Sunday, March 26th | 4 Nisan 5783

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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

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Avi Schick

Lawyer

Avi Schick is a partner at New York law firm Troutman Pepper. He spent a decade as a senior New York State government official, serving as deputy attorney general and then as president of the state’s economic development agency. He has litigated important religious liberty cases, including the challenges to New York’s restrictions on houses of worship and its regulation of religious and independent schools. He has written about religion and the law for the New York TimesWall Street Journal, the New Republic, and Slate.(Photo: Troutman Pepper)

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The imam of the municipal mosque in the Paris suburb of Drancy, Hassen Chalghoumi has established a reputation as a stalwart opponent of antisemitism, often at the risk to his own safety. In October 2022, Chalghoumi was forced to hide in an anteroom at the mosque as police officers swooped in to arrest an armed assailant who was allegedly planning to attack the imam. “I’ve been living under police protection for years, I’m getting used to these situations but I’m still shocked,” he said afterwards. “But they won’t scare me, I won’t stop my fight.” In May, Chalghoumi expressed support for a French court decision that found an imam in the city of Toulouse guilty of antisemitic incitement. “We don’t need to bring this Israeli-Palestinian conflict back here, to Toulouse,” Chalghoumi remarked, as he condemned propaganda dressed as religious belief that “brings back hatred and division.” (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)

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Miriam Anzovin

Writer and Artist

Miriam Anzovin is a writer, visual artist, and TikTok creator, exploring the juxtaposition of pop culture, nerd culture, and Jewish culture. Her work as a Jewish learning influencer and content creator encourages her audience to engage with Jewish literature, history, and tradition in creative and dynamic ways authentic to each individual, no matter their level of knowledge, belief, or observance. She is the first artist in residence at Moishe House, a global organization bringing Judaism to life for young adults throughout the world. Previously, Miriam was the host of “The Vibe of the Tribe” podcast, where she interviewed authors, rabbis, artists, activists, comedians, educators, athletes, chefs and political commentators. (Photo: MiriamAnzovin.com)

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Moshe Azman

Rabbi of Brodsky Synagogue in Kyiv

Throughout 2022, Moshe Reuven Azman, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, has urged Jews in Ukraine and abroad to throw their support behind the democratic government in Kyiv as it confronts invading Russian forces. The 55-year-old Azman, who was born in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, has also warned that the Russian government might actively prevent Jews from departing, as was the case during the Soviet era. “I was in the Soviet Union and tried for many years to go to Israel,” he said. “Therefore, when everything closes, it will be difficult to leave. The rhetoric in Russia is very dangerous, worse than the Soviet Union.” In October, Azman joined with the commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhny, to blow the shofar in honor of Rosh Hashana. Zaluzhny told Azman that Ukraine was “deeply grateful for the treatment of our wounded soldiers in Israel and the humanitarian aid provided.” (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)

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Moshe Kotlarsky

Vice Chairman of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky is the director of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries and vice chairman of Merkos L’lnyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Rabbi Kotlarsky travels the globe establishing Jewish centers for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, becoming known as “Judaism’s Globe Trotter” in the process. In many countries he is the public face of Chabad, visiting heads of state and opening new Chabad centers worldwide. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)

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In May 2022, after three months of exile from his home, Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz returned to the city of Kharkiv in Ukraine. “My husband has been hugged about a million times today,” his wife Miriam, who remained in Israel, disclosed in an interview the day Moskowitz arrived back in the city following the withdrawal of Russian troops. In an interview with CBS, the rabbi recalled the arrival of Russian troops. "In the morning, they started bombing next to the house and just went on, the bombs and the noise, and the building was shaking,” said Moskovitz, who has served the Jewish community in Kharkiv since 1990 alongside 200 other Chabad emissaries across Ukraine. (Photo: Youtube screenshot / JewishKharkov)

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Pinchas Goldschmidt

Chief Rabbi of Moscow

After nearly 30 years as the chief rabbi of Moscow, Pinchas Goldschmidt resigned from his post in July 2022 as a protest against the Russian regime’s invasion of Ukraine. In a statement announcing his decision, Goldschmidt remarked that as “the terrible war against Ukraine unfolded over the last few months, I could not remain silent, viewing so much human suffering, I went to assist the refugees in Eastern Europe and spoke out against the war.” In an interview with German broadcaster DW in early June, Goldschmidt noted that a “significant part” of the Jewish community had left Russia as a result of the invasion, adding that “the other significant part thinks about it.” (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons License)

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An American Haredi rabbi best known as the general editor of ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, Nosson Scherman was born in 1935 and raised in Newark, New Jersey, where his parents ran a small grocery store. Since its foundation in the mid-1970s, the company has produced more than 700 books, including novels, history books, children's books, and secular textbooks. It is now one of the largest publishers of Jewish books in the United States. In May 2022, Scherman expressed fear that members of the Orthodox community in New York could face imprisonment under new regulations whereby local school districts will determine whether non-public schools are meeting the standards of “substantial equivalence” to public schools. “Parents will be subjected to prison,” Scherman claimed in an interview. “They’ll be considered keeping their children for a truant, unless they switch them out of the schools that the state disapproves of.” (Photo: Youtube screenshot)

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The chairman of the educational arm of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky began his career as an emissary of the legendary Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. “Today, in my estimation, Chabad-Lubavitch is the largest Jewish organization in the world,” Krinsky said in a recent interview. “You have over 3,500 Batei Chabad [Chabad Houses] all over the world, and along with spreading Torah and mitzvot, our people save people in natural disasters. They save non-Jews, too.” (Photo: Chabad)

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