Monday, March 27th | 6 Nisan 5783


The Top 100 People Positively Influencing Jewish Life, 2017

In honor of The Algemeiner’s 4th annual gala, we are delighted to unveil our latest Algemeiner ‘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.

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! Lists have begun spreading in the Jewish media as well. 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 then 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 had 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 who 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 and living organism, 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 organizations. 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. 

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 and some are members of the GJCF Tribute Committee. 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 .


David Collier

Blogger and activist

A pro-Israel online researcher and commentator, David Collier is notable for his strong stomach. He not only argues with anti-Zionists and antisemites, he examines their ideology, claims, and writings in excruciating detail, relentlessly going back to the sources to fact-check every one of their accusations.

Collier lived in Israel for two decades, and has maintained contacts across the political spectrum. On his website, he posts detailed research and rebuttals of Israel’s detractors, venturing into some of the darkest corners of the Internet where neo-Nazis and supporters of terrorism are lurking, even arguing with Holocaust deniers.

His work places special emphasis on revisionist histories of Israel and particularly the BDS movement, which he says is an existential threat because it “destroys any possibility of mutual empathy between Israelis and Palestinians, making peace impossible. Increasingly, it is also making any mutual empathy between gentiles and Jews impossible.” (Photo credit: Facebook.)


2 .


Alan Dershowitz

Legal scholar

The famously combative legal scholar and pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz has had an eventful year.

It started with a bang when he renounced his support for President Obama after the administration abstained from a UN vote on Israeli settlements, saying Obama told him he would always have Israel’s back, but “I didn't realize what he meant is that he would have their back to stab them.”

As the battle between the alt-right and the far-left intensified in the US, Dershowitz declared a pox on both their houses, saying they share an antipathy toward the Jews.

“This implicit tolerance of antisemitism - as long as it comes from someone whose other views are acceptable - represents a dangerous new trend from both the Right and Left,” he asserted.

One of the most vocal pro-Israel Democrats, Dershowitz has sought to maintain support for the Jewish state within the party. Ahead of the DNC chairmanship election in February, Dershowitz threatened to leave the party if Congressman Keith Ellison – with his checkered record on Israel – won the post. (Photo credit: Facebook.)


3 .


Larry Elder

Media personality

Popular conservative pundit Larry Elder is a passionate and dedicated defender of Israel and the Jews across many media platforms.

Elder first visited Israel in 1973, and he regularly hails the small country’s military victories over its enemies and the millennia of Jewish history in the Land of Israel.

Of Israel’s opponents, he often says they know “jack about the conflict” and marvels at “how you can passionately hold a position and be so profoundly ignorant.”

An African-American, Elder also emphasizes and celebrates the Jewish contribution to the civil rights struggle.

In 2017, Elder and fellow conservative pundit Dennis Prager are hosting a "Stand With Israel" tour marking the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. (Photo credit: Facebook.)


4 .


Terry Glavin

Author and journalist

A regular columnist for Canada’s "National Post," Terry Glavin is an outspoken supporter of Israel in a country that sometimes displays indifference to the Jewish state.

Something of a Canadian neoconservative, Glavin advocates for a hawkish, though sensible, approach to foreign policy. He has written strongly against the Iranian regime, itemized Syrian war crimes, and defended Israel’s cause against its enemies.

In recent articles he has chronicled how Israel is treating wounded Syrians, spoken out against appeasement of Iran, written sympathetically of Israel’s relations with the incoming Trump administration, and slammed the BDS movement, whose “objective is to end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.”

In May 2017, Glavin gave the keynote speech at the CIJA Israel Advocacy Symposium. (Photo credit: Twitter.)


5 .


Kasim Hafeez

Outreach coordinator, Christians United for Israel

“I was born to hate Jews,” says Kasim Hafeez. The British-born Muslim of Pakistani descent had to fight for years to overcome the brutal antisemitism he grew up with.

