The result of the presidential election has sucked the air out of the American Jewish conversation. A small minority of our community looks to strong leadership and a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue while the rest despair at the prospective gutting of social and political institutions and the appointment of a white nationalist, with a record of anti-Semitic comments, as intimate counsel to the president.
But even while we remain vigilant in defence of our values — whichever policies we particularly champion — this is no time to forget the vibrancy and diversity of the American Jewish conversation and the varied impacts that our community continues to have on national life. The goal of the Forward 50 has always been to highlight the 50 people who have affected it most (not always for the good) over the previous 12 months and that matters even more now that the national conversation is in danger of narrowing dramatically.
Even if you see Donald Trump’s appointment of Steve Bannon as the second coming of Joseph Goebbels, the fact that Ivanka Trump was a key player in the election campaign and that her husband Jared Kushner seems set to have a pivotal role in the administration must come as comfort. If the Twitter-haters attacking Jews can live with a First Daughter who visited the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on the eve of the election, perhaps they can live with an administration that values all faiths equally.
If you do think that Trump is a poor man’s version of Vladimir Putin. Or even if you think that he is simply Putin’s man, then you need to read Masha Gessen whose Russian-American grasp of autocrats is second to none.
If we’re in the era where reality TV is being played out across national politics, we should be thankful that there is no lawyer as tenacious and media savvy as Gloria Allred, no young lawyer so committed to women’s rights as Alexandra Brodsky, no icon of justice in America as recognizable as Judge Judy.
In fields as disparate as Zika, women’s gymnastics and shaving razor sales, Jews are (in the latter case, quite literally) at the cutting edge of national achievement. It may be unsurprising that we excel in the realms of comedy, food and profound decency — let me hear you say menshlikhkayt — but it’s worth remembering that we do.
We cannot let the results of the election diminish our pride in these accomplishments or the fear of the “alt right” shrink the bold colors of our identities into black and white essences of haters and hated. Not when our list includes a framer of the “policy platform” associated with the Movement for Black Lives, a major Republican donor, and a flamboyant designer celebrating a major new exhibition. Plus, of course, not with both Thomas Jefferson and the and Marquis de Lafayette on our side.
And just in case you think that the events and the deaths of 2016 seem like proof we are living in the middle of some strange curse, well, we have the pre-eminent curse-breaker of our times on the list too.
Dan Friedman is the director of content and communications at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Formerly the executive editor and whisky correspondent of the Forward, he is the author of an illuminating (and excellent value) book about Tears for Fears, the 80s emo rock band.