Life & Culture

The Power 50 - Celebrating Influential Women

Across the arts, science, religion and politics, these figures are shaping society


Ros Altmann
The population is ageing, the pensions industry is in crisis. Who do governments listen to? Ros Altmann. The director-general of Saga is a long time campaigner for pensioner’s rights. Her solution to the coming pensions timebomb? We live longer, we should work longer.

Avielah Barclay
Barclay is a soferet — a female scribe. In fact, she is the first female scribe in more than 250 years. She writes and restores Torah scrolls, a job traditionally carried out by men. Even more remarkable, she wasn’t born Jewish. She converted in 2003 and moved to Jerusalem for scribe training.

Gail Ronson
A lady who lunches in a highly profitable manner for charity. The former deputy president of Jewish Care has also raised thousands for Norwood, and UJIA among others. Became a Dame in 2004. Appointed president of the Royal National Institute for the Blind in earlier this year. Mr Gail Ronson is Gerald, the multi-millionaire businessman.

Julia Neuberger
Baroness Neuberger rose to prominence in the ’70s as the first woman rabbi to preside over her own synagogue, South London Liberal. Now president of the Liberal Judaism movement and senior rabbi of West London Reform Synagogue, she is known for forthright views on issues ranging from volunteering to Irish schools, although “these days,” she says, “I try hard to be polite”.

Kay Mellor
Leeds-born writer who has been responsibke for entertaining a sizeable chunk of the nation’s television viewers with her scripts for Coronation Street, Brookside and the hugely popular ITV series Fat Friends.

Louise Ellman
Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside. Also chair of the Jewish Labour Movement and vice chair of Labour Friends of Israel. More than ready to take on Israel’s critics in Parliament and the media, as last year’s row with author Michael Morpurgo on BBC’s Newsnight amply demonstrated.

Jo Wagerman
This educator specialises in firsts. She was the first female headteacher of JFS, holding the post for 10 years and also the first female president of the Board of Deputies, Wagerman and remains the only woman to have held either job.

Abigail Morris
Theatre director who found success with her production of Diane Samuels’s play Kindertransport. Built up indie outfit, the Trouble and Strife Company, founded London’s Soho Theatre, moved fields to become chief executive of Jewish Women’s Aid before taking on the top job at the Jewish Museum.

Susan Greenfield
Baroness Greenfield is one of the country’s best known scientists, an expert in brain physiology. More importantly perhaps, she has helped make science sexy, with top-selling books, and media appearances. Hit the headlines following claims she was a victim of sexism after the Royal Institution removed her as its director.

Naomi Alderman
Talented young novelist whose debut novel, Disobedience, about a rabbi’s daughter from north London who becomes a lesbian, caused controversy. Equally at home writing plots for computer games and technology columns in the Guardian. Big fan of Dr Who, the subject of her most recent novel, Borrowed Time.

Emily Maitlis
As a BBC news presenter she is quite possibly the country’s most recognisable Jewish woman, although Nigella Lawson and Maureen Lipman might argue. Raised in Sheffield, she joined the BBC in 2001 and crops up across all its channels, most notably as a mainstay of Newsnight, when Jeremy Paxman can’t make it. Famous for being incredibly brainy and speaking, ooh, at least 87 languages.

Nicky Gavron
As deputy mayor of London from 2004-2008 she helped run the capital under Ken Livingstone. The top job could well have been hers, but she had stepped aside as Labour’s candidate in favour of Livingstone. Now a London Assembly member and campaigner against greenhouse gases.

Lynne Franks
Describes herself as a woman empowerment guru, and was a major player in the PR industry before setting up organisations to promote women in business. The nice Jewish girl/former Buddhist convert was the inspiration for Edina in the Jennifer Saunder’s BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, and so lays fair claim to the title of the UK’s best-loved PR person. Quite probably the only one.

Sonia Friedman
If you’ve been to West End show chances are Friedman produced it. One of the most powerful figures in British theatre, she has been behind a series of international hits, such as The Sunshine Boys, Jerusalem, Shirley Valentine and La Cage Aux Folles. Set up her own company in 2002 after working at the National Theatre and founding the acclaimed Out of Joint theatre company.

Maria Friedman
Sonia’s big sister, Maria is the go-to singer and actress for directors of West End musicals. Has starred numerous hits — The Woman in White, Chicago, Ragtime, The King and I, among others. Winner of two Olivier Awards. Famously performed in on Broadway a week after breast cancer surgery.

Ricky Burman
Jewish Museum director who has overseen its transformation into a major communal resource hosting international-class exhibitions in a state-of-the-art £10-million building, appealing to Jews and non-Jews alike.

