israel activist group led by American Anti-Slavery Group founder Charles Jacobs.



This year marked a reunion of sorts for superlawyer Alan Dershowitz, 65, and feminist author Phyllis Chesler, 62. An item at summer camp several decades ago, the two scholar-activists recently crossed paths on the book circuit, where each is pushing a new work attempting to take on the resurgence of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel forces. With “The Case for Israel” (John Wiley & Sons), Dershowitz reinforced his status as America’s most public Jewish defender. On the other hand, Chesler, a veteran feminist thinker, raised more than a few eyebrows with her book “The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It” (Jossey-Bass), a searing indictment of anti-Jewish attitudes on the political left. Together, they helped cement the sense among their fellow Jews that something has gone terribly wrong.


The literary editor of The New Republic stands out as a reasoned voice of moral outrage in an increasingly unreasoned age, in a world seemingly divided between pundits who see Nazi ghosts under every bed and others who have lost the moral rectitude to identify and condemn antisemitism. In his memorable article titled “Hitler is Dead,” Leon Wieselthier spoke out last year against Jewish “ethnic panic”; this year he turned in the other direction, with a resounding response to the political left’s increasingly outspoken anti-Zionism, in particular Tony Judt’s call for the end of Israel as a Jewish state. When he isn’t walking the tightrope between paranoia and moral atrophy, Wieseltier, 51, continues to put out one of the most influential arts and letters sections in American journalism.


The official retraction this fall of the most famous statistic in modern Jewish life, the 52% intermarriage rate, represented a hard-won victory for a handful of social scientists who had questioned the figure since it was first published in the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey. The critics had said the figure was inflated, that it painted a falsely gloomy picture of American Jewish life, and they looked to the follow-up survey in 2000 to prove them right. But when the new results came out in September 2003, three years behind schedule, the two sociologists with most reason to crow, Steven M. Cohen and Gary Tobin, were barely smiling. Cohen, 53, a professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, had been brought onto the survey team as a senior consultant in 2000 to help salvage what threatened to become a new debacle. Thanks in large part to his intervention, the new survey corrected the worst mistake of the last one. Cohen viewed the result as worth the effort, offering a rich trove of demographic data for researchers to pore over. But Tobin, 54, a longtime ally who heads an independent San Francisco think tank, fumed that the new survey had spawned a whole new doomsday myth by undercounting the Jewish population. An outside review commissioned by the survey’s sponsor, United Jewish Communities, offered some backing to both views.


When President Bush appointed Daniel Pipes to the board of the United States Institute of Peace last spring, Muslim organizations called it bigotry and some Democratic lawmakers cried foul. But conservatives, along with some very mainstream Jewish organizations, rallied behind the 53-year-old Middle East scholar. Pipes, founder and president of the Middle East Forum, a small Philadelphia think-tank, had been warning for a decade against the dangers Islamic extremists pose to American interests here and abroad. Supporters say the September 11 terrorist attacks proved him right. Bush’s appointment made the vindication official. Just as his father, Harvard University sovietologist Richard Pipes, once supplied intellectual ammunition for cold warriors in an earlier Washington, Daniel Pipes is now an important source of ideological backup for those urging all-out war against Islamic fundamentalism. Besides working the policy halls controlled by friendly neoconservatives, Pipes reaches a popular audience with columns in the Jerusalem Post and New York Post. “Campus Watch,” a program he launched to monitor alleged anti-Israel and anti-American biases among Middle East studies professors, has critics crying McCarthyism and many pro-Israel activists saying, “It’s about time.”


A certified stage fight choreographer, new-media guru Rushkoff helped set the scene this year for the biggest battle over Jewish identity since the Chasidim-Mitnagdim feuds of the early 19th century. A much-published author and NPR commentator, Rushkoff, 42, first turned his attention to Judaism only a year ago; this past April took his views public in “Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism” (Crown), an explosive attack on the “checkbook Judaism” allegedly propagated by the “suicide Jews” who run communal institutions. The latter-day Baruch Spinoza has challenged the communal line on everything from continuity to levels of observance to support for Israel, advocating instead his brand of “open-source Judaism” — as in open-source software, available and readily accessible to all. Rushkoff argues for opening Judaism up instead of circling the wagons, arguing that what unites us is the idea of tikkun olam, of making the world a better place, rather than ethnic or national affiliation. Rushkoff’s free-wheeling broadsides have ruffled more than a few institutional feathers. But his interactive approach to Judaism’s sacred truths has found a receptive audience among the Internet generation.


