Assessing the Forward 50: What We Can Learn About Top American Jewish Philanthropists


The Foward 50’s annual list of movers and shakers in the American Jewish community is at once interesting, important, and expected. Few surprise entries made the cut, but the list is nonetheless mandatory reading for a Jewish community guide to 2007.

Calling for a New List

Before going on to assess the Forward’s choices, I do have to assert that it is time for a list that moves beyond the traditional bounds of American Jews over 40. Where are the Israelis? Where are the scientists? Where are the young people seeking to make a difference through innovative and daring projects that will forward the thinking of the global Jewish community?

One of my goals in the next year is to bring you these stories– those outside the confines of the United States’ Jewish communal system. We need to broaden our minds to consider the impact of Jews worldwide, not just those influencing the Jewish community.

Investing in Jews Globally

If we truly believe in the advancement of Jews worldwide, we will consider the actions and values of all Jews and not just those within our regimented boundaries. Jewish Israelis are making tremendous leaps and bounds in hi-tech, promoting alternative energies, and green investments.

To exclude progress like theirs because it benefits only Jews and not the Jewish community as a whole weakens our goals and ambitions as a Jewish people.

Providing Examples

While you are thinking about who should be included, take into the consideration of individuals I have mentioned recently, like:


The List: Who Made It and Who Did Not

Six philanthropists made the cut, composing a coveted 12% of the list. They were (in the order listed):

  • Lynn Schusterman
  • Michael Steinhardt
  • Roger Bennett and Sharna Goldseker
  • Robert Aronson
  • Tad Taube

Philanthropic powerhouses Sheldon Adelson, George Soros, Ron Lauder, and Ruth Messinger were present in different categories.

I also want to mention those who readers suggested should be present in the comments section: Jay Schottenstein and Ricky Shechtel.

Let’s examine these choices further.

Top Philanthropy Picks: How They Earned Their Places

For the sake of our own education, let’s consider this a how-to list for making a significant impact on the Jewish community. The items that I highlight from each individual’s resume will emphasize not only what they did, but how they did it.

What can we learn from these best practice philanthropists about social entrepreneurship and achieving maximum impact and empowerment?

Lynn Schusterman

Highlights: Big picture vision to help engage marginalized Jews and reinvigorate Jewish communities across America


Primary affiliations: Birthright, Conference for Change, Hillel, Partnership for Exellence in Jewish Education, Schusterman Family Foundation, STAR Alliance

Michael SteinhardtSteinhardt

Highlights: Promoting youth engagement with Israel and Jewish communities, Jewish education

Steinhardt is focusing his efforts and energy on three initiatives that he believes will have the most impact:

  1. Creating follow-up programming for Birthright alumni
  2. Investing $100 million in Jewish education with the creation of the Areivim Fund
  3. Building up the Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative

Read more: “Michael Steinhardt and the Jewish Life Network: Profile of a Social Entrepreneur”

Roger Bennett and Sharna Goldseker

Highlights: encouraging and enabling youth involvement in Jewish philanthropy

Primary affiliations: 21/64, Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, Grand Street, Reboot


  • Bennett and Goldseker are Vice Presidents of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies
  • Bennett founded Reboot, “an incubator for Jewish art and culture,” out of which came Reboot’s magazine, Guilt and Pleasure, the documentary film, “Sons of Sakhnin United,” and a series of studies on Jewish youth and philanthropy with Steven M. Cohen and Ari Kelman
  • Goldseker founded Grand Street and 21/64 to help promote multidimensional giving and train young people involved in family foundations, and founded the Slingshot Guide to American Jewish resources

The Forward says: “Between Bennett and Goldseker, we can only imagine how the philanthropies will continue to shift the landscape of Jewish giving over the next five years.”

Read more about Sharna Goldseker: “JTA’s Reimagining Federated Philanthropy: What You Need to Know” and The Slingshot Fund.

(Roger Bennett: no photo available.)

A Pause for Assessment

So there in the top three philanthropists named in the Forward 50, you have Schusterman, Steinhardt, and the Bronfman family represented, who, as mentioned, were also the founders of Birthright.

Clearly these three individuals, their goals, and their foundations are among the most prescient in the Jewish world today and should be watched closely for best practice Jewish community innovation models.

Robert Aronson

Highlights: major fundraiser and trusted philanthropic adviser on heavy hitting Jewish leadership, education, and communal projects

Primary affiliations: Areivim, Professional Leaders Project, Steinhardt philanthropies


  • Transitioned this year from his position as head of the Detroit Jewish Community Foundation to leader of Steinhardt Philanthropies
  • Founder of the Professional Leaders Project, which seeks to identify, train, and guide future Jewish communal leaders
  • Philanthropic adviser to Areivim Philanthropic Group for Jewish education (see Steinhardt’s profile and the accompanying link above)

Thaddeus “Tad” Taube

Highlights: Promoting the role of Jewish culture in Poland beyond the Shoa


Primary Affiliations: Koret Foundation, Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Stanford University’s Hoover Institution

Honorable Mentions: Nominations from the Peanut Gallery

A brief (but honorable) mention to the two philanthropists who the Forward’s commenters protested were not on the list.

Jay Schottenstein:

  • The man (and family) behind the Schottenstein Talmud, a 15 year, $21 million, 73 volume project to make the Talmud easier to read and study through more modern text translations and commentary
  • According to our commender, Schottenstein is also a principal funder of the Western Wall archaeological excavation and of the new Israel Antiquities Authority campus, to be built alongside the Israel Museum

Read Forbes’ profile of Jay Schottenstein to learn more about his business expertise.

(No photo available)

Ricky Shechtel:


Read the Jewish Funders Network’s profile of Ricky Shechtel to learn more.


Can you believe that all that Jewish philanthropy information I presented is just the basics! Clearly it is best to stop here for now, but I encourage you to keep reading The New Jew: Blogging Jewish Philanthropy for all your Jewish giving and social innovation news.


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And Most Importantly…

Shabbat Shalom!


12 Responses to Assessing the Forward 50: What We Can Learn About Top American Jewish Philanthropists

  1. Avi says:

    You are leaving out 3 people who are 27 from Forward 50. One of whom, Jen Taylor Friedman, is the first female soferet to have written a Torah. Of course, these aren’t the philanthropists, who had to first make tons of money first.

  2. thenewjew says:

    Sorry, Avi. I don’t think I understand what you are saying.

    While Jen Taylor Friedman absolutely deserves her place on the list, she certainly wouldn’t be considered a philanthropist by these criteria.

    By “27” you mean age 27? I certainly think that is an interesting and useful measurement, but not what I am trying to do in this post.


  3. thenewjew says:

    Hi Avi,

    I wanted to recommend a link to you if you are particularly interested in the impact of young people. The Heeb 100 has compiled a sassy list of who they believe are the younger generation of movers and shakers today. You can find it at:



  4. Avi says:

    My comment is mostly a response to your first question in the beginning paragraph: “Before going on to assess the Forward’s choices, I do have to assert that it is time for a list that moves beyond the traditional bounds of American Jews over 40. Where are the Israelis? Where are the scientists? Where are the young people seeking to make a difference through innovative and daring projects that will forward the thinking of the global Jewish community?”

    Well, there are a handful of people on the Forward 50 who are doing just that. Of course, there are many more people who also have innovative ideas but lack the financial resources or recognition. The Heeb list is cultural and has very little “Jewish” content except that they are all Jewish. Personally, I find Heeb to be a waste of communal money — looking for hip but lacking substance.

  5. thenewjew says:

    Dear Avi,

    Thanks for clarifying. I have a much better sense of what you’re saying now.

    Of course the Forward’s list represents American Jews, as most of the ranking systems do that come from American Jewish cultural sources, but I would love to see one that is more global.

    I haven’t decided how important it is if the people on the list are honored for their actions on behalf of the Jewish community, or if their Jewishness is enough. I think both criteria are valid and important.

    Agreed as to Heeb being somewhat shallow when it comes to Jewishness. I am okay with that if it provides young Jews with a starting point and acts as a bridge to other organizations that might allow them to embed their Jewish interests further.

    Your blog has a nice style and I wish you tremendous success with it.


  6. […] Assessing the Forward 50: What We Can Learn About Top American Jewish Philanthropists […]

  7. […] “Assessing the Forward 50: What We Can Learn about Top American Jewish Philanthropists” (learn about Tad Taube’s efforts to re-envision European Jewish culture) […]

  8. I like the 2008 list better, Maya 🙂

  9. […] “Assessing the Forward 50: What We Can Learn About Top American Jewish Philanthropists” […]

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