Top 50 most influential Jews: Places 1-10

“Jack” Lew isn’t the first Jewish White House chief of staff, or even the first observant Jewish White House chief of staff.

Jack Lew and Obama 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jack Lew and Obama 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
1. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
2. Jack Lew, White House chief of staff Jacob
“Jack” Lew isn’t the first Jewish White House chief of staff, or even the first observant Jewish White House chief of staff.
But Lew, 56, is the only observant White House chief of staff sitting in close proximity to the Oval Office now, while US President Barack Obama weighs how to deal with the threat of Iran, an ongoing economic crisis and a close reelection campaign.
A former head of the Office of Management and Budget and deputy secretary of state, Lew is well plugged in on both the economic and foreign policy side of the equation.
He also served in former president Bill Clinton’s cabinet and was a member of the National Security Council.
At a recent appearance before the American Jewish Committee, Lew made clear his commitment to his Jewish values and upbringing, citing the immigrant experience of his father, who came to the US from Poland right after World War I.
Lew is known for keeping a lower profile – and volume – than his Jewish predecessor Rahm Emanuel, but that doesn’t make his role any less important or powerful.
– Hilary Leila Krieger
3. Jill Abramson ‘New York Times’ executive editor
With a storied career at Time magazine, The American Lawyer and The Wall Street Journal, Jill Abramson is perhaps at the peak of her career after being named the first female executive editor of The New York Times last year.
Abramson, 58, a New York City native who graduated from Harvard, served as the news managing editor at the Times from 2003 to September 2011, when she took over from executive editor Bill Keller. In her short tenure so far, she appointed a new Washington bureau chief and national editor, installed Jodi Rudoren as the new Jerusalem bureau chief and oversaw an overhaul of the Times’s online commenting system. A Times veteran told The Independent in March that “none of her predecessors imposed so many changes at the top so soon.”
In an interview with earlier this year, Abramson admitted that “the Times’s coverage of anything involving Israel is heavily scrutinized,” and that the paper’s “flawed” 2003 coverage of the Iraq War weighs heavily on editorial considerations of the Iran-Israel conflict.
Though she puts on a fierce face to lead the Gray Lady, Abramson revealed a softer side in her 2011 book The Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Named Scout.
– Amy Spiro
4. Mark Zuckerberg Founder and CEO of Facebook
In the past month, Mark Zuckerberg turned 28, got married and launched one of the largest IPOs [initial public offerings] in history. The website that he started from his Harvard dorm room, and steered to its current 900 million active users, debuted on the stock market on May 16 to the tune of $16 billion, the third-largest in US history.
Zuckerberg, who co-founded the company in 2004 while still in college, oversaw its rise from several hundred users on one university campus to the 12 percent of the world that currently maintains a Facebook profile today. He became a billionaire at the age of 23, and today is worth an estimated $19 b. He has been named as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People for the past four years.
His ascension to one of the most powerful people in the world has not been without controversy: Zuckerberg has been the subject of numerous lawsuits from alleged co-creators seeking a piece of the fortune Facebook has amassed, and the subject of The Social Network (2010) in a rather scathing portrayal. The company has also faced fierce criticism from users over its privacy practices and sharing of personal information, allowing underage users to sign up and the ability of controversial groups to disseminate their messages on the site.
While Facebook is widely used for uploading photos of last night’s drunken adventure or seeing what your ex-boyfriend from high school is up to, it is also credited – along with Twitter – with playing a crucial role in the Arab Spring revolts and various other grassroots protests. – Amy Spiro
5. Sheryl Sandberg Chief operating officer of Facebook
As chief operating officer of the largest social networking site on the planet, Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most powerful businesswomen in the world.
Before Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg hired Sandberg, 42, in 2008, she worked as vice president of Global Online Sales and Operations at Google, and as chief of staff for the US Department of the Treasury.
When Zuckerberg met Sandberg at a Christmas party in 2007, he thought of her as “a perfect fit” for managing his company’s business operations, including sales, marketing, business development, human resources, public policy and communications.
Sandberg, mentored by Larry Summers at Harvard University and the World Bank, is credited with making Facebook profitable with discreetly placed advertisements on the site. She is ranked time and time again on Time, Forbes and other lists as one of the most influential people and women to watch on the web.
Last May, after Sandberg gave the commencement address at Barnard College, a graduating senior approached her.
“You’re the baddest bitch,” she told her.
