A Jewish foundation on Tuesday announced the creation of an annual award with a one million dollar cash prize that will be bestowed upon a personality with strong ties to the Jewish people for his or her achievements in the fields of art, science or diplomacy
The Genesis Philanthropy Group headed by Russian-Jewish businessmen including billionaires Mikhail Fridman, Pyotr Aven and German Khan, among others, said the Genesis Prize, which has been likened to a "Jewish Noble Prize," would help strengthen ties between Israel and the Diaspora.
"The Genesis Prize emphasizes the contribution of the Jews to world history," Fridman was quoted as saying in a press release. "Far-reaching achievements in science, the arts, business, medicine, diplomacy and other fields of human endeavor have been realized thanks to the Jewish people's natural aspiration to improve the world and to its desire to pass its moral values on to coming generations. This tradition of the Jewish people must continue."
The announcement was made during a meeting in Jerusalem between Fridman, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency for Israel Chairman Nathan Sharansky.
The one million dollar award would put the new accolade on a par with the famous Noble Prize, which comes with a $1.1 million gift. So far about 20 percent of Noble Prize laureates have been Jewish, a staggering number considering Jews make up about 0.2 percent of the world's population. Jewish recipients of the Noble include the likes of physicist Albert Einstein, author Shai Agnon; and slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and current President Shimon Peres, who received the award together.
Honorees for the Genesis Prize will be chosen by two committees composed of retired judges, Diaspora Jewish community leaders, government officials, Genesis Philanthropy Group representatives and Sharansky in his capacity as JAFI head.
"There are two important things here beside the considerable cash sum," Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post over the phone. "The recipient will be someone who has done something important for humanity in the fields of science, arts, diplomacy and so on. At the same time the person will be a proud Jew with strong ties to the community and Judaism. Why is this important? We need role models, we need people that contribute to society."
Sharansky avowed for the transparency of the selection process, saying the most likely candidate would be one who is Jewish and is involved in Jewish activity. At the same time, the former Soviet Refusenik added non-Jews who have contributed in a significant way to to Jewish civilization might also be considered.
The sizable endowment made by Fridman, Aven and Khan --who are also partners in the Alfa Group, a corporate giant with holdings in many different interests-- as well as others, ensures it will be given in perpetuity, the Genesis Philanthropy Group told The Jerusalem Post. Fridman, whose net worth was estimated at 13.4 billion in 2012, making him the seventh richest man in Russia, was part of a group of Russian Jewish businessmen who came to Israel earlier this week to accompany Russian President Vladimir Putin on his visit to Israel.
Stan Polovets, CEO of Genesis Philanthropy Group, said he hoped the first winner of the prize was expected to be announced before Passover next year but that it "will depend on how quickly the project will get staffed, nomination and selection committees start functioning, etc."
Netanyahu congratulated the charity's decision, calling the prize a symbol of the "Jews' great contribution in human development."
"The Jewish people has developed excellence over the years due thanks to its values and heritage," Netanyahu said. "This is an important step for the cohesion of our people and symbolizes its unity around Jewish values."
In the meantime Sharansky said he could think of many potential nominees for the award, but saying who he had in mind would be premature.
"There are some Jews i would like to win, but how can we start playing with the names now --it's too early," he said.