The most influential Jew is Moses. This, according to “The Jewish 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Jews of All Time.”
If we were to update this 1994 book by Michael Shapiro for 2020, would we have new entries? After thousands of years of civilization, can modern culture truly produce a few more influential Jews in a mere quarter century? Skim the list below, which I admit has got to be incomplete – the answer seems like a yes.
Shapiro writes: “Not all the Jewish 100 were great and good men (though most were), but all altered conventions or directed society into what they viewed as righteousness ….”
Shapiro’s book includes some women — like Esther, Golda Meier and Anne Frank — who were clearly neither great nor good men. Shapiro’s writing was a product of the times, when it was acceptable to refer to “great and good men” and have the reader infer this could (maybe) include women too. “Great men” was a nice expression. Today it’s really a relic, which is a loss, but that’s just fine. We must be willing to experience loss in exchange for treating one another with respect.
But I digress.
After Moses, number two on the list is Jesus. Shapiro defends his choice to a largely Jewish audience by referring to “cold logic” regarding Jesus’ influence and ethos. And Shapiro adds that if his message of peace had been followed, history would look remarkably different. Amen on that.
After you get past the first 10 or 20 — with names like Abraham, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx — we start seeing names that are not so obvious. There’s Louis B. Mayer, a creator of the American motion picture business as head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer; Casimir Funk discovered vitamins; and Levi Strauss created one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
Shapiro writes that “in the Talmudic tradition of presentation and analysis, the Jewish 100 have been ranked and examined in their order of influence in the world, not just on Jews. The rankings are open for discussion.”
Consider these for a mythical next edition of the book:
Bronfman is the co-founder of the Taglit Birthright program and one of its principal funders. With more than 600,000 young Jews having visited Israel for free 10-day trips, it’s now impossible to imagine what modern Jewish life would be without Birthright.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Aside from casting a pivotal vote on the U.S. Supreme Court, she’s a feminist icon. A straight shooter who is so uncool that she becomes cool, the notorious RBG is an inspiration for her fans.
There are so many Internet photos of Anat Hoffman surrounded by angry people at the Western Wall, I do believe they now outnumber the number of people on TV saying Wisconsin is an important state. Meanwhile, polls tell us the sensibilities of the Israeli electorate are changing. The director of both the Reform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center and Women of the Wall, Hoffman and her allies are on an unprecedented path for Israel and the Jewish world.
Bibi is not just prime minister. He is The Prime Minister, having served more years in the role than any of his predecessors. He’ll leave behind a legacy of helping Israelis feel safer, and overseeing Israel’s robust economic growth while allowing settlement expansion that is sure to affect the map of any future peace deal.
If there’s a Jewish voice of the #MeToo movement, it’s Raisman. This Olympic winner’s fiery refusal to accept abuse in our society is empowering for everyone everywhere.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known to his followers as “The Rebbe,” inspired a global movement that has Chabad-Lubavitch outposts all over the world. That the Rebbe has had a significant impact on Judaism is indisputable.
Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show” brought left-leaning satire into the television mainstream. It ran from 1999 to 2015, launching its correspondent Stephen Colbert, among others, into the same genre. Stewart also helped win benefits from Congress for Sept. 11 emergency responders.
Ivanka and Jared Trump
The fact that you are now either smiling or sloshing your coffee to the floor is a testament to their place in our society. They influence a president who is redefining the presidency and reshaping America’s place in the world.
For better or for worse, Facebook has changed the way we relate to one another and the kinds of information we consume. Today’s children will never know a world without social media, making the father of Facebook the ultimate modern influencer.
Rob Golub is editor of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle.