Influence is a funny thing. It can mean so many things. Some of the people on this list are influential because of their positions and some are influential because of their personal impact on the Jewish community.
jewsweek.com asked a panel of celebrities, politicians, educators and "average" Jews who they thought touched people's lives and helped promote the Jewish ideal of "being a light unto the nations."
The CJN has listed some of the 50 people originally selected by jewsweek.com
The country is in an economic downward spiral. Since January, companies have announced 652,510 layoffs - and more are announced each day. People are not looking to Superman to save the day. They are looking to one person. As Federal Reserve chairman, Alan Greenspan is, hands down, the most influential Jew in America. He is, some would argue, the most influential person in America.
With each interest rate cut, this 74-year-old contains the key to an economic turnaround in this time of recession.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
The buck stops with Justice Ginsburg. And so did the election. In Bush vs. Gore, Ginsburg helped shape the national agenda for the next four years. And with the Supreme Court making significant decisions on a daily basis, her role as part of the elite group of top decision-makers in this country makes her that much more influential. In addition, the Court's recent decision in Good News Club vs. Milford Central School, allowing the religion-based club to meet on elementary-school grounds, takes issues of religion off the back burner.
Senator Joseph Lieberman
OK, so he's not the vice president, but this Connecticut senator still wields much power in the Washington Beltway. His religious commitment serves as the backbone for many of his legislative decisions, including his continued war against Hollywood. As a politician, he stands tall as a moral epicenter in an oft-immoral business.
Consider the following: Spielberg's Dreamworks SKG has finally put a dent into Disney animation with its blockbuster film "Shrek" - which just passed the $200 million mark and could easily take the Oscar in the new Best Animated Film category. His latest film "A.I.," is breaking records, and the third installment of the phenomenally successful "Jurassic Park" franchise stampeded into theaters this summer.
But it's the fact that he's an influential Jew that puts him on this list. His Shoah Foundation continues its noble crusade to videotape any Holocaust survivor willing to tell his or her story. His Righteous Persons Foundation (formed with the profits from the 1993 blockbuster, "Schindler's List"), has been focused entirely on giving money away. Spielberg set up the foundation with a mission of promoting Jewish learning, advancing inter-group tolerance and "using arts and media to engage broad audiences on questions of what it means to be Jewish."
When we're living a country where the president isn't always the most succinct person, his press secretary becomes even more important to help convey his message. That person in the George W. Bush administration would be 40-year-old Ari Fleischer. Jews were heavily represented in the Bill Clinton Cabinet and White House, but Fleischer is one of the few Jewish faces in a Bush administration.
The son of New York Democrats, Fleischer has spent two decades on Capitol Hill as a Republican party spokesman, and reached the pinnacle of his profession earlier this year when he became White House press secretary. "The Jewish religion teaches people to be responsible, to be open-minded and to care about others," he says. "And I hope that people see that in me as I do my job."
Rabbis Nosson Scherman and Meir Zlotowitz
These two friends run one of the most successful Jewish publishing houses in the world. Their Artscroll Publications has been the catalyst for countless people to begin their return to traditional Jewish observance.
"When historians look back to the latter part of the 1990s and trace what has become an extraordinary explosion of Jewish learning in the Orthodox community and beyond, a lot of that has been attributable to Artscroll," says David Zweibel, executive vice president for government and public affairs of Agudath Israel of America.
Steve Ballmer took over as chief executive of Microsoft from Bill Gates six months before a federal court ordered the breakup of the company. Ballmer is guiding the software giant through one of its busiest and most challenging years ever. He's also the 13th richest person in the world with a net worth of $16.6 billion.
While Brad Turell was the head of communications for The WB television network, he began a religious odyssey that transformed him and his family into observant Jews. In April, he was promoted to the top communications slot for all of Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN. With recent claims of CNN's alleged media bias against Israel, it will be interesting to see how Turell handles the position.
Self-made media mogul Michael Bloomberg has founded a global financial-information company in his own name, grown his net worth to equal the gross national product of a small Central American country, and helped the FBI battle computer hackers and extortionists from Kazakhstan.
What's a billionaire to do next? Run for mayor of New York City, one of the highest-profile jobs in American politics outside the presidency. The 59-year-old entrepreneur, whose company provides financial data that pops up on 160,000 desks worldwide, is one of the richest people in the world. Bloomberg is reluctant to give out his net worth, but press reports estimate he's worth $4 billion.
Mortimer Zuckerman brings clout and cachet to the chairmanship of one of America's most influential Jewish groups. In a staggering 46-6 vote, the media and real-estate baron was elected chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Zuckerman also received bipartisan support from Israel's two most recent prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.
In addition, he owns U.S. News & World Report and the New York Daily News and is presumed to have some degree of influence over those publications' news coverage and editorials.
Mel Brooks' new Broadway show, "The Producers," which recently garnered a record 12 Tony awards, has a waiting list so long, your grandchildren might not even get in to see it. And the show has made Nazi-bashing in style again.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach
Mention Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's name and you either hear cheers or groans. Nonetheless, the New Jersey-based rabbi is the face of rabbinic Jewry to most of America. Whether he's hanging around Michael Jackson or on television talking about kosher sex, this controversial rabbi remains influential - despite all the scandals that continue to pile up on him. And just when you thought he had nothing else to write about, he just co-authored a new book with spoon-bender Uri Geller titled The Psychic and the Rabbi.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger
Controversial radio host Dr. Laura may have the largest audience of anyone who claims to speak from and for Jewish tradition. A Jew by choice and self-described follower of Orthodoxy, Dr. Laura often invokes the Hebrew scriptures in her "tough love" stands against premarital sex, divorce, single parenting, abortion, feminism and, most notoriously, homosexuality.
Comedian Jon Stewart, 38, gets paid $1.5 million to do a fake news show every night on "Comedy Central" - and it might just be the smartest thing you'll see on television. The show won a Peabody Award. By referring to Christians as "you people" and generally pontificating on social satire through a Jewish lens, Stewart - in his own twisted way - has made it OK to come out of the closet with Jewish pride.
Elected in 1996 to represent Florida's 19th Congressional District, after a decade in the state, Robert Wexler, 39, quickly established himself as a force on Capitol Hill, sponsoring high-profile investigations into the poor conditions at the F.B.I. crime lab and the high price of matzo in south Florida.
By the fall of 1998, the congressman from Boca Raton was emerging as a national figure, the only House member to attend the signing of the Wye Accords and one of President Bill Clinton's most articulate defenders during the House impeachment hearings.
Wexler is smart, telegenic - he's become a permanent fixture on the cable news-and-chat circuit - and Jewishly aware (he's a graduate of the Wexner Heritage adult Jewish learning program). His inclusion on the list of important Jewish voices in Washington, however, was his passionate defense of voting rights in his Palm Beach County district, home of the infamous butterfly ballot.
Name an industry and Gerald Levin has his hand in it. As the second-in-command at AOL Time Warner, he controls what you watch on television, what books you read, how you surf the net, and how your news is delivered.
Rabbi Avi Shafran
Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, is slowly becoming the voice of Orthodoxy in America. The right-wing, outspoken rabbi is often cited in news articles to form the Orthodox opinion on any given matter. His recent watershed cover story for Moment magazine, called "The Conservative Lie," outlines how the Conservative movement has become a "failure" and is "superfluous."
To counterattack hate mongers and antisemites, America's Jewish community has a knight in shining armor and his name is Abraham Foxman. As the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Foxman leads a collection of local ADL offices in the fight against antisemitism in America.
Rabbi Benjamin Blech
Rabbi Benjamin Blech is no idiot - but he's hoping, metaphorically speaking, that you are. The mild-mannered, 60-something rabbi is an internationally recognized scholar and media darling who has appeared on "Oprah" and in the pages of Newsweek. He also spent almost 37 years as the spiritual leader of a New York synagogue.
