Lapid tops Post's 50 most influential Jews list

The head of Yesh Atid has the power to reset the national agenda, making him the most influential Jew in the world.

Yair Lapid 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yair Lapid 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Our choice for the most influential Jew in the world sky-rocketed from near anonymity outside of Israel to being hailed by international media outlets as “Israel’s kingmaker,” after he came close to garnering more seats in the Knesset than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (#3) in the January election.
The world wondered if Yair Lapid, the 49-year-old head and founder of Yesh Atid, had dethroned “King Bibi,” a nickname Time bestowed upon Netanyahu in May 2012. One thing was for sure: Lapid’s meteoric rise signaled to the world a resounding shift in national priorities, and that a more moderate and internally focused leadership was on the horizon. He is a man who can fashion the face of Israel’s future.
As finance minister, his recent proposal of budget cuts has angered nearly everyone – the middle class, haredim, tourists – though he promises they will save the economy and ultimately benefit the working man. Only time will tell if he is correct.
Lapid’s heavily domestic platform on economic reform, equalizing the burden of service and freedom of religion for all Jews in Israel has electrified the populace, and could signify the beginning of a Jewish state different from the one Netanyahu has led for the last three years.
Lapid has promised to focus more on education and welfare than on defense and negotiations with the Palestinians, to recognize non-Orthodox rabbis and to refuse to bend the budget to the needs of the ultra-Orthodox.
His undeniable strength in dictating the makeup of the coalition sent the haredi parties packing. He is not known or listened to yet by world leaders, but he is pulling strings from behind the scenes and listening to the people.
Lapid is the right leader for the right time. He expresses the frustrations felt by the majority of Israelis against big business and haredim and represents a new polished Israeli face to show to the world. As finance minister he is starting to put his promises into action, presenting plans to replace the government’s financial assistance to haredim with funds for working families and IDF veterans.
“The state is sick of taking orders from you, and now you aren’t on the Finance Committee,” Lapid shouted last month at haredi representatives.
And while the ultra-Orthodox parties see an enemy in Lapid, and one newspaper even recently compared him to Hitler, he is also a bridge-builder, finding some allies among both the haredi and secular, and forming bonds with Reform and Conservative Jews in the Diaspora, who welcome his calls for equality.
His challenge will be to prevent a polarization of Israeli society, reaching compromise with the ultra- Orthodox as opposed to marginalizing them and having them feel further despised.
Time magazine placed Lapid on its 100 Most Influential People list earlier this year, explaining that the leader with “swagger” could change the Jewish state from the inside out and dictate the country’s direction for years to come.
“If the word at large views Israel through its conflict with the Palestinians, Lapid personifies the nation’s determinedly inward focus,” the article stated.
Under the “torch lighter’s” influence, Israel could light the way to a very different future.
At No. 2 we placed Jack Lew, US secretary of the Treasury, who may finally be able to help the United States pull itself out of its financial woes. The challenges facing Lew, President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff, are daunting: IMF reform, a weak euro, a slow recovery at home and an unprecedented budget crisis with a Congress unwilling or unable to act. Last week, at a meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors from around the world, Lew urged Congress to deal “right away” with extending the debt ceiling, saying that the longer it is put off, the more damage it will do to the economy. As Lew also uses his powerful pulpit to apply pressure on his European counterparts to ease off on austerity measures, his influence will be felt on a global level.
The remainder of the spots on our list were also highly contested. Narrowing down the thousands of Jewish politicians, writers, actors, musicians, businesspeople, artists and activists to a mere 50 inevitably excludes many worthwhile candidates.
The Jerusalem Post’s selection committee, made up of four editors, took suggestions from reporters, editors and members of the management and strove for diversity and balance, and to add as many fresh names as possible.
Anat Hoffman, the chairwoman of the Women of the Wall group, took No. 5 on our list, for successfully and forcefully bringing the issue of women’s rights to pray aloud, read Torah and wear ritual garments at Judaism’s holiest site to the forefront of the consciousness of world Jewry.