He remembers his father praising Hitler, members of his community “calling for the destruction of all Jews,” and after long indoctrination considered becoming a terrorist himself.

Then he read Alan Dershowitz’s “The Case for Israel,” which set him on the path to becoming a “Muslim Zionist” and strong supporter of Israel. He went to visit the country and, at first, looked for “indications of racial segregation, a sign saying ‘Arabs only.’ I couldn’t find any.”

Today, Hafeez is an advocate for Israel, believing that Israel must become better at making its case and combatting general ignorance about the Jewish state and the Arab-Israeli conflict. (Photo credit: Maxine Dovere.)


6 .


Gretchen Rachel Hammond

Tablet Magazine reporter

One does not expect to be the object of a racist smear campaign from an LGBT organization, but it happened to Gretchen Rachel Hammond. The former reporter for the “Windy City Times” was the subject of a brutal intimidation campaign and ultimately lost her job for daring to report on an antisemitic incident at the Chicago Dyke March, where a group of Jewish demonstrators were kicked out for waving Star of David flags.

As soon as the story broke, Hammond received threats in which she was called a “kike” and was ultimately tossed from the paper.

The organizers of the Dyke March celebrated with a racist tweet that aped David Duke’s expression “Zios” to describe Jews – “Zio tears replenish my electrolytes.”

With considerable grace, Hammond replied, “You attacked, humiliated and robbed me of a job. No tears. I forgive you. Just hope you learn how destructive and pointless hatred is.”

Fortunately, the Jewish community has not let Hammond’s persecution go unanswered. Hammond now writes for “Tablet Magazine" and was embraced by this publication. (Photo credit: Facebook.)


7 .


Jenna Jameson

Former adult film star

Once the biggest adult film star in the world, Jenna Jameson transformed herself over the past year into one of the world’s top converts to Judaism. Born Catholic, the legendary Jameson embraced Judaism when she met her fiancé, Israeli-born businessman Lior Bitton.

She quickly became one of the most outspoken defenders of Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people on social media, tweeting constant statements of support for Israel and Zionism, pictures of the Jewish food she cooks for her husband, and lashing out at antisemites across the spectrum; most notably, in a knock down, drag out fight with notorious former Klansman and ferocious antisemite David Duke.

“I’ve been a warrior all my life,” she said. “Now I am applying my strength to defending the Jewish people and Israel.”

It appears Jameson is putting her money where her mouth is, expressing the desire to move to Israel after her marriage. In the meantime, she has given birth to her and Bitton’s first child. (Photo credit: Instagram.)


8 .


Allison Josephs

Blogger and activist

Showing people that “Orthodox Jews can be funny, approachable, educated, pro-women, and open-minded” is the mission of Jew In the City, a multi-media endeavor undertaken by Allison Josephs, who hopes “To break down stereotypes about religious Jews and offer a humorous, meaningful look into Orthodox Judaism.”

Inspired by the groundbreaking web series lonelygirl15, Josephs began her initiative in 2007, which employs YouTube videos, blogs, and social media to reveal Orthodox life in the 21st century to a larger audience of Jews and non-Jews.

Raised secular, she came to Orthodoxy after a mystical experience in Hawaii. “The Torah has to be the guiding line,” she says of her newfound faith. “I believe the Torah is truth and you can experience those truths in the larger world.”

Among the partners on her journey is fellow J100 lister and “Big Bang Theory” actress Mayim Bialik, with whom she studies Torah. (Photo credit:


9 .


Meir Kay

Social media activist

A playful, positive, and often thoughtful and uplifting Internet personality, Meir Kay has channeled the lessons of the Chabad movement into a series of wildly popular YouTube videos.

Ordained as a rabbi, and with over 1.2 million Facebook followers, Kay ping pongs around New York City staging humorous stunts like bringing out a full-size bed for stressed New Yorkers to jump on or holding a “silent rave” at the office of the Department of Motor Vehicles. He then uploads videos of the events to YouTube and Facebook. The combined views of his videos have now totaled in the hundreds of millions, making Kay one of the world’s most visible Jewish social media personalities.