“I hope she meant it as a compliment,” said Sandberg. – Rachel Marder
6. Ruth Messinger President of American Jewish World Service
As president of the American Jewish World Service, Ruth Messinger, 71, leads one of the major development organizations supporting human rights for marginalized people and on-the-ground programs around the world.
From sending young Jewish adults to thirdworld countries to volunteer to providing grants to 375 grassroots organizations worldwide and famously sounding the alarm to world leaders on genocide in Darfur, Messinger promotes global citizenship among Jews, stands up for justice and demands compassion and real change. She joined AJWS in 1988 following a long career in public service in New York City.
New Yorkers remember Messinger as the first woman to receive the Democratic Party’s nomination for New York City mayor.
She lost the 1997 election to Rudolph Giuliani, who won a second term. Messinger previously served for 12 years on the New York City Council and for eight years as Manhattan borough president. According to the Forward, AJWS had a $2.8 million budget and funded 65 projects and 50 organizations in 20 nations in 1998, when Messinger took over. Now, with a budget of $42m., it funds some 626 projects and 458 organizations in 34 countries. – Rachel Marder
7. Jon Stewart, Comedian and TV host
Young Americans increasingly seem to get their news from one source – not CNN, The New York Times or even The Jerusalem Post, but a most unlikely place – Comedy Central.
For over a dozen years, Jon Stewart, 49, has been satirizing both the newsmakers and those who cover them nightly on his popular Daily Show. He’ll even be taking his show on the road and broadcasting from the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, this fall.
His interviews over the past year with figures like former US president Bill Clinton, US House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice were watched closely by the media, and his shows garner higher ratings than any cable news network, including the top-ranked Fox News.
He frequently draws on his Jewish heritage in the show, including a segment earlier this year where he donned a kippa and a Star of David and sang lyrics from Yentl to address Israeli politicians while simultaneously attempting to assuage the fears of Americans and Iranians. – Amy Spiro
8. Michael Oren Israeli ambassador to the US
“As goes Israel, so goes the Jewish people,” or at least so goes an oft-repeated aphorism.
And no external actor on the world stage has more impact on the State of Israel than the United States of America. Good, strong relations with the US are critical for Israel, and important for the US, and few have more dayto- day input on that relationship than Israel’s envoy to Washington – Michael Oren.
Oren, 57, was a surprise pick when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu fetched him from the Ivory Tower three years ago and thrust him, a historian, into the maelstrom of current events.
He was not a diplomat, not in Netanyahu’s inner circle, nor in possession of political chips that Netanyahu could cash in. But the West Orange, New Jersey native, educated at Columbia and Princeton, was smart, articulate, well read and very comfortable speaking in front of audiences and a television camera.
In his three years in Washington he has emerged as an eloquent and passionate spokesman for Israel, whether facing down anti-Israeli protesters on campus, confronting a journalist for a biased report, or penning op-ed pieces for the elite US media.
As importantly, Oren has come forward as a key player in managing the crucial, yet often choppy, relationship between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama.
Oren positively influences US attitudes on Israel, something that impacts on the well-being of the country and – in line with the aphorism quoted above – on the well-being of Jews everywhere. – Herb Keinon
9. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Chairwoman of the US Democratic National Committee
As the US heads into what is shaping up to be a contentious election this fall, President Barack Obama has one outspoken and powerful Jewish voice on his side: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and a congresswoman from Florida.
Wasserman Schultz, 45, was elected to Congress in 2005, and sat on the powerful Appropriations Committee for five years. She was selected to head the DNC – which is responsible for the party’s campaigning and fund-raising – last year by Obama, likely due in part to her landmark fund-raising of $17 million during the 2006 elections.
And she’s already taken to defense of the president, writing that, “No smear campaign can change the fact that the president has not wavered in his support for the Jewish state and effort to curb the Iranian nuclear program,” in an editorial in the Sun-Sentinel earlier this year.
The mother of three also declared religion offlimits in this fall’s campaign against Mormon Republican presumed nominee Mitt Romney, calling a claim that Democrats would attack Romney’s faith “preposterous” and “nonsense.”
Her own religion has been front and center from the beginning of her career, with membership in both the National Jewish Democratic Council and Hadassah, as well as playing an instrumental role in passing an act establishing May as Jewish American Heritage Month in 2006. – Amy Spiro
10. Peter Beinart