The 50 most influential Jews of 2014: 21-30

Yosef Abramowitz brings new meaning to the word “energy," pulling the world into the solar power era.

Yosef Abramowitz (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yosef Abramowitz
(photo credit: Courtesy)
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 1-10
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 11-20
21. Yosef Abramowitz, President and CEO of Energiya Global Capital, co-founder of the Arava Power Company
HE’S NOT going to wake up on June 11 to find that he’s the president of Israel, but that doesn’t mean that the by-the-wayside candidate “Captain Sunshine” Yosef Abramowitz will be fading into the sunset anytime soon.
The 50-year-old immigrant from Boston brings new meaning to the word “energy” – both in his personal approach to life and in his professional passion, pulling the world into the solar power era. As co-founder of the Arava Power Company, he established the first medium-sized solar field in Israel in 2011. By the end of this year, Arava Power’s future 40-megawatt solar field is expected to be supplying up to one-third of Eilat’s daytime energy.
Abramowitz works to bring solar power to developing countries through the international firms Gigawatt Global Coöperatief and Energiya Global, where he serves as president and CEO, respectively. They’re the force behind the first commercial-scale solar field in East Africa – in Rwanda – which will likely be completed this summer.
As a result of his tireless efforts, he has been recognized as an energy innovator internationally, with CNN naming him one of six global “Green Pioneers” in 2012.
Evidence that he’s not blinded by the sun, Abramowitz has proved his mettle in a number of other areas – playing a major role in the struggle to free Soviet Jewry. He’s been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize three times for his work in the United Councils for Jews in the former Soviet Union.
His long-shot run to succeed Shimon Peres as president was based on the belief that, in his words, “Israel must field a president who embodies innovation and the ‘Start-Up Nation,’ a president who will foster hope and a bright future for the younger generations who are desperately seeking social and economic stability.”
“As president,” he added. “I would embrace the tikkun olam [repairing the world] imperative by ‘exporting’ Israeli innovation to bring about economic improvement coupled with humanistic action that will strengthen the country both from within [Israel] and in the international community.”
But even without the presidency, Abramowitz belongs on this list because he will continue to work in that direction regardless.
• David Brinn
Lynn Schusterman (Ariel Jerozolimski)
Lynn Schusterman (Ariel Jerozolimski)
22. Lynn Schust
erman, Founder and co-chairwoman of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation
T HERE ARE a number of well-known names in Zionist philanthropy, people who have made such an impact that it is impossible to imagine the Jewish world without their contributions.
One of the most influential is Lynn Schusterman of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Philanthropic Network.
The multi-billionaire cofounded her eponymous foundation with her late husband, oil magnate Charles Schusterman, and in 2011 joined Bill Gates in pledging to donate half of her massive wealth during her lifetime.
From sponsoring gatherings of Asian Jews to donating millions to Israeli causes every year, to funding Israel-focused think tanks in Washington, Schusterman has left her imprint in many ways.
One of her most interesting initiatives, however, is one of the less noticeable and dramatic ones.
During a period of declining Jewish identification among young people, when established Jewish groups are bleeding members, Schusterman founded the annual Return On Investment Summit, a gathering of young Jewish social entrepreneurs who compete for funding for innovative startups seeking to involve young members of the tribe in Jewish life.
The idea is to provide a follow-up for the kind of young Jews who come home energized from Birthright trips, but do not find enough opportunities for engagement within the existing communal structure.
• Sam Sokol
Matthew Bronfman (Nathan Roie)
Matthew Bronfman (Nathan Roie)
23. Matthew Bronfman, Businessman and philanthropist
MATTHEW BRONFMAN is a Jewish-American businessman and a quiet, unassuming philanthropist with great influence. He has recently been named chairman of the American Jewish Committee. Based in New York, Bronfman is a strong supporter of Israel and Jewish causes, walking in the footsteps of his famous late father, Edgar Bronfman.
