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September 11, 2017 11:23 am

The Jewish Year’s Inspiring Newsmakers

avatar by Jacob Kamaras / JNS.org

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Gal Gadot in an ad for “Wonder Woman.” Photo: Twitter.

JNS.org – Judaism’s High Holidays are a time for prayer, introspection and also inspiration. Amid the headlines on terrorism and political disputes, some prominent newsmakers in the Israel and Middle East scene gave us something to smile about or admire during this past year.

Ahead of Rosh Hashanah, JNS.org is spotlighting high-profile individuals who made a positive difference — sometimes in unexpected ways — during the Jewish calendar year of 5777.

Gal Gadot

Despite Arab nations’ boycotts of “Wonder Woman” due to Gadot’s leading role, the Israeli actress wowed at the box office and gave Jews, Israelis, feminists and comic book aficionados much to be proud about. In late June, Gadot was ranked first in the Hollywood Reporter’s Top Actors list, which bases its rankings on actors’ popularity on social media sites.

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Israel has no shortage of enemies around the world. But Modi, by becoming the first sitting Indian prime minister to visit Israel, showed that the Jewish state also has powerful friends. India is the world’s second-largest country, by population.

Modi’s trip to Israel had it all — including technological consultations, meeting with a Jewish child orphaned by the 2008 terror attack on Mumbai’s Chabad House, and a beach stroll and jeep ride with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Nikki Haley and Danny Danon

Israel has experienced decades of bias and disproportionate criticism at the United Nations. But the Trump administration — under the leadership of its ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley — is vowing to chart a new course for the world body when it comes to the Jewish state.

During her speech at March’s AIPAC policy conference, Haley described herself as the UN’s “new sheriff in town,” and declared that “the days of Israel-bashing are over.” Haley, who in April assumed the UN Security Council’s rotating monthly presidency, has promised to refocus the council away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Danny Danon, Israel’s UN ambassador, also made strides at the UN by securing landmark roles as vice president of the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, and chair of the UN’s Legal Committee.

Jason Greenblatt

In addition to being dispatched to help defuse the Temple Mount crisis, Greenblatt — President Donald Trump’s international negotiations representative — has made seven visits to Israel in the span of eight months. While pessimism is typically prevalent when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Greenblatt’s persistent diplomacy has earned rare praise from both sides.

Following a meeting with Greenblatt in March, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas declared that “under President Trump’s leadership, a historic peace deal is possible, and that it will enhance security throughout the region.” Most recently, Greenblatt announced an agreement between Israel and the PA on a historic Red Sea-Dead Sea canal that will relieve Palestinian water shortages.

Yariv Levin

Although Israel has constant security challenges internally and regionally, the country remains as attractive as ever for international travelers. April and May 2017 set individual monthly records for tourists arriving in Israel, while the first six months of 2017 set their own half-year record — with 1.74 million incoming tourists, a 26-percent increase from the same time one year earlier.

What’s behind the tourism boom? Yariv Levin, Israel’s tourism minister, cites his ministry’s new marketing strategies to “brand Israel,” and to encourage airlines to open additional routes to the Jewish state.

Thom Yorke

In July, Radiohead defied BDS pressure by giving Israel the band’s longest performance in 11 years.

Former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu had spearheaded a BDS petition against the concert. But Radiohead frontman Yorke took a principled stand in a Twitter feud with British filmmaker Ken Loach, asserting, “Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression.”

Nir Barkat

This year, Jerusalem’s mayor saw the holy city mark the 50th anniversary of its reunification, a milestone feted significantly by Israelis and Jews around the world.

Barkat is also overseeing the development of infrastructure that will help Jerusalem grow into a major economic hub, including a forthcoming high-speed rail that will take residents from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv in just 28 minutes.

At the same time, Barkat also embraces his city’s DNA. “People think that conflict in Jerusalem is a bug, something that needs to be resolved,” he told JNS.org in May. “In Jerusalem, conflict is not a bug, it is a feature.”

Amar’e Stoudemire

The former NBA basketball star has been deepening his connection to Israel since 2010, when he made a much-publicized visit to explore what he called his “Hebrew roots.”

Last year, Stoudemire moved to Israel and signed a contract to play for Hapoel Jerusalem, a franchise that he partially owned. Though he never won a title in 14 NBA seasons, Stoudemire won an Israeli league championship with the Jerusalem team in June. He also made his presence felt off the court, earning Israel’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Award in February for efforts to educate at-risk youths and provide safe drinking water to impoverished countries.

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