a black woman in glasses and a white shirt with a determined expression
Ilana Kaufman of the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative. (Michael Fox)

Four local Jews on annual ‘Forward 50’ list

The national Jewish newspaper The Forward unveiled its 25th annual “Forward 50” list of inspiring Jews last week, and four Northern California Jews — a food writer, a farmer, a technologist and an advocate for Jewish racial diversity — made the list.

In previous years, the Forward 50 attempted to collect the most influential Jews of the year. This year, the Forward editors wrote, “we aimed to go a bit beyond the headlines to find influential, intriguing and, yes, inspiring characters you might not know much about.”

Adam Berman, the founder of Berkeley’s Jewish urban farm Urban Adamah, is celebrated for his “unconventional approach to Jewish life [that] allows him to reach people who don’t feel at home in synagogue.” Asked by the Forward about his favorite thing about being Jewish, he said “1) Shabbat; 2) Ruggeleh from Marzipan in Jerusalem, and 3) How our holidays all connect to agriculture and/or natural cycles/events (not necessarily in that order).”

Ilana Kaufman, the director of the new Jews of Color Field Building Initiative, is included on the list as “a queer Jewish woman of color” who is “a national voice for diversity and inclusivity.” In J.’s cover story about Jewish leaders of color in January, Kaufman told us, “Racism has not allowed the Jewish community to understand ourselves as multiracial… We’ve done an amazing job of excising Jews of color out of the narrative. We’re trained to think they are not Jewish.”

Brett Lockspeiser made the list as “The Torah Technologist.” Lockspeiser is the chief engineer behind Sefaria, the nearly comprehensive, free Hebrew-English digital library of Jewish texts that has become an indispensible tool for Jewish students and teachers worldwide. Said the reader who nominated him, Lockspeiser “is responsible for removing millennia-old obstacles to access and revolutionizing engagement with these texts for every Jew (and non-Jew), everywhere.”

Rabbi Elliot Kukla, rabbi at the Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, also made the list – he is the first openly transgender rabbi and is also a disability activist. At Bay Area Jewish Healing Center, “he provides spiritual care around grieving, illness and dying. And, more and more, counseling about the pain of surviving the climate crisis,” write the Forward editors.

Two other honorees also have local ties. Rep. Adam Schiff is touted as the “Impeacher-in-Chief.” The California House Democrat was born in Massachusetts and represents part of Southern California, but he moved to Danville when he was 10, had his bar mitzvah at Temple Isaiah in Lafayette and earned his undergraduate degree at Stanford University. Chef Adeena Sussman is also on the list, author of the 2019 cookbook “Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors from My Israeli Kitchen.” She now lives in Israel but was raised in Palo Alto.

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the online editor of J. and "Jew in the Pew" columnist. He can be reached at david@jweekly.com.