Judy Ironside
In 1997 a small, not terribly well attended Jewish film festival started in Brighton. Fifteen years later we have the national event that is the UK Jewish Film Festival, which over the past decade has shown hundreds of Jewish movies from all over the world to thousands of people. As founder and executive director of UKJFF, Ironside is the woman responsible.

Julia Hobsbawm
Started out as a PR, now a businesswoman who has elevated networking into an artform, and an academic subject. Recently been appointed the world’s first professor of networking at London’s Cass Business School.

Linda Kelsey
Influenced a generation of young women as editor of She and Cosmopolitan magazines, twice being named editor of the year by industry peers. A former director of Jewish Book Week, she is now a successful novelist.

Trudy Gold
Executive director of education and Holocaust studies at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, Gold has taught Jewish history for 30 years, specialising in Holocaust studies. Has also run courses at leading UK universities including Oxford and Kings College, London.

Rachel Weisz
Cambridge graduate, Hollywood star, respected stage performer, Oscar winner, and on top of all tha,t married to James Bond. Weisz started her career in the early ’90s in Inspector Morse, broke through in Hollywood, scoring notable success in The Mummy, and won her Academy Award for the far more serious, The Constant Gardener. Married Bond actor Daniel Craig in 2011 after the breakdown of her 10-year relationship with director Darren Aronofsky.

Laura Marks
Represents a new breed of woman in the modern community. She is the founder of Mitzvah Day, and, as chair of the commission on women in Jewish leadership has campaigned for a greater role for women in the community. She followed her own example by being elected senior vice president of the Board of Deputies earlier this year.

Gail Rebuck
Read any good books lately? They may well have been published by Gail Rebuck. She is chair and chief executive of publishing giant Random House. Her authors include Martin Amis and Dan Brown and Ian McEwan — all serious page-turners. Famous for turning Tony Blair’s unsensational autobiography, A Journey, into a bestseller. Made a Dame in 2009.

Anita Zabludowicz
Newcastle-born Zabludowicz has helped compile one of the country’s most interesting collections of contemporary art. She provides the knowledge — she studied fine art at Christies — while millionaire husband Poju supplies the funds.

Vanessa Feltz
One of those women who divides opinion. A writer and broadcaster, she’s attracted criticism over her relationship with a younger man, and for her strong views on her ex-husband. Her readers and listeners love her up-front personality though, and she proves you don’t have to be stick-thin to make it as a woman in the media.

Laura Janner Klausner
Reform Judaism’s first-ever “Movement Rabbi”. Was minister at North Western Reform Synagogue from 2003-2011. One of the growing band of female rabbis beloved by the media — a regular on BBC’s Thought for the Day.

Nigella Lawson
The domestic goddess herself. Food writer and one-woman industry who in her TV cookery shows —starting with Channel 4’s Nigella Bites — and bestselling books has brought a simmerimg flirtatiousness into the kitchen. Has been described as the queen of food porn.Her predilection for cooking bits of pig means Jews are unlikely to follow some of her recipes. Became half of our foremost power couple when she married millionaire art collector Charles Saatchi in 2003.

Noreena Hertz
What Nigella is to the kitchen, Noreena is to economics. Author and campaigner who is a trenchant critic of global capitalism. Has been described as one of the world’s leading young thinkers. Her book, IOU: The Debt Threat, warned of the dangers of excessive lending a full three years before the banking collapse.

Arlene Phillips
Choreographer who shocked the nation in the ’70s with the(for those days) raunchy dancing of her troupe Hot Gossip. More recently won over the TV viewer’s hearts as the kind one on the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel. Became the focus of a debate about discrimination against older women when she was dropped from the show in 2009. Joked that she was now known as Arlene-Phillips-66, so often did the press print her age next to her name.

Esther Rantzen
Broadcaster who became famous in the ’70s for fronting, That’s Life, a pioneering TV consumer show with a penchant for amusingly-shaped vegetables. Has campaigned for various causes — most notably she founded the child protection charity, Child Line. Ran for Parliament as an independent in the 2010 General Election in Luton South but this was not her most successful campaign. Rantzen came fourth and lost her deposit.

Amy Winehouse
Poor Amy. Vastly talented singer and songwriter, but seemingly even more talented at self-destruction. Her album Back to Black showcased her distinctive vocals on a set of retro-inspired songs that have already become classics. Unhappy relationships, drugs and alcohol addiction meant that success was short-lived — she died in 2011.

Jo Ankier
British Jewish sports stars are thin on the ground. In 2005,steeplechaser Ankier broke the British record and for a while looked like a genuine Olympic prospect. It was not to be – her form fell away, and she retired in 2008 to the comfort of commentary box. Still, for a while there…

Samantha Spiro
A chameleon of an actress. Last seen as the embittered aunt in Simon Amstell’s Jewish sitcom Grandma’s House, she hass played everything from Barbara Windsor to The Merry Wives of Windsor. Won an Olivier for her role in the musical, Merrily We Role Along in 2000. Surely due many more.

