By JTA Staff
The 2010s were nothing if not turbulent. The decade brought us unprecedented political polarization, war and increasing conflict in Israel, dozens of horrific mass shootings, and a new age of election hacking and private data collection enabled by the proliferation of social media.
These are the Jewish figures who had the largest impact on life and culture over the last decade.
Love him or hate him, no one person has dominated the Jewish 2010s more than the Israeli prime minister. He took office nine months before the decade began and, barring a drastic change, will still be in office when it ends.
Over the past decade, Netanyahu has governed through two wars in Gaza, two fruitless rounds of negotiation with the Palestinians and two extremely different U.S. presidential administrations. Under his leadership, Israel’s economy has grown and the country has shifted right. Prospects for a Palestinian state have become increasingly remote as relations with other Arab states have started to thaw.
But Bibi’s influence has stretched far beyond the borders of the Jewish state. He has aimed to marshal a global campaign against Iran’s nuclear program. His iciness toward President Barack Obama and his bear hug of President Donald Trump have put him at odds with most American Jews and have played a part in changing a once-bipartisan consensus on supporting Israel.
The decade has seen Netanyahu become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. But he ends it under criminal indictment for fraud, bribery and breach of trust — and teetering on the brink of electoral defeat.
Before the 2010s, no one could have expected that a septuagenarian Jewish socialist from Vermont would have a real shot at becoming president. But Sanders made history in 2016 by becoming the first Jew to win major party state primaries, on his way to coming close to snagging the nomination. Whether or not he wins in his second attempt in 2020, Sanders’ two presidential runs have transformed political discourse in the Jewish community and the United States as a whole.
Because of Sanders, policies like single-payer health care, free public college and breaking up the big banks are now commonly discussed within the Democratic party. He has mobilized a wing of progressives across the country who want to abandon center-left liberalism in favor of his “political revolution.”
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump
As President Trump’s senior advisers, and his daughter and son-in-law, Ivanka and Jared have the president’s ear in a new and unpredictable era of American government. Trump invested both sides of “Javanka” with tremendous responsibility. Ivanka has become a presence at high-level diplomatic events. Jared was given a vast portfolio — from the opioid crisis to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He has had a tangible impact in the Jewish state, where he has advocated moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and withdrawing funding from Palestinian institutions.
Liberal Jews hoped Ivanka and Jared, as two young Jews from New York City, would be a check on some of the president’s hardline policies. Jewish conservatives saw the Orthodox couple — and Trump’s trust in them — as a rebuttal of the idea that the president condoned anti-Semitism. And when the administration began, their Jewish practice was scrutinized, something that has subsided as Jews have gotten used to the couple’s unique role in the White House.
The rapper and singer (and former teen actor) born Aubrey Graham to an African-American father and Jewish mother was the most streamed musician of the decade. He broke multiple Billboard chart and Spotify records. He became the best-selling digital singles artist of all time.
His legacy continues to play out through the countless contemporary artists who mimic his smooth sonic style and his combination of rapping and singing.
Though he rarely gives interviews, Drake has shown some Jewish pride a few times — perhaps most notably during a 2014 “Saturday Night Live” skit about his bar mitzvah, and a second bar mitzvah party of sorts in 2017. He attended a Jewish day school in his native Toronto as a kid.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
This decade saw Ruth Bader Ginsburg go from outspoken liberal Supreme Court justice to the “Notorious RBG,” one of the zeitgeist’s foremost political and pop culture icons.
The story starts with the Jewish justice’s resilience in her career and personal life, having fought for gender equality for decades — through a series of crucial Supreme Court cases and other projects — and battling multiple bouts of cancer.
In 2013, inspired by this and more specifically by Ginsburg’s dissent in a case involving voting rights, New York University law student Shana Knizhnik started a blog that compared Ginsburg to the late rapper the Notorious B.I.G. Multiple documentaries, books and a feature film starring Felicity Jones later, the nickname has stuck. There are RBG action figures. A U.S. women’s national team soccer player put her name on her jersey once. Even her workout routine became an online phenomenon.
Few people have had as large an impact on the way we live and communicate over the past decade as the Facebook founder. As the 2010s draw to a close, the company founded in Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room in 2004 boasts nearly 2.5 billion users — or roughly one out every three people on the planet — and its influence reaches into countless corners of our lives.
The 2010s were a period of meteoric growth for the company, which is now ranked among the 10 most valuable public corporations in the world. But perhaps inevitably, the 2010s also saw Facebook coming under increasing scrutiny — and mounting criticism. The company stands accused of misusing oceans of personal user data, addicting people to their phones, obliterating the capacity for sustained attention, undermining democracy, fomenting ethnic violence and inciting hatred — and that list is hardly exhaustive. Much of this came to a head in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, when American intelligence officials said Russia manipulated Facebook as part of its effort to swing the election to Donald Trump.
Zuckerberg has occasionally tried to contain the damage, as in 2017, when he posted a Yom Kippur message asking forgiveness for any divisiveness he had caused. But after enduring a sustained lashing from members of the House Financial Services Committee in October, Zuckerberg acknowledged that he might not be the best person to present Facebook’s case to the world.
Before 2017, the Israeli supermodel was best known for showing up in multiple movies in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. She was also a former Miss Israel, and before that an Israel Defense Forces combat readiness instructor.
These days, she’s Wonder Woman. Her role in the 2017 DC Comics film named after the legendary superhero skyrocketed her to international fame and transformed her into an icon of inspiration for women and girls around the world. The character has been hailed as a long overdue feminist addition to the comic book movie canon, and the film’s overwhelming box office success proved that a female-fronted superhero flick could sell just as well, or better, than ones starring men.
