The Jewish leaders of the future?

The rising Jewish stars will be better educated, fluent in English and Hebrew and include more women, according to the following list.

Lea Michele 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lea Michele 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
We chose 10 people – media moguls, political activists, diplomats, artists and speechwriters – under the age of 32 who are doing interesting things in the Jewish sphere. While we believe these individuals are certainly among the best and the brightest, the list could have easily been expanded to include another 10, 20 or 30 equally gifted candidates. The good news is that despite often-heard complaints about the dearth of good, young Jewish leaders, there seems to be no shortage of talent to take over at the helm once the baby boomers retire; one just has to look in the right places. Ten years from now, or even sooner, we expect some of our selections to have risen to powerful positions, and when that happens, we’ll take all the credit for having found them first.
ADI ARBEL Project manager, Institute for Zionist Strategies
It is difficult to speak to Adi Arbel, 31, on the phone because of all the background noise on the bus. Had he chosen to stay in the hi-tech industry working as a computer programmer, he wouldn’t have had to rely on public transportation, but he has no regrets.
Working as a project manager at the right-ofcenter Institute for Zionist Strategies is much more fulfilling, he says. Arbel gave up on a much more comfortable life for the sake of Zionism.
He was raised in Givat Shmuel, studied at a preparatory yeshiva and was a computer programmer in the army. After he completed his military service, he worked for Elbit until he eventually left to pursue a career in political activism.
At the IZS he helps lawmakers from both sides of the political spectrum, he stresses, pass laws related to education, land reform and Zionism. “At the IZS we intentionally avoid the question of finalstatus borders to build a broad Zionist consensus,” he says. For instance, he helped change the matriculation exam to include a question on the Jewish as well as the democratic identity of Israel. Arbel swears he doesn’t want to become a politician one day, but others have said similar things in the past only to take them back later.
ARIEL BEERY Co-director of PresenTense
“Ariel Beery is like the guy who they call in Pulp Fiction when they need to clean things up,” said one Jewish official who recommended Beery, 31, for this list. While the comparison to Harvey Keitel’s sharp-thinking, fast-talking character Winston “The Wolf” Wolfe may be going a bit too far, the idea is that Beery is the kind of guy who can swoop in, fire off a couple of good ideas and make things better fast.
As the head of PresenTense, his job is to help Jewish federations reach out to younger folk in their 20s and 30s. One of the ways he accomplishes that is by changing the emphasis from dollars to minutes raised (volunteering time). “We collect their energies,” Beery said. “We started off with a magazine in 2005. In 2007 we started the summer institute for creative Zionism. This year we’re in six communities around the world and we’ve raised over a million minutes.”
JARED COHEN Senior Google official
By the age of 24 Connecticut native Jared Cohen, who is now 29, had already written two books, one about the Rwandan genocide and the other about youths in the Muslim world and how the Internet – among other things – was changing their lives. It was the latter that caught the eye of the US State Department and landed the former Rhodes scholar a job on its Policy Planning Staff before his 25th birthday, the youngest person ever to do so. There, he helped pioneer the use of new media and develop “21st-century statecraft.”
In 2009-2010 mass protests broke out in Iran. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Tehran to demonstrate the allegedly rigged reelection of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the presidency. At one point Cohen made headlines when he fired off a letter to Twitter asking the social media website to postpone plans to close the site for maintenance that would deprive Iranian dissidents of a valuable platform of communication. The White House was furious with Cohen because it contradicted its order not to interfere with events taking place in the Islamic Republic and one official said that if it were up to him the young Jewish diplomat would be fired.
Last year Cohen left the State Department for another dream job, the position of director of Google Ideas. Looking back, the tiff with the White House might have been unnecessary. The Iranian movement wouldn’t have gone bust because Twitter was down. Rather, it failed for many other reasons, most importantly the regime’s willingness to use force. But Cohen can be proud of his achievements. He has helped bring to light the importance of new media at Foggy Bottom, a decision which paid off considering the key role they played in the Jasmine Revolution which swept across Arab countries earlier this year.
SARAH EISENMAN Director of Next Generation at the JDC
As one of the world’s top experts on the Dead Sea Scrolls, Prof. Robert Eisenman has dedicated his career to conduct research into the past of the Jewish people. His 32-year-old daughter, Sarah Eisenman, however, is more interested in exploring its future. As the head of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Next Generation she is tasked with introducing young Jews to the 93-year-old relief group and involving them in Jewish activism in a global context.
“We started involving young people into the service and putting together a young corps where people can go serve eight days, 10 days, a month or a year – just let them get out there,” she says.
Today, about 400 Jewish volunteers join her program every year and are shipped off to faraway destinations such as Peru and Rwanda to provide relief and aid work.
“I see this as being much bigger than the JDC. It’s about creating a generation that can contribute to the Jewish world,” she says. “In 2008 one million Americans volunteered abroad so you can see people are being more global oriented, and we in the Jewish community are trying to prepare people for dealing with 21st-century global challenges.”
For her efforts the Californian native has won the praise of JDC’s most senior leadership, and one official even said she could head the organization 20 years from now. Perhaps that’s why Eisenman is so concerned with revitalizing JDC – she wants to make sure it’s still a vibrant institution if she gets hold of the reins.
HAVIV RETTIG GUR Chief spokesman, Jewish Agency
How many years before Haviv Rettig Gur is a Knesset member? Probably not many, if he so desires. Rettig Gur has everything it takes to succeed: The 30-year-old chief spokesman for the Jewish Agency for Israel is intelligent, affable, passionate about Jewish and Israeli politics and equally articulate in Hebrew and English. Perhaps even more importantly, he knows all the right people. (Full disclosure: Rettig Gur was the previous Jerusalem Post correspondent covering the Jewish world.)