Stacey Solomon
Everyone’s favourite girl next door. The singer from Dagenham failed to win The X-Factor in 2009 but impressed Simon Cowell enough to start a recording career. The singing hasn’t launched her to stardom, but her ability to nibble unmentionable things on I’m a Celebrity… has.

Rebecca Front
Actress who has a happy knack of appearing in landmark comedies. In the early ’90s she joined Steve Coogan and Chris Morris in the ground-breaking satires, On the Hour and The Day Today — the shows that launched Alan Partridge on the world. Twenty years later she’s starring in The Thick of It. She joined Spiro in Grandma’s House too. Her presence is almost a guarantee of comic quality.

Elaine Sacks
The Chief Rabbi’s other half remains something of an enigma as she rarely talks to the press. Fascinating fact: she trained as a radiographer.

Sophie Solomon
Klezmer has rarely been played better. The acclaimed violinist and composer has taken 300-year-old Jewish music from eastern Europe out of the ghetto by fusing it with a variety of other styles, including folk and pop. Result? Packed out houses wherever she performs. Paul Weller and Rufus Wainwright are big fans. Also taken over as artistic director of the Jewish Music Institute

Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah
The kind of rabbi who has sections of the community shaking their heads. Not just a woman rabbi, but an out and proud lesbian feminist woman rabbi. The congregants of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue don’t seem to mind —they appointed her their rabbi in 2000. One of the first 10 female rabbis ordained in Britain.

Louise Mensch
Everyone’s favourite chick-lit author turned Tory MP. Not Jewish, but married to rock band manager Peter Mensch, she made an impact on the community when she complained about the BBC’s lack of coverage of the murder of the Israeli Fogel family . Recently resigned as an MP to spend more time with her family. In her case, this was the real reason.

Gail Seal
President of the Jewish National fund for 14 years, stepping down in 2009 to focus on setting up a museum commemorating the 6,000 British Jewish soldiers who fought against the Nazis.

Syma Weinberg
The gatekeeper, if you will. Weinberg was executive director of the Chief Rabbi’s office for 13 years until she stepped down in 2009 to make aliyah. In that time the former deputy head of Hasmonean Prep School gained a reputation as a canny and pragmatic operator.

Ita Symons
Chief executive of the Agudas Israel Housing Association, Symons has been at the forefront of efforts to make affordable, good-standard housing available to the less well-off members of Stamford Hill’s Charedi community.

Norma Brier
A major figure in the community provision of social care. Chief executive of Norwood who stepped down in 2011 after 22 years with the organisation. Led the merger of Norwood and Ravenswood and oversaw huge changes in the culture of caring for those with learning disabilities.

Ella Marks
Former president of the League of Jewish Women. Trained as a social worker. and worked in local government with chidren and families. Since retiring, she has devoted her self to volutary work , especially reading for blind and partially sighted people. An unsung heroine.

Linda Grant
Liverpool-born novelist who’sHer books draw heavily on her Jewish background. An Orange Prize winner in 2000 for When I Lived in Modern Times.

Ruth Deech
Acaemic and lawyer, and responsible for ensuring barristers behave as chair of the Bar Standards Board.

Vivien Duffield
The woman who wants us all to be more like New York Jews. As head of the Clore Duffield Foundation — which has donated over £200 million to the arts and Jewish charities — she is the guiding light behind the creation of the cross-denominational Jewish Community Centre for London, inspired by its Manhattan counterpart. Describes herself as “bossy, arrogant and practically unemployable”.

Melanie Phillips
One of Fleet Street’s best read columnists. Started out as a touchy feely leftie writing for the Guardian and morphed into a Daily Mail stalwart, railing against multi-culturalism, Islamism, the gay rights lobby, the evils of the internet, and other contemporary blights.

Victoria coren
Coren, the daughter of celebrated humorist Alan Coren, writes weekly columns in the Guardian and the Observer and presents the BBC4 quiz show, Only Connect. But she makes her real money from gambling. She won the main event of the European Poker Tour in 2006, winning £500,000 and in total has won a cool £1 million from the game.

Maureen lipman
Last but certainly not least, Britain’s most visible Jewish actress, and in the eyes of the outside world, the dramatic embodiment of the Jewish mother. Lipman has been through Agony, acted in her late husband Jack Rosenthal’s television plays, starred in one of the most famous advertising campaigns of the past 20 years as Beattie, is a respected theatre performer and has written several entertaining volumes of memoirs. She has even played a villain on Doctor Who.

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