Gadot, now 34, and her husband, Israeli real estate developer Yaron Varsano, are in the process of remaking an Israeli crime drama for English-speaking audiences, as well as a novel about an Israeli-Palestinian romance that was banned in Israeli schools.
If Bloomberg has his way, he’ll start the next decade as the first Jewish president of the United States. But it’s easy to forget how influential the billionaire has already been over the past decade.
After his transformational tenure as mayor of New York, Bloomberg moved on to national and global issues. He has funneled tens of millions (out of his net worth of around $56 billion) to gun control initiatives, including his own Everytown for Gun Safety group. He has also become a leading voice on combating climate change, putting a portion of his fortune towards research and lobbying on the issue and insisting that American cities can still help the country decrease harmful emissions even while it’s led by a president who does not believe in global warming.
And after flirting with the idea for years, Bloomberg finally went all in on a presidential candidacy at the end of 2019, believing that his centrist, get-things-done reputation would appeal to voters disheartened by Trump and unenthused by the slew of Democratic candidates.
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s Comedy Central sitcom “Broad City,” a wacky encapsulation of New York millennial life that aired from 2014 to 2019, fused Jewishness and humor in an original way en route to becoming one of the most beloved shows of the decade. Jacobson and Glazer’s characters — two stoners, loosely based on themselves, who constantly find themselves in ridiculous situations — owned their Jewishness in a confident way that nebbishy icons of the past, like Woody Allen or Jerry Seinfeld, did not. They also helped redefine the popular image of Jewish women.
They didn’t shy from directly discussing their Jewish identities on the show either. One episode harshly mocked Birthright. Another took aim at some of the racist Jews of Florida. In another, the girls hang out with a Holocaust survivor. That’s on top of countless Jewish-themed jokes and references that helped usher in what some have called the most Jewish era of mainstream television in modern memory.
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl
Angela Buchdahl’s ordination as the first Asian American rabbi in 2001, and the first woman overall to become both a cantor and a rabbi, was a watershed moment for American Jews. But it was Buchdahl’s selection in 2014 as senior rabbi of New York’s Central Synagogue, among the largest Jewish houses of worship in the country, that really marked her arrival on the global Jewish scene.
The choice of Buchdahl to replace the retiring Rabbi Peter Rubinstein elevated a woman and a Jew of color to a position of virtually unprecedented prominence in the Jewish world and made Buchdahl a potent symbol of the changing face of American Judaism.
Born in Korea and raised in Washington state by a Buddhist mother and Jewish-American father, Buchdahl spoke at the White House Chanukah party in 2014, noting how incredulous the American founding fathers likely would have been at the sight of an Asian-American rabbi praying alongside the first African-American president. In 2018, she made headlines again when she banned for a year the music of Shlomo Carlebach, the prolific composer who had been accused by multiple women of sexually inappropriate acts.
Ten years ago, you may have never heard of ingredients like tahini, harissa, labne, halloumi and preserved lemon. Today, you can easily find these and more Israeli staples at your local supermarket (or Trader Joe’s). You can also stumble upon them on trendy restaurant menus in just about every city, from San Francisco to Boston.
The hunger for ingredients like these and Israeli food more broadly can be credited in large part to the food gospel of chef Michael Solomonov and his business partner Steve Cook. Solomonov boasts four James Beard awards, two best-selling cookbooks and more than eight restaurants to his name, including the renowned Zahav and the popular Dizengoff hummus restaurant in Philadelphia. Intentionally or not, he has brought a passion for Israeli cuisine to the masses of North America.
Born in Israel but raised in Pittsburgh, Solomonov has fundamentally changed the way Americans eat, impacted the way we define Israeli food and influenced the way Jews, and non-Jews, view Jewish food today. He is launching a culinary school in Israel and will open yet another restaurant in 2020.
Aly Raisman spent a little over half the decade becoming and staying an Olympic gold medalist. She spent the latter part of it becoming an influential advocate for sexual abuse victims and an empowered role model for women everywhere.
At the 2012 Olympics in London, Raisman was the most decorated American gymnast, winning gold in the floor and team categories while performing a routine to “Hava Nagila” on the way. At the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, she won silver in two individual categories and gold again with the team.
Raisman would later be a leading voice in the trial of her abusive former coach, Larry Nassar. Her statement in court about turning the tables put powerful men on notice.
Unquestionably, the New England Patriots wide receiver is the best Jewish pro ballplayer of the decade (in football or any other sport) and the one who is least shy about displaying his Jewish pride.
As he ascended from a last round draft pick in 2009 to top target for Tom Brady (arguably the best quarterback ever), the Patriots have dominated the NFL. He has been especially prominent in the postseason, playing on two Super Bowl champion teams (he missed the 2017 title season with an injury) and winning the Most Valuable Player award in the 2019 victory over the Los Angeles Rams.
Edelman, 33, is the son of a Jewish father but was not raised in the religion. However, his Jewish pride has swelled over the years as his game has gained in stature. He has tweeted about Jewish holidays. He went on a Birthright-style trip to Israel. He wrote a children’s book that references modern-day Zionism founder Theodor Herzl.
In his latest display, Edelman debuted custom cleats featuring a Star of David and the logo of the Israel Baseball Association as part of the NFL’s fourth “My Cause, My Cleats’’ campaign. The previous year, he donned special cleats in Pittsburgh to honor the victims of the synagogue shooting there in a game against the Steelers.
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