Thursday, June 1st | 12 Sivan 5783


The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2022

In honor of The Algemeiner’s 50th anniversary gala, we are delighted to unveil our ninth ‘J100’ list of the top one hundred individuals who have positively influenced Jewish life this past year. Before you work your way through this exciting list, we wanted to first share some of the thoughts that we discussed as we developed it. If we could group these ideas together, the first would be about creating lists, in general; then, what’s unique about lists and Judaism; some finer points differentiating our honorees from the organizations they lead; and important reflections on all those every day and anonymous-to-us heroes we also want to celebrate without ever knowing their names. And, of course, to thank everyone who helped create the list and worked hard to put together our ‘J100’ gala.

It’s no secret that many Jewish communities have seen significant and rising challenges over the past year, specifically the Jewish community in war-torn Ukraine. Our unique role as a newspaper, to highlight the most vulnerable in our community and advocate on their behalf, has never been clearer. This year has affirmed for us our shared long-held belief that journalism saves lives. As such, in the compilation of this year’s ‘J100’ list we’ve placed particular emphasis on those standing at the forefront of assisting Ukraine’s Jewish community. We hope you find your review of the list to be as valuable as we did.

On Lists

There are lists, and there are lists. From the Forbes 400 to the Time 100, we are witness today to a proliferation of many lists in various magazines and newspapers. The New Yorker even made a list of The Hundred Best Lists of All Time! It seems that in the feeding frenzy of our information overloaded society, categorizations and listings get our attention by presumably helping us make sense of the data flooding our psyches. Lists also carry an element of sensationalism – who made the list, who didn’t – feeding the hunger for competition – yet another staple of our superficial times. No wonder we don’t find such popularity contests waged in earlier centuries; living as desert nomads or inside of a shtetl, where everyone knew virtually no one else but their neighbors by name (for good or for bad), did not exactly lend itself to creating a top ten list of favorites. This is an exclusive product of the communications revolution and the global village it created.

Jewish Lists

Jewish sages, in particular, did not create such lists. Indeed, some actually dismissed the categorization of lists (even of the 13 Principles of Faith of Maimonides, let alone of a list of the “best” one thing or another). It begs the uneasy question of how one can even attempt to measure the value of a person? Isn’t everyone a hero in some way? On what grounds can we presume to judge who is more valuable than the next? With the ‘J100’ list we tried to create something more meaningful, a list aligned with our core mission: the 100 people who have the most positive impact on Jewish life and Israel – men and women, Jew or non-Jew, who have lifted the quality of Jewish life in the past year. Think of it this way: Without these ‘J100’ – either the individuals or the organizations they represent – Jewish life would not be at the caliber it is today. Despite the artificial, superficial, and sensational nature of any list, we sought to transform the information deluge of our times by using the list to shine a spotlight on those gems in our midst, those people who are making a real difference in others’ lives.

We also seek to inspire and motivate our young and the next generation, our future emerging leaders, in rising to the occasion and perpetuating the highest standards of our proud tradition and legacy – in serving and championing the cause of Jews and Israel. Because, as we know, when the quality of Jewish life is raised, the quality of all lives is raised. However, the most exciting part of our work in choosing the ‘J100,’ frankly, was sifting through hundreds of candidates and nominees to discover some surprising finalists. It was a joy to see the breadth of all those who merited a mention, to understand some of the great work being performed around the world on behalf of the Jewish people, and to celebrate their victories by bringing this great work to renewed public attention via this endeavor.

Individual vs. Organization

Inevitably, any list recognizing those that have positively influenced Jewish life will include the “usual suspects,” well-known leaders and officials of governments, organizations, and institutions. Like it or not, bureaucracy is part of the fabric of our society, feeding and supporting Jewish life around the globe, and it is that fabric that provides strength and cohesion to our disparate Jewish population.

