Setting new heights

A list of 7 top Jewish innovators in music, journalism, television, technology and sculpture.

Regina Spektor (photo credit: Reuters)
Regina Spektor
(photo credit: Reuters)
Singer and pianist Regina Spektor sounds like nobody else. Her impressive vocal range and inflections, sweet tones and playful piano playing make her stand out in the sea of female singer-songwriters. On every album, Spektor, 32, who was born in Moscow and grew up from the age of nine in the Bronx and later New Jersey, surprises listeners by whispering, muttering, yodeling, sighing, chanting and adding other charming moments to her songs. A Spektor song changes from moment to moment, as the singer’s voice hops from high to low, long to short. Her lyrics and videos are always touching, whimsical and so darn sweet.
As she prepares to release her sixth studio album, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, this month, Spektor is also heading out on a US and European tour. The daughter of a music teacher and a violinist, she started playing piano at the age of six. – Rachel Marder
■ The co-founder of Waze, engineer Ehud Shabtai, says the idea for a free GPS application for the phone came to him after he was given a GPS system and noticed everything that was wrong with it. He decided to create a community- driven product that would be accessible and useful to drivers on the road. Users simply type in their destination address, and drive with the application open, as it offers turn-by-turn navigation, maps, road reports on accidents, traffic and other hazards.
The “heads-up” tips come from fellow drivers who report in what’s going on around them. Shabtai, a former CTO with X.L.Net, and senior developer at Ascent Pl and Comverse, founded Waze in 2008 with Uri Levine and Amir Shinar.
The company is based in Ra’anana, but the product is available all over the world. – Rachel Marder
■ As editor-in-chief of Tablet, an online magazine about Jewish culture, politics and ideas, Alana Newhouse has created a new, hipper read on Jewish life.
Tablet’s sleek design, articles on politics, religion, family and more penned by voices from across the Jewish spectrum and from all over the world, make it a leading news and culture site.
Newhouse, a native of Lawrence, New York, has written on the perils of the rabbinate’s ultra-Orthodox conversion standards, being a Diaspora Jew and her relationship with Israel and, in a particularly entertaining essay for Slate, she wrote about why young women love Marjorie Morningstar. She edited A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward.
– Rachel Marder
■ The funk hip-hop band Hadag Nahash first grabbed our attention with its release of The Groove Machine in 2000 and hasn’t let go of it since. Blazing the trail in Middle Eastern-inspired groove music, the band, whose name means “fish snake,” has garnered an international following, solidifying its innovator status by performing at Austin’s South by Southwest music festival in March. Still, the group feels most at home in Jerusalem, where vocalist Sha’anan Streett was born and still lives.
After three hugely successful albums, To Move (2003), Local Material (2004) and With the Help of Jam (2006), the band, which took its name from stickers on Israeli cars stating nahag hadash (new driver), released Six (2010), its first foray into English-language rapping. Streett, the new owner of the stylish Jerusalem bar Casino de Paris, has reached iconic status in Jerusalem as a voice for peace, secular culture and music that makes you groove.
– Rachel Marder
■ One of the stars of Mad Men, Elisabeth Moss (“Peggy Olson”), called the show’s creator, head writer and executive producer Matthew Weiner “no less than a genius,” when he made Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people last year. Weiner’s drama, set in a 1960s advertising agency on Madison Avenue, has captured the world’s attention both for its plot – a glamorous and dark look at the start of America’s heyday in consumerism – and its slow-moving, pensive form. The show has even influenced the fashion world, with designers and stores like Banana Republic putting out retro Mad Men-inspired lines.
Weiner, 46, and the show have received 15 Emmy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards, and Weiner was recognized for writing and producing on The Sopranos final seasons.
– Rachel Marder
■ A pioneer in the field of 3D printing, where a single machine can produce a complex, multi-material model of products in the prototype stage, stands Gershon Miller. In 1998 Miller co-founded Israel-based Objet Co., which has become one of the leading standards in the industry. The company earned about $120 million in 2010, and last month announced plans to merge with US rival Stratasys Inc. The move will create a single company worth $1.4 billion.
But it was Objet’s technology, not its financial successes, that makes Miller an innovator.
Objet’s printers, using jets shooting out several materials over hundreds of layers only a few microns thick, can produce a model in 3D for people to not only see with their own eyes, but feel the weight and shape after only a few hours.
– Yitzchak Besser
■ British-based artist Anish Kapoor, 58, was born to an Iraqi-Jewish mother whose family moved to India and settled in Mumbai when she was a young girl. He spent time on a kibbutz between 1971 and 1973, and it was in Israel, after unsuccessfully trying his hand at electrical engineering, that he decided to become an artist.
Kapoor creates monumental sculptures with a high level of craftsmanship, which are highly abstract and decidedly modern without losing the power to evoke an often primal, even mythical sentiment.
Among his most famous pieces is the iconic Cloud Gate in Chicago (nicknamed “The Bean” by the city’s residents.) In 2010 the Israel Museum unveiled his piece Turning the World Upside Down, which toys with the idea of an Earthly versus heavenly Jerusalem.
His most recent public commission is Orbit, a spiraling steel structure commissioned for the Olympic Park in London ahead of the summer games. After Orbit was unveiled earlier this month, one critic described it as “the Eiffel Tower on acid.”