The 50 most influential Jews of 2014: 41-50

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz implements policies that can have worldwide impact.

IDF Chief Gantz with soldiers, March 9, 2014. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
IDF Chief Gantz with soldiers, March 9, 2014.
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 1-10
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 11-20
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 21-30
'The Jerusalem Post's' top 50 most influential Jews of: 31-40
41. Benny Gantz, IDF Chief of Staff
BENJAMIN “BENNY” Gantz is the man in the hot seat as far as Israel’s security goes. Whether the issue is the Iranian threat, securing Israel’s northern and southern borders or coordinating security arrangements with the Palestinian Authority, Gantz, who, on February 13, 2011, became the 20th chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, is the person who implements the policies that can have worldwide impact.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Gantz an “excellent officer and experienced commander and had rich operational and logistical experience, with all the attributes needed to be a successful army commander.”
Born in Kfar Ahim in the south, by the age of 20 Gantz had completed his officer’s training. He went on to lead the Shaldag Air Force Commando Unit, the Paratroopers Brigade and the Judea and Samaria Regional Division consecutively.
He was commander of the Ground Forces from 2005 to 2007, followed by a two year stint as military attaché in the United States.
In February 2012, Gantz received the Legion of Merit award from US President Barack Obama, presented to him by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, Gen. Martin Dempsey. An accompanying letter signed by Dempsey and by then-US defense secretary Leon Panetta, commended Gantz for his outstanding command and military service.
Nine months later, in November 2012, Gantz led Operation Pillar of Defense in an attempt to curtail Hamas’s rocket launching ability.
Gantz has a BA in history from Tel Aviv University, a master’s in political science from the University of Haifa, and a master’s in national resources management from the National Defense University in the United States.
• Jerusalem Post staff
Daniel Gordis (Courtesy)Daniel Gordis (Courtesy)
42. Daniel Gordis, Senior vice-president of the Shalem Center
IN HIS introduction to The Promise of Israel: Why its Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually its Greatest Strength, Daniel Gordis ponders the reason why Israel appears to be isolated internationally.
“Israel is marginalized and reviled because of a battle over the idea of the nation-state... [it is] the quintessential modern example of the nation-state, [and] came on the scene just as most of the Western world had decided that it was time to be rid of the nation-state.”
As an enthusiastic speaker and passionate believer in the future of the country, he has argued for years that it is essential that people celebrate the “uniqueness of the Jewish people,” recalling that loving uniqueness and difference does not mean placing one group above another but rather celebrating each individually.
Gordis grew up in the US and moved to Israel in 1989. He received his BA from Columbia College and an MA as well as rabbinic ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He was awarded his PhD from the University of Southern California. In the early 2000s he carved out a niche for himself as a speaker and commentator on Israeli and Jewish issues.
After pioneering the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University, as its founding dean, he moved to the Shalem Center in 2007 to help catapult it into its current form as Shalem College, Israel’s first liberal-arts college. He serves there as senior vice president and Koret Distinguished Fellow, as well as head of the Core Curriculum Department.
He has authored several books, including Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End and most recently a biography of former prime minister Menachem Begin. He has been a columnist for The Jerusalem Post Magazine for several years and blogs at
• Seth J. Frantzman
Esther Rada (Gabrielle Baharlia)Esther Rada (Gabrielle Baharlia)
43. Ester Rada, Israeli-Ethiopian musician
ESTER RADA is being hailed as “Israel’s First Lady of Soul.”Her savvy mix of Ethio-soul, R&B and funk has captured imaginations around the globe and seen her break out of Israel to play sold-out venues across Europe and North America, gaining a phenomenal media presence to boot, with everyone clamoring to get in on the scoop or rushing to buy a ticket.
With only one EP and an album in her discography she might be considered a debutante. Yet this couldn’t be farther from the truth. since she grew up singing in Kiryat Arba, where her Ethiopian-Jewish family reared her on Hebrew religious and Amharic folklore music. Rada always felt a pull towards music, and during her two years in the IDF she sang with the prestigious IDF entertainment corps, traveling all over Israel and internationally to entertain troops and dignitaries. On moving to Tel Aviv after her national service, Rada soon found her place in the creative scene of the city, and has proved to be one of Israel’s most successful rising artists.