Not all the names on the ‘J100’ were included for the same reason. Some are being honored for their personal contributions, others for their work at the organizations or nations they head. Some on the ‘J100’ are long established stars, others newcomers.

Like in any dynamic entity, we included both stalwart leaders with deep roots holding the foundation, while also introducing new branches that will lead us into the future.

This type of list – “The top 100 people positively influencing Jewish life” – has its inherent challenges. First, what defines “positive”? What some consider positive, others consider destructive. Jews notoriously disagree on what positive impact means. Fully cognizant of the controversy such a list could stir, we approached the creation of this list with a particular strategy, infused with a sense of humility and respect, to be as all-inclusive as possible while maintaining our integrity. This list should not be seen as an endorsement of anyone or any entity and way of thinking; rather, the people on this list are a reflection of the rich and broad spectrum of Jewish life – those who have positively contributed and helped shape the Jewish future.

We want this list to not be a definitive one, but a type of snapshot and perspective of the Jewish world today. The ‘J100’ is far from perfect – but which list of this type would not be? Rather, we want it to serve as a provocateur, challenging us all to think about what we value and consider precious; what we honor as being a positive influence on Jewish life and on Israel.

Anonymous Heroes

Jewish life, now and throughout history, is fraught with innumerable heroes – mostly unsung. A mother unceremoniously bringing up a beautiful family. A quiet nurse attending to the ill. An anonymous philanthropist sending food packages to the needy. The unobtrusive kindergarten teacher lovingly attending to and shaping young lives. Positive influences abound, yet few are called out.

Moreover, the Jewish community is decentralized. A leader in one city or town who has a major impact on their community may be completely irrelevant in another city. No list – not of 100, not of 1,000 – could capture and do justice to the countless daily acts of heroism and nobility impacting Jews and Israel.

There are innumerable rabbis, lay leaders, educators, and administrators who are beloved and are transforming their Jewish communities. As important as these individuals may be – and they certainly deserve their own list – the ‘J100’ does not include these heroes. Instead it focuses on individuals that have global and international impact, and that come from diverse groups – such as writers, teachers, government officials, and NGOs. In some ways, the ‘J100’ should be looked at not as a bunch of disjointed individuals, but as a mosaic – a confluence of many different colors and hues that create a diverse painting.

Thank You

In the spirit of The Algemeiner, we want this list to lift the quality of our discourse and standards in seeking out the best within and among us. We hope you enjoy reviewing and studying this list, and we welcome all your feedback, critiques, and suggestions to be included next year, in what has become a tradition at our annual gala event.

We extend our deep gratitude to our ‘J100’ honorees and special guests, to those who support this great institution, and ultimately to our readers, the Jewish people, and friends of the Jewish people whom we serve.

Disclosure: Algemeiner staff and their immediate families were disqualified for inclusion on the list. Some of the ‘J100’ finalists are friends and associates of The Algemeiner. As a media entity with many relationships, The Algemeiner inevitably has many friends and supporters; yet we didn’t feel it fair to disqualify highly qualified candidates simply due to their connection with us. Instead, fully cognizant of that reality, we placed special emphasis on impartiality and objectivity to choose only those who fit the criteria.

— The Algemeiner editors

1 .


Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

President of Egypt

Lauded by some observers as a pragmatic moderate and by others as a dictator with a poor human rights record, Egypt’s strongman ruler Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has made clear his intention to strengthen relations with neighboring Israel. In particular, el-Sisi wants to strengthen the commercial and economic ties that enjoyed a boost in 2022 when, in a bid to stave off an energy crisis stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Israel and Egypt reached an agreement with the EU for the provision of natural gas to the bloc. In November, el-Sisi met with US President Joe Biden on the fringes of the COP 27 Summit in Sharm-el-Sheikh, with Biden stressing the long-standing “common understanding” between the two countries. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


2 .