Frank Rich will surely remember 2003 as the year he made Mad Max very, very angry. In August The New York Times culture columnist penned a scathing attack on Mel Gibson, accusing the director of “The Passion,” a forthcoming film on Jesus’ last hours, of trying to “foment the old-as-Hollywood canard that the ‘entertainment elite’ (which just happens to be Jewish) is gunning for his Christian movie.” Rich’s was hardly the first attack on Gibson’s “The Passion,” but it was the one that elicited the most vituperative response. “I want to kill him,” Gibson told The New Yorker. “I want his intestines on a stick…. I want to kill his dog.” Rich, a former Times Op-Ed columnist and before that the Gray Lady’s chief drama critic, wields an acid pen. A veteran of the culture wars, Rich, 54, has long been an outspoken defender of gay rights and critic of religious conservatives such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. But when he turns his attention to Jewish issues, Rich shows that conservative pundits — who mostly have been either silent on the “Passion” controversy or backed Gibson — don’t have a monopoly on getting passionate about the threat of antisemitism.



Perhaps the most thankless job in Jewish communal life was dealt an especially low hand this year. But Stephen Hoffman, 52, the president and CEO of United Jewish Communities, the roof body of the nation’s $2 billion network of Jewish philanthropic federations, has managed to make the best of it. When faced with a mess of a national population survey, inherited from UJC’s predecessor, Hoffman acted decisively, withdrawing the survey from circulation and submitting it to a series of internal reviews, then publishing both the survey results and the scathing reviews. Faced with a growing restiveness among local federations that balk at paying dues and overseas allocations, Hoffman has perfected a formula of give and take. With his right hand he has mollified critics, slashing UJC’s budget by 10% to $38.5 million; with his left he has threatened expulsion of federations that skimp on their dues to UJC. The former head of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, Hoffman has maintained his popularity where it matters most, among the fickle group of leaders of large-city federations that make up the system’s power base. After two years at the helm Hoffman openly admits he’s tired of the squabbling and plans to go back to Cleveland in June. He won’t have solved the UJC’s problems, but he has cleared some brush and helped point the way, and that’s a lot.


Among his fellow big-city Jewish federation executives, John Ruskay, 57, is a favorite choice to be the next head of the federations’ roof body, United Jewish Communities. Too bad he’s not looking. The word is that he’s so well-ensconced at his current post, heading UJA-Federation of Greater New York, that he won’t hear of it. After four years as executive vice president of the world’s largest local Jewish charity, the onetime 1960s-style activist is just warming up. While the past year has seen New York’s lights go out and the nation’s economy in a slump, UJA-Federation’s multi-front fund drive soared to a total of $200 million, a record for Jewish federations across the nation. Although most of the growth was a result of the Israel emergency campaign and a spike in planned giving, the federation managed to attract 1,000 new donors and increase its regular annual campaign by $1.4 million to $131.1 million. The question remains whether it will be enough to offset the shrinking of government dollars and a near-doubling — at least according to a new federation survey — of New York’s Jewish poor during the last 10 years. The federation’s lobbying efforts helped stave off at least one massive budget cut this year, a state grant of $1.2 million for the federation’s celebrated Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.


A printmaker from Detroit may become the next head of a $2 billion charity system, United Jewish Communities. That’s the rumor on the street about Robert Aronson, 52-year-old chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, who fell into the federation business in 1975 while looking for a job to supplement his artist’s income. Thirty years later he is seen as the odds-on insider candidate to succeed Stephen Hoffman as the president of the roof body of Jewish philanthropic federations. And he has earned it. Aronson turned the Detroit community into the second largest per-capita campaign giver to federation, with an unusually generous proportion designated to overseas needs, a favorite Aronson cause. The highest paid federation executive, Aronson also finds time to moonlight as a private adviser to mega-donors William Davidson of Detroit and Michael Steinhardt of New York. He is Steinhardt’s consultant on the brand-new Professional Development Project, which hopes to raise $25 million to attract young people to Jewish communal service through fellowships and scholarships. Aronson has had his share of challenges. After years of dipping into its unrestricted reserves, the Detroit federation found itself short $6.2 million last year and had to fire scores of people. If he is picked to head UJC Aronson will have his work cut out for him. UJC continues to struggle to find its vision, pay its bills and get federations to cough up their share of overseas funding.


