Readers with a keen eye for the absurd will recall that in October 2013, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg was awarded the inaugural Genesis Prize—to the tune of $1 million—for his commitment to “the Jewish community and/or the State of Israel.” Yep, you read that right: a group of billionaires awarded a million dollars to another billionaire. In the business world that’s the equivalent of Venmo-ing your roommate twenty bucks for the internet bill; in the philanthropic world it is called a “prize.” (Bloomberg gifted the money back to the Genesis Generation Challenge, which awards ten prizes of $100,000 to groups of young Jews working on innovative projects in the Jewish community each year.)
This year’s “laureate” is actor Michael Douglas, whose most recent contribution to the Jewish world was a visit to Jerusalem’s City of David in June 2014. Douglas praised the archaeologists for their hard word, mentioned son Dylan’s bar mitzvah, and said “shalom” on camera. Thus, a prize!
The Los Angeles Times noted that Douglas might be a controversial choice for more traditional, conservative Jews: “His father, Kirk Douglas, who was born Issur Danielovitch, is the son of Jewish immigrants from what is now Belarus. Michael Douglas’ mother, Diana Dill, is not Jewish, and he was not raised in the faith. Douglas embraced his Jewish identity later in life and last year traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate the bar mitzvah of his son Dylan.”
Douglas, in turn, told the Times that he had sometimes felt alienated from Judaism, as many Jews do not consider him or his children Jewish. No surprise, then, that the prize money will go to “activities designed to raise awareness of inclusiveness and diversity in Judaism.”
Look, I don’t really care if Douglas’ mother was Jewish—if he considers himself a member of the tribe, genug shoyn. And it’s great that the prize money will be passed on to worthy Jewish causes. But it’d be nice to see this kind of song and dance performed each year for a hard-working, relatively unknown community organization or individual, instead of super-rich dudes who don’t need the cash or the publicity.
Anyway, mazal tov everyone! Next year in a soup kitchen, God willing.