Welcome back to the second year of the Forward’s annual Sexiest Jewish Intellectual Alive.
It all began last year. Sensing a gap in a marketplace — the dominant Sexiest Man Alive competition was created to showcase the beauty of Mel Gibson — we decided it was time to rank Jews by intellectual hotness.
A few words on why:
We believe what we’re doing is transgressive — it’s an expression of Jewish pride in a time when loud-and-proud Jewish pride is desperately needed.
We intend this list to be a force against the Nazi-esque idea that to be Jewish is to be ugly, a force against internalized Jewish shame about being stereotyped as weak indoor kids. We want to push back against every time a less friendly list of Jews has been compiled, and to challenge the sex-negativity that punishes all of us.
We also believe this will be a good opportunity to check out people’s butts.
Men, women, and queer people. Jews of color and Ashke-cuties. Old and young, right-wing and left, MacArthur geniuses and rabbis, get ready: We are going to objectify you all.
Welcome to the Forward’s second annual Sexiest Jewish Intellectual Alive (And One Dead) list.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t list the bad boy of diaspora Judaism: a 55-year-old Berkeley dad who wrote one of the greatest Jewish novels early on in life so he could get to the important work of becoming a silver fox who causes the kind of disruption in organized Jewry that would make a Hebrew school class clown blush. Sure, you know “Kavalier and Clay,” but did you know that Ole Blue Eyes also wrote a book called “Manhood”? Now you do. Chabon’s thing is that he talks about the Israeli occupation with the fervor of a college freshman and harps on about loving intermarriage despite being married to writer Ayelet Waldman, a woman with a name more Jewish-sounding than the title of my Bat Mitzvah portion.
We’d join any union with the insufferably hot and hotly insufferable Chabon, even if all the other members were Yiddish policemen.
14. Rachel Aviv
New Yorker writer Rachel Aviv looks like the beautiful ghost of a Vietnam protester and writes like the journalistic equivalent of Agatha Christie mixed with Jesus. Her writing combines spellbinding narrative perfection with bottomless compassion for her subjects. Her article about a disappeared woman is miraculous, and her curls look like settees for angels.
13. Ruth Behar
Havana-born Queens-raised writer Ruth Behar spent a year as a 9-year-old in a body cast — is it too soon to say she emerged like a glamorous Jewish butterfly? Behar is an award winner for her semi-autobiographical children’s novel “Lucky Broken Girl,” about a Cuban-American Jewish immigrant. She’s also written a memoir, a book of poetry, and more. She’s just so glamorous! She looks like she could dispense wisdom over tea while applying lipstick left-handed and mentally sketching a dissertation. Oh, also she’s an Ph.d. in anthropology with a professorship at the University of Michigan, and a MacArthur Fellow.
12. Ronen Bergman
Ronen Bergman wrote the incendiary history of Israel’s intelligence and security agencies, “Rise and Kill First.” Not only is the phrase a line from the Talmud, it’s also now the Schmooze’s safe word. Look, look, look at how attractive this small Israeli man is! President Donald Trump called his writing “long and boring,” New Yorker editor David Remnick called him “arguably [Israel’s] best investigative reporter,” and we call him a dang snack.
11. Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell
You can try to get to the end of Anthony Mordechai Tzvi Russell’s name without gasping in ecstasy — good luck! We don’t know where to start with this gorgeous Yiddishist opera singer whose virtuosic voice is matched by his brilliant vision. His work melds African-American tunes with Ashkenazi classics. The Sizzling Tzvi Russell’s most recent album is called “Convergence,” and speaking of, guess who this Jewish opera singer is married to? A rabbi.
10. Etgar Keret
Editor’s note: The writer’s entry for Israeli author Etgar Keret was unprintable.
9.Rabbi Ethan Tucker
If we wrote down all our feelings about the sexual charisma of Rabbi Ethan Tucker, the president of the egalitarian NYC yeshiva Machon Hadar, we would be saddled with a document the length of the Talmud and then we’d have to ask Rabbi Tucker to help us decipher it and the whole thing would begin again like a sexed-up triennial Torah cycle.
8. Dan Bricklin
A thick stache. Rimless glasses. A woebegone smile like a small-town fisherman who has seen far, far too much. Dayeinu! This would all be enough, but also Dan Bricklin is called The Father of the Spreadsheet. Indeed, this Jewish day school-attendee is a computer scientist in the street and a freak in the (spread)sheets.
