The Forward, American Jewry’s influential leftist newspaper, today announced its annual and much-anticipated “FORWARD50” list which provides a snapshot of the important Jewish stories of theyear, and the people who made those stories.
According to Forward Editor Jane Eisner, “Jews played an outsized role in the presidential election campaign and, by the looks of it, will continue to do so in the new Obama administration. This was also the year the kosher meat industry faced its greatest legal, consumer and ethical challenges and in the process exposed major lapses in the U.S. justice and immigration systems, prompting rabbis of all denominations to examine themoral dimension of a central Jewish tenet.”
The Forward is making a rare exception to its all Jewish list with its symbolic #51 spot naming Postville, Iowa Catholic Priest Paul Ouderkirk, who led the effort to feed, clothe and house dozens of immigrant detaineesfired from the Agriprocessors Kosher slaughterhouse in Guatemala andelsewhere. Some of the 400 arrested by Federal agents were imprisoned andare now under house arrest, with no support, waiting to testify asgovernment witnesses and then be deported.
In addition to the Top Five, this year’s most influential list features individuals whose influence falls within the specific areas of Politics, Money, Culture & Media, Community, Religion and Food (read full list here).
FOOD: Aaron Rubashkin
“It is safe to say that Aaron Rubashkin did not want to become famous this year. Rubashkin was happy to labor behind the scenes for the last few decades, turning his family business, Agriprocessors, into the largest producer of kosher meat in the country. His children have run the operations on the ground, but the octogenarian Rubashkin has been back in Brooklyn making the big decisions. Those decisions helped the company grow, but they also led it down the path to trouble.
“Agriprocessors’ hiring and pay policies resulted in a federal immigration raid on its plant in Postville, Iowa, earlier this year. Since then, Rubashkin and his family have faced a number of criminal charges that eventually led the company to declare bankruptcy.
“The company’s problems have sparked a protest movement and, in turn, changed the way people think about kosher food. None of this would have happened without Rubashkin. While the final judgment about him will be rendered in the courts, his trial in the media has already changed minds.”
RELIGION: Moshe Kotlarsky
“As vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the education arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky oversees what amounts to a fourth main wing of Judaism, with some 5,000 Hasidic rabbis ministering to a vast, loosely affiliated flock of mostly nonobservant Jews. His network includes about 4,000 institutions in 70 countries — synagogues, community centers, parochial schools and preschools from Albuquerque to Zaire, plus prison chaplaincies and a few drug rehab clinics. It’s estimated that a Chabad facility opens up somewhere every week.
“Kotlarsky, 59, runs the empire with a firm but affable hand, approving new locations, selecting field rabbis (shluchim) and, most important, doling out millions to the field from a donor-funded foundation he controls. He also heads the fast-growing Chabad on Campus Foundation, operating at more than 100 colleges.
“One of Chabad’s most visible public faces, he travels tirelessly to address gatherings worldwide and presides genially over the massive annual shluchim convention in New York.
“Outsiders sometimes question Chabad’s aggressive way of moving into small communities, especially in Eastern Europe, and some fret about the free liquor that often seems to help boost attendance. In 2008, Chabad traditionalists attacked Kotlarsky over the movement’s visible presence at the Beijing Olympics.
“Chabad’s late leader, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, considered the Olympics idolatrous because they originated as a religious tribute to pagan Greek gods. Still, few argue with success.”
COLlive.com has gotten the following statement from Merkos:
“Upon learning of his nomination this morning, Rabbi Kotlarsky was surprised and said that he was never contacted by the Forward nor was he interviewed by its reporters.
“He does not seek nor welcome this public acknowledgement, since it is well known that the unprecedented success and growth of shlichus around the world is due only to the strength given to them by Hashem and the Rebbe’s continued Brochos.”