She is proud of herself as an artist, as an Ethiopian, as an Israeli and as a woman. Even before fame caught up with her, Rada proved herself able to traveled a long road from the modest surroundings of her childhood to becoming a successful modern Israeli musician who blends her own heritage into her music. Despite her excellence, there is a strong feeling that her full potential hasn’t yet been realized, and what we are witnessing in front of our very eyes is the making of a global superstar.
• Gil Karpas
Raphael Mechoulam (Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)Raphael Mechoulam (Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)
44. Raphael Mechoulam, Medical marihuana pioneer
BY DISCOVERING the active ingredient in cannabis, Prof. Raphael Mechoulam is considered the father of medical marijuana.
The 83-year-old Mechoulam still works regularly at the Hebrew University Institute for Drug Research on the Hadassah Medical Organization campus in Ein Kerem, decades In 1963, working with Dr. Yechiel Gaoni and Dr. Habib Edery, Mechoulam was the first to isolate THC as the most important active ingredient in hashish. He coined a new term, “cannabinoids” (referring to the active constituents of cannabis) – which became a whole new field of research with implications not only in the treatment of pain, lack of appetite and nausea but in virtually every other field of medicine.
Cannabidiol (CBD), one of about five dozen active cannabinoids in cannabis, does not cause “highs” but is useful in oil form for treating numerous diseases, particularly those involving inflammations. CBD also reduced sugar levels in diabetes-prone mice and reduced the effects of cardiac ischemia (inadequate blood supply to the heart).
For his efforts, Mechoulam, who in 1994 was elected to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. has received numerous prestigious awards including the Israel Prize in exact sciences (2000), Rothschild Prize in chemical sciences and physical sciences (2012), EMET Prize in chemistry (2012), Hebrew University Medical Faculty Prize for excellence in research (2010) and numerous foreign awards.
The 83-year-old Mechoulam still works regularly on his lifelong passion at the Hebrew University Institute for Drug Research on the Hadassah Medical Organization campus in Ein Kerem.
• Menashe Koren and Judy Siegel
Dalia Dorner (Marc Israel Sellem)Dalia Dorner (Marc Israel Sellem)
45. Dalia Dorner, President of the Israeli Press Council
AS A District Court judge, Dalia Dorner convicted John Demjanjuk and sentenced him to death in 1988, a decision overturned in 1993 by the Supreme Court. As a Supreme Court justice, she was accused of “excessive activism” for requiring the state to allocate adequate budgets to ensure the integration of children with disabilities under the Special Education Law. She required military authorities to allow personalized epitaphs on soldiers’ headstones, in a ruling that emphasized the individual over the collective ethos.
Dorner earned a name for herself as a champion of the rights of homosexuals and women and as a strong supporter of free speech, including an advertising slogan used by Kidum, a night school, that was considered by some to be vulgar due to its sexual connotations.
As president of the Israel Press Council, Dorner has criticized legislation that would increase awards in libel cases against journalists sixfold to NIS 200,000, even if the plaintiff failed to prove they had suffered any actual harm.
She said that if the bill were to be passed journalists would be unable to “write serious articles about our leaders and what they are doing. Editors will say, ‘Why should I bother if I can get into such trouble?’” Dorner has made the list of candidates for president of the State of Israel, despite the fact that she refused on principle to approach MKs asking for their support.
• Jerusalem Post staff
Ofra strauss (Courtesy)Ofra strauss (Courtesy)
46. Ofra Strauss, Chairwoman of the Board of the Strauss Group
ISRAELIS ARE known for their undying devotion to humous – and you can thank Ofra Strauss, 51, for making the chickpea wonder a new favorite in American kitchens. Its popular – and kosher – humous brand, Sabra, is the leading brand of the spread in the US, with 56 percent market share and the pledge to aid Americans in leading more healthful lifestyles.