But what he's most known for now is penning the Jewish installments to "The Complete Idiot's Guide" series including The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judaism and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish. Blech has written eight books, four in the last two years, and a couple more are on their way.
"These books reach out to everybody," says Blech. "People are not offended by the title, but rather consider it a way of saying that no matter what level you're at, you'll be able to learn."
Rabbi Marc Schneier
Besides just writing a book on the topic of black-Jewish relations, Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. & the Jewish Community, Rabbi Marc Schneier is doing something about it. Earlier this month, Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, met secretly with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. The session was a first step toward repairing Farrakhan's relationship with American Jews and bolstering the historical civil-rights alliance between that group and African-Americans.
Schneier also has the ear of the Hollywood elite. His New York synagogue in the Hamptons - complete with a helipad in the parking lot - is where stars like Spielberg like to daven (pray) when in town.
The Emmy-winning writer of the hit television show "The West Wing" has created a new Camelot in the psyche of America. In the fictitious Bartlett White House, Sorkin provides America with a weekly dose of the kind of government he thinks we should have. His Jewish and spiritual ideologies make their cameos on the show, including an episode where a top White House staffer gets advice from a rabbi on Shabbat morning about the death penalty.
When people hear his name, they immediately think of fashion. Earlier this month, the American designer won a lifetime achievement award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America. He is a true trend-setter and a tremendous influence in the world of fashion industry.
Rabbi David Ellenson
The new president of the Reform movement's seminary is a scholar known for his work in Jewish religious thought, ethics and modern Jewish history - and for his popularity as a teacher. Rabbi David Ellenson assumes the reins of Hebrew Union College at a time when many are looking to the college, which has grown dramatically in recent years, to address the significant shortage of rabbis, cantors and other professionals in Reform Judaism. With 906 member congregations, Reform is the largest stream of Judaism in North America.
Author of the groundbreaking book Kaddish, this D.C. socialite also serves as literary editor of The New Republic. In Judaism's elite intelligentsia, Wieseltier is their pied piper. This white-maned maverick, married by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is a non-conformist in all senses of the term. His new approaches to Jewish texts allow an entry point for secular scholars to study and examine halacha (Jewish law).
Evan and Jaron Lowenstein
Evan and Jaron Lowenstein are more than just a pop duo. They're frequent guests on MTV, and People magazine listed them in their 50 most beautiful people in the world issue. The 27-year-old identical twins are role models for Jewish teenagers; the Lowensteins are observant Jews and not ashamed of it. They never play on Shabbat and require kosher meals wherever their tours take them.
"Sometimes I'm so burnt from partying and playing, I wish it (the Sabbath) lasted for three days," Jaron told The New York Times last month.
Legions of teenage girls - mostly Jewish - log on to the folk duo's Web site on a daily basis to discuss the ins and outs of the band. One recent post was by a Jewish girl who had decided to observe a fast day, which she had never done before, simply because Evan and Jaron were doing it.
Schottenstein's name has become synonymous with philanthropy. The Columbus, Ohio, native has turned tsedakah (charity) into an art form. His name is attached to college dormitories and university sports arenas. More importantly, he has attached his family name to Jewish education. He also has become a de facto sugar daddy for Artscroll Publications, helping them publish the entire Talmud in English.
Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
A Holocaust survivor, Jungreis has created a Jewish awakening. Her weekly lectures in Manhattan draw hundreds of Jewish singles. She also lectures all over the world, inspiring audiences with her tales of triumph.
New York native Lavi Greenspan contracted a rare disease and went completely blind at age 26. Most people would take that as a deterrent, but Greenspan has taken his personal tragedy and turned it into a public victory. While blind, he completed his rabbinic ordination and finished law school, passing the New York bar - hard tasks even with eyesight.
Now, the 29-year-old works as in-house counsel for IDT, a technology firm in the Big Apple. Over the past three years, Greenspan has spoken at more than 100 organizations across the world sharing his story of triumph and inspiration with thousands of Jews.