Oh, not much to see here, just a young female Dutch-Jewish archeologist who specializes in the Middle East. Verveer is also the Maternal Health Ambassador for the Global Fund for Women. She writes a column in the New York Jewish Week, she’s working on a book, and she runs a hell of an Instagram. And this morning I drank my whole latte and barely spilled it! God bless this beautiful genius, who just shared a translated document from 1420 AD concerning cat urine. She is the Jewish Indiana Jones for whom we’ve been waiting.
6. Rabbi Benay Lappe
Can you even imagine what it would be like to found and lead SVARA, a traditional radical queer yeshiva, and also have perfect skin? Rabbi Benay Lappe could be a cult leader if she wasn’t such a good person. She is a prolific educator across denominations — she founded Queer Talmud Camp. She is a cobbler. She holds patents. She oversees something called the “S&M Beit Midrash” (SVARA and Mishkan, you gutter-heads.) She could explain the finer points of Brakhot 56B while piloting you over the Atlantic and giving you skincare tips. Did you catch that? She’s a licensed pilot. Why wouldn’t she be?
5. Lila Neugebauer
Say hello to Lila Neugebauer, one of the greatest theatrical visionaries of our time who just happens to have a jawline that could slice pastrami. The hottie-with-a-naughty-Shakespeare’s-complete-works-copy is a raven haired wunderkind whose dramatic direction has dominated New York theater over the past four years. Her first role: as an actress in a short musical written by her high school classmate, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Her age at her Broadway directorial debut, in a field notoriously dominated by older men: 34. Her hair: somehow always perfect. Her talent is so massive it has to be seen to be believed. Somehow, she also looks like a television star.
4. Sacha Rojtman Dratwa
What? What on earth?
If smoked-up California scarf-wearer Michael Chabon is a titan among Jews, Sacha Rojtman Dratwa is the Greek god who was born to oppose him. The head of the World Jewish Congress’ Counter-Delegitimization Unit, Rojtman Dratwa looks like he burst fully formed out of a Gucci perfume ad to fight Israel criticism. His stubble looks like a scratch-and-sniff sticker that would smell like sunshine and pheromones. He served in the IDF, and though his job seems to involve a lot of hasbara, we remain enamored by the fact that he speaks French and seems to be using soccer as a tool against anti-Semitism. Soccer! Against anti-Semitism! That’s God’s work for you.
Why isn’t there a national holiday dedicated to Rebecca Walker? Scientists still aren’t sure. She’s written six books, including the New York Times bestseller “Black, White and Jewish” about her childhood growing up between the home of her mother, writer Alice Walker, and father, civil rights lawyer Mel Leventhal. She’s an expert lecturer on race, gender, power, and parenting. She starred on an episode of the TV show “Transparent.” And her aesthetic is perfection. You’re telling me we can’t bump President’s Day for this lady?
2. Ronan Farrow
A port in a storm, the new James Bond, and a little something to tide us over until the Moshiach — these are all things journalist Ronan Farrow has been called, by this publication, just now. Let us speak not of his heroic investigative journalism particularly surrounding the #MeToo movement, which won him a Pulitzer Prize. Let us not speak of his status as a child prodigy and the many youthful achievements. Let us not speak, even, of the grace and compassion which he seems to never be without even in the darkest moments of his work. Let’s speak of the fact that he is hot. Ronan Farrow, you flaxen haired milk-maid of a man, we are lucky to have you. We know your relationship to Judaism is ambiguous. Let us end that — you are ours now, you beautiful, brilliant boy.
1. Rachel Kushner
We reserve the right to be terrified by Rachel Kushner’s beautiful mind. Besides the distinction of representing 50% of the Rachels on this list, she’s a virtuosic novelist who enjoys spending time undercover in high-security prisons, riding Italian motorcycles, and snapping up fellowships and prizes like breath mints. As a child she read Steinbeck, as an adult she wears Chanel Rouge Coco lipstick in the shade “Suzanne” while reading about “the necessary abolition of the police.”
May the god who blessed our ancestors, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, bless their namesake Rachel Kushner, the Forward’s 2018 Sexiest Jewish Intellectual Alive.
And the Forward’s Sexiest Jewish Intellectual, dead category winner is:
You’re just not ready for Hedy Lamarr, the sexiest intellectual of any religion, living or dead. Girlfriend invented technology that helped the US break German code and win World War II, which then went on to make possible the invention of cell phones, GPS, and WiFi. In her free time, the Austrian-Jewish immigrant became one of the most famous actresses the world had ever seen. She was shorthand for glamor. “The brains of people are more interesting than the looks I think,” she said, shortly before her death. Sexy. Jewish. Intellectual. Hedy Lamarr.
Jenny Singer is the deputy lifestyle editor for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny