I learn a lot about leadership by overseeing the painstaking but ultimately rewarding process of compiling the Forward 50 each year, of trying to identify the American Jews who have had the greatest impact on our lives in a variety of fields, from politics to culture to sports. And I learn even more about leadership by analyzing how these 50 profiles are read.
One of the astonishing aspects of doing journalism online is that we can ascertain how many people click on a given story down to the person. In print, you can only make educated guesses about what stories are read, whether a snappy headline or a compelling photograph will entice the reader to delve deeper, or to turn the page. But online we know precisely how much traffic every item that we post receives, and this can help us understand what touches readers.
For this year’s Forward 50, readers have been touched by the heartfelt, the unusual, the unexpected. As of Monday evening, Nov. 12, the first day all 50 profiles were posted online, the most read was not about the largest political donor in the land, or the superstar singer, or the second ranking leader in the House of Representatives, or even the King of Comedy Central.
No, the most read profile was of Hindy Poupko Galena, a New York City mother who chronicled her baby daughter’s struggle against a fatal disease and galvanized an outpouring of support through cyberspace.
And the surprises continue.
We have a preschool ritual every Friday. It’s called Superstar Shabbat. In 16 years it hasn’t really ever changed. Each preschooler is assigned to a particular Friday morning throughout the year. Often two or three kids will share a Shabbat. They – well, their parents – create posters with drawings, pictures, etc and show them to the assembled students and visitors. I ask the kids a few questions about their posters, then pick each preschooler up and, holding them in the air, cheer loudly.
I remember about 15 years ago when it was Aly Raisman’s turn. I picked her up and I said, “Look at Aly! She’s our superstar!”
Who knew that 15 years later, the whole world would agree!
Aly Raisman is a superstar. She is a natural: poised, focused, unafraid. But then, she has always been that way. Her parents Lynn and Rick followed her lead from the beginning. It was Aly who decided that she would be a gymnast. Her parents never pushed or cajoled. They supported her with love and endless hours of schlepping to meets and gyms all over New England, and later, all over the United States.
I sort of felt like a schizophrenic, jumping between screens on my 15-inch screen computer, from word document to word document, from news website to low-quality live-streaming of Aly Raisman wobbling on the balance beam.
The video kept freezing. The loading button wouldn’t move from the middle of the screen. The commentary was in French. The screen was barely five inches big. Yet, I stayed glued to it, despite all the other word documents screaming for my attention.
Why was I so entranced? Because it’s the Olympic gymnastics, man!
Sixteen year olds swinging from metal poles. Glittering leotards streaking with shiny distractions. A Polish girl with her country’s flag colors spray-painted onto her cornrows. Almost everyone was wearing some form of purpley-pink skin tight “leotard” (seriously, what material is that?! How does it possibly stick so tightly to those inanely sculpted bodies? Gymnasts give swimmers a run for their money).
And of course, our own little Cold-War-Competition: the four leading gymnasts, all stacked with the possibility of a place on the medal stand hailed from Russia and the United States.
Even more than that, we had a star in the rise, our little-engine-that-could, chugging along with her excitable parents and megawatt smile.
Raisman, the 18-year-old super gymnast from Needham, Mass., who did her floor dance to Hava Nagila and proudly talked to the Yahoo sports channel about drinking chocolate milk after her workouts.