Abdullah bin Zayed

Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan is the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the United Arab Emirates. In Sept. 2022, bin Zayed marked the second anniversary of the historic “Abraham Accords” with Israel with a visit to the Jewish state. Highlighting the positive impact of the accords on global issues including climate change, science and technology, health care and food and water security, bin Zayed said they were already “changing the narrative and developing new frameworks for co-operation and dialogue.” The foreign minister also visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s national memorial to the Holocaust in Jerusalem, warning against "extremism, hate speech and violence." (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


3 .


Alejandro Giammattei

President of Guatemala

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei became the first Latin American leader to visit Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February 2022 when he landed in Kyiv. During his stay in Ukraine, he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and traveled to the town of Bucha, the site of a horrific massacre of nearly 500 Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces in March, where he called on the international community not to “observe passively.” The trip to Ukraine was in keeping with Giammattei’s foreign policy activism; two years ago, the Guatemalan leader confirmed that his country’s Embassy in Israel would remain in Jerusalem, while he has also outlawed Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed, Lebanon-based Shi’a terrorist organization that has bolstered its activities in Latin America in recent decades. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


4 .


Asaf Zamir

Ambassador and Consul General in New York

Ambassador Asaf Zamir is the Consul General of Israel in New York, representing the State of Israel to New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Delaware, a post he took up in October 2021. His prior posts include a term as Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv and Israel’s Minister of Tourism. Born in 1980, Zamir spent his formative years living with his family in Florida, before returning to Israel to finish his schooling. After graduating from high school, he completed his national service in the Israel Defense Forces, as part of the central control unit in the Israeli Air Force. Upon completion of his national service, Zamir began his higher education at Tel Aviv University, where he received a law degree. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


5 .


Aviv Kochavi

Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces

Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi is the Chief of General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, a position he has held since 2019. In 2022, Kochavi was among the seven recipients of the prestigious Ben Gurion Award of Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva. In a recent speech, Kochavi quoted the observation of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, that “A Jewish state was established, and its fate is in the hands of the security forces.” Declared Kochavi: “Without any exaggeration, ‘its fate is in the hands of the security forces.’ You are the security forces, you are its fate.” He added that the IDF operates on “the basic principle of ‘We defend the citizens of Israel, and we determine its fate along the borders, [it] doesn’t matter whether it is a campaign in the north or in Gaza.” (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


6 .


Benjamin Netanyahu

Prime Minister-Elect of Israel

Following his success in the Israeli elections of November 2022, Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu once again assumed the role of the country’s prime minister, cementing his status as the longest-serving politician in that position. “I intend to be the prime minister of all,” he said after being informed of his mandate to form a government. “Of those who elected me, and of those who did not elect me. We are brothers and we are meant to live side by side.” As he returns to the business of governing, Netanyahu faces a febrile international situation that includes the threats to Israel posed by Iran and its allies in the Middle East and around the world, as well as a potentially difficult relationship with the US Administration, which has made its objections known to the prospect of far-right Israeli politicians entering his coalition. (Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun)


7 .


Benny Gantz

Defense Minister

Benny Gantz is Israel's outgoing Defense Minister and the head of the Blue and White Party. In a distinguished military career, Gantz – who was brought up on a moshav in the south of Israel – has served as the IDF’s chief of staff, as well as commander of Israel’s reserve divisions in the north and as military attaché to the US. In 1989, Gantz oversaw the Operation Solomon airlift of nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. As he and former prime minister Yair Lapid prepared to leave government following Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in the November 2022 elections, Gantz issued a curt warning to Iran that Israel’s plans to strike the Tehran regime’s nuclear facilities were more advanced now than at any other time since 2012, during his four-year stint as the IDF’s leading officer. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


8 .


David Barnea

Director of the Mossad

Since becoming the Director of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence service, in June 2021, David Barnea has repeatedly emphasized the threat that Iran poses to Israel’s existence. In August 2022, Barnea was reported to have told colleagues that a revival of the 2015 international nuclear deal with the Iranian regime would amount to a “strategic disaster” for Israel. “The agreement is a bad deal that gives Iran a license to manufacture a bomb,” he reportedly commented. Barnea also pledged that Israel would respond accordingly. “The Mossad is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” he said. “The agreement does not apply to Israel, nor does the freedom of action to continue operating.” (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


9 .


