Forward Thinking

Hey Jeffrey Goldberg, Why I Like Lists of Jews

By Jane Eisner

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Jeffrey Goldberg

So Jeffrey Goldberg thinks that publishing lists of Jews is a bad idea. The fiercely smart, often snarky and well-travelled columnist is with Bloomberg Views now, and wrote a provocative piece calling on the Jerusalem Post and the Forward to, in his words, stop with the ranking, already.

The occasion for his complaint was the publication of the Jerusalem Post’s annual ranking of the world’s 50 most influential Jews. (Alas, I am not on it. Neither is Goldberg. This year.) The Forward 50, our list of the Jews who we believe had the greatest impact on the American Jewish story in any given year, is generally published in early November.

“Why are these publications aping a practice of non-Jews — singling out Jews for their special prominence in society?” he asks.

Well, the short answer is: We are Jewish publications! As any Bubbe would ask: You want I should publish a list of non-Jews?

The more serious answer is: I’m not copying anybody. Lists like the Forward 50, and our recently published compilation of America’s most inspiring rabbis, and even the fun projects like the top kosher hot dogs now running on our food blog, are great ways to transmit information, involve readers, accentuate the positive (not something that happens often enough in daily journalism) and tell a good story.

I don’t share Goldberg’s worry that neo-Nazis and home grown anti-Semites are lying in wait for us to share our latest list, so that they can more easily identify and track down unsuspecting Jews. And I’m not embarrassed to focus on our own people. That’s what we do.

There’s one point in Goldberg’s column that I do agree with: Rankings are, generally, ridiculous. (Except for hot dogs.) We make a big fuss about the “top five” of the Forward 50 because, well, because that’s what was done before I became editor-in-chief and it’s become a ritual I don’t have the heart to abandon. Lately, we have taken to ranking the “top five” because when I listed them in alphabetical order, readers thought we had instead ranked them in order of importance and since I didn’t want anyone to think that the serious-minded Forward would pick a baseball player as the nation’s most influential Jew one year (that would be Ryan Braun), we decided to apply some sort of standard.

But that’s the only instance.

Compiling the Forward 50 each year is a mammoth job — I’m sure that Goldberg remembers, since he was a staff writer at this news organization in the 1990s, when the list began — but it’s also enormously satisfying. And it means so much to some of the lesser-known people whose work otherwise would not command national attention. Sure, I wish Jon Stewart would ring me up one day to thank me for including him. But truly, the best reward are the calls and letters and emails from genuinely appreciative but often unheralded Jewish leaders who are able to use our platform to promote their ideas and their causes.

Goldberg was on the Forward 50 at least once. Maybe if he’s nice to me, it will happen again.

Here’s a new list of Jews, specially compiled for Jeffrey Goldberg — or anyone who likes the most badass Jews from history… or Mah Jong.


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