The chairman and CEO of BHB Holdings, a huge investment company, Bronfman has numerous realestate holdings. He controls IKEA Israel – which opened its third branch in Kiryat Ata this year – and Shufersal, the country’s largest supermarket chain; and was the controlling shareholder and is still the largest shareholder of Israel Discount Bank. Bronfman’s philanthropic interests include serving as chairman and cofounder of the Limmud FSU international steering committee, a program focused on strengthening the Jewish identities of Russian-speaking Jews around the world. He is chairman of the Bronfman Center for Jewish Life at the 92 Y in New York City, and the American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS young leadership program, which trains Jewish professionals to shape public opinion and policy around the world, as well as being on the AJC’s executive committee. He is the managing principal of the Treetops Foundation, a charity focused on Jewish philanthropy, and he is on the boards of New York’s 92nd Street Y and Teamwork Foundation. Bronfman, who resides in Manhattan, was a featured speaker at The Jerusalem Post Annual Conference in New York this year.
• Jerusalem Post staff
Karnit Flug (Reuters)
Karnit Flug (Reuters)
24. Karnit Flug, Governor of the Bank of Israel
KARNIT FLUG redefined the moniker “comeback kid” this year. As the deputy to respected Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer, a longtime researcher at the bank and former employee at the International Monetary Fund, Flug was a favorite choice to be his successor when he stepped down from his position. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid had other ideas, however, nominating former governor Jacob Frenkel to the post.
Flug had another shot when a media scandal caused Frenkel to step down, but she was snubbed once again when Leo Leiderman, the chief economist at Bank Hapoalim, was pegged for the job. Flug – at that point serving as acting governor – tendered her resignation, but offered to stay on until a successor was installed, only to see Leiderman withdraw his nomination as well.
In the months that followed, secret lists and vetting arrangements for the next nominee were circulated with Flug’s name nowhere in sight. Nevertheless, when the moment of truth came, nearly nine months after Fischer’s resignation and four months into her role as acting governor, Flug was finally nominated as the Bank’s first female governor. The timing was apt. In the US, Janet Yellen had just been nominated to replace Ben Bernanke, becoming the first female chairman of the Federal Reserve.
• Niv Elis
Joseph Gitler (Courtesy)
Joseph Gitler (Courtesy)
25. Joseph Gitler, Founder and CEO of the Leket Israel food bank
IN 2003, three years after immigrating to Israel from the United States, Joseph Gitler from Teaneck, New Jersey, founded Table to Table (Israel’s Food Rescue Network) as a one-man volunteer operation to respond to the paradox of growing hunger and poverty in Israel on the one hand and significant food waste on the other.
Fast forward 10 years, and Table to Table, now known as Leket Israel-The National Food Bank, has become the country’s largest food rescue and redistribution organization, with nearly 90 employees, 10 delivery vehicles and tens of thousands of volunteers.
Leket Israel annually rescues and redistributes more than one million hot meals, over one million sandwiches and 10 million kilograms of produce and dairy products to underprivileged schoolchildren and to 180 nonprofit organizations throughout Israel, feeding around 140,000 people every week.
Gitler, recipient of the inaugural 2014 Bonei Israel Prize, is a New York native with a law degree from Fordham University and a BA from Yeshiva University. Prior to making aliya, he worked as an attorney in the New York City area and spending three years in software sales and business development after arriving in Israel in 2000.
• Jerusalem Post staff
Nir Barkat (Eli Mandelbaum)
Nir Barkat (Eli Mandelbaum)
26. Nir Barkat, Mayor of Jerusalem
AS MAYOR of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat exerts inordinate influence both in local and international politics. Since winning election in November 2008, Barkat has devoted himself to changing the face of Jerusalem, and making it more attractive to both local residents and foreign tourists. Among other things, he opened the popular Cinema City and brought Formula 1 to the city last year, and has made the annual Jerusalem Marathon – in which he participated this year for the fourth time – one of the most important sporting events in the Israeli calendar.
Barkat is a strong supporter of a united Jerusalem, with freedom of worship and equality for all sectors of its mixed population of more than 800,000 made up of Jews, Christians, Muslims and others.