Born in Israel but raised mostly in the US, Rettig Gur is one of a group of a relatively rare breed of Israeli-American hybrids who fit into both worlds effortlessly. His Israeli credentials are bolstered by his military service and deep familiarity with Israeli society.
While a career in politics seems inevitable, he may prefer to stay in the cozier, kinder world of the Jewish establishment following the footsteps of his father, Rabbi Ed Rettig, a senior American Jewish Committee official. If he does decide to seek public office someday, a word of warning: in Israeli politics there’s no such thing as a sure thing. For an idea of just how harsh Israeli politics can be he can just ask his mentor, JAFI chairman Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and undisputed hero of the refusenik movement, who ended up at the helm of the Jewish organization only after his political career came to an abrupt and unexpected end.
Jewish Diplomatic Corps coordinator, clarinetist
If you’re looking for a poster girl for Taglit- Birthright, look no further than Margot Stern.
When the 27-year-old Floridian came to Israel on a two-week Birthright trip back in 2004 her personal connection to the Jewish state was tenuous.
But she fell in love with the country, made aliya and has been involved in Jewish activism ever since. Until not too long ago she was part of Leadel, a Jewish media hub somewhat similar to the TED website. Recently she joined the World Jewish Diplomatic Corps, an affiliate of the World Jewish Congress, and is busy putting together a conference that will be held in Prague later this year. Despite her busy schedule, Stern hasn’t forgotten her classical training as a clarinet player. If you’re lucky, you might catch her on stage at a Birthright mega event playing some “hard-core Hava Nagila.
Founder and executive director of TrailTalks
Natalie Gourvitch isn’t afraid of big challenges. As the head of the soon-to-be-launched group TrailTalks, she wants to civilize Israeli backpackers, one of the most unruly subspecies of an already wild bunch. Of course, that’s my wording, not hers.
“We want to engage young Israeli travelers to deepen and develop their abilities to build dynamic and enduring international relationships,“ the 24-year-old New York-born Oxford graduate explained in much more refined language.
At any given moment there are about 20,000 to 60,000 young Israeli backpackers abroad. During their travels they come in contact with locals and backpackers from other countries sharing experiences and trading ideas. For some Israelis, the encounter can be a culture shock which they are ill-equipped to deal with.
Starting later this year TrailTalks will take up to 160 would-be Israeli backpackers and give them tools to better navigate the world, represent themselves and, by association, Israel and the Jewish people. For Israeli-American Gourvitch, herself a veteran backpacker, it’s important to stress the aim of her project is to open minds to the world, not condition them.
Heir, media mogul and minor celebrity
Money and power go hand in hand, and at the ripe old age of 30 Jared Kushner already has more of both than most people will ever have in their lifetimes. He was born into the wealthy Kushner family of New York which made its fortune in real estate, and studied at the Frisch School in that city, a private yeshiva, and later Harvard. By the age of 25 he already owned the New York Observer, a weekly newspaper which is read by the city’s elite. Then he married a Trump, Donald’s daughter Ivanka. The bride converted to Judaism and the couple is currently expecting its first child.
Indeed, Kushner has it all: good looks, money, a solid (Jewish) education and powerful friends (Rupert Murdoch is said to be a chum). We’re certain to hear of him more in the future either as a realestate developer, a media mogul or a philanthropist.
Speechwriter, journalist
If you’re wondering how some of Israel’s senior politicians give eloquent speeches in English on a level that is clearly above their command of the language, then Yael Wissner-Levy might have something to do with that. Among other things, the precocious 27-year-old writes speeches for certain heavies who cannot be named.
Before she began channeling the thoughts of public officials and putting them into words, the London School of Economics graduate worked for Haaretz and Channel 10, where she was its London correspondent for a year. In between, she found the time to work as an aide to US Congressman Steve Israel. Like other up-and-comers featured in this list, Wissner-Levy is a true Israeli-American hybrid fitting comfortably in both worlds, a trait which is bound to help her in the increasingly cosmopolitan Jewish world.
For Lea Michele, 23, art imitates life imitates Barbra Streisand. Rachel Berry, the main character on the hit TV show Glee, dreams of being a Broadway star, and is willing to do almost anything to make that dream come true. Rachel is a determined overachiever with a love of Streisand, and when Michele, born Lea Michele Sarfati to an Italian mother and a Sephardi Jewish father, belts out “Don’t Rain on My Parade” or “My Man,” it’s like she’s almost eerily successful in channeling the original Funny Girl.
Of course, Babs doesn't only inspire Michele’s singing – the Gleek told Us Weekly: “I remember looking up to Barbra Streisand and thinking, ‘finally, someone who has a Jewish nose, who didn’t get a nose job.’” When Rachel, her character on Glee, considers rhinoplasty, she decides to stick with the schnozz she was born with for the same reason. If it’s good enough for Streisand, it's good enough for a glee club diva.
Michele isn’t just the woman who brought “Papa Can You Hear Me?” to prime-time. She also has the bona fides of a true Broadway star. After all, she made her debut on the Great White Way at age eight, playing Young Cosette in Les Miserables.
Since then, she’s played Chava in Fiddler on the Roof and starred in the original cast of Spring Awakening, but her most memorable role yet is the one that taught kids across America to love show tunes.
What’s next for this up-and-coming star? Rumor has it that Michele will play Gypsy Rose Lee opposite Streisand’s Mama Rose in a film adaptation of Gypsy. Looks like everything’s coming up roses!
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.