She is the chairwoman of the board of the Strauss Group, Israel’s second-largest food and beverage company, since 2001. Following in the footsteps of her father, former Strauss CEO Michael, her journey began when she joined the family-owned Strauss ice-cream company in 1989, after earning a law degree at Tel Aviv University and serving as regional manager at Estée Lauder in New York.
With two appearances each on The Financial Times’s list of the Top 50 Women in World Business as well as Fortune magazine’s “Most Powerful Women in Business” rankings, she established Israel’s Catalyst Index and is chairwoman of the US-Israel Chamber of Commerce – even opening the New York Stock Exchange on a recent Israel Day.
On the charitable side, Strauss is a player – involved in projects with the Jewish Agency and the Women’s International Zionist Organization, among others. In 2012, as her company’s profits for the previous year slipped in the wake of the social justice protests, 12 managers and founders of charitable associations went as far as to send a supportive letter to the Strauss Group, praising its efforts for the poor.
In addition, she serves as chairwoman of Maala – Business for Social Responsibility, and is president of Jasmine, the Jewish-Arab businesswoman’s association.
• Erica Schachne
Chaim Chesler (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)Chaim Chesler (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
47. Chaim Chesler, Chairman of the Executive Committee of Limmud FSU
CHAIM CHESLER chairs the Executive Committee of Limmud FSU, which he cofounded in 2006, establishing himself as a hugely influential figure in the Jewish world.
Limmud FSU seeks to strengthen Jewish identity, and has held conferences in nine countries for thousands of young Russian- speaking adults. Chesler founded Limmud FSU together with Sandra Cahn (US) and Mikhail Chlenov (Russia), and he chairs its Executive Committee.
As executive director of the Israel Public Council for Soviet Jewry, he worked in Israel and around the globe to raise awareness of the struggle of Soviet Jews and their right to repatriate to Israel. Chesler also headed the Jewish Agency for Israel’s delegation to the former Soviet Union and the United States, and served as treasurer of the Jewish Agency.
During his tenure at the Council, many of the leading names of the struggle moved to Israel, including Natan Sharansky, Ida Nudel, Vladimir Slepak and Yuli Edelstein. In the same years, Chesler was a founder member of the Israel Forum, which worked to create a new channel for relations between Israel and the Diaspora.
In 1993, he was appointed head of the Jewish Agency’s delegation to the former Soviet Union. In his four years in the FSU, the delegation, which consisted of dozens of emissaries and hundreds of local employees, sent over a quarter of a million new immigrants to Israel.
At the end of 1997, Chesler was appointed co-chairman of the Immigration and Absorption Committee of the Jewish Agency, and focused on the deepening of understanding within Israeli society of the work of the Jewish Agency in general and its efforts for immigrant absorption in particular.
In June 1999, Chesler was appointed treasurer of the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, a position he held until 2002.
In the eight years of its activity, Limmud FSU has become the major motivational resource for young Russian-speaking Jews worldwide.
• Steve Linde
Rabbi David Golinkin (Courtesy)Rabbi David Golinkin (Courtesy)
48. David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies
RABBI DAVID GOLINKIN is one of the leading thinkers in the Conservative (Masorti) Movement and a prolific author and writer, and seeks to advance the Jewish approach to modernity within the parameters of Halacha. His relentless activity in the realm of Jewish law has seen him become one of the most influential figures within the movement, and he has also gained the respect of Orthodox scholars.
Golinkin currently serves as the president and professor of Jewish Law at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, which provides Jewish education to over 50,000 children and adults every year. He also served for 20 years as the chairman of the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly, which writes responsa and gives halachic guidance to the Masorti Movement in Israel.
The rabbi founded and directs the Institute of Applied Halacha at The Schechter Institute, which seeks to create an archive of halachic literature on an array of topics in Jewish law for the Conservative Movement.
He has written or edited 45 books, including Halakha for Our Time, An Index of Conservative Responsa and Halakhic Studies 1917-1990, Rediscovering the Art of Jewish Prayer, The Jewish Law Watch and The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa. Additionally, Golinkin has published over 200 articles, responsa on Jewish law and sermons.
