NEW YORK – Within days of the announcement that soonto- be-former Mayor of New
York Michael Bloomberg had been awarded the very first Genesis Prize from the
Genesis Philanthropy Group – which includes a purse of $1 million – some head
scratching ensued in the Jewish community.
Does a man worth an estimated
$31 billion really need another million? Bloomberg was selected for having
“attained excellence and international renown in [his] chosen professional
field” but he acknowledged that, “I don’t need the money,” and vowed to donate
The Genesis Prize itself was quickly given the nickname “The Jewish
Nobel,” and the committee who chose Bloomberg received a bit of derision for
such a wealthy and somewhat controversial first choice for a
But for Stan Polovets, cofounder and CEO of the Genesis
Philanthropy Group, the prize is less similar to the Nobel or the Pulitzer, and
more analogous to a project like Taglit- Birthright. Nor is it about the money.
In fact, Polovets said, one of the unofficial criteria for the prize selection
was whether the laureate would do something philanthropic with the money.
Instead the prize is about trying to engage the younger generations to be proud
of their Jewish identity.
While programs like Taglit- Birthright, or the
Masa Israel Journey professional program attempt to connect young Jews to
Israel, the Genesis Prize was conceived as a way for young Jews to connect with
other Jews who are both extremely accomplished in their chosen fields, proudly
outspoken about their Jewish heritage and how Jewish values have influenced
their work, Polovets explained.
The major idea, he said, is not only to
make young Jews proud of their people’s achievements, but also to give them a
Jewish role model in whatever field they may eventually choose.
not the ones calling it the Jewish Nobel Prize,” Polovets said, not
“But we’re happy to be associated with something as prestigious
The difference, Polovets told The Jerusalem Post
, is that
unlike a Nobel or a Pulitzer, whereafter the laureate is not really expected to
do anything except add a line to their resume and put the trophy on their shelf,
for a laureate of the Genesis Prize, the ceremony and the parties are just the
beginning. What follows is a year of programming in which the laureate, whoever
he or she may be in the future, is expected to engage with young Jews and young
Jewish adults from around the world to educate them about the contribution of
Jews to the laureate’s field.
“The idea behind the prize came as result
of our [the Genesis Philanthropy Group’s] realization, confirmed by the recent
Pew study, that more and more young Jews don’t identify as Jewish, even those
that are 100 percent Jewish,” Polovets said. “They may say, ‘My grandparents are
Jewish, my parents are Jewish, but I’m an American, I’m British, I’m a Russian.’
So we were very concerned about that trend, and began to think about something
that would help slow down, if not reverse that trend.
for Bloomberg is still in the works, Polovets said they are planning events in
around the US as well as in the UK, Israel and Russia for young Jewish
entrepreneurs as well as anyone interested in the non-profit field to meet the
former mayor, either in person or through webcasts and any other broadcasting
“We thought that the idea of a prize could be one of
the instruments, one of the tools in the toolbox of the Jewish
Over the next 10 years of programming, Polovets said the
committee hopes to award the prize to Jews in enough diverse fields so most
young people can learn about the Jewish contribution to business, writing,
science, politics, and many other fields.
For this first year, he said,
the selection committee’s priority was to choose someone who would be willing
and able to serve as an inspirational role model.
“The prize is just an
excuse to launch a year’s worth of programming,” Polovets emphasized, admitting
that they may not have done a good enough job communicating the strategy behind
the Genesis Prize.
“It’s not about the recognition and having a nice gala
and that’s it. This is about picking someone who would be willing to spend part
of his or her time over the next 12 months engaging with younger
As for the selection of Bloomberg, ultimately Polovets thought the
mayor was a very wise choice, but said that he welcomed the
“I’m very glad that we’re getting the critical feedback,” he
said. “One of the things that I was concerned the most was that we’d get no
reaction, that there’d be a big yawn at this announcement. So I’m glad we’ve
started a debate, and I’m glad that people whose views I respect have taken the
time to express their opinion on this.
“The committee’s number one
objective was to select somebody who met most of the criteria,” Polovets said,
“and someone who would be willing and able to serve as an inspirational role
model of Jewish values and ethics, and make young Jews who didn’t care about
their Jewish identity, make them proud.”
The Genesis Philanthropy Group
plans to award the Genesis Prize in perpetuity, through a partnership in Israel
with the Prime Minister’s Office and the Jewish Agency.
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