The weather may be warmer, the people more laid-back, and it may be several-thousand miles away from the larger Jewish communities of New York and Chicago, but that apparently doesn't stop Los Angeles from having a big toothy influence on national Jewish affairs.
There are, according to The Forward newspaper's recently published "Forward 50" -- a listing of the 50 most-influential Jews in America -- at least seven Angelenos whose voices are being heard way beyond the West Coast.
The complete list -- which includes the likes of Ruth Messinger of American Jewish World Service, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and entertainers Jon Stewart and Matisyahu -- is seen as the Jewish community's equivalent of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People or Vanity Fair's New Establishment list. The Forward list is a way of quantifying who is most affecting Jewish life in America today.
From Los Angeles, the list includes regular heavy hitters like filmmaker Steven Spielberg -- the No. 2 most influential Jew in America, included because of his upcoming epic "Munich" about the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. But it also registers less famous people, like Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva, Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar, Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) Executive Director Daniel Sokatch, J-Date founder Joe Shapira, comic Sarah Silverman and Robin Kramer, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's chief of staff.
"We try to come up with a list of 50 people who we feel are leading and influencing the main trends in Jewish communal life," said Forward Editor JJ Goldberg. "It's not an election, and we don't have people who may be Jewish and prominent but aren't doing something Jewishly inspired or something to affect the Jewish community. We do try to have geographic balance, and things that happen in Los Angeles tend to have more of a national echo. The Jewish community there is a national community."
So what does being named to the Forward 50 actually mean for the so-honored?
"I think if it has any impact it is in helping people think of the PJA as a serious organization and a serious force of change in the community," said Sokatch, who was also named to the list in 2002. "It is certainly something we let funders know about---it is [like] a hechsher in the community. It's something we feel proud of. In my case, it reflects on our whole organization, and it is definitely a point of pride."
For Brous, who is on the list for the second year in a row, being named to the Forward 50 bought her a level of national recognition.
"I was on the list last year, and last year it was incredibly significant for [Ikar] because we were brand new and it put us on the map nationally, and it bought people's attention to what we were doing in the community beyond the people coming to Ikar on a weekly basis," Brous said. "I get asked to speak at a lot of conferences -- including the General Assembly, a lot of rabbis and community leaders around the country are calling me and asking me for their input on how to revitalize their communities. There are new national leadership networks that I was asked to be a part of, and I am sure [all that] has something to do with The Forward."
Goldberg said that there is no barrier to people being listed in multiple years.
"If someone is doing a good job in a major institution they are probably going to be there," he said. "There is not a new list every year. As long as they are being effective, we put them on the list."
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