Forward Thinking

Why We Picked the Pope — and Angelina Jolie

By Jane Eisner

  • Print
  • Share Share

The New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein had a fascinating story on Sunday about how Conservative Catholics have felt left out of their new pope’s embrace. Pope Francis may have soaring approval ratings because of his humble demeanor and inclusive language, but American Catholics in the church’s conservative wing are feeling abandoned and deeply unsettled, Goodstein wrote.

And this was before the Forward 50 went online.

We didn’t pick Pope Francis as our “Plus One” just to further rattle Catholics concerned that the leader of their church isn’t sufficiently doctrinaire about abortion, gay rights and other touchstone issues. But I imagine that being cited by a Jewish news organization for exemplary contributions to the American Jewish story will not help the pope’s popularity among his more conservative flock.

That’s the thing about lists. Especially this list. It’s only effective if it is surprises.

The idea of adding a non-Jew as the 51st (or 52nd) name in this annual exercise preceded my tenure as editor-in-chief, so I can’t claim the credit. During my five years here so far, we’ve named Father Paul Ouderkirk, the priest in Postville, Iowa, who championed workers rights at the troubled Agriprocessors kosher meat packing plant; President Obama for being the topic of endless conversation — pro and con — in the Jewish community; and Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, for their high-profile intermarriage.

Some years go blank. This year we had too many choices.

Or so we thought.

Pope Francis, 76, was the first name, debated for weeks. He has an unusually warm relationship with an Argentinian rabbi, has spoken in favor of pluralism and acceptance, plans to visit Israel early next year, and altogether has opened his arms to the world. As we wrote, “Francis has the power to affect how more human beings view the Jewish people than any one else on earth.” And so far, it seems, he’s been doing a pretty good job.

But he’s new. Untested. Hasn’t really changed doctrine or substantively ruled. That trip to Israel is not for a few months. So we weren’t sure this was the right year.

Then someone mentioned Angelina Jolie. (Yes, it was a man.) Her impact is more narrow, but easier to verify. With one opinion piece (published, alas, in the Times and not here) Jolie, 38, opened up an emotional conversation among women and the men who love them about taking radical, preventive steps to try and forestall a kind of breast cancer prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews.

A less obvious pick. Sexier (naturally) but with a smaller footprint.

And then — yes, this is a very collaborative process — someone else said: Call a tie! Select them both.

So that’s what we did. This may be the first time that a celibate cleric is mentioned on the same Jewish list as a gorgeous, controversial actress, but like I said: We aim to surprise.

And to say that we are grateful for these non-Jews, and countless others, who enrich the lives of our community in disparate and highly important ways.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: pope francis, forward 50, angelina jolie

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • “I don’t want to say, ‘Oh oh, I’m not Jewish,’ because when you say that, you sound like someone trying to get into a 1950s country club, “and I love the idea of being Jewish." Are you a fan of Seth Meyers?
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.