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Forward 50 2015

This is a year when American Jews are deeply, loudly and passionately embedded in some of the most pressing political and social issues in the nation.

Not that we were shy in other years. But a confluence of events allowed — or perhaps dictated — an outsized role for many of the Jews profiled in this year’s Forward 50. From the debate over a nuclear deal with Iran, to the emergence of transgender identity in synagogues and on screen, to the groundbreaking acceptance of marriage equality, American Jews are playing a starring role.

The most obvious Jew to grab the political national spotlight this year is Bernie Sanders, the quirky, blunt talking, doggedly earnest independent senator from Vermont. It’s fair to say that his candidacy for president was considered no more than a quixotic adventure last spring — until summertime’s record-breaking crowds scrambled expectations and proved that a Jewish guy who still sounds Brooklyn can wow them in Iowa. Beyond the never-ending presidential race the boisterous debate over the Iran deal found Jews negotiating (Wendy Sherman), opposing (Chuck Schumer), supporting (Jerry Nadler) and otherwise shaping the most serious foreign policy development of the year.

Our influence goes well beyond politics. The legal framework to support same-sex marriage, which Evan Wolfson developed as a law student 30 years ago, was ratified at the highest level when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in June. Another human rights issue — ensuring that transgender Americans do not suffer discrimination — was championed in a Jewish day school by a remarkable bar mitzvah boy (Tom Sosnik), on the high-fashion runway (Hari Nef) and in the acclaimed television show “Transparent” (director Jill Soloway and actor Jeffrey Tambor.)

Along the way, American Jews this year picked up four MacArthur “genius” awards, all manner of entertainment and scientific accolades and nearly every major medal in horse racing. (Okay, the horse, American Pharoah, is our “plus one,” seeing as how he doesn’t quite fit our criteria, but his owner is Jewish!)

As in prior years, this Forward 50 is the result of a labor-intensive group effort that began months ago with a very long list and was cut down to size and whipped into shape by our amazing managing editor, Dan Friedman. Many people contributed, but I offer special thanks to art director Kurt Hoffman, researcher Maia Efrem, and our intrepid digital team for continuing to present these profiles in fresh and engaging ways.

To those who read this list in print and online — be inspired. To those in the Forward 50 — you have our gratitude. Through your hard work, creativity, ingenuity and chutzpah, you showed us how mightily and effectively American Jews contribute to our national story.

—Jane Eisner

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