Several years ago, the phone rang suddenly in my office. It was an aide to former Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, that pillar of Old Line State politics known in some circles as “the Little General in Pearls” due to her diminutive-yet-commanding presence and jewelry preference.
The senator, back then still in office, noticed that I had written an article about 10 individuals under the age of 40 who were upcoming movers and shakers in the local Jewish community. She requested my assistance in gathering these folks for a fun and informative lunchtime schmooze.
Nobody says no to Barbara Mikulski, of course. So I did my best to make it all happen. (Plus, I was flattered just to know that a U.S. senator was reading my articles.) We got together in a boardroom of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore. A lot of the assembled influencers — who came from all walks of life, professionally, religiously and otherwise — went on to become communal powerhouses who continue to be vital and effective leaders in Jewish Baltimore.
Mikulski asked all of us to go around the room, introduce ourselves and talk about our personal vision and hopes for the community. The senator called on me last, and I mentioned that I was merely the lowly scribe who wrote the article. Mikulski’s eyes lit up.
“Oh, you did a great job,” she said, to my eternal gratitude. “I’m so glad you wrote this piece because we need to keep encouraging young people to step up and do their part for our communities. Your story was a good way to learn about these people and hear what they’re doing out there.”
What I wrote was essentially a list. People love lists because they give us a sense of structure and context in a rather chaotic world. They help us make sense of things, even if they sometimes reveal themselves as being rather arbitrary. They’re an instantaneous guilty pleasure of the soul and senses.
I’m a sucker for lists, although I take issue with them sometimes. Every few years, Rolling Stone comes out with its list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Is “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” really the greatest album ever? Many people would say it’s not even the Beatles’ best album. When asked for my opinion by a friend recently, I put it this way: “’Sgt. Pepper’ is probably not the Fab Four’s best album, but it is indeed the greatest album of all time.”
Make sense? A paradox? Perhaps.
But that’s the great thing about lists. While highly subjective and occasionally vexing, they provide us with grounding and exposure. They’re conversation starters and jumping-off points that help us organize and process information.
In this issue of Jmore, we offer a very special list — our annual “10-Under-40” cover story. These influencers, thought leaders and game changers already have made their marks on our community, and we fully expect them to continue doing so.
By the way, they’re not the only ones. Despite the tendency in our culture to kvetch about and even ridicule the younger generations, we know there are armies of young people doing their part in the advancement of their professions and industries, in community-building and in the name of tikkun olam, repairing the world. We salute them and thank them for their service.
And we look forward to watching them grow in the years to come.
Alan Feiler, Editor-in-Chief