Top 50 most influential Jews 2013: Places 1-10

Jack Lew went from White House chief of staff to US secretary of the treasury, but he's still every bit as influential.

Jack Lew and Obama 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jack Lew and Obama 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
1. Finance Minister Yair Lapid
2. US Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew
Entering the job during a devastating economic collapse, Timothy Geithner had a difficult run as US secretary of the Treasury. But his successor, Jack Lew, 57, doesn’t have it much better. The Orthodox Jewish Treasury chief faces IMF reform, the challenge of the euro, a slow recovery at home and – perhaps most daunting – an unprecedented budget crisis with a Congress unwilling or unable to act.
But that last challenge is just why Lew was chosen.
Formerly director of the Office of Management and Budget, Lew has a mastery of micromanagement and detail. And working under a president who has made clear his legacy must include a strong economic turnaround, the pressure on Lew is extraordinary, as are the possibilities of his tenure. Lew is certainly hoping that his legacy won’t be limited to his oddly loopy signature adorning US paper currency during his tenure.
In the short time since he took up his post, Lew is already using his pulpit to apply pressure on his European counterparts to ease off on austerity measures. Whether they listen will be a testament to his influence, and to America’s greater influence in markets weary of US financial advice.
- Michael Wilner
3. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, 63, called new elections earlier this year hoping – indeed expecting – to be returned to power with a strengthened hand. It was not to be.
The man who has sat in the prime minister’s chair for seven years, one month, and counting – longer than any other Israeli leader with the exception of David Ben-Gurion – was chastised by the electorate as his combined list with Yisrael Beytenu lost some 30 percent of its pre-election strength.
Nevertheless – and this is the bottom line – Netanyahu was returned to power. But the public that returned him to office for a third term also sent him a clear message: We want you to continue to lead the country, but we demand change.
The change demanded – manifest in how well Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett did at the polls – was that the country’s internal social contract needed to be radically adjusted.
Paradoxically, the country was able to turn inward in these elections for perhaps the first time in its history because of the stability Netanyahu and his government provided. Even as the region roiled, Netanyahu provided the country with enhanced security, as the lowest terrorist statistics in years attest. He provided political stability by almost serving a full term. And he provided macro economic security at a time when the global economy suffered crisis after crisis.
But he did not provide a vision, and for that he was punished. Punished, but not sacked.
Netanyahu bought himself more time at Israel’s helm, and – by extension – at the helm of the Jewish people. It remains to be seen whether he will use that time to leave a signature and indelible impact and be remembered as a leader of stature, or just as a very successful politician.
-Herb Keinon
4. President Shimon Peres
Age hasn’t slowed down President Shimon Peres, who turns 90 this summer and continues to tirelessly represent Israel around the globe.
Peres, a former prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister and finance minister, has regular meetings with the prime minister, heads of Israel’s intelligence and security operations, leaders of political parties and then some. Several times a year he also receives the credentials of new ambassadors to Israel, and hosts countless local and overseas organizations and delegations in his role as head of state.
Peres is one of Israel’s most frequent fliers, representing the country in Rome and Assisi at the end of April, in Belgium and France in March and at the World Economic Conference in Davos, Switzerland. Last year he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Barack Obama, and has been one of the country’s most vocal proponents of peace. While he has sparred with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu occasionally over whether to act alone or rely on the US to handle Iran – and the world took notice – he generally seeks to present a unified voice from the government.
This summer, Peres will play host instead of guest, as he emcees the fifth annual Presidential Conference, with headliners including former US president Bill Clinton, singer Barbra Streisand, actress Sharon Stone and former Soviet Union president Mikhail Gorbachev in attendance.
-Greer Fay Cashman
5. Women of the Wall chairwoman Anat Hoffman
6. Google founder Sergey Brin
Have you ever created something that became one of the most-used verbs in modern language? Sergey Brin did. The Soviet Union-born computer scientist and entrepreneur – along with Larry Page, who also has Jewish lineage – started the search engine Google back in 1996, which has today become synonymous with looking something up on the Internet.
From there, Brin, 39 – who received $1 in compensation from Google last year – oversaw its development into not just the most visited website in the world, but also a multinational, publicly traded company that raked in $50 billion in profits in 2012.
Far from just a search engine today, the company offers email, social networking, instant messaging and browsing services, as well as the Android cellphone operating program, and owns the highly popular YouTube and the blogging platform Blogger.
