(JTA) — 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. It was capped by arguably the most shocking presidential election in American history.
These are the Jewish figures who steered us through it all, and who had the largest impact on life and culture in the last ten years.
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 ten years, 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 Obama and his bearhug of President 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. In that sense, the tail end of the 2010s may be the most critical period for the man who defined the Jewish decade.
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump
Jews have long served in trusted White House positions, but never have two Jews been so close to the president. 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.
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.
By the end of the 2010s, Ginsburg experienced some more health scares that jeopardized the future of the court — but she quickly bounced back every time, true to her well-earned identity as a badass.
Few people have had as large an impact on the way we live and communicate over the past decade as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. 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 ten 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.
“I get that I’m not the ideal messenger for this right now,” he said. “We certainly have work to do to build trust.”
Before 2017, Gal Gadot was best known as a supermodel who showed 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, has an esteemed Jewish yichus — her maternal grandfather is an Auschwitz survivor and her father is a sixth-generation Israeli. She has two young daughters with her husband, Israeli real-estate developer Yaron Varsano. Gadot and 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.
Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer
Jewy shtick had long been part of the backbone of American comedy — but never like this.
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.
As Elana Spivack put it in Alma earlier this year, Jacobson and Glazer took us “from shpilkes to chutzpah.”
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.
Andrew Pollack and Fred Guttenberg
Fred Guttenberg and Andrew Pollack’s lives were both torn apart on Feb. 14, 2018, when a former student entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and opened fire. Guttenberg’s daughter, Jaime, and Pollack’s daughter, Meadow, were among the 17 victims.
The men share many similarities: they are both 53 years old, Jewish, and not particularly involved in politics prior to the shooting. But the massacre led both to dedicate their lives to activism to honor their daughters’ memories and prevent similar deaths. Both now have more than 100,00 followers on social media and have met with prominent lawmakers.
But the two fall on complete opposite sides of gun control debate: while Guttenberg has become a progressive advocate for gun reform, Pollack is an outspoken supporter of President Donald Trump, who has said people are too quick to blame guns for mass killings.
The two men’s heart-wrenching stories have inspired many on both sides, and the different paths their shared tragedy led has them down resonate especially deeply at a time of deep political polarization, when national tragedies seem only to further entrench those differences.
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 Hanukkah 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.
Solmonov 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. He believes that food belongs to everyone, and has sought to bring the Israeli tradition of ripping, tearing, dipping and sharing to more and more willing eaters. He steers clear of politics, but doesn’t shy away from showcasing the diverse food traditions that define Israeli cuisine.
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.
In a 2018 BBYO speech, Raisman told Jewish teens about the importance of family and Jewish values to her work, and that she sees herself as representing the Jewish community when she performs. She started gymnastics at age 2 and vows to return for the 2020 Olympics.
At the start of this year, JTA asked this question in a headline: Is Julian Edelman the best Jewish football player ever? We may not be able to answer that one definitively, but the New England Patriots wide receiver is unquestionably 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.
Rabbis Jeffrey Myers and Yisroel Goldstein
In the normal course of affairs, synagogue rabbis toil away in relative obscurity. But two horrific acts of mass violence thrust Rabbis Jeffrey Myers and Yisroel Goldstein into the national spotlight towards the end of the 2010s and, for a time, made them each symbols of resistance to rising anti-Semitic violence.
Goldstein came face to face with the gunman who entered his synagogue in southern California on the last day of the Passover holiday in April 2019. He instinctively raised his arms, and the gunman fired, blowing off the rabbi’s index finger. Then he turned and killed Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who became the attack’s only fatality.
In the months following the attack, Goldstein gave speeches at the White House and the United Nations, and in Brazil and Poland. Seven months after the attack, he retired as leader of the congregation he had founded in Poway, near San Diego, in 1996.
Months earlier, it was Myers who confronted a gunman intent on massacring his congregants. When the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue began on the morning of Oct. 27, 2018, Myers was just minutes into leading Shabbat morning services. When the first shots rang out, he assumed someone had knocked over a coat rack. After leading several people to safety, he returned to the synagogue’s choir loft where he heard the gunman kill seven of his congregants.
In total, 11 people were killed that morning in the deadliest act of ant-Semitic violence in American Jewish history.
Myers would become one of the Pittsburgh Jewish community’s chief spokesmen as the national press descended on the city. “I’m a victim, I’m a survivor, I’m a mourner,” he said at a memorial service two days after the shooting. At a service to mark 30 days, Myers chanted a Hebrew memorial prayer. A year later, the pain of that day had scarcely faded.
“I live with Oct. 27 every minute of every hour of every day, and I will for the rest of my life,” he said.