Once hailed as the most powerful talent agent in the world, Michael Ovitz is poised for a comeback. Last winter he formed AMG, the Artists Management Group, and has gone head-to-head with his old company - and emerged victorious. Already many big CAA names have crossed the line in the sand to join AMG.
In the heart of middle America, Aaron Goldsmith is a microcosm. In the tiny town of Postville, Iowa, this Lubavitch city councilman is serving as a role model for interfaith relations. The way he interacts with the locals in his town serves as a barometer for the rest of the country.
In 1999, Hammer, a Newsweek reporter, published the controversial autobiographical book Chosen by God: A Brother's Journey about how he coped with his brother's choice to become rigorously Orthodox. Two years later, Hammer is now the Jerusalem bureau chief for Newsweek. It is through his eyes that the rest of the world views the Israeli conflict.
Earlier this month, Hammer made news when he, along with a photographer, were kidnapped during a routine interview with a militant Palestinian group.
The author of the wildly-popular "Small Miracles" series, Yitta Halberstam, has inspired millions with her tales of Divine intervention. Her books have sold millions of copies, the publishing equivalent of "Jurassic Park." "All my life, I grew up hearing these Hassidic tales of God's Divine intervention in people's ordinary lives," says Halberstam, 50.
Dubbed "The Jewish Jordan" by Sports Illustrated, Goodman has made an indelible mark on the world of collegiate sports. He's also a role model for Jewish kids, showing them that they can follow their dreams without having to compromise their Judaism.
When he travels, says a family friend, Jewish children sometimes accompany him to shul to watch him daven, or pray. He wears his Judaism on his sleeve - literally. The Sports Illustrated pictorial on him contained photographs of him wearing tefillin (phylacteries).
What Sandy Koufax was to Yom Kippur, the 6-foot-3-inch, 155 pound Tamir Goodman is to Shabbat. He never plays on the day of rest.
Towson bucked ACC conformity by not scheduling any games between sundown on Friday to sunset on Saturday to accommodate Goodman. Once, when the team was on the road and sundown was approaching, Goodman got out of the team van and walked three blocks to a house where he was staying for Shabbat.
At a recent game, his yamulke (skullcap) fell off his head during a scramble for a rebound, and before dribbling the ball up court, he paused to bend down and puts it back on his head. The crowd roared its approval.
As of presstime, Goodman quit team owing to a dispute with the coach.
Sharon Tzur, director of Media Watch International, is the mastermind behind HonestReporting.com The fledgling, New York-based outfit has quickly gained a devoted following by pouncing on media outlets they feel either are reporting inaccurately on Israeli-Palestinian violence or engaging in flat-out anti-Israel bias. "The media says it is committed to fair and accurate coverage, and what we're trying to do is to hold them to that standard," says Tzur.
Richard Allen is a top soap-opera writer. He has twice been nominated for the daytime Emmy Award. He cannot attend the awards because they are held on the Sabbath and he and his family are Sabbath-observant Jews.
For the last eight years he has been teaching radio/television writing at Texas Christian University, a quite conservative institution. Allen is concerned about the morality in soap operas, as befits someone who is a religious Jew teaching at TCU.
Richard Meier is a world famous contemporary architect. Besides being awarded the prestigious Pritzker prize, he was the chief architect of the Getty Museum and many other notable buildings. His firm was selected to design the "2000 Church" by Pope John Paul II. This is the millennium church for the city of Rome.
Editor's note: The CJN thought of some obvious omissions, such as Michael Steinhardt, Deborah Lipstadt, playwright Wendy Wasserstein, Rabbi Eric Joffie (head of the Reform movement), authors Philip Roth and Saul Bellow and architect Frank Gehry. Whom would you add to this list? Please write a brief paragraph explaining your reason and send it to the CJN by Jan. 14 You may e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, fax it to 216-991-2088 or mail to Cleveland Jewish News, 3645 Warrensville Center Rd., Suite 230, Cleveland, Ohio 44.122.