Our 2018 Forward 50 lists the American Jews who have had a profound impact on the American Jewish community or on the national situation this year.
It’s been an eventful year. We’ve been appalled by the regular mass shootings and the upsurge in white supremacism in America. We’ve seen a shift in understanding the ways technology affects us and how lies and demagoguery have debased civil and political discourse. But we’ve also seen some sublime art and the selfless deployment of time and money for the greater good. We have tried to recognize all these things in the list below, of America’s most influential Jews.
As always, the list reflects how the year has affected our community and how America’s Jews have engaged with the national conversation. In a new twist, however, we asked some guest writers, including the legendary Sheldon Harnick, to reflect upon some of our honorees.
In an era where forces of bigotry have continued to hammer away at immigrants and at anyone perceived as “other,” we asked Mark Hetfield, CEO of HIAS, one of the foremost immigrant rights groups in the country, to write about Forward 50 honoree David Lubell, founder of Welcoming America which has helped tens of millions of Americans.
Several honorees are here because of the dignity, humanity and respect they showed in the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting: Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who called 911; Dr. Jeffrey Cohen, who treated both shooter and victims; Brian Schreiber, leader of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, and Stosh Cotler, whose Bend the Arc organization led the protests against the president’s visit.
Those protests arose because the commander in chief decided to visit Pittsburgh against the wishes of some of the mourners. In general, despite his Jewish daughter, Jewish grandchildren and numerous Jewish officials who serve the public at his invitation, he has spent much of his tenure using his bully pulpit to encourage the language of racial and ethnic division. Jane Eisner writes about 7 of our 50 choices in this strange constellation we call “Trump’s Jews.”
Our 51st choice is someone who, for whatever reason, doesn’t quite fit our criteria of being alive, American and Jewish. This year we took Rachel Meghan Markle to our hearts for being an American activist royal bride who wasn’t quite, in fact, in the end, Jewish.
One of the silver linings of the past year has been the rise of the #MeToo movement, which has held men accountable for their inappropriate, perverse and, often, illegal abuses of power. Here, Lynn Povich, the first woman senior editor in Newsweek’s history, writes about Jodi Kantor who reported on Harvey Weinstein. Danielle Berrin, who herself called out Ari Shavit for his misbehavior, writes about the astonishing bravery of Aly Raisman, captain of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, who testified against team doctor Larry Nassar.
The Forward has covered André Aciman’s career for decades, but the success of the movie version of “Call Me by Your Name” thrust him into the spotlight. Given the intimacy of the work’s vision and scope, who better than Aciman’s son, Alexander Aciman, to probe his thoughts, achievements and motivations?
It’s not quite a father-son relationship, but, prompted by the triumphant staging of the Yiddish “Fiddler on the Roof,” Sheldon Harnick has written about Joel Grey. At 94, Harnick is the oldest of this year’s contributors. He is not, however, the oldest person related to our Forward 50. That honor goes to Arthur Ashkin, 96, the oldest Nobel laureate ever. Ashkin’s recognition for his physics work with optical tweezers is a reminder that no matter how long we wait, there’s a chance that we will receive the appropriate honor for our achievements.
— Dan Friedman, executive editor