When Bernice Manocherian succeeds Amy Friedkin next spring as president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, it will be a landmark moment for Jewish women: Manocherian will be the first woman to succeed another woman at the helm of a major Jewish organization. It will be business pretty much as usual, however, at the vaunted pro-Israel lobbying group, generally considered the toughest and most influential foreign-policy lobby in Washington. Both women are members of the Joint Action Committee, a Jewish women’s political action committee that calls itself the only pro-Israel PAC that also has a “domestic agenda,” focused mainly on abortion rights and church-state separation. But both women have shown that they can separate their domestic agenda from their Middle East politics, and that they can mix it up with the tough guys. Friedkin, 56, a San Franciscan, has guided the lobby through one of Israel’s most grueling periods since taking over in 2002, without missing a beat. Membership is up 55% during the last three years, from 55,000 to 85,000, and donations have almost doubled. Meanwhile pro-Israel legislation has sailed through Capitol Hill with greater ease than ever, helping the organization to maintain pressure when the administration seems to stray toward too much even-handedness — as some thought when the president’s road map to peace was issued — without ever dissing the president himself directly. Things won’t slow down under Manocherian, 61, a hard-driving New York business executive who’s been a top activist in Aipac and other Jewish political causes for years.


Now completing his 10th year as president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, 56, continues to be the mainstream Jewish community’s most vociferous opponent of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Klein, who once served as statistician for Nobel laureate Linus Pauling, is a lonely but persistent critic of what he sees as attempts by the Bush administration to pressure Israel. His efforts to build ties to the Christian right paid off this year with a series of joint ads and rallies opposing Palestinian statehood and protesting the president’s road map to peace. Opponents call him a gadfly with no real backing, but the scheduled keynoter at his group’s annual dinner this weekend is none other than House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.


A dozen years after taking over as executive director of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris has transformed the struggling civil-rights agency into something very much like what it had been in its glory days: a white-shoe institution that speaks for America’s Jewish political and social elite. Revenues have skyrocketed, topping $37 million last year. After a drastic initial pruning, programs have mushroomed, ranging from traditional beats like interfaith dialogue and opinion research to new interests in counter-terrorism and the Geneva-based U.N. Watch. A political conservative at the helm of a member-driven and famously liberal organization, the soft-spoken Harris kept his views close the chest for nearly a decade, but the Bush era and the war against terrorism have put him at the center of the map. Lately he’s been looking less like a manager and more like a leader. His agency, following his lead, has begun tacking toward the center on issues ranging from energy to immigration and, of course, terrorism.


As the year began Malcolm Hoenlein was at the top of his game. With terrorism dominating the national agenda, Jerusalem and Washington more firmly allied than ever and Americans rallying for a war in Iraq, the world seemed to have come around to the sort of hawkish policies Hoenlein has been pushing for 17 years from his perch as

chief executive of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Working mainly out of the limelight, on the phone and via daily e-mail bulletins, he kept his agency and the four dozen groups it represents close to the center of the action. His profile was uncharacteristically low this year, partly because of pressure from American and Israeli officials anxious to avoid accusations of a Jewish “cabal.” And the war’s messy aftermath put hawks everywhere on the defensive. Further lowering his profile was the installation in June of his new lay chairman, James Tisch, president of United Jewish Communities and scion of one of America’s wealthiest families, whose hands-on management style and lack of public charisma contrasted sharply with the two previous chairmen, media baron Mortimer Zuckerman and cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder. Still, Hoenlein scored a few major victories this year. One was the release in February of the last five Jewish prisoners from a group of 13 held in Iran on spying charges, after a four-year campaign led by Hoenlein to free them. His effort to mobilize American Jewish groups to send tour groups to Israel bore fruit, giving a boost to the economy there, Israeli officials said. And he beat back an effort by Reform leader Eric Yoffie to restructure the conference and saddle him with a permanent steering committee.


When gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger found himself under fire for past remarks praising Adolf Hitler’s oratorical skills, Rabbi Marvin Hier came to the rescue. Hier, 64, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, helped defuse the issue, insisting that the action star — a generous donor to the center — is a friend of Israel and is no antisemite. Like Schwarzenegger, Hier bridges the worlds of politics and Hollywood. Unlike Schwarzenegger, Hier has won Oscars — two of them, for Holocaust-related documentaries he and the center produced. Born and educated on New York’s Lower East Side, Hier was working as a pulpit rabbi in Vancouver when a wealthy congregant, Sam Belzberg, offered to set him up in Los Angeles. In 1977 Hier moved south and started an Orthodox high school, known as Yeshiva University of Los Angeles, with a Holocaust education center named for Simon Wiesenthal. A quarter-century later, he and his center have become international forces. The center’s $40 million Museum of Tolerance is the city’s central Jewish address for elected officials, foreign dignitaries and Hollywood luminaries. Hier has ruffled some feathers along the way: He has irked many in Los Angeles’s Jewish establishment and earlier this year was criticized in the local press for taking a compensation package in excess of $400,000 even as his center has benefited from millions in state largess. Now, Hier is working to create a new $150 million Museum of Tolerance in Jerusalem, designed by star architect Frank Gehry — despite the objections of Israel’s national Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem.


After suffering a landslide defeat in her New York mayoral bid against incumbent Rudolph Giuliani in 1997, many expected veteran city pol Ruth Messinger, then 57, to quit public life or cash in on her political contacts. Instead the former Manhattan borough president, a local liberal icon, became executive director of the American Jewish World Service, a smallish agency making grants to Third World anti-hunger projects and deploying Jewish volunteers in Peace Corps-style programs to fight poverty and disease. Under her leadership the organization has tripled its revenues and expanded its work into small business development and women’s empowerment. This year it launched an important African AIDS initiative in partnership with the South African Jewish Board of Deputies. At home Messinger has led the way in forming alliances like the Jewish Coalition for Service, which brings together groups with overseas volunteering programs, and the Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief, which coordinates communal responses to tragedy abroad. In an age when “Jewish identity” is equated with religious observance, Messinger has become a guru and matriarch to those who still believe in the old-time religion of healing the world.


Rising from humble beginnings as a student activist, Yossi Abramowitz, 39, has become a Jewish grant-generating juggernaut. This year, as the president of the Union of Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union, he helped the organization land a $1.3 million grant from the European Union for projects battling antisemitism in the region. The work the group has already done garnered it a co-nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. But this was only a side project next to his work as the CEO of the non-profit multimedia firm Jewish Family & Life! — a company that has been living up to its excited title since he founded it in 1996. During a time in which most tech-related companies have been cutting back, Abramowitz’s firm added to its already extensive roster of Web and print publications with the launch of With support from Edgar Bronfman and Lynn Schusterman, the Web site aims to provide an accessible Web portal to the practice and culture of Judaism. Also in the pipeline are plans to turn Jewish Family & Life!’s teen Web site,, into a print magazine. Abramowitz has had no trouble lining up the biggest donors behind his ambitious projects. The question that lingers is whether these projects will live up to his predictions of changing the way Judaism is lived in America.



Mem Bernstein has been simultaneously one of the most influential leaders in the Jewish philanthropic world this year and one of the least visible. Though utterly shunning the spotlight, Bernstein’s fingerprints have been indelible on the work done by the two foundations started with the money of her late husband, Zalman. Both foundations labor to bring unity to the Jewish community across denominational lines through ideas and education. The older of the two, the Avi Chai Foundation, has been making waves for a while, but this year it was the work of the newer fund, Keren Keshet-The Rainbow Foundation, that made the biggest splash. Keren Keshet, said to be a reflection of Mem Bernstein’s personal vision, was instrumental in launching Nextbook, the smartest and most high profile newcomer to the Jewish cultural scene in some time. With a Web site full of Jewish booklists and cultural comment, plus a host of ambitious new publishing and educational projects, Nextbook has become a gathering place for some of the brightest young Jewish minds. Keren Keshet has also given the impetus to a bold new Jewish high school in San Francisco, investing $20 million to renovate a run-down college campus to create a non-denominational Jewish day school. Tuition will be free for the school’s first three classes, courtesy of Keren Keshet. Like the most dynamic of the “venture philanthropists,” Keren Keshet and its thoughtful trustee Bernstein don’t wait for the projects to come to them. They find projects they like and make them happen.


Lynn Schusterman, 64, has emerged as perhaps the single most visible funder of efforts to engage Jewish young adults with their heritage. The Tulsa, Okla., philanthropist heads a $100 million foundation and is a key player in the small circle of mega-donors who together increasingly determine the shape of Jewish communal life. Her foundation has partnered with fellow mega-donors such as Edgar Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt on a series of ambitious Jewish continuity initiatives, including the Birthright Israel program, the Synagogues: Transformation and Renewal project and the interactive Web site, which launched a year ago. Her foundation is the largest single funder of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, and in the 1990s it spearheaded Hillel’s expansion into the former Soviet Union. Nor has the foundation’s longstanding leadership of communal engagement efforts diminished with the 2000 death of Schusterman’s husband and philanthropic partner, oil and gas magnate Charles. Since then, Lynn Schusterman, a very hands-on donor, has shepherded the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization to independence from its struggling parent group; helped organizations such as Hillel, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi ramp up their campus Israel activism efforts, and launched the Israel on Campus Coalition as a coordinating body for ideologically diverse national Jewish groups.


Wall Street legend Michael Steinhardt has long been trying to provide a new home within Judaism for young tribesmen and women who have strayed from the flock. This year he made that commitment physical when he opened the 35,000 square foot Steinhardt Center at the University of Pennsylvania, which will house the student Hillel organization on three floors. The $2.5 million he gave for the project was only the tip of the iceberg that is Steinhardt’s philanthropic behemoth. He spent much of this year doubling his support and involvement in already established projects that have been threatened during difficult financial times. When Steinhardt’s brainchild Birthright Israel had its funding cut by the Israeli government, the 62-year old “mega-philanthropist,” as he is frequently called, went into action to protect and revitalize the program. In this project, and all others, he has not just given money, he has provided a vision that has regularly brought together the Jewish community’s most important leaders behind his ideas.


Former financier Michael Milken seems to have rebounded nicely from the dark days of the 1980s, when he was pilloried as the junk bond king and symbol of Wall Street excess and imprisoned for trading insider stock information. In the years since his release, transformed by his struggle with prostate cancer, he has emerged as a major philanthropist and benefactor of arts and culture. His family foundation, run by his brother Lowell, has bankrolled Los Angeles’s premier Jewish day school, the Milken Community Day School, and a host of other initiatives in California, including the Milken Jewish Educator Awards for outstanding teachers in Los Angeles Jewish day schools. They’ve done pioneering work in Holocaust education, and their non-denominational Teacher Advancement Program and Mike’s Math Club have helped enrich schools nationwide. Now the Milkens are pairing with the Jewish Theological Seminary to advance a cause that the Milkens have pursued almost alone: preserving the traditions of American Jewish sacred music. JTS and the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music have teamed up to stage a blockbuster five-day concert festival celebrating the 350th anniversary of American Jewry. The festival will be followed up with CD releases including colonial-era cantorial music and Chanukah songs. It all goes to show that, whatever his former disgrace, Milken, 57, has rehabilitated himself enough to take his place on the national scene.



When Jon Stewart took over in 1999 as host of Comedy Central’s satirical news program “The Daily Show,” he promised that the show wouldn’t change — “except I’ll be reading the news with a Yiddish accent.” But the show has changed. More successful than ever, it draws more young adult viewers during its 11 p.m. time slot than CNN, MSNBC or Fox News. This fall it won an Emmy for Best Variety, Music or Comedy Show. The man behind it all, born Jonathan Stewart Leibowitz, uses his self-deprecating humor to explore what he once dubbed “the Jewish Holy Trinity: politics, sex and religion.” Stewart, 40, has worn his identity on his sleeve for years, whether emceeing an awards ceremony for the National Foundation for Jewish Culture or outlining “The New Judaism” in his book, “Naked Pictures of Famous People.” Now at the top of his game, the self-anointed “king of fake news” continues to flavor his show with his distinctly Jewish sensibility. (When Joe Lieberman tripped over a few Spanish words during a presidential debate, Stewart quipped that the senator would crush his opponents when it came time to speak Yiddish.) But for all the jokes, his show is no joke; featuring guests like Hillary Clinton and Bob Dole, it is serious about politics — just not too serious. It’s already booked several Democratic presidential contenders for its irreverent “Race From the White House” coverage, and as Campaign 2004 kicks into high gear, hundreds of thousands of potential voters will be tuning in to see how candidates handle Stewart’s pointed questions and gentle barbs. No wonder ABC News anchor Peter Jennings called Stewart “an essential character in the national political landscape.” Further proof that Stewart’s news isn’t just spoof: CNN has added a weekly version of “The Daily Show” to its international affiliate, reaching some 200 countries. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.