Barkat, now serving his second term in the post, entered politics in January 2003 when he founded the Jerusalem Will Succeed party and ran against then-mayor Uri Lupolianski, gaining only 43% of the vote. He became head of the opposition on the city council, until the 2008 election, during which time was able to study the details of the capital’s challenges and opportunities. In his second term since 2013, Barkat is on a path of active civic engagement with an emphasis on improving education and addressing the negative migration of the city’s young adults; as well as the need for lasting economic development.
He has turned the tide in the city and managed to create a more positive atmosphere.
Barkat founded Snuneet, a nonprofit organization that started the nation’s largest Hebrew educational website, as well as Start-Up Jerusalem, which encourages new job creation through economic growth and marketing guidance. He was also a founding member of New Spirit, an organization that encourages students to build their lives in the capital.
He has since combined his philanthropic leadership and successful business background by helping to found the Israel Venture Network, a venture capital network that invests in social initiatives throughout Jerusalem.
Prior to embarking on his business career, Barkat received the rank of major in his six years in the IDF, during which he was wounded. As a paratrooper, he led soldiers inside enemy territory during the First Lebanon War.
Barkat and his wife, Beverly, have three daughters and live in the neighborhood of Beit Hakerem.
• Daniel K. Eisenbud
Natalie Portman (Reuters)
Natalie Portman (Reuters)
27. Natalie Portman, Actress, director, producer
JERUSALEM IS no stranger to hosting foreign dignitaries and heads of state.
When they arrive, though, most Jerusalemites roll their eyes and brace themselves for the city’s inevitable shutdown.
But when Natalie Portman chose Jerusalem’s Nahlaot neighborhood to film her adaptation of Amos Oz’s A Tale of Love and Darkness, she was met with a lot more excitement than your average politician. She has received a grant of NIS 2,550,000 from the Jerusalem Film Fund for the film, which will mark her first foray into the world of directing.
It is based on a story in Oz’s childhood, just after Israel’s War of Independence, and Portman, who has long wanted to direct and act in a film version of this work, plays the author’s mother.
In 2005, when she attended the Hebrew University after graduating from Harvard, she starred in an Israeli film by Amos Gitai called Free Zone.
Portman, who was born in the city and originally named Natalie Hershlag, is one of Hollywood’s top marquee attractions. And since her 2011 Best Oscar win for Black Swan and the commercial success of Thor: The Dark World, in which she had a starring role, she can write her own ticket.
But to her credit, Portman has staunchly refused to be typecast and relegated to any one genre of film. Among many other leading roles she starred in the 2006 historical drama Goya’s Ghosts, set in the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
One thing for sure, as an audience, we will always be kept guessing as to what she will do next.
• Noa Amouyal
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner (Yonah Jeremy Bob)
Nitsana Darshan-Leitner (Yonah Jeremy Bob)
28. Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Founder and president of Shurat HaDin
FOR THE past 15 years, Israeli activist attorney Nitsana Darshan- Leitner has led the legal fight against terror financing, boycotts and sanctions against Israel and combated various lawfare tactics utilized against the Jewish state. As founder and president of the Israel-based civil rights organization, Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center, she has represented hundreds of terror victims in legal actions against terror organizations and their financial supporters, and has successfully recovered more than $100 million in compensation on their behalf.
She established Shurat HaDin to economically destroy the hate groups in the Middle East: thus the organization’s motto: “Bankrupting terrorism – one lawsuit at a time.”
She assisted in blocking the Gaza Flotilla, terminated efforts to indict IDF soldiers for war crimes and filed legal actions against those who boycott Israeli academics and companies in violations of the law.
Staffed by some of Israel’s leading activist attorneys, Shurat HaDin follows the model of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the famed American civil rights organization dedicated to bankrupting the Ku Klux Klan and other neo-Nazi groups in the US. Darshan- Leitner and her associates specialize in tracking the assets and bank accounts of terror groups and legally obstructing and restraining their funds, and have become known by banks, legal organizations and outlaw regimes around the world as the leading authority and resource on stopping the movement of global terror financing. Her organization represents hundreds of terror victims in lawsuits and legal actions against Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PLO, the Palestinian Authority, Hezbollah, Iran, Syria, Egypt, North Korea, UBS bank, The Arab Bank, the Lebanese Canadian Bank and the Bank of China. The cases, being litigated in the Israeli, American, Canadian and European courts, allow the victims of terrorism to fight back.