Through her and the organization’s efforts, a plan has been put forward by Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky (#24) to create a new area for egalitarian prayer at the Kotel. This proposal raises the possibility of drastically changing the face of the spot that millions of visitors flock to from around the globe.
We also included style-setting women like Diane von Fürstenberg (#31), media changemakers like BuzzFeed founder Ben Smith (#28), chef and cookbook author Yotam Ottolenghi (#45), activists like Eve Ensler (#46) and three professional sports commissioners (#50).
In some members of the list – like US Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan (#12), and Defense Secretary Moshe Ya’alon (#9) – we see great potential for influence given their status, while in others, like AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr (#22), Religious Action Center director Rabbi David Saperstein (#26), writer David Grossman (#36) and filmmaker Steven Spielberg (#13), we see a proven record of incredible political, social and cultural influence on the Jewish world and the world at large.
Mark Zuckerberg (#16) of Facebook and Sergey Brin (#6) of Google are constantly changing how we use the Internet, while Scooter Braun (#24) and Lena Dunham (#18) have a profound impact on pop culture and a generation just coming of age.
Our list spans not only a variety of fields but also a 68-year age gap: from 21-year-old Yityish Aynaw (#39), Israel’s first Ethiopian Miss Israel, to 89-yearold Sumner Redstone (#21), the owner and chairman of CBS and Viacom.
As we did last year, we recall some of the influential Jews who died since last Shavuot, leaving behind an inspiring legacy, such as Pauline Phillips, known to the world as “Dear Abby,” and composer Marvin Hamlisch, who is one of two people ever to win Emmy, Grammy, Tony, Oscar and Pulitzer prizes.
That list also remembers spiritual leaders who died in the last year, including Rabbi Herschel Schachter, who helped liberate Buchenwald, Rabbi Menachem Froman, the chief rabbi of Tekoa who advocated for dialogue with his Palestinian neighbors, and Rabbi David Hartman, a pillar of liberal Orthodoxy.
We also look to the future, listing six very different influential women who are leading the way in their respective fields and inspiring many with their courage and innovation, whether in athletics (gymnast Aly Raisman), education (Jerusalem Haredi College founder Adina Bar-Shalom) or politics (Houda Ezra Nonoo, Bahraini ambassador to the US).
We hope our list sparks debate about what it means to be influential.
The 50 most influential Jews in the world:
1-10 in-depth list
1. Yair Lapid2. Jack Lew3. Binyamin Netanyahu4. Shimon Peres5. Anat Hoffman 6. Sergey Brin7. Jon Stewart8. Sheryl Sandberg9. Moshe Ya’alon10. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
11-20 in-depth list
11. Eric Cantor12. Elena Kagan13. Steven Spielberg14. Jill Abramson15. Naftali Bennett 16. Mark Zuckerberg17. Michael Bloomberg18. Lena Dunham19. Moshe Kantor20. Ed Miliband
21-30 in-depth list
21. Sumner Redstone22. Scooter Braun  23. Elie Wiesel24. Howard Kohr25. Natan Sharansky26. David Saperstein27. Aharon Lichtenstein28. Ben Smith29. Michael Chabon 30. Sara Netanyahu
31-40 in-depth list
31. Diane von Fürstenberg32. Matthew Bronfman33. Ester Levanon34. Shari Arison35. Rakefet Russak-Aminoach36. David Grossman37. Ronald S. Lauder38. Bar Refaeli39. Yityish Aynaw40. Dror Moreh
41-50 in-depth list
41. Ruth Westheimer42. Michael D. Siegal43. Nir Barkat44. Yosef Abramowitz45. Yotam Ottolenghi46. Eve Ensler47. Idan Raichel48. Ephrat Levy-Lahad49. Efi Stenzler50. The commissioners of the NHL, NBA and MLB
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