President of Israel Presents the 2022 'Jewish Nobel Prize' to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla in Jerusalem

Bourla donates $1 million award towards construction of Holocaust Museum of Greece in Thessaloniki to commemorate Greek-Jewish communities wiped out by the Nazis.

  Left to right: President Isaac Herzog, founder and Chairman of The Genesis Prize Foundation Stan Polovets and Dr. Albert Bourla at Award ceremony (photo credit: LIOR MIZRAHI/GETTY IMAGES)
Left to right: President Isaac Herzog, founder and Chairman of The Genesis Prize Foundation Stan Polovets and Dr. Albert Bourla at Award ceremony

President of Israel Isaac Herzog presented the Genesis Prize to Dr. Albert Bourla at a ceremony in Jerusalem on Wednesday evening.

The gala event brought together hundreds of dignitaries from Israel, including government ministers, heads of business and philanthropic organizations, prominent representatives of the Jewish Diaspora and leading members of the global medical community. 

The annual $1 million Genesis Prize, dubbed the “Jewish Nobel” by TIME magazine, honors extraordinary individuals for their outstanding professional achievement, contribution to humanity, commitment to Jewish values and the State of Israel.

To save a human life is a fundamental Jewish value. Today we honor Dr. Bourla – a living embodiment of this ancient Jewish principle.

Founder and Chairman of The Genesis Prize Foundation, Stan Polovets

Dr. Albert Bourla was announced as the 9th Genesis Prize Laureate in January 2022 for his leadership in delivering a vaccine against COVID-19, which saved millions of lives during the pandemic. 

In addition to honoring the vast humanitarian impact of Dr. Bourla’s leadership, the award also celebrates his pride in his Jewish identity and heritage, and his strong support for the State of Israel.

President Isaac Herzog said: "Albert Bourla was not deterred by high stakes, by naysayers, by conspiracy or by politics. He believed in the vaccine, and invested every ounce of himself in realizing what seemed at the time a far-fetched fantasy. The vaccine was developed in record speed, utilizing the technology of tomorrow to successfully hold back a devastating pandemic. A study published by The Lancet just days ago, points to nearly 20 million lives saved by COVID vaccines. Indeed, the vaccine gave us freedom we thought we lost. Albert, I congratulate you and your colleagues and counterparts, who are making such a critical impact on humanity, while embracing your Jewish heritage and values, and inspiring Jewish pride.”

Founder and Chairman of The Genesis Prize Foundation Stan Polovets added: “To save a human life is a fundamental Jewish value. Today we honor Dr. Bourla – a living embodiment of this ancient Jewish principle. We also celebrate the immense contribution of Jewish doctors who were on the frontline of the COVID pandemic for two years and who continue to save lives of people suffering in Ukraine today.”

The ceremony opened with a moving tribute to the people of Ukraine and appreciation to the many Israeli and international Jewish organizations who are providing humanitarian aid. The Genesis Prize Foundation premiered a video, “Jews in Medicine,” exploring the roots and impact of Jews on the medical field from biblical times to the modern-day fight against the COVID pandemic.

 2022 Genesis Prize Laureate Dr. Albert Bourla said: “I am honored and deeply humbled to receive the Genesis Prize. Honored because I never set out to be famous, and I never imagined that I would one day be up here with the illustrious nominees and past awardees—artists, philanthropists, and statesmen and stateswomen who show the world the best that the Jewish people have to offer. And humbled because this is not my award—it belongs to all Pfizer colleagues who worked tirelessly in the middle of a global pandemic to make the ‘impossible possible’ and give the world a chance to return to normalcy. Every life is precious, and we must confront our challenges with courage, humility and perseverance. My Pfizer colleagues lived these values, and I am proud to be here in Israel to celebrate them and their extraordinary achievement.”

Following the tradition established by the inaugural Genesis Prize Laureate Michael Bloomberg, Dr. Bourla announced that he will forgo the $1 million prize award and has asked the Foundation to donate the funds toward establishing the Holocaust Museum of Greece to be built in Thessaloniki.

Albert Bourla was born in Thessaloniki, home to an ancient Jewish community that traced its roots to antiquity. The vibrant Jewish community of 55,000 was almost completely wiped out during the Nazi occupation. Dr. Bourla’s young parents narrowly escaped death and were among only 2,000 survivors. The Greek Holocaust Museum will immortalize the history of the Greek Jewish community from antiquity to the modern age. 

The ceremony’s guests of honor were famed French activists and Nazi hunters Serge and Beata Klarsfeld. Dr. Bourla paid tribute to their life-long work to honor the memory of victims of the Holocaust and bring to justice Nazi war criminals, including the infamous “Butcher of Lyon” Klaus Barbie. Dr. Bourla and the Genesis Prize Foundation announced a joint $100,000 grant to Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France -- the organization established by the Klarsfelds to document and preserve the names of Jewish victims of the Nazi occupation of France.  

The annual ceremony honoring Dr. Bourla took place after a two-year break caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Two previous recipients of the award, Natan Sharansky and Steven Spielberg, who became Laureates in 2020 and 2021, could not be honored at the traditional Jerusalem ceremony due to pandemic restrictions that prevented international travel. (Sharansky was honored at a small ceremony at President Rivlin’s residence). 

 2020 Genesis Prize Laureate Natan Sharansky said: “Tonight we have witnessed an inspiring event. As a non-political platform, the Genesis Prize provides a unique space where we can put our differences aside and unite in celebration, gratitude and appreciation of Jewish talent and the miracle of the Jewish State.” 

Hundreds of prominent Israelis and international guests gathered at the heart of the Jewish world to honor the Laureate and pay tribute to Jewish doctors, scientists, and first aid responders. Among the attendees were heads of hospitals, universities, and leaders of philanthropic and business organizations. A delegation of 40 Spanish-speaking Jewish leaders from around the world flew to Israel to attend the event. Genesis Prize Laureates Robert Kraft (2019) and Natan Sharansky (2020) joined the ceremony to honor Dr. Bourla. 

American actress Sarah Rafferty flew to Israel to emcee the event. The ceremony featured a performance by Israeli singer and songwriter Yehuda Poliker, whose parents – like Dr. Bourla’s – were Holocaust survivors, deported from Thessaloniki to Auschwitz.