Louise Glück has followed in the footsteps of one of her teachers, another Jewish poet, Stanley Kunitz, as she has assumed the duties this fall of the Library of Congress’s 12th poet laureate. The native New Yorker’s sparse, sharp and emotionally compelling poetry — rippled with modern-day retellings of classical texts and Old Testament stories — has garnered her poetry’s highest accolades, including the Pulitzer Prize for “The Wild Iris” (1992) and the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction for her 1994 “Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry.” Among her volumes of poetry are “The Seven Ages” (2001), “Vita Nova” (1999), “Meadowlands” (1996), “Ararat” (1990) and “The Triumph of Achilles” (1985). A resident of Cambridge, Mass., and former Rockefeller and Guggenheim fellow, Glück — pronounced Glick — was born in New York City in 1943, and teaches at Williams College.


It’s been a banner year for Grace Adler, the lead female character on NBC’s hit sitcom “Will & Grace”: After dating a parade of losers for several years, at the end of 2002 Grace met her mate — straight, Jewish and a doctor! — and married him (in a shul, of course). It was just as exciting a year for Grace’s alter ego, actress Debra Messing: After watching all of her co-stars go home with Emmys while she came up empty-handed in previous years, in 2003 Messing finally won an Emmy of her own as Best Leading Actress in a Comedy. And did her fans kvell! Messing, 35, has a flair for screwball comedy with a heart that has won her many comparisons to another redhead who made her name on the small screen: Lucille Ball. But the reason for the kvelling is that the Jewish actress also plays the most visibly Jewish character in prime time, cracking jokes about her religious upbringing and neurotic relatives at every turn. Credit for this goes largely to Messing, who told reporters after her Emmy win that she had persuaded the show’s writers to play up her character’s background this season. “I thought it would be great if Grace were open and unapologetic about being Jewish,” she told reporters, “if her Jewishness were just a fact, the way it’s a fact that Will is gay.” You don’t have to be Psychic Sue to see what lies ahead: Grace’s marriage will most certainly fail — the show’s premise relies on her connections to her gay best friend — but Messing’s (Jewish) star will continue to shine every week on Must-See-TV.


This has been some year for Tony Kushner. The 47-year-old Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright’s prolific abilities have been on full view, and the vista appears unlikely to change for at least a season or two: “Caroline, or Change,” his play about the relationship between a black maid and the son of the Jewish family she works for in Louisiana in 1963, opened at the Public Theater in September; “Angels in America,” his by-now legendary 1993 play, is being recast by HBO for the small screen and the larger audience it offers, and he has co-edited a new book with Alisa Solomon titled “Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish American Responses to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict,” due out in November. Still, Kushner is most proud of the series of collaborations with children’s book author Maurice Sendak, all set to bloom over the next few months. In addition to writing the introductory essay for the upcoming coffee-table book “The Art of Maurice Sendak: 1980 to the Present” (Harry N. Abrams, 2003), Kushner has worked with Sendak on a book and opera, both titled “Brundibar.” Based on an opera written in 1938 and set in a thinly veiled Nazi-occupied Prague, it tells the story of two children who confront a bullying, child-hating character named Brundibar, an allegorical stand-in for Adolf Hitler. The opera was performed this spring in Chicago, and the children’s book version — art by Sendak, text by Kushner — was released this month. Although friends for many years, Kushner still can’t get over the fact that he has created a book with his childhood hero: “I am absolutely certain this is going to be one of the things in my life that I am proudest of.”


For the People of the Book, she is, in many ways, the Person of the Books. Carolyn Hessel, the executive director of the Jewish Book Council, has earned herself a reputation as the arbiter, the tastemaker, the general judge of the Jewish book. The council, which coordinates some 70 Jewish book fairs and overs

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