June 10: What's in a list?

What do Irving Berlin, Rav Kook, Louis B. Mayer, Albert Einstein, Marc Chagall and Franz Kafka have in common?

letters (photo credit: JP)
(photo credit: JP)
What’s in a list?
Sir, – Regarding your June 7 Shavuot supplement highlighting “The 50 most influential Jews in the world, 2011,” let’s begin with the following names: Irving Berlin, Rav Kook, Louis B. Mayer, Albert Einstein, Marc Chagall and Franz Kafka. What do they have in common? If someone had published a similar list in 1920, few – if any – would have been included.
So much for lists.
As Steve Linde admits in his introduction, the “torrent of responses” to last year’s list was often negative.
So you wound up dumping some of the allegedly influential personages from 2010 in favor of a new crop. Who can imagine what faces will grace 2012? The problem is not who is or isn’t included, but your methodology – or lack thereof. When you say someone is “influential,” what do you mean? And what are your criteria? Are you looking at influence in the Jewish sphere or the world at large? Are you looking for a track record of accomplishment or just potential? Are you possibly confusing influence with prominence? Consider the accomplishments and the fields of endeavor of the truly important Jewish men and women in the 20th century, and then look again at your lists, this year’s and last year’s. My personal opinion is that you have been blinded by organizational titles and positions of importance. I also admit that my own list – should I attempt one – would be as useless and inconsequential as yours.
Ma’aleh Adumim
Sir, – I was saddened to read how few of these 50 people really identify with and practice Judaism.
They are born Jews only, for the most part. They could just as well be Buddhists, Taoists or men of no faith, as is your most influential Jew, who created Facebook.
The article was not appropriate for Shavuot, when thoughts should be concentrated on the unique relationship between God and His giving of the Torah to the Jewish people.
What I hope for the future is an article about 50 Jews who are spiritual personalities, philosophers and true leaders of the Jewish people in Israel and abroad.
Sir, – In the profile you did in your Shavuot list of US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, you state that he “reportedly helped roll Torah scrolls in his local synagogue when growing up in Dillon, South Carolina....”
Use of “reportedly” is unnecessary. I was the student rabbi at Dillon’s Beth Shalom Synagogue for the High Holy Days in 1966.
Ben indeed helped me roll the Torah scrolls to the correct place for both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and there were other ways he assisted me at services.
I stayed at his parents’ kosher home during the High Holy Day season, as did all of the student rabbis that came from the Jewish Theological Seminary to serve the congregation.
There’s still smoke
Sir, – Kudos for your recent articles on antismoking legislation. More needs to be done about smoking in taxis, bus stations, bus and train stops, and the shuk (vendors included). In establishments where customers (and the security guard) smoke within a few feet of the door, it’s the same as smoking inside. There’s even smoking at the Kotel.
You are right: Enforcement is lacking in the holiest city and country in the world. We have an opportunity to be a light unto the nations, but we have yet to seize the moment. (And is it possible to take out the statue of the smoker in the Jerusalem Theater? It’s horrible.
What is the message they are sending?) I chose a healthier life style. Twenty years later I am back to good health, no more flu or smoker’s cough. I belong to “Nicotine Anonymous” and highly recommend it.