New York-based Ronald S. Lauder is one of the most prominent leaders of world Jewry. International philanthropist, investor, art collector and former US ambassador to Austria, Lauder has served since 2007 as president of the World Jewish Congress.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the Jewish world today?

One of the biggest challenges facing the Jewish world today is the question of how to keep the flame of Jewish life burning bright. Reinvigorating Jewish communities outside of Israel, and teaching young people to be proud of their heritage, is not only a priority for the World Jewish Congress, but it’s been the focus of my philanthropic foundation for 30 years. Every Jew, no matter where he’s born, should know what it means to be Jewish.

The failed Kotel deal has caused a rift between the diaspora and Israel. What do you suggest that we as Jews do from here in order to mend those ties?

At a time when the size of the Jewish community is stagnant, except for the Orthodox, we should be doing everything that we can to encourage Jewish people, particularly progressive Jews, to feel included, not excluded. The Kotel, Judaism’s holiest site, is a great example: it should be a place where all Jews feel welcome, and no one should feel excluded.

This list is supposed to draw attention to those in the Jewish world who have proven to be agents of change in 2017. Is there anybody you admire who has been a force for good this year?

Nikki Haley has been a remarkable force for good this year. When she became President Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations, everything seemed to change overnight. In her first press conference, she made it clear that the US would no longer tolerate anti-Israel bias at the UN. I’ve met with her a number of times, and I have to say: the woman is absolutely outstanding.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem / MARC ISRAEL SELLEM

Finally, on the Palestinian front. What can be done to advance the peace process? Is a deal still attainable?

Yes, I believe deep in my bones that a two-state solution is still within reach. Given current demographic trends, inaction is simply not an option. With common economic and security interests binding both sides, and a palpable shift in the Arab world’s attitudes toward Israel, now is an opportune time to pursue a deal. I am confident President Trump will make significant progress in the upcoming months.

You’re very active philanthropically in Israel. What recent projects are you most proud of?

My family’s love of Israel is central to our identity. Our recent philanthropic focus has been the intersection of education and economic opportunity. My family and I funded a new, state-of-the-art dormitory at Technion, which opened a few months ago. When I first visited Technion, I was in awe of the place—it’s very much the engine that powers the “Startup Nation.” At the opposite end of the country, in the Negev, I’m proud to have founded the Lauder Employment Center in Beersheba, which connects students at Ben-Gurion University with good-paying jobs and local civic life.

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