Kay sees his mission as spreading joy and positive energy to others, saying, “Seeing stern, focused faces transform into a smile and laugh is priceless. I feed off that positive energy and it makes all the effort that goes into producing and creating the scenarios worth it.”

“People now, more than ever, are searching and yearning for inspiration and guidance for hope and happiness, and I hope my work can help with that,” he adds. (Photo credit: Facebook.)


10 .


Eli Lake


Eli Lake is one of the most prominent national security correspondents in the United States. He has reported for outlets like the “Daily Beast,” the “New Republic,” and currently “Bloomberg View.”

While he is scrupulously non-partisan, Lake’s reporting often contradicts the larger media narrative surrounding national security issues, taking an objective view of Israel and its security policies, exposing flaws in then-president Obama’s claims about the Benghazi attack, and uncovering uncomfortable facts about pro-Iran lobbyists in the US.

In a typical recent column, Lake went deeper into the ramifications of the Temple Mount protests, in contrast to many media outlets who simply reiterated Palestinian talking points. “The greater danger to one of Islam’s holiest places these days,” he wrote, “comes from the Palestinian fanatics who claim to be fighting for its reclamation. (Photo credit: Facebook.)


11 .


Bernard Henri Lévy


“I was always proud to be Jewish,” says French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy. “I always believed it was a source of glory, never anything to question or be ashamed of.”

The hugely influential, provocative, and oft-controversial thinker was one of the founders of the New Philosophers, who criticized the far left beginning in the 1970s, and has become famous for his humanitarian work in areas like Bosnia, Sudan, Libya, and Kurdistan. His is also one of the most prominent pro-Israel voices in an often-hostile Europe.

“My relationship to Judaism is the most important thread of my life as a committed intellectual,” he says, and in 2017, his magnum opus on the subject, “The Genius of Judaism” was published in English.

In it, he advocates an “affirmational Judaism” based in positive action and profound contemplation, saying, “When Gaon of Vilnius had to choose between a lazy student who believes and an ardent, vibrant student who doubts, he says that he prefers the second. So do I.” (Photo credit: Screenshot.)


12 .


Rupert Murdoch

Chairman, News Corporation

“Over the years, some of my wildest critics seem to have assumed I am Jewish,” Rupert Murdoch said when he accepted an award from the American Jewish Committee. “At the same time, some of my closest friends wish I were. So tonight, let me set the record straight: I live in New York. I have a wife who craves Chinese food. And people I trust tell me I practically invented the word ‘chutzpah.’”

The media mogul has taken in awards from innumerable Jewish organizations for his philanthropy and support, and his networks like “Fox News” tend to be the least biased toward Israel of any major media outlets.

This year, Murdoch was offered the chance to buyIsraeli daily “Yediot Aharonot” (he passed) and his son pledged $1 million to the ADL following the alt-right march in Charlottesville. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.)


13 .


Judaism has, to say the least, a lot of holidays, only some of which are observed by most Jews. Writer Abby Pogrebin took on the task of changing this with her 2017 book “My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew,” her chronicle of observing every Jewish holiday in the calendar.

“I was frustrated by my own ignorance, by the fact that I had never experienced what I saw more observant Jews experience in their average year, and it looked meaningful from my vantage point,” she says.

Calling herself “a little bit of a rabbi groupie,” she tried to engage in rituals from across traditions and denominations.

In the end, Pogrebin, who is the president of Central Synagogue in New York City, wants others to take the opportunity to experience the complete Jewish year. “What I hope,” she says, “that anyone finds in this book is some answer to why there seems to be a Jewish holiday every five seconds, and also what is this heritage that has endured, what is the power of it, and what is the relevance today?’

Pogrebin, a former television producer, is also the author ofStars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish” and “One and the Same: My Life As an Identical Twin and What I’ve Learned About Everyone’s Struggle to Be Singular” and the Amazon Kindle single “Showstopper.” (Photo credit: Twitter.)