In his role as director of special projects, Brin is presiding over developments including self-driving cars, space research and Google Glass, a wearable, eyeglasses-type computer that is voice commanded and possibly the most buzzed about innovation in technology today, and is expected to be available to the general public later this year.
- Amy Spiro
7. Daily Show host Jon Stewart
US President Barack Obama, King Abdullah II of Jordan, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. All of the above – plus the most elite Hollywood celebrities – have sat down over the past year with Jon Stewart, the host of the ostensibly satirical TV program The Daily Show.
But when Stewart, 50, talks, the world listens. He’s issued diatribes in favor of gun control, veterans’ rights and excoriating various media outlets. His serious takes on the day’s pressing issues have caused The New York Times to label him “the modern- day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow.”
Stewart has inspired and defended political satirists around the globe, most prominently Bassem Youssef, an Egyptian TV host who was arrested in March for insulting Islam and President Mohamed Morsi. Stewart took to his show to slam the arrest, and the US Embassy in Cairo posted a link of Stewart’s monologue to its Twitter feed, angering both the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi’s office.
The TV host, whose brand of Jewish humor also features prominently on the show, is taking a hiatus this summer from his program to direct a film about the story of Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, who was imprisoned and tortured in Iran for four months, partly because of a joke interview he had done on Stewart’s show.
- Amy Spiro
8. Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg
The chief operating officer of Facebook is not only one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world, but she has also ignited a conversation across the US about feminism and how women can empower themselves in the workplace with her controversial and best-selling new book, Lean In.
Like Betty Friedan’s consciousness-raising groups inspired by her book The Feminine Mystique on “the problem that has no name,” Lean In has brought the challenges faced by this generation of working females to national attention. It too is inspiring groups of women around the country to gather and discuss strategies for succeeding in their jobs.
Sandberg, 43, has the professional experience to back up her advice. She has been Facebook’s COO since 2008, has previously served as vice president of global online sales and operations at Google, and helped launch Google’s philanthropic arm, She also served as chief of staff for Treasury chief Lawrence Summers during the Clinton administration.
- Rachel Marder
9. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon
Moshe Ya’alon, 62, took up the role of defense minister in March – a position he sought for years – at a time of large-scale regional instability, and just as Israel faces a decisive year on the Iranian nuclear question.
By some accounts, 2013 could be a fateful year, when Israel will have to decide whether to take military action to stop Tehran’s nuclear quest, or entrust the United States to do so, should diplomacy and economic sanctions fail.
In addition to Iran, the former IDF chief of staff will have to tackle mammoth security issues, including the disintegration of Syria, the fate of its vast chemical weapons arsenal, and its transformation to a failed state filled with al-Qaida-inspired radical jihadis.
In neighboring Lebanon, Hezbollah – armed with more than 60,000 rockets and a well-trained guerrilla force – remains the most formidable enemy in Israel’s immediate geographic circle. To the south, Hamas is recuperating from the damage it sustained during last year’s bruising yet brief confrontation with Israel, and is busy converting the Gaza Strip into a Islamist emirate as well as a rocket base.
Sinai continues to be an al-Qaida trouble spot, while further south in Cairo, Ya’alon will have to keep a wary eye on the Muslim Brotherhood’s steps and intentions toward Israel. To the east, Ya’alon will be monitoring the West Bank for signs of increased violence.
The new defense minister will be very busy.
-Yaakov Lappin
10. DNC chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Debbie Wasserman Schultz wears many hats: congresswoman, mom, chief deputy whip in the House of Representatives and chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.
As DNC chairwoman, Wasserman Schultz, 46, was responsible for the fund-raising and campaigning efforts for US President Barack Obama last year, which obviously paid off, particularly in her home state of Florida. She was renominated for the position in January by the White House, despite rumors of tension between them over her outspokenness.
Her dedication to Obama’s reelection – she attended more than 885 events in 31 states over the course of the campaign – is what ultimately earned her a second term at the helm.
The tenacious legislator was only the second woman ever elected to lead the DNC, and its youngest head in several decades. She is also a member of the House Appropriations Committee, arguably the body’s most powerful.
The breast-cancer survivor is a prominent proponent of Obama’s healthcare reform act, battling the governor of her own state earlier this month for not adhering to the US Supreme Court ruling on the law, and speaking out in favor of the legislation across the country.
Wasserman Schultz also played an instrumental role in passing an act establishing May as Jewish American Heritage Month in 2006.
-Amy Spiro
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