Composer Hankus Netsky is used to being in distinguished company, having collaborated with Itzhak Perlman, Robin Williams, Joel Grey, and Theodore Bikel. But he never expected to be on the same list of honorees as Pope Francis and Angelina Jolie. Netsky (inset), a Newton resident who chairs New England Conservatory’s Contemporary Improvisation program, was named by The Forward, a progressive New York weekly Jewish newspaper, as one of 50 American Jews who have had the greatest impact on the world in 2013.
Others on the 2013 list include Philip Roth, Harvey Fierstein, Mandy Patinkin, and Ruth R. Wisse, the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard University. (The pope and Jolie tied for the one non-Jewish spot on the list. The pope was cited for advancing dialogue between Catholics and Jews, and Jolie, who had breast removal surgery, for raising awareness about the BRCA gene mutation, which is disproportionately prevalent in Ashkenazi Jews.)
The Forward called Netsky, the founder in 1980 of the Klezmer Conservatory Band, “a quiet but powerful force affecting nearly every corner of contemporary Jewish music.” It said he “helped push Jewish music into the future,” and that young instrumentalists “often attend the school specifically to study with him.”
Netsky learned he made the list in a “mazel tov” e-mail from his rabbi, Tracy Nathan of Temple Beth Israel of Waltham. “I immediately thought it was very exciting,” Netsky said. “I looked to see what it was and it sounded good. It wasn’t the Catonsville Nine, or the Secaucus Seven, even.”