14 .


Jake Tapper

CNN anchor

Top “CNN” anchor Jake Tapper usually doesn’t make much of his Jewish background, but Jews around the country were likely heartened when the sometimes pugnacious reporter went head to head with celebrity Israel-hater Linda Sarsour and won.

It started when the Women’s March tweeted in praise of cop-killing terrorist Assata Shakur. Tapper tweeted in response, “Shakur is a cop-killer fugitive in Cuba. This, ugly sentiments from @lsarsour & @dykemarchchi ...Any progressives out there condemning this?”

Sarsour slandered Tapper in response, saying he was part of the alt-right. Unintimidated, Tapper blasted Sarsour’s call for Ayaan Hirsi Ali to have her vagina “taken away.” As Tapper noted, “Pretty vile to say about a survivor of FGM.”

Raised in a Jewish day school and an alumni of Camp Ramah, Tapper has taken up the cudgel for the Jews before, once criticizing his own network for a chyron that appeared to grant legitimacy to the question of whether Jews are people. (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.)


15 .


Michael Twitty

Chef and author

Michael Twitty calls himself “four-times blessed” because he is “large of body, gay, African American and Jewish.”

Twitty is now one of the hottest American celebrity chefs, bursting on to the scene when he criticized fellow chef Paula Deen for ignoring the African-American influence on southern cooking.

Since then, Twitty has been tirelessly working his magic through the Cooking Gene Project and Afroculinaria, which trace the roots of African-American cuisine all the way back to Africa.

The virtuoso cook and anthropologist of African-American culinary traditions is also a convert to Judaism, calling his cooking “Afro-ashke-phardi.” He says that African-American and Jewish food have a deep kinship.

“There are other similar, old-food traditions,” he says, “but none that really go into the dialectic of humor and resistance and memory and pain as well as black and Jewish diasporic food cultures. Not many people have that, where that’s what they need their food to do and to be for them.” (Photo credit: Twitter.)


16 .


Bari Weiss

New York Times editor

The “New York Times” isn’t always noted for its sympathy toward Israel and the Jews, but the Gray Lady went some way toward balancing its biases in 2017 when Bari Weiss joined its op-ed section.

Weiss, a former editor at “Tablet Magazine” and the “Wall Street Journal,” is hardly a mindless ideologue, but she is an articulate defender of the Jewish and pro-Israel point of view, and she has already been causing a stir.

In a recent column, she blasted the leaders of the Women’s March for “chilling ideas and associations,” especially the anti-Zionist Linda Sarsour, who has advocated sharia law and claimed Zionists cannot be feminists.

In another piece on the ejection of Jewish activists from the Chicago Dyke March for waving Star of David flags, Weiss called the incident “a reminder that antisemitism remains as much a problem on the far-left as it is on the far-right.” (Photo credit: Twitter.)


17 .


Sarah Zoabi


“I define myself as an Arab, Muslim, Israeli, and proud Zionist,” says Sarah Zoabi, thus demolishing all stereotypes and assumptions about Israeli-Arabs.

Hailing from northern Israel and a relative of the outspoken anti-Zionist MK Hanin Zoabi, Sarah Zoabi is a vocal and passionate supporter of the State of Israel and its founding ideology, saying, “I believe in the right of the Jewish people to have their own country, which is the state of Israel, the holy land.”

She acknowledges that others may find her beliefs bizarre. “I’m sure that the people who hear me will say: ‘what, have you lost your mind? How can you say you are a Zionist?’”

She defends herself by saying, “I want to say to all the Arab [citizens] of Israel to wake up. We live in paradise. Compared to other countries, to Arab countries – we live in paradise.”

Sarah is the mother of Muhammad Zoabi, another Arab Zionist who was forced to go into hiding when he received death threats after posting a video supporting Israel and denouncing terrorism. (Photo credit: Facebook.)


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