In 2012, she was chosen as one of the 50 most influential women in Israel by the Israeli Globes financial magazine. In addition she won the Moskovitz Prize for Zionism.
• Jerusalem Post staff
Irwin Cotler, Steve Linde
Irwin Cotler, Steve Linde
29. Irwin Cotler, Human rights activist
IRWIN COTLER is like a human rights superhero.
He’s everyplace at once, and more powerful than a locomotive.
Take a look at most of the global struggles for justice, peace and human rights, and the name Irwin Cotler will not be far away.
A former justice minister and attorney-general in Canada, Cotler has been a member of the Canadian Parliament since 1999. But he’s made the most impact on the world via his intense efforts to aid persecuted prisoners of conscience and fight racism and human rights violations. The struggles against Apartheid in South Africa and on behalf of Soviet Jewish refuseniks would have dragged on for much longer without his personal involvement.
From Andrei Sakharov in the former Soviet Union to Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Jacobo Timerman in Argentina and more recently blogger Maikel Nabil in Egypt, Cotler has fought the battle for righteousness that he began decades ago through his work with Prisoners of Zion in Russia like Natan Sharansky and Yuli Kosharovsky. The national Canadian magazine Macleans referred to him as the “consul of the oppressed.”
An international human rights lawyer and emeritus professor of law (McGill University) Cotler is also a lifelong Zionist. He has earned a reputation as one of Israel’s most eloquent and passionate defenders, lecturing in both Arab countries and Israel for over 30 years; and has been an active participant in rapprochement dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians.
Cotler is an outspoken critic of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has done nothing to stem human rights violations. He’s also co-chairman of the Inter-Parliamentary Group for Human Rights in Iran and a member of the advisory board of United Against a Nuclear Iran.
“My passion for human rights was there as a child,” Cotler told The Jerusalem Post last year. “My father taught me… about the importance of ‘the pursuit of justice. You may not understand it now, he said, but one day you’ll see that this is equal to all the other commandments combined.’”
• David Brinn
Jeremy Ben-Ami (Courtesy)
Jeremy Ben-Ami (Courtesy)
30. Jeremy Ben-Ami, Executive director of J Street
A GAME-changer on the American Jewish landscape, Jeremy Ben-Ami and his upstart organization J Street have challenged the status quo by redefining the relationship between Israel and Jewish establishment in the United States.
Ben-Ami has served as executive director of the Washington-based public action committee since its 2008 founding. Within that short time, the controversial organization has attracted the support of a sizable subsector of American Jewry that has drifted away from more traditional pro-Israel groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Despite campaigns to discredit the organization and its leader, including the documentary The J Street Challenge, he insists that J Street is pro-Israel, against Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, pro two states and against a nuclear Iran.
However, in his willingness to behave like the US Jewry equivalent of the Labor Party, by criticizing Israel’s West Bank policies and pointing to the dangers of not reaching an agreement with the Palestinians, Ben-Ami has helped to change the ground rules of Israel advocacy.
His opponents claim he and J Street have crossed a red line. J Street’s recent rejection for membership by the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations demonstrates that mainstream American Jewry is not ready for a critical cousin.
But, like any Left-minded Israeli, Ben-Ami makes a cogent case to his growing cadre of supporters, especially college-age students and young American Jews.
“J Street’s core argument is that the Israel we love is heading down a path of ever-expanding West Bank settlement and never-ending occupation of millions of Palestinian people that ultimately threatens both the Jewish and democratic nature of the state,” he says.
In response to those that portray J Street as anti-Zionist and even anti-Israel, Ben-Ami responds: “These are vital questions to the future of our people, and all Jews have a right and an obligation to participate in the discussion. Hurling a stream of lies at us and calling us names because one doesn’t agree with us is not, I suggest, the way to conduct this critical conversation.”
By changing the conversation, he is doing more than anyone else to create a new tent for American Jews that is liable to take over the crowded neighborhood.
• David Brinn
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 31-40
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 41-50