Gilad Erdan

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations

2022 has been a busy year for Gilad Erdan, the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations in New York, with both pressing international issues, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and regional concerns, particularly around Iran’s destabilization efforts in the Middle East. Like other Israeli envoys before him, Erdan has also had to push back against attempts to delegitimize Israel within the UN, most recently an international commission of enquiry dismissed by the Jewish state as a “kangaroo court” that defames Israel as an “apartheid” state. In a riposte to a group of Harvard University lawyers who applied the designation to Israel, Erdan said the authors “don’t care about the oppression of women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community in the areas run by the Palestinian Authority. They decided to delegitimize the Jewish state because of their antisemitic views.” (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


10 .


Joe Biden

President of the United States

As the much-anticipated “red wave” of Republican Party support in the November 2022 US midterm elections failed to materialize, the future started to look brighter for US President Joe Biden, who has been struggling with poor personal ratings. Biden has not confirmed that he will run again in 2024, but the Democratic Party’s midterms showing, in which it retained control of the Senate, is thought to make that prospect more likely. A long-established and firm friend of the US Jewish community, Biden spoke out against rising antisemitism on several occasions during 2022, telling visiting Israeli President Isaac Herzog in October that he condemned the “persistent scourge of antisemitism, including anti-Israel bias in international fora” such as the UN. (Photo: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst)


11 .


Kevin McCarthy


The representative in the US Congress of California’s 23rd District and the Republican Leader in the US House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is seeking confirmation as Speaker in the wake of the GOP’s electoral takeover of the House in the November 2022 US midterms. A stalwart ally of Israel, McCarthy received the 2022 Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Defender of Israel Award from the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). McCarthy has also been a vocal opponent of US and international efforts to revive the 2015 international nuclear deal with the Iranian regime, arguing that the US needs to boost energy production to lessen its dependence on authoritarian regimes. “Why would you take the billions of dollars you provide to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and just give it to another dictator that funds terrorism around the world with Iran and Venezuela?” he asked pointedly in a March 2022 interview with CNBC. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


12 .


Lorenzo Rodríguez

Mayor of the village Castrillo Matajudios

The mayor of the village of Castrillo Mota de Judíos — which translates as “Jews Hill Camp” — in the northern Spanish province of Burgos, Lorenzo Rodríguez has been in the spotlight since 2014, when the village changed its name from Matajudíos, which means “Kill Jews,” to the more benign “Mota de Judíos,” reputed to have been the town’s original name when it was founded by a group of Sephardic Jews in the 11th century. During the last year, antisemitic vandals have targeted the village on two occasions, but Rodríguez has remained unbowed. “The perpetrators will not succeed in getting us to abandon our objective, which is restoring Castrillo’s Jewish memory,” Rodriguez said following an incident in August. “Truth and courage always beat hatred and cowardice. We will never kneel." (Photo: Youtube screenshot / AP)


13 .


Narendra Modi

Prime Minister of India

Seven years into his tenure as Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi continues to promote his country’s partnership with Israel as a central plank of his foreign policy. In the process, Modi has developed warm personal relationships with Israel’s political leaders. Following Israel’s general election in November 2020, Modi paid tribute to outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid with a tweet in Hebrew. "I hope to continue our fruitful exchange of ideas for the mutual benefit of our peoples,” he wrote, before congratulating Benjamin Netanyahu on his victory. “I look forward to continuing our joint efforts to deepen the India-Israel strategic partnership,” he wrote. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


14 .