Along with his other leadership roles, Golinkin is also director of the Center for Women in Jewish Law at the Schechter Institute, dedicated to finding halachic solutions for agunot or “chained women” who are unable to obtain a get (halachic divorce) from their husbands, and edited Za’akat Dalot: Halakhic Solutions for the Agunot of our Time, a seminal work dealing with the issue and how to resolve it.
• Jeremy Sharon
Marcue Natan (Hadassah)Marcue Natan (Hadassah)
49. Marcie Natan, National president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America
SOME OF her predecessors have had a tough time, but none had to cope with the possible closure of the Hadassah Medical Organization as did Marcie Natan, the current and 25th national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. But fortunately for Hadassah, Natan’s previous position with the organization had been that of National Treasurer, a factor that stood her and Hadassah in good stead when negotiating the future of HMO, to which she has always been a generous donor.
During one of the many stalemates during the negotiations, Natan and the Hadassah leadership including several past national presidents, demonstrated outside the Knesset calling on the government to partner with Hadassah.
No one gets elected to the Hadassah National Executive, much less the presidency of the organization, unless she demonstrates resilience to negative forces and dedication to Hadassah’s cause. Natan qualified on all counts.
In addition to traveling coast to coast across America to boost members’ morale and to raise funds to support the financially ailing HMO, and making scores of persuasive speeches, Natan was frequently in Israel in recent months to argue Hadassah’s case and to celebrate Hadassah’s victories on many fronts.
Natan is a former member of the Hadassah Foundation Board, which works towards improving the status, health and well-being of women and girls in the US and Israel. As national treasurer from 2006 to 2010, she led the initiative to create Hadassah’s single consolidated budget, which enabled the streamlining its financial planning. A member of Hadassah for close to half a century, Natan also has served as national vice president, national secretary, chair of planned giving and estates, chair of major gifts, chair of unit assessment, National Organization Department chair and national president’s training chair. She was president of the Eastern Pennsylvania Region from 1989 to 1992. Most recently, she was National Chair of Hadassah College Jerusalem.
• Greer Fay Cashman
Mark Leibler (Courtesy)Mark Leibler (Courtesy)
50. Mark Leibler, National chairman of the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council
AN ORTHODOX Jew who walks with ease through Australia’s corridors of power, and Australian high society, Mark Leibler was described in the influential morning paper The Age as “the unofficial leader of Australia’s Jewish community.”
Leibler has tirelessly immersed himself in local and national Jewish affairs as well as in specifically Australian issues that had little or nothing to do with the Jewish community.
Recognized as one of Australia’s leading tax lawyers, he served as a member of the Commissioner of Taxation’s Advisory Panel from 1989 to 1992, and as a member and in an executive capacity on a number of prestigious tax oriented law committees, groups and panels.
His taxation expertise has placed him in great demand as a lecturer at universities, and various institutes dealing with law and finance.
In 2012, he was named “Tax Lawyer of the Year” by the Best Lawyers journal, and has worked with government bodies and leading corporations in formulating taxation policy and taxation law.
His involvement with Israel was on several fronts which necessitated frequent commutes.
Leibler is currently a member of the board of governors and of the executive committee of the Jewish Agency, and chairman of the Agency’s Comptroller’s Committee; a patron of the Victorian Chapter of the Australian Friends of Tel Aviv University; a member of the board of governors of Tel Aviv University; a member of the board of directors of World Keren Hayesod; and a governor of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.
Other Israel-related positions include national chairman of the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, life chairman of the United Israel Appeal of Australia; deputy chairman of the National Australia Bank Yachad Scholarship Fund that encourages Australian scholars from diverse backgrounds to study in Israel; life member of the Executive of the Zionist Federation of Australia – and that’s only a short list. He has been president or chairman of numerous other federal and state organizations and institutions.
Leibler has a very strong sense of social justice, and for his commitment to the rights of the indigenous population and his efforts to promote understanding and reconciliation between the Aborigines and other Australians he received Australia’s highest award for community service which is the Companion of the Order of Australia. This is only one of many awards that he is received in both Israel and Australia.
In 2010 former prime minister Julia Gillard appointed Leibler to co-chair the expert panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.
• Greer Fay Cashman