Rishi Sunak

Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

The fifth Conservative Party Prime Minister in the UK in the space of six years, and the third to have obtained the post without an election, Rishi Sunak faces a formidable task. The first person of color to lead a European state, Sunak is a US-educated former banker who previously served as Britain’s finance minister. Sunak is a strong supporter of Israel who has argued that Jerusalem is “indisputably the historic capital” of the Jewish state. His attitude to the Jewish community is equally positive. "Although they have always been a small percentage of the population, British Jews have shone in almost every field,” he has said. “They have become our doctors, philosophers, inventors, musicians, writers, leaders, role models, parliamentarians and even” – referring to Benjamin Disraeli – “one of our prime ministers.” (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


15 .


Ron DeSantis

Governor of Florida

After his crushing electoral victory in the November 2022 US midterm elections, all eyes are now on Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and his future intentions. At the former naval commander’s election party, which celebrated his triumph among Latino, Jewish and other traditionally Democratic voters, supporters chanted “two more years!”, encouraging DeSantis to run for the US Presidency in 2024. A fervent advocate of closer ties between the US and Israel, DeSantis has promised to be “the most pro-Israel governor in America,” pushing trade and commercial opportunities and vigorously opposing efforts to subject Israel to an economic boycott. He is also seeking Jewish support for his crusade against “woke” ideology and critical race theory, telling the June 2022 Tikvah Fund Jewish Leadership Conference that “we are not going to teach kids to hate our country.” (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


16 .


Sebastian Kurz

Former Chancellor of Austria

Sebastian Kurz is the co-chair of the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation, a non-governmental body that promotes understanding between peoples of various ethnic origin, educates on techniques of reconciliation, monitors bigotry and proposes pro-tolerance initiatives and legal solutions. Previously, Kurz served two terms as the Chancellor of Austria, in 2017-19 and again from 2020-21. As the youngest Chancellor in Austrian history, Kurz sought to present a new face for the country, speaking out strongly against antisemitism and affirming that the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938 was a traumatic event that “guides my work today.” (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


17 .


Simcha Eichenstein

New York Assemblyman

Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein has represented New York’s 48th Assembly District, which includes the neighborhoods of Borough Park and Midwood in Brooklyn, since 2018. Before his election, Simcha served on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s legislative affairs team in Albany, and as part of the mayor’s senior intergovernmental staff at City Hall. At a time when antisemitic hate crimes have risen precipitously in New York, Eichenstein has continually called out the hatred while promoting reconciliation. Eichenstein’s legislative successes include the passage of a bill instructing New York State to publish a list of banks that waive fees on Holocaust reparation payments. (Photo: New York Assembly)


18 .


Steny Hoyer


Veteran Democratic Party congressman Steny Hoyer has represented Maryland’s 5th congressional district since 1981. A progressive on domestic issues ranging from gun control to reproductive rights, Hoyer has been an unabashed supporter of Israel throughout his career, breaking ranks with many in his party in 2018 when he backed the US decision to move its embassy in the Jewish state from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In Feb. 2022, Hoyer led a delegation of Democratic congressional representatives to Israel in his capacity as House Majority Leader. In March, Hoyer’s efforts led the House to pass the Israel Relations Normalization Act, which commits the US to supporting diplomatic initiatives that build on the Abraham Accords through peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


19 .


Volodymr Zelensky

President of Ukraine

The president of Ukraine has arguably become the best-known Jewish politician in the world, emerging as a symbol of his country’s resistance to the Russian invasion last February. Defamed as the leader of a “neo-Nazi” government by Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Zelensky has spoken proudly of his Jewish origins and of the role played by Ukraine’s Jewish community in Ukraine’s humanitarian and military efforts. One point of tension, however, has been Israel, which has disappointed Zelensky by electing not to provide the government in Kyiv with military aid. “Listen to what is sounding now in Moscow. Hear how these words are said again: ‘Final solution,’” he told a special session of the Knesset in March. “Everyone in Israel knows that your missile defense is the best,” he continued. “And you can definitely help us protect our lives, the lives of Ukrainians, the lives of Ukrainian Jews.” (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)


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